IS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE WORKING?
On Wednesday, September 22nd, I did a presentation for the Camden County Juvenile Detention Center, addressing a group of people training to become prison guards. With the help of my mom, I told my story and read from this blog. We talked about forgiveness, redemption, and restorative justice.
I feel privileged to have been able to share my story with so many different people. It helps me to learn from and appreciate different things I may have missed in my own experience of my recovery!
I was trying to think to myself what I learned from speaking with this group in particular. In looking at the notes I kept, there are a few points that stood out. I was grateful to see how much forgiveness was the lesson that connected with so many. A couple of them spoke about holding grudges and seeing forgiveness as not being as hard as they thought. Perhaps compared to me.
The comment that struck me the most was from one guard towards the end who said, “Forgiveness can change a person’s life more than jail..!” The thought, of course, is not a new one for me or my mom. But it was for that person, and maybe one or two others in the group. These are people who are in the midst of training to become guards for a prison, so for any of them to hear our story and see that restorative justice can be more effective than prison time felt gratifying to hear because that is exactly what we’d hoped they’d leave considering.
I was recently reflecting on how these posts may be hitting the people who read them. My dad said to me that I sometimes go on about the different things in my life that are positive, and that I may not be considering the people who still feel like they lost me, or at least part of me. When I try to put myself in their shoes, I imagine that at times it is painful, and maybe even feels like more of a loss when I talk about the positive things that I see as coming from the accident. I am sorry if this makes anyone feel more distant from me because your feelings don’t match. I can imagine if I had a dear loved one who was in an accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, I would likely feel the same. I guess what I would ask those who feel this way, is to please share your own experience. I feel like I have gone on about my personal experience of this all. But I haven’t heard enough of others’.
I want to know primarily because I care about you and yearn to connect honestly. But also because if I am going to be speaking about Restorative Justice to others, I need to hear from the perspective of the other people impacted, my loved ones.
NOTE FROM MOM
Those of you familiar with our story kow tat we petitioned the court for clemency for the driver who struck Julia. We believed that forgiveness for something so profound would have a more corrective impact on his behavior than would years languishing in prison.
Our correctional facilities are not correcting. They have become turnstiles for offenders moving in and out at an alarming rate. The national recidivism rate today is over 50%. For youth offenders, that number jumps up to 85%. That means 85% of all youth discharged from prison will be back within 5 years. If their mission is to rehabilitate offenders so they are more fit for society, they are failing miserably.
3 years after the driver and we entered into a Restorative Justice model, he is more fit for society than ever.
He has developed his own business in roofing, hiring many former offenders. A self-described “tradesman” he is not only providing for his family, he is helping his employees provide for theirs. In addition to providing a living wage, he is teaching them a skill. He says mentoring is his favorite part of his job. He learned from his father who had a similar business. When his teenage son ran into trouble in school, Malchijah made him come work for and learn from him. That son today has gone on to start his own business, owns his own home, and numerous trucks. He also hires former offenders and teaches them the trade. Malchijah is determined to pay it forward.
There are many of Julia’s family and friends who scratch their heads over the decision to set other expectations for the driver than a lengthy prison stay. I know that comes from protectiveness and love. I also know that it’s impossible to hate someone whose story you know. And if you knew this man’s story, you would see this is likely the first 2nd chance he’s ever received. And yes, he made a huge mistake. But we are not our actions. We are NOT our actions. This particular human definitely is not. He is a deeply religious, family man. He is also, honestly, one of the more humble and gentle human beings I have ever met. I cringe thinking how he would have fared in prison, as gentle as he is. To hear him talk about how stunned he was in the courtroom is humbling. “For a white family to forgive a black man?? Nah.” He is more grateful than he can say and I believe he will spend the rest of his life paying it back.
He recently asked me for help writing a mission statement for his life, to keep him on the straight and narrow. He is sincere. He is earnest. He is grateful. He is trying. This is only one person’s success story. People ask us, “Is Restorative Justice appropriate for everyone?” The answer is No. The person has to be eligible for this process which begins with being sorry. Not just saying, “Sorry”, being sorry. As well as having an honest desire to atone for one’s actions. As well as caring about the community one is trying to “restore”. This sounds like tough criteria but we think more people, if given the chance, would meet this criteria than we would imagine. And for every one person who is believed in, there are countless lives who are touched as a result.