Restorative Justice in practice

By Duke Huang

            After listening to Cheryl’s story, I have nothing but deep respect for her. Not only for carrying on her life after experiencing such horrific trauma, but also for transforming her grieve into action. Even though I have read and study about restorative justice, I was never quite sure how it’s being experienced and lived. Cheryl put restorative justice into a perspective from a victim, a survivor and an activist. I truly appreciated that she told us much about what happened earlier and later in her life beside the tragedy. Because she allowed us to see the trajectory of her life, and everything that leads to this point. I deeply believe that the choices we have made had contributed to the choices we are making right now. 

            When Cheryl was telling her story, I try to listen as much as I can and not to imagined what would I do if I was in her shoe. Because I realized it does not matter what I would do, but what she has done. My key takeaway from this week is that we should not only listen but listen without judgement and with respect. As peacebuilder it’s important to listen to people from all sides before making our own decisions. To be completely honest, I was not only shocked, but almost hostile to some of the comments that were made during our visit at the Salinas Police Department. However, after Pushpa had explained and walked us through our thought process, I realized how immature I was for being so dismissive to their comments, how it had hindered me from listening to them. If I truly want to be a peacebuilder, I need to act according to my own values, but still be open to other people’s.

            Even though I have read many books on restorative justice, including the Little Book on Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr, it was much more powerful and extraordinary hearing about it from Cheryl. She connected the text with her own experience and emotions and that made me realized how powerful storytelling is and how much effect it can have on everyone.   

            Cheryl also made me think deeply about the relationship between restorative justice and retributive justice. I found it very interesting and disheartening when she told us that all the inmates have learned about restorative justice while the victims have not. Restorative justice needs to be initiated by the victims, so how can they start healing if they don’t even know this kind of process exists. I think that at this point restorative justice still can’t replace retributive justice, but it is definitely a better alternative to a system that doesn’t address the relationship between the victims and perpetrators. 

            As someone who is neither a victim nor a perpetrator, I want to be able to advocate for restorative justice that serves both the victims and perpetrators. I would focus on the needs of the victims while making sure that both of their voices are heard while giving them enough space to feel comfortable to speak about their minds. Avoid pushing the victims to forgive but encouraging them to look at their perpetrators with different perspective. 

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.