Sunny Schwartz on restorative justice

A revolutionary program, "restorative justice" is changing the way criminals and victims begin to heal. It is where victims come face-to-face with the people whose crimes forever altered their lives. Sunny Schwartz is an attorney who heads up the Resolve to Stop Violence Project for the San Francisco County Sheriff's Department. She says part of what is helping some families heal is hearing criminals take responsibility for what they did.

"We felt very compelled to do something different than locking people up, letting them out again, and never taking time to talk to the offenders, the victims and the community members who are all affected by violence," Sunny says. "I don't know a family that has not benefited from looking face-to-face with the perpetrator of their lost loved ones or themselves, because it speaks volumes to be told, 'You didn't deserve that, I'm sorry.' That's not the end-all, that's just the beginning. Offender accountability is critical here, and it's the backbone of our program."
Amy, daughter involved with restorative justice

Amy was only 5 years old when her pregnant mother, Kathy, was brutally raped and murdered by two teenage boys. The details surrounding Kathy's kidnapping were vague. Amy and her grandmother, Linda, said that not knowing the truth behind what happened led them to enter a restorative justice program—to go face-to-face with Gary, one of the men in jail for Kathy's murder.

"I don't think closure is a wonderful word, because you're always going to feel that pain," Amy says. "It's never going to go away. It did bring us a lot of relief, though. It brought us a lot of peace and answered a lot of our questions."
Amy and Linda on restorative justice

Amy and Linda asked a remorseful Gary to take a picture with them—a moving experience for all of them.

"We wanted him to have a picture of us," Linda says. "We wanted him to remember who we were. The process often de-personalizes it for offenders. It wasn't just the state of Texas that had a gripe with Gary. He hurt living, breathing people—Amy, me, my husband, all of us who loved Kathy. But there was more to it than that for me. It was an enormously cathartic thing to be able to talk to him and to hear who he was, because he had been a monster and faceless person. … From the moment he walked in (the room), it was different for me. He looked so young. He still looked like a little boy. It was incomprehensible. He was bawling. I expected that he would be emotional, and I was really prepared for that. From the moment he walked in, I could never look at him the same again."
Jackie, a forgiving mother

Twenty-four-year-old Nicole was driving to her grandmother's house when tragedy struck. Nicole's car was hit head on by Lee, who lost control of his vehicle, killing Nicole.

Nicole's family believed that meeting Lee would give them unanswered questions and help them move on with their lives. On the morning they were to meet Lee, Nicole's mother, Jackie, visited Nicole's gravesite.

"When I meet Lee, I don't really have any expectations," Jackie says. "It's easier being here today knowing this is one of the final days we've been looking forward to."
Lee, a driver who killed someone's family member, on restorative justice

Lee says that facing the family was the most difficult thing he has ever done—but ultimately, rewarding for all of them.

"It was really hard to sit there and meet this family," Lee says. "I think it was good for all of us that we were able to do that. I felt a lot better about myself. … I want them to know how horrible I felt after it happened. I always wanted to know what you guys thought and how you felt about me."

Lee received a year probation and does community service—maintaining Nicole's gravesite and talking to other truck drivers.
An ex-wife targeted by a hitman

Sue was a newly divorced mom making a fresh start for herself and her two children. One day, Sue was inside while her children played outside of the house, a man came to the door looking for yard work. Sue kindly showed him the yard and let him into the house to use the phone. She had no idea the man, Dale, was an alleged hit man hired to kill her. Dale shot Sue in the stomach, but, fortunately, the gun jammed and he wasn't able to fire any more bullets. Sue ran to the neighbor's house while Dale escaped. Three months after the shooting, Dale was arrested and convicted for attempted murder, and served 12 years in prison.

Even with Dale behind bars, Sue didn't feel safe. "I had nightmares for several years of people chasing me with guns," she says. "I was so scared all the time, I carried a loaded gun in my purse for about two years."
Hitman and his female target make peace

After serving 12 years in prison, Dale contacted Sue to apologize for shooting her.

"I was back in jail again, looking at another term in prison," Dale says. "I had basically hit bottom and didn't like myself. Part of the 12-step drug program I was going through is to make amends where possible. So that's why I called Sue the first time, to tell her I was sorry for what I had done."

Dale and Sue had four restorative justice meetings in the summer of 2002, four years after Dale initially called to apologize for the shooting. Says Sue, "I knew it was divinely guided, and I felt it was really important to go and participate for the healing that was necessary for the whole family and Dale's family, as well."

Sue and Dale now speak at prisons to help other inmates realize the full impact their crimes have on families.
Sunny Schwartz on the justice system

Sunny Schwartz says that restorative justice is a "call to action" to do something different in the justice system that could effectively help heal not only the victim, but the ex-criminal, as well.

"We've been locking people up for hundreds of years," she says. "Crime is continuing, and we spend billions of dollars. Virtually everyone is getting out into your community and my community. We're about beginning to start giving the tools to the offenders, holding that mirror up and saying, 'Look at what you've done.' [We're trying to] provide jobs, education and recovery programs, because 90 percent of the people incarcerated are all getting released."
FROM: Coming Face-to-Face with Your Attacker
Published on October 25, 2004


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