I have learned over the years that you never know nor can you predict where a victim’s life will head after experiencing violent crime. You also do not know what will happen to victims of violent crime after they have chosen to participate in restorative justice. You think the story is over but the next time you hear that victim speak more has transpired—often more healing. Just one example is Cheryl Ward-Kaiser. Cheryl’s husband was murdered and her daughter raped before her eyes during a home invasion in 1991. Cheryl has met with all her offenders—at the time of the crime they were juveniles. I had not heard until this year that Cheryl had now met the man who raped her daughter. That meeting between this offender and Cheryl occurred in prison and lasted six long hours. Cheryl talked about how valuable this meeting was to her and also to the offender. That was new and again showed me that restorative justice can be experienced long after the crime has occurred if the victim, first, is willing and the offender is willing and takes responsibility for his actions. Though Cheryl this year turned 70 years old her journey has taken her down a very long and unexpected path. And it continues. There has been great healing for Cheryl because of restorative justice and for the offenders she’s met there has been accountability. There’s no nonsense with Cheryl. You would never call her “soft” on crime. She is far from it. Cheryl is one of the best advocates for restorative justice I’ve ever met. But each victim who spoke at our events testify to the powerful impact that restorative justice has had on their lives in unexpected ways.
As with any conference there are moments when you meet people who perhaps you will never see again but the encounter is important. Since it was a national correctional ministry and chaplain association conference our part of the conference was different. Restorative justice was not the focus of the conference, nor was it intended to be. But I know from the feedback we received that many were affected by the stories of the victims who shared about their lives and the impact restorative justice has had on them and their offenders. One woman stopped me in the hallway at Wheaton College and could barely speak about it. She grabbed my hand and thanked me in a passionate manner. I think she was surprised—maybe astonished—that victims of violent crime could meet their offenders leading them to a place of healing or some kind of peace. I did not get a chance to talk to this woman as she rushed off down the hallway. I realize that those that hear victims tell their stories and make their case for restorative justice—some of them telling how they have forgiven their offenders—are seen as not normal or at least in the minority. But that is not so. More and more victims across the United States and worldwide are choosing restorative justice for themselves. Once they do they want to tell their stories and add their voices to those in support of restorative justice. Each story and each life injured by violent crime is different, of course. Not all forgive their offenders nor does restorative justice require this or expect it. Sometimes victims and offenders are reconciled with each other but not always. Through restorative justice processes some kind of change has occurred and it is good for both the victim and the offender.
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