Remarks at GRIP Graduation ceremony, on why Transformative Justice is a Victim’s Right.
“My name is Christine. I’m an author, run a tech company and am the mother of 6 children. My own mother, Monika, didn’t get to meet my children, as she was murdered, her damaged body found in a cornfield.
That loss impacted our family and me in hundreds of ways that it would take too long to enumerate, but the long shadow of that one act was a dark one.
I first encountered the GRIP program through one of its graduates, who was leading a volunteer training program. He said by way of introduction,”I killed a woman named (NNN) and spent 30 years in SQ for that act. Now I teach nonviolence and anger management. The first thing I would like to do is apologize to any of you who have been a victim of a crime.”
That was an apology I never expected to get. And from a man who was radiating calm, presence and clarity.
When I first came into San Quentin 5 years ago with the GRIP program, it was to be part of the unit on victim offender dialogue. I was unsure what to expect, even a little bit scared. What I have learned since, in the many times in the prisons and at trainings “on the outside” is that even those who commit crimes, with rare exceptions, are victims. The stories of abuse; the male identity system they are raised in; the lack of skills to feel, pause and respond effectively; the detachment: these are all learned and can be unlearned. I have met brilliant people with many talents and so much heart locked away, and seen how much they were sucking up, internalizing and making use of this material. I saw how each person’s transformation and release of the beliefs that no longer serve them in turn touched and changed others. The thoughtfulness and peacemaking is as contagious as its opposite.
In the intervening years, I have come to see restorative justice as a victims rights issue. It’s the responsibility of corrections to return healthy, healing individuals to the society, who will then begin to be a change in their own families and communities. To stop the cycle of violence people are trapped in.
To lock people up as punishment and return unhealed people doesn’t make me safer, and to lock people up forever is a cost that I as a mom and taxpayer and and human am unwilling to bear. We exclude the criminal from our consciousness, but what we don’t look at persists. Criminality is in part a symptom of a broken culture, not just a broken individual. Healing that takes all of our participation.
To honor my mother, please use the opportunity of time in containment to teach the kind of spiritually and emotionally transformative skills that can move the needle on a more just society. It’s such an opportunity – for those incarcerated to grow, and for those in charge to be ennobled as correctional healers. Thank you to everyone who is putting their best efforts into creating a less violent, more just, safer and joyful world.”