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After twenty-six Years in prison: Reflections on healing.

Elster, Jerry
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) Web-only article associated with Tikkun 27(1).

What the VOEG program did was to put the human quality back in this whole structure. The criminal justice system to me erases the human factor, just as the criminal behavior itself erases the human factor. It’s like when you train a soldier. Maybe it was easy for me to see this at the time because I had a military background. When you go into combat they teach you those aren’t people you are fighting against, those are “chinks,” those are “gooks.” The same exercise was being used in our court system. When I go to court I’m no longer Jerry Elster, it’s the State of California against the defendant. Everything is geared toward dehumanizing. The person who was assaulted or fell prey to this crime is not that person no more, they’re the victim of the crime or the plaintiff: I didn’t violate the rights of any individual. I violated the rights of the state. So what VOEG was able to do was to humanize that process again. Jerry wasn’t a defendant, Jerry was a person who violated the rights of another. He crossed the boundaries without permission. Jerry was a victim who victimized. Jerry was a victim of his circumstances and situation and he became so frustrated that he became a perpetrator. So it helped me to put Jerry back into that place and to accept full responsibility. OK, so I had limited choices and we all make excuses, but no, in effect I made a decision. Jerry made a decision to assault another human being. (excerpt)


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