The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison
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The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison

Rebuilding The Web Of Relationships

Barb Toews

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eBook - ePub

The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison

Rebuilding The Web Of Relationships

Barb Toews

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About This Book

An Insightful Bookfromthe Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding Series, Which Has Sold Over 170, 000 Copies The more than 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in the United States are often regarded as a throw-away population. While the criminal-justice system focuses on giving offenders "what they deserve, " it does little to restore the needs created by crime or to explore the factors that lead to it. Restorative justice, with its emphasis on identifying the justice needs of everyone involved in a crime, is helping to restore prisoners' sense of humanity while holding them accountable for their actions. In this book, Barb Toews, with years of experience in prison work, shows how people in prison can live restorative-justice principles. She shows how these practices can change prison culture and society. Written for an incarcerated audienceand for all those who work with people in prison, this book also clearly outlines the experiences and needs of this under-represented and often overlookedpart of our society.

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Information

Publisher
Good Books
Year
2006
ISBN
9781680992502
1.
Introduction
A woman from another block talks about you behind your back. Everything she says is a lie. You’ve tried to ignore her but she just keeps it up. What should happen next?
Your paroled loved one steals several hundred dollars from a safe at work. He spends the money getting high. He lies when confronted by his boss. What should happen next?
You receive word that someone murdered your sibling. Several months later, you discover that this person is incarcerated in your prison. What should happen next?
These dilemmas raise questions about justice. But what is justice?
Some people say that justice requires a good old-fashioned beating, revenge, punishment, or prison. The criminal-justice system often responds in the same way. This system believes that people who offend deserve to be punished for their crimes. Unfortunately, the resulting punishment may cause further harm to the offender, victim, offender’s family, and the community.
Restorative justice answers the justice question in a different way. Restorative justice argues that crime destroys people and relationships. Justice, then, must repair and rebuild people and relationships. Incarcerated men and women have defined restorative justice in the following ways:
•   It heals broken relationships and abuses, by people and for people.
•   It builds instead of blames.
•   It confronts a situation and helps those involved find a place of understanding, healing, and acceptance of each other.
•   It works to make life better for others and for oneself.
Some say that restorative justice is what their grandmothers taught them: Respect yourself and others, clean up your messes, and treat others as you want to be treated.
A restorative-justice approach differs from the traditional criminal-justice approach. For sure, both strive for accountability. But the two approaches understand accountability differently.
Restorative justice understands accountability as addressing needs and making right the wrongs. Rather than focusing primarily on punishment for the offender, accountability focuses on the needs of victims as well as the needs and obligations of offenders, offender families, and communities.
To do justice, people and relationships must be repaired.
The restorative philosophy starts with victims—the harms they experienced and their needs for repair. Helping an offender become accountable is a step toward restoring the victim. Offenders recognizing their obligation to their victims is the foundation of restorative justice.
In addition to accountability, restorative justice also offers a response to the complex experiences and needs of those who offend. People who have committed a crime, particularly those in prison, are also concerned with:
•   their own personal experiences with victimization;
•   healing from both offending and victimization;
•   involvement in determining and meeting their own needs;
•   their families;
•   prevention of crime and reduction in recidivism;
•   social justice, individual power, and the ability to have influence at the societal level;
•   ways to practice restorative justice in daily life, without formal programs.
Restorative justice addresses many of these issues. This Little Book invites discussion about all of these areas of concern. For nonincarcerated readers, I hope this book increases your understanding of restorative justice for offenders.
About this Little Book
This Little Book grows out my restorative-justice work at the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a nonprofit agency serving and advocating for people in prison and their families.1 The book represents years of dialogue with incarcerated men and women, often in restorative-justice seminars. As we talked and listened, the seminar curriculum evolved to include prisoners’ perspectives and interests. This book is designed to approach restorative justice in much the same way as the Prison Society seminars.
The goals of this Little Book are twofold. First, this book aims to provide the reader with a working knowledge of restorative justice. Second, for those who embrace the philosophy, it suggests restorative practices or applications that are useful in prison and in daily life.
The book is organized to meet these two goals. Chapters 2 through 4 introduce the restorative-justice philosophy. Chapters 5 through 9 outline the justice needs of the community, victims, offenders, and offender families. Chapter 10 presents common restorative practices. Chapters 11 and 12 explore if and how these practices can be used in prison, and they present restorative justice as a way of life, including practical suggestions for use while incarcerated.
This book draws on the insights and understandings of incarcerated men and women who have been my teachers and broadened my understanding of restorative justice. I’ve learned that the philosophy speaks to them in meaningful and hopeful ways.
As one individual told me, “restorative justice connects with what is in our hearts” about responsibility and making amends. Another talked about “the human drive to want to make things right and to build peace.” Still another sees restorative justice as part of the journey for “a greater good and for personal growth.” These individuals have actively sought ways to make amends to their victims.
It’s important for me to say a word about the perspective from which this book is written. I have never been a victim of crime or a criminal offender, and as such, I can only speak from this perspective. However, as a restorative-justice practitioner working with people in prison, I am trained and committed to balancing the needs of both offenders and victims.
Many of the prisoner perspectives that shaped this book come from African Americans who lived in inner-city Philadelphia and who received life sentences for violent crimes. Many were young, poor, and undereducated prior to incarceration. Consequently, I write from a framework primarily of those who have experienced violent, urban street crime. This framework cannot and does not speak for everyone.
Each individual experience as an “offender” or “prisoner” is unique. Experiences vary depending on whether, for instance, one is poor or wealthy, white or a person of color, urban or rural, young or old, or highly educated or undereducated. There are many additional factors that give meaning to crime, its causes and prevention, and ideas about justice. Therefore, it is impossible to speak to the specific and unique life stories of all who may read this book.
One night in 1974, two young men vandalized 22 homes, cars, and businesses. At the request of the probation officer and his colleague, the judge ordered the men to meet with their victims. The men began to knock on the victims’ doors, stating who they were and asking what they owed for the damages. One victim was ready to punch the men. Another invited them in for tea. Within three months the men paid back all their victims. These men participated in the first documented face-to-face victim-offender meetings ordered by a court.
Decades later, one of these men, Russ, was studying law and security at a local college. A guest speaker from a community-justice center talked about a local celebrated case that inspired a restorative-justice movement. Russ realized they were talking about him! He had no idea his experience as an offender had become an example of a different way to do justice. Russ later became a volunteer mediator with the program.2
At times, I use labels like “prisoner,” “offender,” and “victim.” I want to acknowledge, though, that these labels have the potential to dehumanize and lock people into one single identity. As humans, we have the potential to both hurt and to be hurt, to be both victim and offender. So these labels have pitfalls. Still, when they are used to identify only part of a person or a particular act, they do have some value. They provide a way to identify those with a “stake” in a situation of wrongdoing, for example. Moreover, to admit that one is an “offender” is a step toward accountability. So I use these labels, aware of their limitations and dangers.
How to use this Little Book
This Little Book is a sampler or “teaser.” It will likely raise as many questions as it answers. I hope these questions, discussions, and criticisms create the chance to learn more about restorative justice.
The case studies at the beginning of each chapter offer practical examples of restorative justice at work. Some stories tell of common restorative practices. Others reflect unique ways of applying restorative values. A few even express the challenges of doing restorative justice. All are intended to spark ideas about how you can be part of restorative justice yourself.
The chapters will further fuel thought and discussion on a variety of topics that range from personal to academic. You may find the following questions useful in your reflection:
1. What does the chapter mean to you in light of your personal experiences?
2. In what ways have you seen or experienced the concepts in real life?
3. With what do you agree? Why?
4. With what do you disagree? Why?
5. What benefits and risks are there to applying restorative justice in prison?
6. What would it take to apply the concepts in your life?
The final two chapters include suggestions for practicing justice in prison and in daily life. Many of these suggestions come from men and women who are in prison. These sare meant to jump-start your own ideas and help you consider how to practice restorative justice in any context or setting.
There are many ways to use this Little Book. You may read it on your own or lead a discussion group using the book as a text. You can use the book in an existing prison program, possibly reading it with family or prison staff.
This book may raise difficult issues for you. Perhaps you are a crime victim, struggle with family relationships, or deal with feelings of guilt and shame. I hope you’ll find healing ways to explore your emotions. Some have used art, journaling, or talking to a friend as way of getting things out.
My hope is that this Little Book will start—or continue— your own journey of discussion, accountability, and healing on the restorative-justice path.
2.
Web of Relationships
Late one January evening, Tony, a teenager, shot and killed Tariq Khamisa, a young pizza-delivery man. In the face of profound grief, Azim Khamisa, Tariq’s father, wanted to do something good in Tariq’s name. He reached out to Ples Felix, Tony’s grandfather. Together they created an agency committed to violence prevention among youth. Through this experience, Mr. Felix “realized we had the potential to not only help heal each other, but perhaps contribute to the healing of people we didn’t even know.”3
Khamisa’s and Felix’s experiences imply that everyone is connected. Both pain and healing are shared. Restorative justice grows out of these shared connections. Before exploring the philosophy in more detail, this chapter introduces the importance of strong connections and the implications of broken connections between people.
Connection
Imagine you sit in a circle of chairs. One by one, people whom you are close to sit down with you. Then others who have touched your life but with whom you are not as close join you. People continue to join the circle: family, friends, co-workers, prison staff, and members of your faith community.
Included in the circle are elements of nature such as plants, animals, air, and water. Soon the chairs are full with all the people and elements that have touched your life, past and present. Now connect each of these individuals and elements with a single, crisscrossing strand of string to form a web.
Human life grows out of this web of relationships. Through strong connections to others, we meet our basic needs for safety, love, self-worth, comfort, and even food and shelter. In a strong web, everyone is equal in worth, access to power, and the right to a meaningful life. No one person is more valuable than another. There is no “us” or “them.”
Yet, each individual is unique. Relationships create stories which, in turn, create our individual identity. Family and friends, cultural and faith teachings, and even political and economic policies teach us who we are, how to act, and who we can become. Because our respective relationships impact us as individuals, the web becomes the “big picture” of who each of us are. To understand an individual is to understand his or her relationships.
On the other hand, individuals impact relationships. When one person is happy, the joy is shared across the w...

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