Justice Starts With Being Heard

Sometimes it feels like words are impotent, so long as power is held by a few people who choose to be deaf to truth and compassion. Despite millions of petition signatures and years of advocacy by such respected human-rights organizations as Amnesty International and the NAACP, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis this week for a murder that he may not have committed. Whether or not you oppose the death penalty in general, as I do, the problems with the evidence in this case underscore the perils of allowing fallible human beings to impose a punishment that can’t be undone.

It was timely, then, to receive a message from poet and expressive writing facilitator Margot Van Sluytman, with a link to her guest post at Justice With a Crunch. Margot heads the Sawbonna Project, which promotes healing and reconciliation for crime victims and perpetrators. She says of herself:

Because of reading about an award I received from The Foundation for the National Association for Poetry Therapy in April 2007, for my work creating and facilitating growth experiences through experiential workshops in writing and healing voice in North America, the man, Glen Flett, who murdered my Father, Theodore Van Sluytman, March 27, 1978 contacted me. I chose to share dialogue with him and we have shared encounter with forgiveness.

The phrase that is used for what occurred between Glen Flett and I is: Restorative Justice. I did not know about this before I was offered the gift of opportunity to dialogue with the human being who ended the life of a human being I loved so deeply. Now I know of this phrase, and I know as well, that Restorative Justice happens in very different ways for each individual who is involved in it. What has happened for me, is only one of a myriad of possibilities for those who have been harmed by crime, or have caused the harm, to find ways to navigate their lives.

Justice With a Crunch is the website of Prof. Judah Oudshoorn at the University of Waterloo. In her guest post, Margot explains the links between voice, justice, and recognition of the other’s humanity:

…The word I myself use for what is widely known as Restorative Justice is, Sawbonna. I learned it from Glen. It is a Zulu greeting, and further, it means, “I see you.” Being seen, being heard, being felt, are each ingrained in this meaning. Sawbonna speaks from a place of inclusivity, from the flesh and the bone of victim and offender. It is about people not processes. It speaks from the foundational value of Restorative Justice, one I sense can be swept away in research papers and abundant studies. No victim, no offender is merely a study. Not merely an object to be observed….

…Justice is to be heard. Justice is to listen. Justice is to find, create, and belong within communities of those who truly want to know your voice, to support you in a time of deep and savage ache and ennui, accompanying you to learn to trust that you are more that the crime committed against you, or the crime you have committed; and, justice is about coming to a place where you too, can be support. Where are the places and the spaces within academia, within government, within our communities where Sawbonna is present for victims and for offenders. Victims and offenders will not always, if ever, meet in the those same places, however, those places must become as ubiquitous as gas stations. I do not want anyone to speak my needs of and for healing. Both victims and offenders warrant the respect of telling their own story. That is justice. That is voice. That is being heard.

For an example of this process, read this brief and compelling series of vignettes posted by Judah on the blog earlier this month. The news and the legal system give us a single snapshot in time, but what was the whole narrative of this person’s life before the crime? Where are the venues where this can be told?

(1) A middle-aged man overdoses on crack cocaine and is found dead in a rooming house by the landlord.

what is justice in this situation?

(2) A young man is caught breaking into a house in a suburban part of a city by the police, who have been tailing him because of a long record of similar offences.

what is justice in this situation?

(3) A young boy is repeatedly mocked and beaten by his father when he scores less than a “B” on his report card during his elementary school days. No one ever finds out.

what is justice in this situation?

(4) Each of these vignettes is about the same person.

what is justice for this human being?

One comment on “Justice Starts With Being Heard

  1. db says:

    hi would like to submit some poetry to your blog


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