Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crime, Punishment and the Common Good in California

By Seth Weiner, Co-Director of the Center for Restorative Justice

Beautiful music began to fill the Sacred Heart Chapel as dusk had fallen and guests from across California took seats in the pews. Lively conversations between many reunited long-time friends quieted as Rod Hickman, former secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, approached the microphone and welcomed the crowd.

It was a picturesque beginning to the Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration symposium on "Crime, Punishment and the Common Good in California," co-hosted by Loyola Law School's Center for Restorative Justice and the California Catholic Conference on August 3 and August 4. More than 600 attendees from all parts of California, including dozens of restorative justice advocates, gathered to learn about the on-going historic reforms in the state's criminal justice system. After sharing a meal in the early evening on a grassy lawn overlooking West Los Angeles and the ocean from the bluffs on LMU's Westchester Campus, attendees were welcomed to an evening of healing music, poetry and testimony of people affected by crime and the criminal justice system.

As the lyrics of the hymn repeated, "hold us in thy mercy," survivor of violent crime and restorative justice advocate Jaimee Karroll spoke into the microphone. "I am a survivor of child abduction and violent abuse when I was 9 years old. I have found personal healing from working with both crime survivors as well as offenders incarcerated for violent offenses, including abduction." She returned to her seat and the music continued. A man replaced her at the microphone. "I am responsible for the murder of another man. I have served many years in prison and am now working to help heal the kinds of harm I have caused. I pray to God every day for forgiveness." These testimonies were followed by that of a sister of an incarcerated brother, the mother of a murdered son, and the sister of a murdered brother. As each person spoke, they took a seat side by side the others. The hymn played on as the tragedy and triumph spread through the chapel.

Darlene Chavarria and Frank Escamilla from Street Poets put many of the feelings into words with sharp and insightful poems. Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix, the father of a murdered son and grandfather of the shooter, gave a keynote presentation based on their own story of loss, forgiveness and work for the creation of safe schools and communities. The evening ended with a screening of the challenging and moving documentary film of a restorative victim-offender dialogue "Meeting with a Killer." And all of this was just the beginning!

Saturday, August 4 was a day that filled Gersten Pavillion both with more than 600 attendees and more inspiring stories and presentations from the likes of the restorative-justice pioneering Judge Gail Brewster Bereola and current CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. Much of the event was recorded and will be made available soon. For more information and a listing of the full program please click here.

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