On December 31st, 1997 my husband Bob excused himself briefly from our small dinner party to check on a teen's house party taking place down the street at the home of a vacationing friend. He never returned. Bob was beaten to death as he attempted to break up the party and I was left widowed with two small children. It took an undercover police operation to break the code of silence that shrouded the small town we lived in, and finally, five years later an arrest was made. Police were stunned by my request to meet the young man who was charged in connection with Bob's death. That face-to-face meeting was the first step in forever changing my perception of real justice.
- Being the family victim of a violent crime jettisoned me into the criminal justice system; and a series of processes in which I had little or no say. When I initiated a meeting with the perpetrator I was able to ask the questions I needed answered and regain a sense of control.
- Bob's death was tragic and senseless. I couldn't imagine who could be capable of committing such a brutal act. But when I sat across the room from the young man charged with the crime I saw a neighbor, a son, a brother; someone's best friend. His actions were abhorrent, but he was human. Understanding the distinction helped me focus on what support to lobby for in his rehabilitation.
- Our traditional justice system is heavy on punishment and mired in process. The restorative justice approach is about accountability and healing; responding directly and specifically to the needs of the individuals and communities involved. Who better than the victim to describe to the perpetrator the impact of the harm.
- Eight years has passed since I sat across from that young man. He has done his time and returned to society committed to his employment, sobriety, pro-social relationships and living safely in his community. There is nothing I could do to bring Bob back, but there was much I could do to support a healthy outcome for the families on both sides of this crime.
- After my own experience being directly involved in making justice happen I saw the potential for the restorative process in other aspects of my life. The power of bringing people together to resolve conflict rather than isolating them is my expectation at home, at school, at work and in my community.
Katy Hutchison is an advocate for restorative justice and a professional speaker working with young people on topics of social responsibility in Victoria, BC. She is author of Walking After Midnight: One Woman's Journey Through Murder, Justice, and Forgiveness . Katy's story is the inspiration for the movie Bond of Silence premiering on Lifetime Network August 23, 2010.