One day when I was eating in the cafeteria, a friend of mine told me about a “victim-offender” encounter that was taking place the following week. As they were looking for inmates to participate, he asked me if I was interested in being a part of it. Feeling drawn by this kind of meeting, I immediately went to give my name to the chaplain who was very happy to meet with me. And just like that, I came to meet some very exceptional people. The goal of these meetings may be different for each participant. The people organizing these meetings told me that it’s about going further than the traditional justice system and trying to emphasize repairing and reducing harm rather than simply focusing on punishment, as is usually the case.
They explained to me what these meetings consisted of; they were created to help victims of crime deepen their understanding of what they went through, to try to eliminate their fear and anger, and to work towards spiritual healing. However, things happen as much from the victims’ point of view as from the inmates’, and the sessions can bring as much to one as to the other.
For my part, as an inmate in these meetings, I try to initiate a process of reconciliation with my past. I believe it’s important that I realize the repercussions my actions have had on the victims. By doing so, I think it can help me not to repeat these terrible acts. I realized that these meetings made me aware of what others are going through and make me more sensitive, more aware.
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 themselves. Moreover, most of the time, I observed that before I was an offender, thief or other, I was also a victim… and I reproduced the same thing that I had lived through, doing the unforgivable again, repeating insane gestures. They call it “social inheritance.” That’s why restorative justice sessions go beyond actions and can transform hearts. As for me, my heart was won over, from the first session.
I know I cannot erase the hurt I caused 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 carry now. But to have closure, I must accept that there are things I cannot change. I have to look here and now, in my current situation, for paths that lead to future peace. “To be reborn, I must die to my former self.” I must 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 has 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 accuser’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 helped me break my chains… I wanted to thank the people who have shared their stories with me 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 if they have cash.” Her, with that little thing, it wasn’t much. But the amount of emotions she had tied to this small object, wow! She described very well how she felt about its loss. She felt danger, a shiver… That was so helpful.”
– Louis, inmate for armed robbery
“Having trusted me with your feelings, you all gave me the chance to better understand all the pain and suffering that you have carried in yourselves for so many years. Your trust in me has transformed into a self-trust so that I was able to express honestly what I had done to my victims and see the painful consequences on my family.”
– Paul, inmate
“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 was waiting for: tenderness, honest love, sincerity.”
– Simon, inmate for murder
“It started slowly. Then it developed. We came to build a kind of trusting bond with the victims.”
– Louis, inmate for hold-up
“I was able to participate. We were equals. You never have programs like that. You know, usually we listen to someone else. It’s conceptual. But at the end we were like this (his hands got closer and then crossed). I think I helped the others. I’m happy… What I appreciated was the atmosphere in which it all happened.”
“Okay, you made mistakes, but it’s over. We hope… It’s like overcoming all the storms, and then the sun comes out. Even the people with prejudices were able to smile.”
“What matters to us is the object and its monetary value. But to the victim, it’s the opposite; the stress it creates, the emotions it brings to them. Because one event follows one another… it’s a whole sequence of events, but for us it’s instantaneous. The thief leaves with the money and spends it all. Just like a candle that you blow out. Except that when you blow the candle out, it is fully out… no more fire, and that’s it… On the other hand, for the victim it doesn’t stop there. Their candle keeps on burning. It melts with psychological stress, from dealing with emotions.”
– Robert, inmate for robbery