Late one night, a bunch of punks armed with a car, a baseball bat and poop for brains decided to go mailbox smashing. They drove down a street in one of Vermont’s lovely neighborhoods and took out all the mailboxes as they cruised. Such a blast.

According to David Karp, a sociology professor at Skidmore College who was an evaluator of Vermont’s juvenile justice program, this midnight wilding “was the sort of thing that might be thought of as a bad juvenile prank. But for one old woman who came out and found her mailbox smashed, it was a lot more. That particular day was the first anniversary of her husband’s passing. He had a workshop and was a craftsman, and this hand-made mailbox was the last thing he’d made for her. So she was quite upset.”

The kids were caught and sent as a group to their community restorative panel. Trained community volunteers listened to each of them tell their version of the story, admitting to what they’d done. But the justice system in Vermont strongly urges crime victims to come to the panel meeting to describe their experience. The old lady came and gave rich, personal meaning to a mailbox that had just been a plaything to the boys who’d wrecked it.

Karp said, “The panel meeting between the offenders and victim was very tearful. The primary impact was the boys’ understanding of what they’d done to the victims.”

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