The voices of offenders… Becoming aware
One day while I was eating in the cafeteria, one of my friends talked to me about a “prisoner-victim” session that was to take place the following week. As they were missing prisoners, he asked me if I was interested in taking part. Feeling drawn to this kind of session, I went to give my name to the chaplain right away, and he was very happy to meet with me. And, just as simply as that, I came to know incredibly exceptional people. The goal of these sessions may be different for each of the people who take part in them. The people organizing these sessions told me that it’s about going further than the traditional justice system and trying to emphasize reparation and minimizing damages rather than simply focusing on punishment, as is usually the case.
They explained to me what the sessions consisted of: they were created to help victims of criminal acts, to deepen their understanding of what they had lived through, to try to get rid of their fear and their anger, and to work toward spiritual healing. But, things happen as much from the victims’ point of view as from the prisoners’, and the sessions can bring as much to one as to the other.
For my part, as a prisoner in these sessions, I tried to start a process of reconciliation with my past. I believe that it’s important for me to realize the repercussion of my acts on victims. By doing so, I think that it can help me to not repeat these terrible acts. I realized that these sessions made me aware of what others are going through and made me more sensitive, more conscious.
I also wanted to mourn my own suffering and hope that victims can do so also with me so that we can turn the page together for good. One woman who participated quoted an appropriate Bible verse on the topic: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.
I think this verse is a good reflection of the magical atmosphere and the energy that dominates the room. Victims and inmates learn to tell the difference between a person’s actions and the person. Moreover, most of time, I observed that before I was an offender, thief or other, I was also a victim… and I reproduced in the same way the same thing that I had lived through, doing the unforgivable again, repeating crazy actions. They call this “social inheritance”. That’s why Restorative Justice sessions go beyond acts and sound out each person’s heart. In any case, my heart was won over, from the first time.
I know I cannot erase the evil that I have done because there were two deaths. How can I make amends? Even today, I do not know. There is probably nothing that I can do, and that is hard to bear… I would give my life to be able to sleep like before. To be able to simply feel pure joy, to really smile, to have a dream that is not filled with all the anxiety I feel now. But to have closure, I must accept that there are things I cannot change. I also have to look, here and now, in my present, for other paths to future peace. “To be reborn, I must die to my former self”. Write another story. Throw away the pen that has written so much grief.
For me, “letting go” physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually are all part of healing. Both the suffering I’ve experienced and the suffering I’ve caused have to be transcended… so that I can break the hellish cycle of suffering.
I want, with everything in me, to rid my heart of resentment, anger, pity, shame, rejection, and the feeling of being useless.
I want to replace all that and fill my heart with harmony, joy, and finally become part of life’s great tapestry. As one of the others said, “Forgiveness isn’t something you give to someone, it’s a gift that can only be given to yourself.”
“Forgiveness is the only magic mirror that can show me my face. My brother’s and my persecutor’s faces are just some of the many masks that God wears, that God hides behind.”
So for me, this experience has been totally incredible. Somehow, it has definitely helped me break my chains… I wanted to thank the people who have shared their experiences with me from the bottom of my heart and give you a great many thanks for having accepted me into your group. I will be forever grateful to you. This process follows the same path as the volunteer job I have at the CEP (Counselling Education with Peers). I make myself available to others. It is through action that I can change things.
Other brief testimonies.
“Often I would justify myself for stealing. “Doesn’t matter they have cash”. Her, with that little thing, it isn’t much. But the amount of emotions she had tied to this small object, gee! She describes very well how she felt about its loss. She felt danger, a shiver… You know that was so helpful.”
(for armed robbery)
“Having trusted us with your feelings, you gave me the chance to better understand all the pain & suffering that you have carried within yourselves for so many years. Your trust has transformed itself in me into a self-trust so that I was able to express honestly what I had done to my victims & see the painful consequences on my family.”
“We are afraid to cry, to show we are weak… You put on a mask, a wall, a defence mechanism. But then… I received what I expected: tenderness, honestly the big word LOVE, sincerity.”
“It started slowly. Then it developed. We came to build some sort of trust bond with the victims.”
“I was able to participate. We were equals. You never have programs like that. You know, usually we listen to someone. It’s theory. But in the end we were like this (his hands get closer and cross). I think I helped the others. I’m happy… What enriched me was the atmosphere in which it all happened.”
“Okay, you made mistakes, but it’s over. We hope… It’s like pulling through storms, and after the sun comes out. Even the ones with prejudices were able to smile.”
“What matters to us is the object and its worth (money). But the victim, it’s the opposite, the stress it creates, the emotions it brings to them. Because it follows one another… it’s a succession, but for us it’s instantaneous.”
“The thief, he leaves with the money, spends it all and ooff! Just like a candle that you blow out. Except that when you blow the candle out, it doesn’t help much… no more fire, and that’s it… On the other hand for the victim it doesn’t stop there. Her candle keeps on burning. It melts with psychological stress, from dealing with emotions.”