….Over twenty years after the tragedy, at the invitation of a friend and neighbor, Jerry Hancock, who was conducting a Restorative Justice program at Columbia Correctional Facility in Portage, I first attended a three-day Restorative Justice “talking circle.” It was there in prison, for the first time, that I found a venue strong enough to hold and acknowledge the painful reality of what had happened to my grandmother and her two friends, to me and my family, to the other victims’ families, to our friends, and to our community.
That restorative justice circle was not the adversarial courtroom setting I’d experienced, concerned with side bars and procedures and prosecution. Nor was it the sensational national press coverage that reported all the sordid details of the crime. It wasn’t the shocked, embarrassed silence that often accompanies discussion of personal tragedies of this magnitude.
Instead, it was a group of people—a “community,” if you will–who either knew from personal experience, or were willing to honestly acknowledge, the incomprehensible cruelty and terrible damage that violent crime visits on all of us, a community comprised of victims, survivors, offenders, jailers, lawyers, social workers, chaplains, teachers, and others who were willing and able to address that cruelty and damage–openly, bravely, personally–from the heart. That “talking circle” felt to me like arriving home after a very long journey.