Imagine a scenario in which a convicted killer comes face to face with his victim's family members. Picture a police informant confessing to seven mothers that he is responsible for the deaths of their sons. Envision an apartheid-era cop viewing Mississippi Burning and reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography.
What can be accomplished through such interactions? Does this really promote healing? Who benefits in the end?
These are questions that restorative justice programs set out to explore as they assist victims and perpetrators in the dialogue process. In contrast to the more mainstream system of punitive justice, restorative justice formats intend to mend wounds rather than merely ensure a crime is paid for. The process is frustrating, infuriating and most often rewarding.
Two recent films depict the restorative process in vastly different arenas. Both films will be shown in conjunction with a potluck dinner and discussion at All Souls Unitarian Church in coming weeks.
Meeting with a Killer brings together the family of a slain woman with her murderer more than a decade after the crime. Letters are exchanged as a beginning to a mediation process, and eventually a prison visit is facilitated where the parties are able to sit and respectfully share stories and question one another. At one point, a daughter learns of her mother's last words to her killer: "I forgive you, and God will forgive you too."
The South African apartheid movement is the focal point of A Long Night's Journey into Day, which documents the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after 40 brutal years of oppression against the blacks. Amnesty is being traded for truth and guilty parties are being called to a makeshift court to answer for their involvements in various crimes of the day. The TRC offers conditional amnesty rather than blanket amnesty, opting to proceed case by case and thereby forcing individuals to confront their past actions.
In one segment of A Long Night's Journey into Day, an American couple visits family members of their daughter's killers. They express the forgiveness that they know their daughter would want them to have and that they truly feel in their own hearts. Again we view victims' families showing compassion to their loved ones' offenders and the subsequent positive enrichment of the offenders' lives.
Another portrait in the film is that of an incarcerated freedom fighter charged in the terrorist attack of a cafe; the man explains why he blindly struck his enemy out of frustration for his people, and he is granted amnesty. A police officer in a different trial fails to show true remorse for his participation in some targeted assassinations and his story seems fabricated; he is denied amnesty.
"There is a 90 percent success rate to the large number of restorative justice cases here in Colorado," said dialogue organizer Bill Groom. "Many families and offenders have come together through the DA and magistrate and negotiated appropriate sentences while benefiting from the direct confrontation."
Share your thoughts and learn more about restorative justice by viewing these very powerful films.
-- Matthew Schniper
Restorative Justice Film Discussions
A Long Night's Journey into Day on Friday, Oct. 22, 5-8:30 p.m.
Meeting With a Killer on Sunday, Nov. 21, 5-8:30 p.m.
Sponsored by All Souls Unitarian Universalist Social Action Team
All Souls Unitarian Church, 730 N. Tejon St.
Reservations are requested; call Bill at 444-8644 or Karla at 575-0152