VICTIM SURVIVORS UNITE WITH AUTHOR AND PRISONER GROUP TO PROMOTE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
On a warm October day on Alcatraz Island, families and vacationers touring the infamous prison came upon an unexpected scene in the cellhouse dining hall: A tearful woman holding a microphone, detailing the brutal murder of her 17-year-old son.
“I’m still grieving, I’m still hurting, I’m still mourning,” said Paulette Brown, who spoke as a supporter of the Insight Prison Project. Brown grasped a large photograph of her son and held it before the crowd. “But I decided to turn my sorrow into action.”
IPP staff and supporters made the trip to the Rock as part of the weekly speaker series accompanying a special exhibition of author Nancy Mullane’s book, Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption.
IPP, grounded in the principles of restorative justice, seeks to transform incarcerated people by helping them develop insight, accountability, and compassion through programs like the Victim Offender Education Group.
“I thought criminals were scum,” Brown told the crowd. But then she attended a restorative justice “healing circle” at San Quentin, where she met Jesse Reed, one of the five men profiled in Mullane’s book. “After I went to San Quentin, I started realizing, they’re human beings. They’ve been hurt, too. Their family members have died, too. That’s when I found out, hurt people hurt people. Their hurt is why they’re here.”
‘I’m still grieving’
Ellen Barry, the executive director of IPP, and Jaimee Karroll, IPP’s training, educational and curricula director, kicked off the event by discussing the VOEG program and its hopes for expansion throughout the California criminal justice system.
Brown was followed by another survivor of a murdered son, Radha Stern. Stern has been going to San Quentin to participate in restorative justice groups for eight years.
“You hear in the media that victims want the death penalty, that victims want prisoners to suffer,” said Stern. “In reality, many are seeking compassionate solutions.”
Before and after the IPP presentation, visitors viewed the rest of the exhibit, which featured larger-than-life-size photos of the five men profiled by Mullane: Jesse Reed, Donald Cronk, Ed Ramirez, Phillip Seiler and Rich Rael. The exhibit also lists each man’s conviction, sentence, incarceration time, and parole date.
One of the more provocative parts of the exhibit was a “Thought Wall.” Visitors were encouraged to write their thoughts about redemption on a 3 x 5 Post-It and stick the note to the wall. While some wished the men luck, most were unforgiving; many pointed out something along the lines of, “Their victims never got a second chance.”
Several said simply, “An eye for an eye”. But directly below one such Post-It, another visitor had stuck a different note in response: “Leaves the whole world blind.”
The Life After Murder speaker series runs every Saturday at 1 pm until Nov 17, and features Mullane, each of the five men, CDCR Spokesperson Bill Sessa, and Jody Lewen, Executive Director of San Quentin’s Prison University Project.