Tag Archives: restorative justice

unexpected

so i’m sitting on my couch reading an interesting article on my laptop, legs propped up on my coffee table with a bag of chips well in reach.  sounds nice, eh?  it’s a good friday afternoon.  phone rings and i see a number i don’t recognize.  thinking it might be a potential boss calling me i pick up expecting a business conversation.

wrong.  pleasantly wrong.

‘is this lucas?’

‘yes it is,’ i reply, attempting to sound as polite as i can.

‘hey, its jeff (last name removed).  i’m glad i remembered your number.  wasn’t sure i did.’

i met jeff shortly after i moved to halifax almost 3 years ago.  half a dozen years younger than me and a temper like a hand grenade, jeff was homeless when i met him.  he split his nights between two of the men’s shelters and the out of the cold shelter where i worked.  we got to know each other staying up late watching movies while i worked overnights.  he would usually come in late looking for a bed and some food.  i’d make him some grub and we would talk life while watching old westerns.

classic guy thing to do.  ha!

jeff had a problem saying ‘no’ to the wrong crowd.  instead of turning and walking away, he got sucked into their bad choices while making his own along the way.  it wasn’t long before the law caught up with him and decided he needed to spend some time away from regular society.  at the time i didn’t know where he had gone.  some times guys disappear.  sometimes it’s for the better, other times it’s not.

prison should be a wake up call for people.  some people get it while others find the same bad crowd inside jail that keeps them entrenched in the lifestyle.  i’ve heard my fair share of guys on the street tell me they became better criminals in prison, sharing ‘war stories’ with other inmates, how they deceived, stole, assaulted and ripped off their way to criminal glory.

criminal college – you may have gone in for break and enter but come out slinging crack in the north end to junkies, hookers and weekend warriors.

this is a classic reason why the punitive justice system doesn’t work.  when you simply lock up offenders up behind metal bars, you aren’t doing them or the community at large any benefits.  while others may argue the offender doesn’t deserve anything since they broke the law, it stands to reason that the community would be better served by rehabilitating criminals instead of creating holding pens where they are put on ‘time out’ for a while.

punitive justice makes the prison industry and all those invested in very wealthy while helping very few others.  restorative justice is a different way of thinking about crime and conflict.  a united nations committee on restorative justice defined it in as ‘a process whereby parties with a stake in a particular offence resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future.’  restorative justice is concerned in holding the offender accountable in a more meaningful way, repairing the harm caused by the offence, achieving a sense of healing for the victim and the community, and reintegrating the offender back into the community.

sounds better, doesn’t it?

restorative justice.  look into it.

i digress..

unfortunate for jeff, he didn’t get the wake up call the first time to prison.  he kept the same company behind bars as he did when he was free and it only served him poorly when he regained his freedom.  the second go around sounds like it jolted him.

‘i can’t go back to that life, man,’  he says to me. ‘i want to do right by my family and by myself.  i’ve been doing a lot better since i got out but i’m afraid if i don’t do something more i’m going to mess up again.  i need help though..’

i gave jeff my phone number almost 2 years ago after he told me he wanted help.  i offered to talk with him about housing options and health-related resources.

he never did call..

until today.

‘is your offer still on the table?’ he asks me.

‘i never took it off, jeff.’

‘thanks, lucas.  i called hoping you would say that,’ his voice noticeably excited.  ‘i promise i’m ready to take this stuff seriously now.’

‘i hope so.  i’m no savior, though,’ i explain to him. ‘i can help you figure some things out and put a plan together but i’m no miracle worker.’

that’s where you come in, God.

if you’re reading this, please do me a favor and lift up a prayer for jeff.  addictions be broken, past be healed and restoration done.

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slow down

things have been  pretty slow at hope lately.  we havent been seeing as many guests come in for meals as we normally do.  part of it is to be expected considering social assistance cheques came out last wednesday.  from my years of experience working on the front lines, a large portion of the street community disappears for a few days or a week after welfare cheques are issued.

it speaks to a few things:

one, drug addiction has many people in slavery.  we may not see the shackles and chains but they are there all the same.  its not all the typical street drugs you are probably thinking about, ie. crack, heroine, speed, meth, marijuana.  the number one addiction among the people i work with is that to prescription drugs/pharmaceuticals.

wasnt what you were expecting was it?

heres what gets my goat..

people get hurt and go to the doctor.  the hurt is causing the person to be in a significant amount of pain.  the doctor prescribes them a narcotic painkiller to help with the symptom – pain.  the person gets addicted to the ‘medicine’ and when they attempt to come off of it, the terrible pain convinces them to go back on it.

they are trapped.

i experienced a bit of that after my second knee surgery.  the ‘medicine’ i was taking caused my body to become dependant on it and, when i attempted to come off of it, gave me a pain worse than that of my swollen knee.  fortunately for me i had safeguards around me.  i had a mother who knew enough to ask consistently about my usage.  i had a doctor who wasnt in the pocket of drug companies, ie. he didnt push drugs as a remedy but as temporary help.  i also had a coach that would check up on me.

i was fortunate because theres no telling what kind of addiction i could have developed and still be mired in.

theres a lot of people who arent as fortunate.

when the doctors stop administering the drugs, people will find others way to get them.  theres really two choices – theft or street purchases.  digging ones self out of the rabbit hole is a pretty difficult at this point.  paychecks start getting gobbled up by your addiction.  the addiction starts affecting your job and eventually you lose it.  now on social assistance, you have little money to spend on your addiction so you turn to whatever means to make the pain go away.  crime often follows along with police officers, lawyers, judges, jail cells and probation officers.

welcome to the streets.

this is what life looks like for too many people.

addiction doesnt care if youre lazy or motivated, good or bad, educated or uneducated, rich or poor.  it will take you whether your skin color is black, white, purple or green.  addiction doesnt care about your variables.  it cares about being fed.

so for the first couples days after the cheques come out, peoples bellies go empty while their addiction gets to feast.  and feast it does..

now, if we had doctors who werent paid by drug companies to push their drugs more liberally than they would normally be inclined to, would we have as large a problem?  certainly not.  are greedy doctors and drug companies our only problem?  indeed a large one but not the whole picture.

see, i think the larger problem lies with the way the war on drugs is handled.   i believe that retributive justice is counterproductive and harmful to our society, while restorative justice repairs whats been broken. im frustrated with punitive steps to bring about justice.  its mechanical, lifeless and dehumanizing.  does it have a place in society?  yes, it does because some crimes require people spending significant amount of time away from society, ie. murder and sexual assault.  but for the most part, punitive justice does more to harm individuals and communities than help.

what if instead of punishing people harshly through the criminal justice system, we allowed crime control to rest primarily with the community?    what if instead of a person taking punishment for a crime they committed, they took responsibility and action to repair the harm inflicted?    what if instead of punishing community members and thus communities (by extension), we allowed communities to be the facilitators of a restorative justice?

a justice that sought the restoration of all parties involved.  thats the kind of justice that make us whole again.

all of us.

/end of idealistic rant

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