Harm, healing, hope: reflections on Restorative Justice Week

This week’s guest writer is Eileen Henderson, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Ontario. 

This week  is Restorative Justice Week in Canada. Across the country, people are celebrating restorative justice (RJ) through a variety of activities and events. From Church Council on Justice and Corrections’ Imagine Justice Art Gallery, to a national symposium in Quebec City, to seminars within some of our federal prisons — organizations and communities are holding events and hosting conversations with the intent of engaging the larger community in the concept of restorative justice and the use of restorative practices.

Restorative justice (RJ) is a way of looking at crime that moves us from viewing it solely as the breaking of laws to regarding it as the breaking of relationships. It moves us beyond arrest, plea and sentencing to the needs of all those who have been impacted, including the recipient of harm (victim), the author of harm (offender) and the larger community.

imagine-justice-banner-RESTORATIVE-JUSTICE-WEEKFor the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of working with an amazing group of colleagues at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO) and with others across the country who are committed to walking alongside women and men returning to the community after incarceration. Through Circles of Support and Accountability, community-based work (ARISE here at MCCO), or prison visitation initiatives, staff and volunteers have committed themselves to walking with those have created harm, listening to their stories, offering support, requiring accountability, encouraging and advocating for truth to be told, while never losing sight of the needs of those who have experienced pain and loss due to victimization.

In other areas of our RJ work, we have the privilege of sitting with seniors who have experienced elder abuse, listening to their stories and being a presence in the midst of pain. We meet weekly with women and sometimes men who are in abusive relationships marked by trauma, again listening, supporting and advocating for them as they begin their journeys toward hope and healing. Yet another aspect of RJ work involves supporting congregations that are struggling with boundary crossing and sexual violence, longing to discover where God is in the midst of the pain and brokenness.

In the midst of working with broken inter-personal relationships marked by pain and desperation, grace and hope, RJ workers are also caught up each day with the pain and brokenness of the wider world.  The news of destruction, violence and fear this past week from Paris, Beirut and Baghdad seems a difficult if not impossible backdrop to Restorative Justice Week.

RJ candle

At the conclusion of a learning tour on prisons, participants shared ideas and commitments to action on small pieces of paper. MCC Photo/Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz.

As a person of faith, a follower of Jesus and a citizen committed to the concept of restorative justice, it has been pivotal for me to return to the foundations from which I work. This is where I find strength and am enabled to move beyond my fear or anger into a place of engagement and resilience. All of us are created in the image of a loving God who invites us into relationship with himself — a relationship that offers grace and mercy, forgiveness and restoration — no matter who we are, what we have done, or what has been done to us. This is always my starting point and the foundation for moving to the next level: namely, that out of our relationship with a loving God we are called into relationships with each other — relationships that are to be defined by grace, mercy, inclusion and an invitation for change. My faith grounds me in restorative justice work which is all about relationships which have been broken and relationships where there is the opportunity for hope and a movement toward change and healing.

These are the foundations that keep me going during the difficult days, the days when change is hard to see and where hope seems illusive, days when the events locally and on the world scene feel overwhelming.

Today and for the rest of this Restorative Justice Week, the lyrics from an old hymn will be the ones playing over in my head and in my car: “This is my Father’s world, and though the wrong seem oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

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