Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 1

Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 1

I’ve been asked to share the keynote address I offered at last week’s Lancaster Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (LAVORP) Annual Dinner. So, I’ll post it in 4 segments here on my blog over the next 4 days.


Seven years ago, seven women began meeting one evening a week in a small mountain community in North Carolina. Each woman brought scissors, needles, and thimbles to those meetings. Each brought scraps of fabric, bits of ribbon and spools of thread. Each woman brought her own ideas and experiences. And together, they made a quilt.

What does a quilt made 7 years ago by 7 women in North Carolina have to do with LAVORP and restorative justice here in Lancaster County?

Well, the story of those women and the quilt they made is one of the most powerful stories of restorative justice I’ve ever encountered. And I believe their story may offer inspiration and ideas for us here in Lancaster about extending the reach and possibilities of restorative justice. But their story also raises questions.

  • About WHAT we include under the heading of “Restorative Justice”
  • About WHO we involve in Restorative Justice efforts
  • And about WHEN we apply Restorative Justice principles

Tonight, I’ll share the story of the women and their quilt, along with stories of some other Restorative Justice efforts I saw around the country, and I invite all of us to ponder these questions.

What do we include under the heading of “restorative justice”?

I’ll begin at the end of the story – with the quilt itself.

Now, we’re here in Lancaster County, in the heart of quilt-making country. We know our Log Cabin quilts from our Double Wedding Ring and Star patterns. We’ve seen Rose of Sharon, Tulip, and Flower Basket quilts. We’re familiar with patchwork quilts and appliquéd quilts and even crazy quilts.

The photo above shows the quilt the women in North Carolina made. It might not look like any quilt design we’re familiar with here in Lancaster. I mentioned that the story of this quilt is a restorative justice story. But that story might not fit with what we typically consider restorative justice – until we reexamine the underlying principles of restorative justice.

At its heart, restorative justice is about fostering wholeness in individuals, in relationships and in communities. It’s also about addressing harm and promoting healing. To do so often requires stitching together torn remnants from peoples’ lives.

Sort of like making a quilt.

The seven women who made this quilt had serious hurts they needed to have healed, severely torn pieces of their lives. All of them had been deeply and painfully impacted by extreme violence in the form of murder.

This collaborative quilt-making was a way for them, individually and collectively, to heal some of their pain. While quilt-making isn’t a typical restorative justice process, it embodied for those women restorative principles of fostering wholeness in each of them individually, in their relationships with each other and in their small mountain community.

I’ll share more of the quilt story in a little while, but first, let me tell you about a few other people I met in my travels who got me thinking about this question of what we include under the heading of restorative justice:

  • In South Carolina, a prison guard told me that women on his cellblock on death row crochet clothing and blankets for premature babies, in hopes those babies will live. The guard said this is the women’s way of trying to give something back to the community, to be accountable for the lives they have taken.
  • I spent time with members of the Restorative Justice Association of Virginia, a statewide coalition that’s working to change the Virginia constitution to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of people who were convicted of felonies and have completed all the terms of their prison sentences and parole, but are prohibited from voting for the rest of their lives.

Filmmaking. Crocheting. Restoring voting rights. Public speaking.

Maybe not things we typically include under the heading of restorative justice. But all of these are restorative ways of fostering wholeness, addressing harm and promoting healing in those communities.

Well, let me get back to the quilt story . . . and another question it raises. That is the question of who we might involve in RJ efforts? . . .

(The next part of the quilt story, and the question of who we involve in RJ efforts will be posted in PART 2, which you can find here tomorrow)

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour death penalty

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