The Brattleboro Food Co-op recently agreed to take part in a pilot program using the principles of restorative justice with our partners for retail theft. I was curious about restorative justice, and I found out that it has been around for at least 35 years around the world. The extent of the program varies from country to country, and from application to application. It has helped when prison overcrowding is prevalent by working with low level offenders to repair harm done, addressing other root causes when possible. Some countries use it with a focus on juvenile behavior. Others turned to it because of discontent with the justice system, and to meet the needs of the victims. (Go to restorativejustive.org to learn more history of this program.)
I witnessed some of the process locally a few years ago. It was amazing to see that peers in the community took off from work, or their busy schedules, to volunteer to mentor and assist individuals in repairing harm from their actions. I was also moved that instead of pointing fingers and judging, individuals were trying to help those in trouble reflect on their action, and to find steps to prevent it from happening again, as well as steps to repair the harm they caused.
What a great way for the community to get involved.
Unfortunately, that is not going to remedy all that has been witnessed lately. My hat is off to the Brattleboro Police Department for stepping up their presence. I do not envy them, but I do respect the job they are doing with the local opiate crisis, and other related issues that have arisen.
Still, despite the difficulties we are witnessing around our community, if you look, you will find there are successes.
If you have read The Commons, or listened to the local public radio station, you have heard about some of these successes. I know the story of one local man. I knew of his addiction, and knew about some of the issues created because of it.
I met him 5 or 6 years ago while his addiction had a strong hold of him. I remember how he looked and acted: fighting, couldn’t focus. He was with someone from a local agency that was assisting him with his addiction. He is not the same person I see today. I was invited to the grand opening of Turning Point on Flat Street a few years ago by a friend on that board, so I went. The Governor showed up, others in the community were present. When it was announced that this man was there and that he had catered the event, his face lit up. I will always remember the pride on his face. Was it pride from the lovely dishes he prepared, or that he was able to get to that point because of his recovery?
I saw him in the store the other day. I don’t think he remembers some of the earlier interactions we have had. He was so happy to talk about his endeavors. He has moved on to a better job cooking and he was loving it. Whenever I see him he is happy and upbeat. I hope he is like that all the time.
Yes, there are some successes. And there are many ways to handle harms done to our community. Instead of pointing fingers, can we get involved in the community and share our insights, or provide alternatives to repair that harm? Sure. We can also support those, like Turning Point and the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, with time volunteering, mentoring, or whatever they might need. It doesn’t have to be financial, just a little time. After all, we are stronger together. Cooperatives know this well.
by Anna Edson