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Why go there?

Jan 18, 2013

from the entry by Peg Wallace for Wisconsin Restorative Justice Coalition:

That’s the question that arises most often when I mention my visits with inmates in Wisconsin’s prison system.  Why go there?  Why would I, who lost a beloved family member to violent crime, want to “go there”—emotionally, let alone physically?  Why do I spend three consecutive days of my discretionary time locked in intense conversation with convicted felons, many of whom have committed violent crimes?  Why would anyone want to do that?

My own journey to prison began over 25 years ago, when my 88-year-old grandmother and her two elderly friends were kidnapped after attending a charity event in my home town.  Their kidnapper drove them to an isolated, wooded location and brutally kick-boxed them to death.  Within days, he was captured, and within months, he was tried and convicted.

….Over twenty years after the tragedy, at the invitation of a friend and neighbor, Jerry Hancock, who was conducting a Restorative Justice program at Columbia Correctional Facility in Portage, I first attended a three-day Restorative Justice “talking circle.”  It was there in prison, for the first time, that I found a venue strong enough to hold and acknowledge the painful reality of what had happened to my grandmother and her two friends, to me and my family, to the other victims’ families, to our friends, and to our community.

That restorative justice circle was not the adversarial courtroom setting I’d experienced, concerned with side bars and procedures and prosecution.  Nor was it the sensational national press coverage that reported all the sordid details of the crime.  It wasn’t the shocked, embarrassed silence that often accompanies discussion of personal tragedies of this magnitude.  

Instead, it was a group of people—a “community,” if you will–who either knew from personal experience, or were willing to honestly acknowledge, the incomprehensible cruelty and terrible damage that violent crime visits on all of us, a community comprised of victims, survivors, offenders, jailers, lawyers, social workers, chaplains, teachers, and others who were willing and able to address that cruelty and damage–openly, bravely, personally–from the heart.  That “talking circle” felt to me like arriving home after a very long journey.

Read the whole entry.

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