It’s certainly uncommon for inmates and victims of violent crimes to sit across from each other, talking about the horrifying acts they’ve committed and experienced in the past. But one Massachusetts community brought these two groups together for a purpose: To make things “more right.”
During a two-day program, inmates and victims gathered at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk — one of the state’s largest and oldest prisons — to sit in circles and share their stories. This unique process, called restorative justice, voluntarily brings together offenders and victims to begin the rehabilitation process.
According to The New York Times, the goal is for offenders to take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims, the victim’s family and the offender’s own loved ones and neighborhoods. Victims are given the opportunity to ask questions of the inmates and share how their lives changed because of the criminal act.
Opponents of this process argue that it’s soft on crime, but many inmates benefit from restorative justice. Muhammad Sahin, who shot and killed a woman 15 years ago, was impacted by the victim’s story and loss.
“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” Sahin told The New York Times. “I real don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”
Restorative justice is not only a rehabilitation process, it also reduces recidivism, too, according to advocates. Janet Connors, a community activist, underwent a mediated dialogue with the two of the young men who were responsible for her son Joel’s death. She said that communication between victims and inmates will help save lives.
“We’re willing to risk a lot to open up the loves of communication,” she said. “To really figure out what to do to stop the nonsense — nonsense is too weak a word. To stop this horror that is taking people’s lives.”
In September, Massachusetts will pilot a restorative justice curriculum, modeled on the Victim Offender Education Group program, which was initially developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. For 34 weeks, participants will meet weekly to undergo a probing process “aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused,” according to The New York Times.
Such a program will certainly help inmates understand the affects of their actions and prevent future crimes. After all, many inmates responded positively to this one, including David Myland, who is currently serving time for second-degree murder.
“I did some rotten things in prison and I’ve done some rotten things in the community,” Myland said, “but the only reason I can do what I do now is because brothers and sisters have given me the opportunity to learn from them and go through a process where I can gain insight I need to heal me. So I can go on and help others.”