Letter to the Editor – The Mountain Mail
Thursday, April 6, 2017 7:08 am
Over the past few months, we’ve had a very affirming experience in our community we’d like to share with you.
As you may know, restorative justice is a positive and pro-social approach to address conflict and resolve issues after a crime has been committed. The victim-offender conference gives both the victim and offender a voice. The offender takes responsibility for the crime and for repairing the harm, and the victim voices how he/she was impacted by the crime and requests specific compensation and/or repair for the harm done.
Full Circle Restorative Justice (FCRJ) volunteers in Chaffee County appreciate the opportunity to work with young people to show them another way before they get into the justice system that may lead them into prison.
As part of FCRJ, six volunteers have been visiting the Buena Vista Correctional Complex once a week to facilitate two groups of specially selected men in a restorative justice education program. These men are willing to do some deep personal work around taking responsibility for their crimes.
They begin to understand the decision-making process that led them to commit their crimes in the first place, and they are learning how their repeated behavior keeps them in a crime-focused loop. They develop more empathy for their victims, their families, their communities and themselves.
We’re finding that every man we’re working with began a life of crime in his teens or younger. Their childhood environments (usually gangs, drugs, abuse) without proper parenting and encouragement contributed to the decisions they made.
It is sad that poor choices made at such an early age led them to a path of crime and a sentence of perhaps 10, 20 or 40 years. We are also learning how much childhood trauma and/or parental neglect factors into decisions that so many young people make, leading to situations that make crime more appealing.
We’ve found it to be such a heartfelt and hopeful experience to sit with these men in their pain and hear them take responsibility for their actions, have empathy for their victims and be committed to changing their lives now – while in prison – so they’ll be prepared to lead better lives when they are released. This takes a lot of focused personal work, and they are doing it with integrity.
The curriculum we use was developed by Insight Prison Project for use at San Quentin Prison in California and is also being offered at the Department of Corrections Facility in Rifle. Our program is modeled after that.
We are grateful to Warden Jason Lengerich at the Buena Vista facility for welcoming our program, giving these men an opportunity to look at their crimes and themselves in a new way.
If you have an interest in learning more about restorative justice and how it can (and does) help our community before and beyond prison walls, you can learn more by visiting fullcirclerj.net or contacting Patty LaTaille at 530-5597.
Karen and Lyle Latvala,
Ruth and Greg Phillips,