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More meditations on restorative justice

Jan 15, 2013

from the entry by kario on The Writing Life:

….It wasn't until I saw my molester as a human being that I began to heal my own profound wounds.  I spent years in therapy, took lots of different anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, started yoga, and came to a better place, but the REAL freedom from pain came when I forgave him.  Not in person (I don't honestly even know if he is alive today), but in my heart.  

That doesn't mean that I don't still feel the impact of his behavior in my life and it doesn't mean I would have the courage to meet him face-to-face if I had the opportunity, although I hope I would.  It means that I acknowledge that he made a big mistake and, as a human being, he was entitled to do that. It doesn't mean that he is absolved of any wrongdoing, especially since I suspect he molested lots of other children as well, but it means that I don't feel as though I can pass judgment on him and his life. I certainly don't believe he deserves to be killed for his actions, although I did for many, many years.  

What I find more compelling is the hope that if any of his victims were ever tempted to perpetuate the cycle of violence he created in their lives, that they are able to stop and be mindful of how it changed them.  That they could understand the impact of destructive, angry, behavior on their victims and the community-at-large and ask for help.  And I hope that they could find it. That instead of a society that shrinks back from hearing stories of abuse and trauma and stigmatizing or alienating someone who is struggling with the desire to harm others, we can somehow begin to become a society that embraces all of its people and takes responsibility for them in one way or another.  That we can come together with a goal of helping everyone be mentally and emotionally healthy and truly acknowlege that their actions have ripples in the community.

Pilot programs that work with restorative justice report significant decreases in the rate of re-offenses. It makes sense. Often, violence is the result of impulsive behaviors coupled with possession of something deadly (getting angry while in a car or happening to have a gun in your pocket when someone pisses you off).  If we can educate first-time offenders about what happens to victims of violent crime, make them sit down with the person or family they harmed, with the honest intent of helping them to understand the true implications of their actions, it makes a difference. 

The other thing that makes a difference is having the honest intent to help the offender.  I know that runs counter to much of the emotion that makes us want them to "pay" for their crimes, and when it makes sense, I think that paying monetary restitution is an important piece of the puzzle. To simply lock someone up without offering them education or therapy or truly trying to get to the root of their behavior constitutes placing a higher value on one human life over another and that undermines community. It breaks down trust and collaboration. 

We have all made mistakes. Some of us have made enormous mistakes that hurt others immeasurably.   The notion of restorative justice allows for the fact that we are all human and uses our humanity as a tool to bring true healing to a community. It involves working through incredibly difficult emotions and, often, cultural or communication barriers but it ultimately sends the message that we are committed to acknowledging challenges and differences and working through them instead of denying them and categorizing them in an effort to make ourselves feel a false sense of superiority and security.

Read the whole entry.

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