Participation in the Restorative Justice Symposium at San Quentin was at an all-time high and even included a Marin County Assistant District Attorney as a guest speaker.
Over 109 inmates attended this 12th event, along with 55 outside guests.
Restorative Justice is a new way of thinking about dealing with crime. It focuses on healing the victim and offender instead of punishment. “Our mantra is hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people,” said sponsor Jean Ramirez.
It was brought to San Quentin by former inmate, Leonard Rubio, who has paroled and is still active in the movement. “He’s president of the state’s Restorative Justice Group,” informed Ramirez.
The Sept. 21 symposium consisted of several speakers, both outside guests and transformed inmates. Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey and Don Carney, Director of the Marin County YMCA Youth Court, where Restorative Justice is used. It was the first time an active ADA came into the prison to participate.
Hulsey of Monterey County spoke to the audience.
“I can’t go back and make a new start, but I can make a new end. Nobody should be put in a little box. You inmates are ambassadors for goodness, redemption, on the outside,” she said.
“Our mantra is hurt people hurt people,
but healed people heal people”
Prevention is one of her passions, and she is helping in the area of truancy. She recognizes that offenders are also victims. She knows that her job is to seek justice not just to convict, but to help everyone seek a new end. 85 to 90 percent of juvenile cases do not go to trial but use rehabilitation and restorative justice. “If you don’t solve the problem, what’s the point?” she added.
“I don’t have the street cred you guys have. The juveniles will listen to you. We need you out there,” Hulsey told Troy “Kogan” Williams.
Williams is inside leader for Restorative Justice. He, along with Dwight Krizman keep the program organized. Williams also is the founder of the San Quentin Radio program. “All shareholders have to come to the table so we can all talk and listen objectively, even if they despise us, otherwise nothing will change,” said Williams.
Carney has worked in the fields of juvenile and social justice for over 40 years. He works with difficult juveniles using restorative ideas. In youth court, other youngsters act as the jury and decide the offender’s punishment. Fellow juveniles even take on the roles of defense attorneys and prosecutors. Using Restorative Justice, the number of juvenile convictions has gone down from 120 to less than 40.
Restorative Justice is starting to grow in acceptance. It is currently “being pitched to all 50 state courts, and it’s part of a law that now requires restorative justice to be attempted before any suspension and expulsions,” Carney told the crowd.
Inmate speaker Darnel Washington gave a summary of his crime and his journey to restorative justice. “We need to become one big web of connections, working together so there will be no more victims,” said Washington, who was convicted of murder..
The event also included “circles” where outside guests and inmates were divided into groups of about seven each. There, all were given a chance to answer questions, like “What steps can you take to bring positive light to yourself and others?” Everyone was given a chance to share and the answers were insightful, moving and brought many guests to tears.
“The students, staff and faculty I brought in were inspired, moved and deeply impacted by the level of depth, intelligence, kindness and character that we witnessed,” said Monique LeSarre doctor of psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. “I left even more inspired to continue to intervene against poverty, systematic racism and to treat the traumas in our communities early, before the cycle of violence starts to spin,” she added.
The numbers of inmates waiting to join the movement is growing. Between symposiums, the men, along with a few sponsors, meet every Thursday. Currently there is a waiting list of 100 inmates long. “We are working on adding Wednesdays, “ said Krizman.
The symposium ended like every Restorative Justice meeting, with their pledge:
We believe… that violence is not a solution to any problem
…that every person is endowed with a sacred dignity.
…that every person is capable of changing, healing & being restored.
I pledge to respect the dignity of every person.
…to overcome violence with love and compassion.
…to accompany and support anyone affected by crime on their healing journey.
…to be an instrument of restoration. Of forgiveness and reconciliation.