The writing of this article began on January 18th, a day commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is significant. A man of peace, his memory stands strong amid an America caught in the throes of a raging pandemic and ripped apart by violence and factious beliefs. The attempted siege of the United States Capitol thrust us into a new “new normal;” one even less “normal” than the COVID-19 pandemic which preceded it. The attack on Washington carried with it an added dimension of shock, fear, and uncertainty. Despite this attempted radicalization, our country stands firm in its resolve to remain united. “With unity we can do important things, great things…Without unity, there is no peace. Unity is the path forward.” President Biden, Inaugural Address (01/20/21)
Though Zoomers do not have viable answers to the problems of our country, their discussion this week evolved into efforts to understand some of the ongoing difficulties, specifically, within the Criminal Justice System. A short introductory clip entitled “The Unequal Opportunity Race,” cited the following causes of crime and imprisonment: wealth disparity, unequal opportunity, poor schooling, unemployment, shortened life span, and discrimination. Although Affirmative Action has leveled the playing field to some extent, a broken prison system remains.
One of the most troubling aspects of prison life is the lack of concern for individual inmates. Excessive emphasis has long been placed on punishment, including the death penalty, to the detriment of effective rehabilitation. Zoomers, to understand this inadequacy, focused primarily on the benefits of Restorative Justice which understands crime in terms of the people and relationships impacted. In a discussion enhanced by the experiences of Sisters Dolores Chepiga, Joan Carey, and Ginger Jenkins (women who have worked in the justice system), we learned the value of establishing peace-building circles wherein, under the guidance of a trained facilitator, the victim and the offender meet in open dialogue to repair harm and heal wounds.
In many ways, “Restorative Justice” is what we should all be about—the unflappable resolve to rekindle the flame of freedom and justice and restore the American dream to our injured nation. “The time is right to do the right thing.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.