Restorative justice is a hard subject for a lot of people, especially when it comes to serious crimes.
Some say criminals simply deserve to be punished. But others argue that since criminals often end up back on our streets, it's imperative that they learn from their crime and find a way to repair the damage they've done to themselves and others. Often, that takes the form of listening to victims and understanding how crimes impact others' lives. It may also involve an act of service, such as repainting a shed they've marred with graffiti.
Restorative justice supporters say actions such as these bring a greater conscience to criminals and change them at their roots. But what doesn't get talked about as much is the effect restorative justice can have on victims. While not all victims wish to speak with perpetrators, some do. In fact, for some, the wounds of a crime can never truly heal without the closure of speaking to the one who harmed them. Speaking to a perpetrator can be especially powerful when the crime was a serious one, like murder.
It was on that note that State Rep. Pete Lee, a longtime supporter of restorative justice and sponsor of a bill that created the state's Restorative Justice Law, sent the story below in an e-mail.
It's worth a read:
A First for State’s New Restorative Justice Law
Dramatic Prison Encounter Between Denver Mom and Killer of Her Child
(Denver) – Sharletta Evans’ first question for the killer of her child was, “Will you say a prayer for us?”
Raymond Johnson said a prayer, and Evans did likewise as they began the first victim-offender dialogue ever held in a Colorado prison.
Evans’ 3-year-old toddler, Casson, was killed in 1995 in a drive-by shooting in Denver. Johnson, then 16, was one of several gang members who sprayed the house of an Evans acquaintance with bullets. One of them hit Casson, who was in Evans’ car while his mother went to rescue a relative within. Johnson and two others were convicted of murder in 1996 and Johnson was sentenced to life without parole.
On Wednesday, May 23, Evans and her 23-year-old son, Calvin, met with Johnson face to face at a maximum-security state prison, as part of a Colorado Department of Corrections pilot program authorized by last year’s Restorative Justice Law sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs).
The tension in the room was palpable as Johnson met the mother and brother of his victim. But the prayers by Johnson and Sharletta Evans set the tone for eight hours of respectful, soulful discussions. They talked about how Casson’s death has impacted all their lives for the past 17 years.
Evans had testified in support of Rep. Lee’s bill when it made its way through the legislature in 2011, saying she felt it would help her to heal. After the May 23 encounter, she said it was “everything I had hoped for” and described it as “fulfilling and completely satisfactory.” She expressed particular satisfaction that Johnson had been forthright and honest with her and Calvin.
“This is exactly the kind of healing encounter I hoped to see when I sponsored the Restorative Justice Law in the legislature,” Rep. Lee said. “Nothing can totally heal the pain of losing a loved one, particularly to homicide. But we, as a society, should do what we can to help them begin to heal. Victim-initiated restorative justice dialogues enable victims to get questions answered, to share their pain and possibly to change their story from anger, resentment and anguish to one of restoration, healing and possibly forgiveness.”
Acknowledging that crime causes injury to people and communities, restorative justice attempts to repair those injuries. Restorative justice dialogues may only be initiated by the victim or victim’s family and have no impact on the inmate’s sentence or status at DOC.
The Colorado DOC program is one of 20 around the country and is unfunded. This week’s encounter happened because of the cooperation of the Department of Corrections and the hard work of volunteer facilitators Lynn Lee and Peggy Evans as well as Sharletta and Calvin’s bravery.
“Ms. Evans is a remarkably courageous woman to undertake this journey,” Rep. Lee said. “I know she is gratified and fulfilled by the outcome. I hope that DOC will continue the pilot program for other victims.”
All of the participants expressed gratitude to the Department of Corrections for allowing the process to go forward. “I commend the Department of Corrections for working with us. This dialogue will provide lasting, life-changing benefits for the victims,” Rep. Lee said.