This past Sunday's New York Times magazine included a riveting article by Paul Tullis simply entitled "Forgiven". Under the title was this sentence: "After 19-year-old Conor McBride killed his girlfriend, her devastated parents tried a process called 'restorative justice" -- because they decided his life was worth saving."
Flannista first heard of "restorative justice" a year ago when a good friend asked me to comment on the design and copy of a potential brochure for a restorative justice organization in Maine. This friend and her husband were active in the organization and had participated in many restorative justice sessions. But what was it? I had no idea.
In his article, Paul Tullis defines restorative justice this way:
Most modern justice systems focus on a crime, a lawbreaker and a punishment. But a concept called “restorative justice” considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends. And it allows victims, who often feel shut out of the prosecutorial process, a way to be heard and participate. In this country, restorative justice takes a number of forms, but perhaps the most prominent is restorative-justice diversion. There are not many of these programs — a few exist on the margins of the justice system in communities like Baltimore, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif. — but, according to a University of Pennsylvania study in 2007, they have been effective at reducing recidivism. Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the adversarial legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process. All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator and law enforcement — come together in a forum sometimes called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done.
My friend in Maine had shared how well restorative justice had worked for simple thefts, but could it work for a crime as serious as murder?
The parents of the murdered teen were compelled by their Catholic faith to try and forgive Conor (pictured above). "Conor owed us a debt he could never repay," said the mother. "And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in the world could satisfy us." The details of the actual restorative justice session with Conor, his parents, the parents of the murder victim, the facilitator and prosecutor is achingly honest, sad and yes, hopeful in a way I can't describe. Conor was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation.
Why did the parents forgive Conor? According to the New York Times magazine article:
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.”
Could you forgive someone who murdered someone you love deeply? I don't know if I could, but reading this article made me want to try. Read the article (linked above). You'll want to try, too.