|If an offender, a victim, and a community come together behind prison walls, can healing take place?|
*This is the first in a series of posts about Restorative Justice...
The Normanator and I were treated like royalty when we were part of a group of guests attending the Tecumseh State Correctional Facility, the site for a symposium sponsored by the 7th Step Club. Members of 7th Step are working diligently to eradicate recidivism-return to prison.
We were escorted by officers of the facility to the gymnasium where a welcoming committee greeted us and offered us warm hospitality. There was assigned seating, arranged in a circle and a simple program agenda waited on each chair.
This event was the culmination of a college credit class in Restorative Justice, taught at the prison by Professor Kelly Asmussen of Peru State College. Fifteen students and fifteen incarcerated men met weekly to study Restorative Justice. The prisoners were eager to share all they had learned with John Q. Public.
Restorative Justice? What IS that?
This subject seems to have been a well guarded secret. You may be familiar with Restorative Justice or you may know it as Reparative Justice. By either name, the whole concept is for offenders, victims and communities to come together to mend the damage caused when someone breaks the law. It may be a simple situation where resolution can come quickly. It may require much time and a lot of hard work on all three sides.
Our group heard from four eloquent speakers who had participated in the professor's class. One of the speakers, a Mohawk Indian, talked about how Native Americans deal with those who behave outside societal or tribal norms to heal the effects of their offense. We were told that the offender is kept separate from the rest of the tribe. The one who committed an offense might live with the Medicine Man to receive herbs and other remedies to heal his Spirit and bring balance in to the offender's life and balance to tribal life once again. This example was given: If a young man had been murdered, the offender would be required to care for the parents of the dead man for the rest of their lives in the manner the couple's son would have done if he had not died prematurely.
Sick Spirits vs Sick Bodies
The speaker reiterated that people who are sick with physical ailments would not be jailed for their illness; so, too, should it be that people who commit crimes because their Spirit or their Mind is troubled needs to be healed, not imprisoned.
Other speakers mentioned life experiences which contributed to the commission of their crimes. They explained how they learned to set aside resentment and bitterness and become the people they were meant to be. They have taken responsibility and provided accountability. They have all done various things to right the wrongs they have caused and have rewired their brains so as to contribute to society and behave correctly when they are released from their sentences.
The entire audience formed small groups after these inspirational speeches. The goal of each group was to discuss what we had heard and respond to a list of questions the group leaders posed. That portion of the symposium will be the thrust of the next post.
As always, your comments and questions are most welcome!
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