From Harm to Healing - The National Conference on Restorative Justice

Yesterday’s post shared stories of Ann and Therese – two women who have each lost a brother to violence. Both Therese and Ann have found support in their journeys toward healing from several organizations that operate on principles of restorative justice.

Therese has been a member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation (MVFR). Here’s a brief description of MVFR from their newsletter:

Founded in 1976, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) is a national organization of family members of victims of both homicide and executions who oppose the death penalty in all cases. MVFR includes people of many different perspectives. Because violent crime cuts across a broad spectrum of society, our members are geographically, racially and economically diverse.

The breakout session where Ann spoke was hosted by the Capital Restorative Justice Project (CRJP), which offers healing circles for families of murder victims as well as families of people convicted of murder and sentenced to death. CRJP recognizes that the families of both victims and offenders experience similar trauma and loss, and both have few outlets or opportunities for dialogue or healing from this trauma.

CRJP also offers healing circles for professionals involved in capital murder cases (lawyers, clergy, victim advocates and others), and for others who experience trauma as a result of violence.

CRJP’s work is centered in North Carolina, but the central principles on which they base this work applies to any community where murders and executions take place:

“A central principle of the CRJP is that a murder is not simply a crime against the state, but rather, is fundamentally a crime against a family and a community of people. As a corollary, executions only perpetuate trauma and produce new victims of violence.”

One of CRJP’s board members is Roberta Mothershead, who runs Nazareth House, a Catholic-worker style hospitality house. Over the past five years, Nazareth House has offered lodging, meals and support to families visiting loved ones who are on death row at the nearby Central Prison. Nazareth House had been a sanctuary for Ann and many of her family members in the days leading up to her brother’s execution.

“We’ve tried to make this a place of peace and welcome for families who often don’t have other places where they can talk about having a loved one on death row,” Roberta told me.

All three of these organizations and the way that they work reflect what’s at the very heart of restorative justice:

  • an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships,
  • a focus on addressing the harms and the human needs that arise from crime and its aftermath,
  • respect for the dignity of everyone affected by crime,
  • empowering everyone who has been affected by crime in collaborative, inclusive ways so they can express their needs and participate in healing processes

At the RJ conference, we had the opportunity to learn about many different ways that these restorative values can be embraced and lived out – in schools, churches, workplaces, neighborhoods . . . and even within prisons.

Last night, my friend Rose Kolonauski and I had the opportunity to witness a very different kind of restoration and healing taking place inside the Luther Luckett state prison in LaGrange, Kentucky – through Shakespearean theatre. In the next blog post, Rose and I will share some of this experience. Stay tuned…

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: restorative justice criminal justice death penalty

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