Healing, Restorative Justice Ultimately Builds a Safer Society

Article excerpt

SOFTLY AND hesitatingly, Jonathon searched for words with which to recount his life story. As chaplain at one of the prisons in the Correctional Service of Canada, I hear many stories similar to that of Jonathon, who is both offender and victim. At age 16, Jonathon murdered a woman, was tried, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

"My anger had built up inside me and I had stuffed it," he said. "Like a volcano, it erupted in violence and abuse upon others." In time, Jonathon shared the fact that he, himself, had been abused and neglected at a young age and he described himself as "a quiet, angry boy."

Seventeen years have passed since Jonathon's sentencing and he is concerned that having grown up in prison, he has become institutionalized. Many questions and fears find their home in his heart. Presently, Jonathon is in the process of preparing for his judicial review and is apprehensive about what life on the "outside" may be like for him. "How can I get a job? What job will I get?"

Even the transition into a Canadian federal minimum-security institution, in which the residents live in small houses and are expected to develop personal responsibility and-independent living skills, was traumatic for Jonathon.

Several years ago while Jonathon was in a maximum-security prison, his victim's family wrote and asked to meet with him. Through the assistance of the chaplain, this visit occurred. "I could not look at them. I felt shame," said Jonathon.

Nevertheless, he treasures that encounter through which he continues to recognize the consequences of his actions ever more clearly. Further letters have been exchanged between Jonathon and this hurting, reconciling family. Jonathon acknowledges that he can never give back a life, but he is making efforts at rebuilding trust, hope, dignity and at finding a real place when he returns to the community. One of Jonathon's hopes is to "talk to kids . …