I use this statement about restorative justice, since RJ is so much about the relationships. All relationships flow both ways. I believe what we put into the flow comes back to us.
I learned a great deal from someone lately. I didn’t expect to be so educated or enlightened by this person. I felt like I was making more of a “courtesy visit”. The experience reinforced and validated the core truth I have: All relationships are bilateral.
I met with a prison inmate, he’s served 14 years and he has 19 to go. He was part of a violent and brutal crime, far beyond what any family should experience. His father died when he was young, his family abandoned him when he went to prison. His mother died in 2003. He’s got no visitors, no support system. It seemed to me he had every reason to be bitter, hopeless, mean. Instead . . . he is still impacted by a restorative justice circle that he attended in 2002. There is a DVD by Newist called Repairing Harm. Review or purchase on this video you can see the program run by Janine Geske, Marquette Restorative Justice.
When talking about the Restorative Justice Circle that involved storytelling by victim/survivors, the inmate described hearing about the victims trauma and realizing, victim or offender trauma is trauma. He talked about a lack of emotional connection to his crime, until he heard the victims speak. He had read Howard Zehrs book, Changing Lenses. He wanted to know why I was doing Restorative Justice. It was a moving conversation. When I talked about story telling, and how trauma causes our brains to slow down and take snapshots or a slide show, and it is these slides that we talk about in telling the story. He quicky identified with that. He remembered, the victim/survivor telling a small detail that had a huge impact. He shared some of the snapshots from his own crime. When stories contain snapshots, people can talk about things 14 years old, like they happened this morning.
Whenever I go into prisons, I can’t help but impacted by the security process. Going thru a metal detector, locking up my keys, leaving everything in my car. Getting my hand stamped and having to prove I didn’t change identies on the way back out. It’s a process that does leave me concerned about my own safety, when I had to remove my bra, and go thru the metal detector AGAIN, I was really wondering what I got myself into. The clang of metal doors, the institutional smell. The staff saying “Are you okay alone in here” as I was in a large room with the inmate, I had only just shook hands and exchanged names. Honestly I said “yes” more of wanting to be a humanitarian to the person I was meeting with. The staff might have picked up my pause, she said a guard could be outside the door. I said “no”.
The PERSON I met with was well groomed, genuine, conversational. He was so deeply moved by that Restorative Justice Circle, it completely grounded me in what I know and believe about Circles. Not to mention that 6 years have gone by. He was still looking to move forward with what he learned. He wrote a letter to a former social worker, expressing an interest in helping others and RJ. The social worker then provided him my name and address. He wants to be involved in Restorative Justice and understands the process is victim centered and we can only do so much right now, the victims come first. He has agreed to work on his own healing and learning more about Restorative Justice. I am going to write him one time a month, the first letter with reading list.
I left the prison with a shocked feeling, but also a calm and somewhat confused sense of what just happened. It was good to interact with a person seeking greater good for himself and others. It was sad and scary to have the crime details explained. It enhanced my professional and personal skills, it added to me as a person. Who would have ever guessed that from 14 year vetran of the WI Correctional System.