Restorative Justice is a term used to describe the process of potential healing between victims and perpetrators. In the words of CNN's Van Jones, "It aims to heal the hurt".
A number of issues arise when you talk about justice.
The victims may just want retribution, and depending on where they are at on their own personal journey and particularly their spiritual beliefs, the deep set feeling and even the idea of forgiveness, may be too much to deal with.
For the convicted inmate they may feel sorrow for what they have done, combining with self-hatred that if left unchecked can be the catalyst for future offending. Some offenders convince themselves of their innocence and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. There can be misconstrued hierarchical orders in prison. These levels of 'prestige' are generally based on the type of crime and may be part of an inmate seeing their crime as an achievement. A perpetrator who has committed a particular criminal act, may in some cases find support from their in-prison peers for an 'in crime', reinforcing and supporting damaging belief systems. The trouble is that these 'supporters' are unlikely to assist the inmate to take a path of inner growth or to find focus on their ability to have a positive purpose and contribution to society. And as with all dark sides, when things get difficult, you are often left stranded on your own with no supporters at all, wondering about the crew whom you thought were your mates.
A common trait for the prisoner who does not want to take any self-responsibility and possibly holds deep shame about their own crime/s, is to target others with gossip and/or hatred. This projection is all too common, and it is the author's experience that the louder an inmate yells about others being informers and so on, is in the majority of cases, an alarm bell about the character who is doing all the yelling.
Forgiveness is the foundation to heal the hurt, and yet even forgiveness has so many sides to it.
For the victim, if they come to a place of forgiving the perpetrator, it is often none of the inmate's business, and may be more about the victim going through their personal healing process. If the victim has the opportunity to confront the perpetrator, then the situation is different, they may choose to openly forgive them. This can, under the right circumstances, be an incredibly healing process for both parties.
For the convicted inmate, self-forgiveness is the first step to shifting their behaviour. An acknowledgement of the destruction and hurt created is important, followed by the need to forgive themselves completely and somehow find a way to identify with the positive inner aspects that they have. Guilt is a dangerous emotion that eats away at individuals and feeds the cycle of reoffending. A far greater emotion is regret, for deep regret tied to self-forgiveness and an action plan for positive new steps, is a healthy way to process and move forward. The inmate who forgives themselves and realises that they do have many positive aspects and finds a purpose for their life, will be well on their way to creating self-fulfilling opportunities in their future, with far greater chances of staying out of prison.
If an inmate has the opportunity to meet their victim, then the inmate really needs to get real with themselves. Too many times drugs, hard family life and so on, are used as crutches to partially or fully justify behaviours. Whilst there may well be some truth in this, it is not helpful for the victim to see anything less than the inmate taking full responsibility for their actions. In the end, regardless of their background, an inmate focussed on self-responsibility is again in a place where positive growth and change has a greater chance to come from.
Hatred on the part of either party is unhealthy. For the victim it does not make things better and can lead to health issues, as well as not sending out anything beneficial to the Universe, which deep down most of us know comes back around on some level. For the inmate, self-hatred will eat away at them and reinforce their lack of worth, which is one of the fundamental underlying reasons for reoffending.
It is our hope that both offenders and victims find forgiveness for themselves and others and that somehow there can be a healing of the hurt and the most positive outcome available under the circumstances.
Finally, whilst retribution feels like a normal thing, please consider the wise words of Chief Seattle, a great Native American Indian who once said: “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”