Williams Lake is a rural community in the interior of British Columbia. The city is surrounded by ranches and Indigenous communities. Many of the area residents make their livings by working in the mining or forestry industries. The restorative justice group has been in existence in 1996. It began as a small group with approximately five members and has over forty active members today. Facilitators are trained in the RCMP Community Justice Circle and Peacemaking Circle models.
The group is pleased to share a few of its stories:
One of my first cases involved a young teenager who had stolen from her foster family. During my pre-conference interview I learned that she had been raped by her uncle and got pregnant. The resulting baby was now three years old and being raised by the uncle and his wife. The offender had been in foster care for most of her teens and had stolen nylons from her foster sister to wear to a school dance. Since the incident she had found a part-time job looking after a lady’s three year old daughter and this lady was willing to support her in the conference as well as be the supervisor for visitations with the offender’s daughter. At the conference it was decided that the offender’s sanctions would include volunteer hours at the Women’s Contact Center as circle participants felt this might give her somewhere to go for help if she needed it in the future. Approximately a month later, she called to tell me that she had completed her hours and asked if it was all right to continue helping out at the center as her work there was appreciated. She had also left her foster home to live with the single mom who had supported her in our restorative justice circle and take care of the woman’s daughter. Together, they were also working on weekend visits with the offender’s own daughter with whom she had re-established contact. A win-win situation which changed the offender’s life and gave her life tools.From a Facilitator
Although many of the files that are referred to us involve youthful offenders, one of our facilitators received a file in which the offender was a grandfather who had a drinking problem. When he drank , he often broke the law. He had been in front of a judge many times, but the court appearances didn’t seem to have an impact. The facilitator was worried that the circle wasn’t having the desired effect until the offender’s young granddaughter spoke: “Grandpa, I love you, but when you are drunk I am ashamed of you and afraid of you.” That was all the offender needed to hear.From a Facilitator
When his truck had been broken into by a neighbor boy, he was angry. When he came to the circle he learned that things hadn’t been easy for the neighbouring family. The mother was away having cancer treatment and the dad was trying to keep the household running as normally as possible. The victim thought to himself: “How can I be a good neighbor and have had no idea the trouble this family was experiencing?” He volunteered to supervise the sanctions of the offender, one of which was to seek employment, and the victim also became a mentor to the young man. The offender was successful in getting and maintaining employment. The victim went on to become a mentor and facilitator with our group.From a Victim
Excerpts from a sixteen year old offender who was caught stealing from a vehicle—she wrote this as part of her sanctions:
Before the circle began
As soon as I entered the room, I wanted to turn myself around. I wanted to push the bad things away, as if they had never even happened. I wanted to drive back home, go straight to my bed, curl up in a ball and repeat the same sentences over and over, like I had done every other night for the past month: “You’re a good person, everything will be fine.” But the sad thing about repeating words too much is that they soon begin to lose meaning, and, eventually, they become meaningless. No matter how much I tried to comfort myself with these words, I felt I was lying to myself. I thought, “How can I be a good person when I’ve done these things? Good people don’t do the kinds of things I’ve done.”
…I sat down not making eye contact with anyone else that sat in the small circle. I was too ashamed, too terrified. …There was no way I was going to make it through this without crying. Not a chance.
During the circle when the offender was asked to explain how she had been feeling since the incident:
I really thought about it and told the absolute truth. “I found it hard to sleep at night” I managed to spit out. And it was true. The past month had seemed like a year. The guilt picked at me, especially at night when it was too quiet, and I could no long ignore my thoughts.
During the circle when the victim was asked to share her feelings:
“I felt like a victim. I couldn’t even feel safe in my own home,” she said. I could feel my tears burning. This woman and her family didn’t feel safe. I was to blame.
Thoughts of how the offender’s family was affected came to her during the circle: We all sat in silence. I don’t remember much about what was said, but my father began to cry. He buried his face into his hands and sobbed. I had never felt so horrible in my entire life. I wanted to tell him that none of this was his fault, and I wanted to let him know that he was doing a great job raising three kids on his own, and that this stupid mistake I had made had nothing to do with him. But I couldn’t talk.
The circle continued…
So there I sat still playing with my elastic band. I listened to how what I did affected everyone else’s lives. I tried not to cry. I even held my breath but nothing could stop the tears.
The facilitator asked the offender if she had anything she wished to say to those affected and the offender took out a letter of apology she had prepared:
By the end of my apology letter, warm tears streamed down my cheeks uncontrollably, and the people across from me had told me that they forgave me. The woman even gave me a hug! Though I continued to cry, it felt like a different kind of cry. It was like the two heaviest rocks had been lifted off my shoulders. The tears I was crying were tears of relief, and it was the best I’ve felt in a while. I walked out of that room feeling like a new person. As corny as that sounds, it was true. I did walk out of that room as a new person. I was proud of myself, for finally being able to own up to what I had done.