If you punched me in the nose and went to jail, can we still be friends? Or again be friends, to put it more accurately? Maybe if you reimburse me for all those bills. And say you’re really really sorry. A lot of forgiveness on all sides will probably also help.
Restorative justice may be an idea whose time has come. Not that it’s anything new – restorative justice – or related practices like distributive or retributive justice – have been around for a very long time, if you go back to practices among indigenous people around the globe. But a couple of recent New Yorker articles caught my attention.
The first was about a young man named Eddy Zheng, whose name rang a bell. Turns out, Eddy founded and now leads a non-profit designed to help Asian American & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who have been harmed by our often harmful immigration and criminal justice systems. The non-profit is the New Breath Foundation. The bell in my head was ringing because a very special friend of mine (known informally as West Coast Daughter) is closely associated with NBF.
Eddy Zheng is a “formerly incarcerated ‘juvenile lifer’” who turned his life around while in prison and continues to do great good in the world. In his own life, though, restorative justice has not yet worked. He has reached out to those he harmed; thus far nothing has changed between the wronged and the wrongdoers.
But in another case I learned of through a later New Yorker story, the happier ending to a terrible tragedy is playing out. Katie Kitchen, a Texas woman of wealth and privilege, set about facilitating the release of the man who had been convicted and sent to prison for the murder of Kitchen’s father in 1991. At a ceremony for parolees after his release, he said, “Twenty-five years ago, I killed a man. I’m here because the daughter of this man forgave me.” It would be a stretch to say the two are friends, or that Kitchen’s siblings and extended family are pleased with it all. Still, the story is an extraordinary one.
Pivoting to the following story might trivialize restorative justice. Forgive me. It just seemed somehow related.
My computer (which is probably more essential than the nose on my face) recently began to malfunction because it ran out of storage space. I called The Expert. The Expert and I have worked together happily – and profitably for both of us – over many years, frequently using one of those screen-sharing programs. The Expert quickly discovered a 16 GB file and deleted it.
“Umm,” said I, “shouldn’t we open it first and see what it is?”
“No,” said the Expert as he hit the Seriously, Delete! button; “you don’t use this folder.”
Big mistake. In that file, now gone to the great delete cloud in the sky, were a few things I do indeed use – like my entire email program, little things like that. What followed was a week of angst and anguish, hours of experimentation in the search for a solution and, eventually, starting from scratch to download the lost programs from the Carbonite cloud. If anyone asks, it takes nine hours to download a 16 GB file from the sky. The urge to kill the Expert was overwhelming; I thought I might get off altogether by pleading justifiable homicide.
After several sleepless nights and a day or two of rage, I began to rethink my homicidal impulses. They weren’t doing me any good, and I felt sure the Expert was remorseful, even if probably not losing any sleep himself. I called him up.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I don’t believe you were acting with evil intent.” We are friends again. He helped me order a Portable SSD T7 external storage thing – whatever that is; it seems better than replacing my little favorite, familiar laptop. This may or may not fall in the category of oversimplified restorative justice. But I’m sleeping better.
Also. Be very careful what you delete.
Excellent reading. Thank you for this article, it comes at a good time for me. We want to be forgiven for whatever we have one, no matter how large, or hurtful, or permanent. But we struggle to forgive the people who have wronged us, even for relatively minor or trivial things. It’s a good reminder.
Indeed. Achieving real justice is a perpetual job! Thanks for dropping by.
Wonderful article, about what can be considered a very difficult subject. Forgiveness can be such a hard thing to give especially when it involves a major injustice. I’m always in amazement of those who are able to give it so easily knowing that they also no longer have to carry the burden as well as the wrongdoer.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and talent with us all. You are a treasure and I’m so grateful to know you.
Thanks for reading, and for those kind words. Yes, it’s fascinating that some who have such giant wrongs to forgive are able to do so — while it’s hard for others to forgive a tiny insult. But you’re right that forgiveness can lift a heavy burden all around.
This is so interesting. I was thinking about the Kennedy son who wants to release his father’s killer- much to the chagrin of his siblings. Restorative justice is such a hard concept. Happy to hear you got your computer back in your good graces!
Thanks! Yes, the Bobby Kennedy family case is similar. I suspect there’s often family conflict — or at least differences — in such cases. Forgiveness is good for the soul, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Fran, very provocative, and, as always, such fun to read even with the topic, your choices of words delight me. I know you are very very very very liberal in your thinking, and I say Off with all their Heads. I don’t have much respect for anything political these days. But, keep writing your stuff and I will continue to think about all you write. Just stay frisky and stay safe. I love you.
Thanks for reading! Some days, all news considered, are easier to be frisky on than others. We persevere.