I am a student at CNM majoring in substance abuse counseling, and a member of the “Lived Experience Group,” which is a community-based outreach program dedicated to the reduction of gun violence. I work closely with the VIP (Violence Intervention Program). I’m also a multiple convicted felon and recovering addict.
I recently finished a 40-hour certification class on restorative justice, and the experience has changed my life.
(As to) the idea that restorative justice is too easy on the offender and does nothing for the victim, let me tell you a story:
The felony conviction that sent me to prison the first time was “unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.” I was sentenced to 18 months in the Department of Corrections with another year parole. When I was sent to prison, I did not have a change of heart, nor did I experience much guilt or resentment beyond the fact I got caught. The victim remained a faceless, nameless person I could build justifications in my imagination on how what I had done to them didn’t affect them at all. While in prison I became angrier for what “the system” had done to me, I learned more ways to commit more crimes, and more barriers were built between me and the society I felt had done me wrong. No actual accountability had taken place.
For the victim, who knows if they got their vehicle back or received any compensation for my crime. One thing is for sure, studies have shown the No. 1 thing every victim of any crime wants is an answer to the question “why me?” Well, I can assure you the victim in my crime did not get an answer to that question. Now that is a true story of the current form of justice we pursue, punish the offender and in some way that is giving the victim what they want.
Now, let me tell you another story of how things could have gone if restorative justice had been used instead. First the victim and the offender – me – would have to agree to use the restorative justice process; if given the choice many offenders would rather just do the jail time then have to face the person their actions hurt. If both parties agreed, then they would meet face to face in a safe space with a certified mediator facilitating. I would have met the person I had hurt, heard the story of how my actions had affected them. I am not an evil person, I was making very bad decisions for a variety of different reasons and hurt people.
If I had had a face and a name and knew how my actions had affected them, I promise you it would have had a much larger impact than the 18 months in prison. The guilt, the shame, the pain would have ripped me up inside, and I would desperately want to know “how can I fix this”? And here is the most beautiful part of restorative justice in my eyes, the victim gets to decide what is going to make this OK.
Maybe the victim wants their car replaced, maybe they don’t want me to own a vehicle for a year, maybe they want me to wash their car and cook them dinner for 18 months – the point is the victim gets what they want, which in return gives the offender the chance to make it right. To truly pay for my crime, to right the wrong I had done, would have given me some sense of self-worth, and every study done shows that the recidivism rate in restorative justice is much lower than that of the criminal justice system. We go from a double negative to a double positive.