Monday, November 30, 2009

open minds and healing

This story from stuff is enlightening.
"Carol Coleman wanted the teenage thug who nearly killed her son with a hammer locked up behind bars and left to rot."
and who wouldn't her son was hit for no reason while minding his own business and he could easily have died.
"A 15-year-old boy was arrested for the assault and appeared in the Palmerston North Youth Court.
The judge recommended a family group conference which enraged the Colemans."
From wikipedia - "Family Group Conferences (FGCs) originated in New Zealand. They were originally used to allow social work practice to work with and not against Maori values and culture."
"They didn't see how the conference could hand down a punishment to match the crime.
Sitting in a circle chatting seemed like a "soft" way to deal with such a serious assault, Mrs Coleman said.
On the way to the conference the Colemans were worried justice wouldn't prevail.
I'd imagine many people would feel the way the Colemans felt. And aren't those feelings of fear and discomfort similar to the feelings we feel around maori culture sometimes. Family Group Conferences incorporate a traditional indigenous response to wrongdoing. It is a good model and it works and here's why.
"It was really, really powerful." Said Carol.
At the outset of the conference everyone introduced themselves.
Then Blake's dad, John, spoke on behalf of his son and family.
"He told him to sit up and listen to what I'm going to say to you."
The boy sat up straight and looked Mr Coleman in the eye which was the turning point, Mrs Coleman said.
"He wasn't belligerent, cheeky or snarling, as we expected."
Mr Coleman's main message was that an attack doesn't just affect the victim, it affects the surrounding family.
Then the boy apologised.
"I said to him, 'you nearly killed my son', he looked me in the eye and said, 'I know, I'm really sorry'."
Blake plucked up the courage to ask what he had done to provoke the attack.
The boy answered: "Absolutely nothing", Mrs Coleman said.
"Once Blake did that his whole body just relaxed."
The conference was incredibly healing and empowering for both the offender and victim, Mrs Coleman said.
"This process gives them the chance to face up to what they've done.
"I just feel for victims who don't get to face the perpetrator and get to say what they need to say and get the answers that they need to get."
The Colemans realised the boy would not gain a thing from going to prison and mixing with hardened criminals.
The Colemans also sat in the gallery when a youth court judge signed off the plan.
"It was really sad when he [the boy] turned around and thanked us for coming. I would never even have predicted that."
Blake and his family are looking forward to meeting the boy again in February.
"If he succeeds in what we've challenged him with, which is quite hard, then we will feel that Blake's injury has been compensated for, much more so that locking him in jail and letting him rot."
Thank you for your courage Coleman family. And thank you to the young man trying hard to turn his life around.

Locking away problems doesn't work. Creating opportunities for healing does. Obviously not every crime can work within this framework but lets really use it as much as we can. Perhaps the model could be modified to facilitate forums where the deep hurts and resentments relating to maori can be discussed and worked through.

1 comment:

feddabonn said...

thanks for posting this, marty. while i do not know how far and in what situations this form of non-retributive justice is usable, it does seem to show a model that looks less like revenge and more like healing. good to hear news like this!