At a conference on trauma, I met a woman who works for the Department of Corrections. Part of her job involves restorative justice, and she helps inmates write letters of repentance to their victims, acknowledging their responsibility for whatever crime they’ve committed. These letters are vetted by Corrections staff and go through multiple drafts to ensure the perpetrators are truly sorry and that they take responsibility for their actions.
Then the letters are saved in a ‘letter bank’ and held on behalf of the victims. They are not ‘sent’, but held in case the victims every want to reach out. Sometimes the letters are not accessed until after the perpetrator has died. Sometimes they are never read at all.
But even if the letters are never read, they play a part in helping the inmates heal too. For it is only in taking responsibility for our actions that we can heal ourselves.
There are other restorative activities. If-and only if-crime victims are willing, visits can be set up between inmate and victim for the same purpose as the letters. Inmates offer sincere apologies and a willingness to help heal the situation. In some cases (where inmates have died), other inmates are willing to ‘stand-in’ and role-play for victims they have never personally violated, to be conduits of healing.
These are all deeply creative and healing activities. And the repercussions don’t just heal the victims and inmates-they heal staff as well.
The woman I met who leads these activities has her own story. She used to work in corporate America. Then she faced a bitter divorce and lost her well-paying job, retaining custody of her children. Almost as a last resort she applied to be activities staff at the Department of Corrections justifying it because it was physically close to her home. She now glows as she talks about her work. She said she feels the hand of grace and says the satisfaction she receives far outweighs any of the benefits of her previous job.
There are life situations-crime, divorce-where you can’t change the actions that have been committed. The only thing you can change is how you view them. And in viewing them differently, you leave room for grace.
The writer Marcel Proust said, “The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands but to possess new eyes.”
In all walks of life (and especially after traumatic events) we are not called at first to remedy situations with action, but to remedy them with how we view them.
What situations are you facing which need new eyes?
May we pursue our paths, opening our eyes to the possibilities,