This I Believe

Vicki - Sacramento, California
Entered on February 22, 2007

This I Believe

I believe in the power of justice to heal. I wasn’t raised that way. My parents believed in punishment. The more I rebelled, the harder I was punished—until I received the ultimate punishment for a child: abandonment. Abuse seemed “normal” to me. I learned it from my parents, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, and my children learned it from me—for a while. Unfortunately, my story isn’t uncommon.

It pains me to face my part in perpetuating that cycle, but eventually I turned my life around, finished college, and became a nurse in California Dept. of Corrections. I rose quickly through the ranks. My work fulfilled me, and I received many awards and honors. I thought I’d found my calling until a stress-induced heart attack at age 49 nearly finished me.

Lying on that stretcher—I vowed if I lived, I’d find a better way. I found that path in restorative justice. During a period deep self-examination, I confronted the harm my parents caused me and the harm I caused others, including myself. I discovered a profound sense of forgiveness and learned ways to repair the damage I’d done. A powerful sense of balance and harmony grew inside me, as I healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s what restorative justice is about: honesty, accountability, forgiveness, and taking steps to repair the harm.

Many people believe that punishment deters criminal behavior. Yet that approach seems a glaring failure. In this country today, one of every 32 adults is involved with the criminal justice system. After nearly two decades working with the prison system, I know the harm crime creates isn’t mended by punishment. Left untreated, the damage grows worse. Punishment alone does nothing to repair or heal that harm.

Today I know that truth intimately. Three years ago I received staggering news: my 19-year-old granddaughter was charged with capital murder and faced the death penalty. After pleading guilty, she was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

What is my role as a grandparent who loves this child? I do not ask for her release. No. I believe in her power to heal right where she is. I will not abandon her nor withdraw my love for her—ever. I dedicate my life to walk the healing path of justice with her: to support her effort to atone for her actions and begin to repair the harm she caused.

Prison as we know it is too easy—for all of us. The belief in justice as punishment locks us all behind bars of uncaring and hate; it tears away at our hearts. There is no “criminal justice system” out there. WE are the system. We are ALL connected—that is our strength.

I believe justice is a spiritual path we must walk together to reverse the dangerous society we have built around us. There is no escape without healing. I believe in a simple truth that is central to Native American cultures: justice is healing.

Until we begin to reshape our punishment-based justice system, we will continue to lose our children and grandchildren to the violence born of abuse, neglect, drugs, and desperation. I have seen and lived that violence. That is why justice that heals is my cause and my faith.