Community Members participate in restorative justice meetings as a witness to a process that impacts the whole society through the social bond between all the participants. Here are some testimonials from these volunteers.
These are people who need to name what happened, to share it, to meet a person who allegedly caused this crime or a person who experienced it. What I understand is that injured people are going to hurt, and with restorative justice, we are likely to stop that. When we do violent acts, we don’t have empathy. You think only of yourself, but the victim-offender encounters show that empathy can be reborn in someone. We should be able to meet one another despite our extreme differences. (testimony collected on the Medium Large program of Radio-Canada)
People who meet to truly engage in communication … I came out of the meeting all emotional. It is a long, extremely painful process. You need the right people around and that’s why the CSJR is there. (Testimony from Salut, Bonjour TVA)
I met two people who seemed polar opposite at first… I felt fear when they first interacted. Also anxiety, and sometimes a little anger … During this exchange, the victim wanted to try to understand why she had become “a victim,” but above all she was able to say loud and clear all how the aggressions caused her harm. The perpetrator was able to hear the suffering of the victim, and take responsibility by fully assuming the actions he committed. And when it was time to leave, an incredible thing happened… These two opposing people hugged each other. It was quite unexpected, and it is not necessarily a goal of restorative justice in itself. I don’t know how they felt, but for me it was a moment of intense emotion. I witnessed a form of reconciliation and a newly found inner peace. I hope these two have parted ways to a better life, where they can turn the page and rebuild themselves.
As representatives of the society, we observe, support the victim and offer another perspective. I was impressed by the reactions from both sides. The abusers encouraged the victims to share, and the victims really opened up. It really is precious. At the end, I really saw a change in the victims. I could see that a trust had developed between the two, and that the meetings had made a real difference in their lives.
You have deeply impacted my life as a citizen. I want to say a huge THANK YOU to each of you for what you have allowed me to see and hear.
I come out of this human adventure with you, inhabited and wonderfully astonished by the force of life and the beauty in each and every one of you, a force which made all this possible. I was grateful to see your openness to the opportunity of participating in the RDV meetings. I have seen fear turn into trust. I saw walls crumble and even fall. I have seen prejudices give way to an understanding of the other’s experiences. I saw closed arms, open up to the hug. I saw the anxiety die off. I heard words of tenderness. I heard words of hope. I heard dreams. I have heard the cries of childbirth that keep on; like a child who is born in everyone and who needs to be cared for, pampered, and accompanied. I witnessed true communication, expressed with great courage despite the difficulty; you have heart. I saw humanity in its best form: humble and in truth. I was even more emotional because what you had to share with each other was heavy. These circumstances require a “soul” to say them as you did, with respect. I was overwhelmed because in such a short time you were proof that when humans empower themselves, they can come together when one would have thought it was impossible. It’s a great lesson of life and it’s you who gave it to me.
I have had the privilege of attending victim-offender encounters on several occasions as a member of the society. It’s an unforgettable experience for me! I was touched by the depth of the discussions and the great respect between the participants. Even though fears were very present at the beginning of the meetings, a climate of confidence gradually set in which allowed real internal liberation. My perception of my role as a representative of the society evolved over the sessions. At the beginning, I wanted to be present for the participants, tell them that I supported their journey and encouraged them to keep going. Then very quickly, I realized by listening to their stories, how much I had an important role in society as a citizen. I had to become vigilant in my daily life about what was going on around me and my vicinity. Was there someone in distress? Aggressive words or gestures? How can I take a stand? My civic engagement was sharpened. I became more attentive to the laws that were voted in my name, and to the actions that I could take in my community. It awakened in me a desire to invest more in restorative justice.
I was particularly touched by the testimonies I had the privilege of hearing. What I heard was marked by sincerity and a willingness to help others. The participants revealed themselves, trusted each other and walked together without confusion. But beyond the very touching life stories and the emotions it stirred, what really impressed me was to see barriers fall. In these encounters, stereotypes breakdown. There is no longer the victim on one side and the offender on the other; there are just two human beings embarking on the journey of restoration. They are willing to communicate with one another, willing to diverge from the path drawn by the rest of society. That is, a divisive path using and abusing stigmatizations making it difficult to return to life. To come back to their life.
For me, representing the society in encounters between offenders and victims requires two qualities/skills to develop: listening and empathy. Familiar with the support of offenders, this meeting allowed me to reinforce the idea that in order to reduce the number of victims quantitatively, we must continue to qualitatively support offenders and victims alike. The participants demonstrated that mankind is above all a collection of human beings both with their strengths and their weaknesses. The meetings allowed each participant to put aside judgments and stereotypes for a common goal: greater understanding leading to more empathy.
Yes, in prison there are people who do take meaningful steps. Inmates realize the harm they have caused and feel ready to meet victims. As a representative of the society, I witnessed such an encounter. I was part of the process, I observed from one week to the next changes in the inmates, but also in the victims. Since then, I have been involved as a volunteer in the field of social reintegration. I believe in this approach for the common good. I am convinced that I am participating in building a better society, a society in which no one loses.