If justice was ours, how might we enact it? I scan my brain, seeking appropriate acts of restitution, but can find none for a life taken.
I think back to a lecture given in Marlboro by the author Kim John Payne. Though the focus was on education, Kim shared a story about the Maori tribe in his native New Zealand, telling us how they creatively responded to crime and punishment.
Rather than lock two young men behind bars for stealing a car, the men had to face the victim of their crime–a single mother, who was unable to get to work or attend school due to the loss. Alternately, the “court” of community members heard the stories of these two young men, how their lives led to the crime, and how it affected them.
Each party–the young men and the single mother–had someone from the community, beside them–not so much to speak, but to support. Others spoke too, on behalf of both, and the “trial” went on for hours as they did.
In the end, the local grocer stood up and offered these two men work so that they could afford to repay the woman for the hours she lost at work and to pay for her transportation to school while her car was being repaired. Additionally, the local mechanic offered his services so that only the parts would be charged.
There were more voices in this story, and I may have mistaken some of the details, but what I remember most was what happened after the “trial.” The men were asked to stand on what might be a town green, and the community members each circled past them offering praise for their restitution. No one spat or cursed or otherwise separated these men from the community in which they belonged.
How would the Maori deal with murder, I wonder? What acts of restitution would arise from the mouths of the community? For surely Richard, despite his abhorrent act, still belongs.
Kelly Salasin, August 14, 2011