I was reminded of one of the things I really enjoy about being a conferencing facilitator. More than once I’ve seen that recognition of the “other” as a human being. I thought about the victim of a property crime who, in preconference, referred to the offender as a “second class human being.” Yet, when he sat across from the young man in conference, listened to his story and that of his father, this victim changed drastically. He told the young man, “All I want from you is a letter three months after your release telling me how you are doing.” He talked about the courage that it took for the young man to sit in the conference, confess and apologise. For this victim, the experience of talking with the offender helped him see the humanity of the young man.
I’ve seen this go the other way as well. I’ve talked with offenders in pre-conference who only see the impact on their lives and possibly those of their families. When asked about the victim, they have a hard time even thinking about how that person could be affected. Yet, in conference they gain the awareness of the victim and how he/she has been affected.
I can’t forget the offender who had stolen from a company. Throughout all our conversations, he denied that anyone could have been harmed or affected by his actions. Yet, in the conference setting with a community representative, he began thinking about other people. He ended the conference by saying, “You know, I bet the guy who got me the job there had a hard time because of what I did.” For him, the conference opened his eyes to the human beings impacted by his behaviour.
While small, those moments of recognition are an awesome part of the conferencing process. For me, the process of humanising the other is the real promise of restorative justice. Too often I talk with friends or acquaintances who see all offenders through one lens, that of the other, someone who doesn’t have humanity. Yet, when they hear the stories involved in offending they begin to see the person. I enjoy watching that process unfold.