Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Restorative Justice : "she described the experience as a 'complete relinquishment of anger, hatred and the desire for retribution and revenge.'”

I first heard the idea of restorative justice discussed in depth at a conference in India.   I wrote at the time:
Jirgas - The Pakistani equivalent of the Panchayat, though I think these are made up of village elders who may not be elected. While some cases have brought international condemnation of jirga decisions, conference attendees argued that millions of decisions are made regularly that generally satisfy both parties. Some conference presenters talked about restorative justice as an alternative to retributive justice. Instead of punishment being the object, making the victims whole is the object. However, when the discussion got to Jirgas, making the victims whole included things such as: A male member of the family has murdered someone. To make the victim's family whole, a sister of the murderer is given to the victim's family. One presenter, a very articulate Pakistani attorney, argued that this does not come from Islamic law, but from tribal law. Such verdicts have caused Jirgas to be outlawed, but they still exist and fill an important need.
But the idea of letting the victims and the perpetrators be part of resolving the crime seems to make sense. 
My daughter emailed me a NYTimes article on restorative justice. A long ten page article about a nineteen year old who killed his girlfriend after they had argued for 38 hours.  The girl's dying words to her father were to forgive her boyfriend.  Both families knew each other well.  The young man's father went to the hospital when he got the word, before he went to see his son.

The article describes the long process of finding a restorative justice expert who could help the Florida prosecutor set up a process that the State could accept.  It's a story we should all think about when we ponder all the people in prisons in the United States.  There are a lot of push-button emotional issues in this stories.  And the comments are also well worth reviewing.  

This is a unique case where all the right pieces were in place.

I think the key, counter-intuitive result of forgiveness in this case, is what it does to those who forgive, more than what it does to the person forgiven.
The Grosmaires said they didn’t forgive Conor for his sake but for their own. “Everything I feel, I can feel because we forgave Conor,” Kate said. “Because we could forgive, people can say her name. People can think about my daughter, and they don’t have to think, Oh, the murdered girl. I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment. I can be sad, but I don’t have to stay stuck in that moment where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”
The story ends with:
“Forgiving Conor doesn’t change the fact that Ann is not with us. My daughter was shot, and she died. I walk by her empty bedroom at least twice a day.” 

But then if Conor had been executed, her daughter would still have been dead and she would still walk by her empty bedroom each day.  

Oh, the quote in the title is about "Sujatha Baliga, a former public defender who is now the director of the restorative-justice project at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland."  She, herself, was the victim of abuse from her father.  She talked to the Dalai Lama about her anger for an hour.
He gave her two pieces of advice. The first was to meditate. She said she could do that. The second, she says, was “to align myself with my enemy; to consider opening my heart to them. I laughed out loud. I’m like: ‘I’m going to law school to lock those guys up! I’m not aligning myself with anybody.’ He pats me on the knee and says, ‘O.K., just meditate.’ ” 
 But later, in a ten day meditation class.
On the final day, she had a spontaneous experience, not unlike Andy Grosmaire’s at his daughter’s deathbed, of total forgiveness of her father. Sitting cross-legged on an easy chair in her home in Berkeley, Calif., last winter, she described the experience as a “complete relinquishment of anger, hatred and the desire for retribution and revenge.” 
Restorative Justice is not a cure-all.  It may work in some circumstances and not others.  Most often probably, in combination with our current system.  And some people will game the system, because some people game whatever system they are in.  But would that be worse than what we have?  

The whole article, "Can Forgiveness Play a Role In Criminal Justice?" by Paul Tullis,  is here.


  1. I do believe forgiveness is truly the way to bring peace, and to bring some end to internal suffering. Remembering that Amish community in Pennsylvania who responded with grace and forgiveness, to the family of the man who shot and killed several young students in their School.

  2. I am the daughter of a person who cannot forget, nor forgive. And this person has not experienced true tragedies in her life - no one has been murdered, assaulted, locked up unjustly. Her children are alive and well. To her ever single real and mostly imagined wrongs are just as important and immediate as if she had been the victim of some horrible crime. She regurgitates these issues daily and re-chew them thoroughly. Her anger is just as hot as the when the incident first happened - whether it was a few days or decades ago. It is exhausting to be around her. I can't imagine being her - with all that angst constantly being churned and refreshed. It has become such a part of her persona that she CANT let it go. And I despair for her unhappiness that is all of her own making.

    You don't have to forget. After all remembrance is part of understanding, accepting, and healing. But you do have to forgive. Let is go. The only one you are harming by not forgiving is yourself and those around you.

  3. Oh, this reminded me also of the Restorative Circle in Seattle. It was set up by families to address police racial profiling and to heal both "sides" of police/citizen conflict. There is a fascinating article here about it. Long, but well worth the read:

  4. Thanks Akbright and Monica. Hedgewytch,your story is painful. While the American narrative is that human beings are responsible for their behavior, science is finding more and more links between brain chemistry and behavior. I suspect we really have no idea how much of what we do is actual choice and how much is biology. But I also suspect we can be taught how to change our biology to a degree. I think a lot of Eastern meditation does just that.


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