“My heart was broken,” guest speaker Rose Madden said as she told San Quentin inmates the story of the senseless murder of her daughter, Jennifer LeAnne Balber.
Madden also said she learned that inmates are capable of change at the Supporting the Healing Journey Restorative Justice symposium.
“This is part of my healing process. I need to share my story, to let them know how I felt as a victim – the struggles, the depression. Maybe they can pass it on because they not only hurt me, they hurt their families,” said Madden.
Balber was murdered on Nov. 10, 1994, in a drive-by shooting while on duty for the SOCAL Gas Co.
“As a result of this offense, my life was turned upside down. The emotional strain…I had no appetite; I suffered from anxiety attacks and depression. I actually pushed my family away,” Madden told the audience. “My greatest challenge was having to accept that my daughter was forever gone, and that she would never be 21 years old, never get married or have kids.”
The audience also heard from inmate speakers.
Inmate facilitator Danny Plunkett said, “We are a community that celebrates peace. I’ve heard it said that there could never be peace. We refuse to believe that, because we believe in community.”
“Restorative Justice is my life,” said Billy Joe Fuller, who has been incarcerated 38 years.
He recounted being born to a 13-year-old mother and a life of abuse. To cope, he stopped feeling emotions and vowed to make them pay when he got older.
“A lot of days, I didn’t want to live but I had to in order to protect my 2-year-old sister. I feed her by stealing,” said Fuller.
As a juvenile, he committed murder.
“Before Restorative Justice, I knew what I did was wrong, but after Restorative Justice, I started feeling what I did was wrong. I started feeling sorry for what I had done. I went from someone who didn’t care, to looking forward to the next day,” said Fuller.
Restorative Justice is a system of dialogue that promotes justice for victims and offenders through repair, identifying needs of both sides and promoting responsibility and healing.
Hearing the inmates’ side of the story gave a different perspective to Madden, who is the director of Families and Friends of Murder Victims.
“It makes me understand the perp a little bit better. People here want to change their lives for the better,” said Madden. “There is hope. The mindset that everybody is like the man who killed my daughter is gone.”
Her daughter’s killer never apologized and committed his third strike while in prison.
“A lot of days, I didn’t want to live
but I had to in order to protect my two-year-old sister”
Madden stated, “If the person who did the crime would stop and sincerely apologize to the family and acknowledge and take responsibility for what they did, this would probably help the surviving member continue living a peaceful life.”
She advocated for Marcy’s Law, so that victims would have rights in court.
Nina Catalano, an Alameda County public defender, noticed that, “RJ is powerful. I think the way our current criminal justice system is misses much of the context. It focuses only on the crime, not the community and future.”
Participants gave feedback after the speakers.
Community RJ guest Art Rogers said, “As a Vietnam veteran, I have killed many people. I don’t have a prison sentence but I took several lives and there’s no jail to go to, only the jail in my head. I think about you men who committed crimes and went to prison and changed your life and are striving to heal and connect with the harm you have done, not for your physical freedom, but to give freedom to your victims and community so your community can know that you are connected with yourself and society.”
Debbie Mayer said, “I’m in a Restorative Justice class at Cal Berkeley law school that’s an academic environment – there’s no emotion behind it. Feeling the connection between people here is great.”
“I have a lot of respect for the fact that you guys have found a way to heal in a prison that isn’t designed as a space for it,” said Emily Harrison of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
The June 6 event ended on a lighter note.
“I’ve cried three times here today. How about some humor,” inmate Curtis Dean Askins stated before making the audience laugh by telling about being left back in kindergarten.
“I had to do kindergarten twice,” he joked.
Miguel Quezada contributed to this story