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A Story of Extraordinary Strength and Grace
Practicing restorative justice is hard. When someone hurts us or harms us in any way, the natural human response is anger, and often revenge. It doesn’t surprise me to hear parents who have just lost a child to murder say to the offender, “I will never forgive you. I hope you rot in hell!” I would probably feel the same way if someone harmed one of my children or someone else I love. No serious proponent of restorative justice practices believes that those who have suffered harm should be able to easily “get over” their hurt and freely offer full forgiveness. That’s unreasonable. Nevertheless, restorative-minded people do hope for and work towards restoring relationships that have been damaged or sometimes outright destroyed by crime. And it’s excruciatingly difficult and painful work.

Recently, two friends of mine who were sentenced to life sentences as juvenile offenders were re sentenced after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. Although they were both re sentenced to life terms again by judges who ignored the instructions of the Supreme Court, one story in particular struck me with a powerful message of hope. 

One friend, I’ll call him Joe (not his real name), was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16 for a heinous murder of a stranger. At his sentencing, nearly 23 years ago now, the mother of the murdered man told Joe that neither she nor her family would ever forgive him. It was her desire that he would serve the rest of his life in prison–a sentence that was mandatory at the time. After the Supreme Court ruling, Joe had hope for a life again outside of prison. Nevertheless, facing a re sentencing meant re-airing all of the gritty details of his crime, and watching his victim’s family suffer all over again. This prospect caused Joe much grief as he anticipated his pending re sentencing. He hoped for a future outside of prison, but he dreaded harming his victim’s family yet again. 

When the judge failed to re sentence him to a term of years, Joe was understandably frustrated and angry. Yet, he later found out that his victim’s mother had approached his own mother in court, hugged her, and told her that she and her family would not oppose whatever the court decided. This was a complete turn-around from the mother’s expressed emotions at Joe’s original sentencing. It also revealed a heart that had begun to heal and that was possibly ready for Joe’s heart-felt apology and desire to make things right. This example of organic restorative justice in action infused Joe with more hope than he had felt in 23 years, not so much the hope of release from the physical bounds of prison, but from the prison of shame and grief he’s felt for his heinous crime. It also gave him hope that his victim’s family will find healing and not live forever with the added burden of hatred on top of their burden of a lost son. Additionally, this woman’s hug and openness was also tremendously healing for Joe’s mother who lives with her own pain.

I can’t imagine the strength it must have taken that woman to hug the mother of her son’s murderer. What an extraordinary display of strength and grace! It remains unclear if Joe’s situation will eventually involve any formal restorative justice practices, but this mother’s strength and grace and Joe’s new found hope for his victim’s family to experience healing is a wonderful, healing testimony. It gives me hope to hear these stories of healing and restoration, and hope for a future where justice begins with a focus on restoring victims, offenders, and communities to wholeness.

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.