By Fellow Officer
This piece was written by a police officer about his first experience with restorative justice. He submitted the piece to be shared anonymously with other officers.
Restorative justice? Yeah right! Bad guys go to jail. That’s the way it is and should stay. Ask any child how the game of “cops and robbers” is played. Simple enough.
That was my thinking. With nearly three years of working the mean streets of our city I had it all figured out. “Cops vs. robbers,” and the more “robbers” I put in jail the better of a “cop” I was.
Then came this “restorative justice” nonsense. A new and improved way of doing things, that I was basically being forced to participate in. Instead of putting bad guys in jail we would sit with them in a “peace circle” and tell them just how bad they were. Then we’d give them hugs and sing Kumbaya right? You’ve got to be kidding me! That is not how it works. Obviously the “higher ups” had been sitting at their desk for too long and grown delirious. Now we were having to change everything based on their skewed vision of justice.
But the recidivism rate speaks for itself. Restorative justice works. Humph! I’d show them. Let’s see what happens when we start putting some real criminals into their program. See how the recidivism rate does then. They were probably fudging the numbers anyhow.
So began my master plan. All I needed now was the right dirt bag at the right time. And then I found him, Jerry. Every cop in our city knew Jerry. Habitually drunk, probably holding “crack” or some other illicit street narcotic, and more likely than not in the company of one of our most highly ill regarded local prostitutes. It was a beautiful sight in my eyes. Jerry, drunk as usual, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries he’s just lifted from the local grocer. “I will be seeing you in the ‘peace circle’ my friend.”
Our “circle” came not long after that. I donned my freshly pressed uniform, shined my boots and put on my best toothy smile. As I walked into the circle I noted that Jerry had probably been drinking already that day. Perfect! However, all the facilitators were friendly, courteous, and respectful towards Jerry. In turn he seemed to be minding his “Ps and Qs.” Being my skeptical self I figured he was just putting on a show and enjoying the free snacks and attention.
As our “circle” got underway it was apparent the facilitators had come prepared. I was especially impressed by an elderly male facilitator who must have done extensive research on shop lifting and its repercussions. He quoted statistics and gave a play by play numerical break down of how even the smallest theft comes back to affect every consumer in the community. It was actually quite impressive. Jerry seemed interested, but still seemed to lack any real concern for how his actions were affecting others.
Then came a pivotal moment. A second facilitator posed the question to Jerry, “How did you get here, what led you down this path?” Jerry initially told us he wasn’t sure and spoke about his substance abuse and related problems. Everyone calmly listened and let him go on. Jerry continued. “Maybe this all started when my mother died,” he though out loud. Jerry went on to explain what his mother had meant to him and how her passing had affected him. As he went on I could hear his voice change and see he was having difficulty getting through this. Despite living a destructive lifestyle, Jerry was not weak, and had kept his pride intact for the most part. I could see that same pride was crumbling down as he came face to face with the demons of his past.
Jerry went on for several more minutes, no longer able to maintain his composure while reflecting on his mother’s death and his own fall shortly afterwards. At first I thought this too was an act but it became clear as time went on that Jerry was truly sincere in his confession. The facilitator who posed that initial question offered Jerry a kind hug while another retrieved a box of Kleenex. The Kleenex was appreciated by all.
A contract was discussed and agreed upon. Jerry would complete an apology letter and do several hours of community service. The agreement seemed fair, more so than I had seen in the court system. Despite his emotional and seemingly heartfelt confession, I still had doubts as to Jerry’s ability to follow through with the contract and not reoffend. I was sure it was a matter of time.
So I waited, and waited, and waited. I had waited long enough in fact that I had forgotten about Jerry and my plan entirely. Then one day, probably a year or more later, I was on bike patrol in a local park. I spotted a lone rider coming my way in the distance. As the rider got closer I immediately recognized him as Jerry, a much more sober and healthier looking Jerry. Jerry stopped and we spoke for several minutes. He told me how the “circle” had changed things for him. He had a new perspective on life. Part of his community service was completed at a local church. He had made some strong connections with that church and was now doing work for them on a regular basis. He was also sober and spending time in the gym again. Jerry had even reconnected with his family and was working towards healing those broken relationships, while making up for lost time with his daughter. I was both shocked and proud of what Jerry had accomplished.
Before we went our separate ways that day Jerry thanked me for giving him a chance when no one else would. I did not fill Jerry in on the finer details of my plan, but did confess I had doubted he would make it. Jerry smiled, a very real smile, and laughed that he would have doubted himself too.
To this day I occasionally see Jerry out riding his bike or at a coffee shop and we take a few minutes to catch up. He is still doing well and is even using his past mistakes to help steer his family, friends, and acquaintances from going down the wrong path. Each time I see Jerry I am reminded of the good that came from our restorative justice meeting, our “circle.” I am also reminded of my own ill intentioned plan to doom that program. More importantly, I am reminded that there is hope for even the most seemingly lost of people. Day in and day out I see the same people struggle with addiction, mental illness, or just plain old poor decision making. Jerry is a constant reminder to me that it can be done, people can overcome, and that opportunity should be given to everyone. Who knows, there could be more Jerrys out there just waiting for someone to give them that chance. That is my hope.