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One Woman's Journey from Retribution to Reconciliation

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There are many compelling examples of how responding to conflict by employing the principles of unitive justice, instead of retribution and revenge, can be transformative. I am especially inspired by the journey taken by Thomas Ann Hines. She is Texan whose son was shot to death by a young man in a carjacking attempt.

Thomas Ann recounts that for the first seven years after the trial that ended in a life sentence for the offender, she was angry and prayed for the murderer to die. Then she came to realize that she was killing herself with her prayers for vengeance. Punitive justice is always a double-edged sword.

She entered a unitive justice program called Transformative Justice and began a year-long process that included her son's murderer, as both prepared to meet one another. In correspondence prior to their meeting, he warned her not to expect him to say he was sorry for what he had done. Nonetheless, this year laid the foundation for the two of them to see the murder of her son within a larger context than they had when it was committed.

When the day to meet arrived, Thomas Ann could not imagine what words she would say to the man who had taken so much from her. As they were seated across from one another separated only by a small table, she began to tell him about her son, the things they had done together, how precious he, her only child, had been to her. Her heartfelt honesty began to disarm the man to whom she spoke.

He listened. "I didn't realize . . . how stupid it was," he began to say. He confessed that he had given no thought to any of it, before or since that fateful night. This process of honest sharing led both the perpetrator and Thomas Ann to temporarily set judgment aside.

As their talk was coming to an end, Thomas Ann heard a voice in her head say, "Reach out and offer your hand to him." Her reply, in her head, was, "No, that's the hand that held the gun." The voice again said, "Reach out and offer your hand to him." She thought in response, "I can't do it by myself."

Thomas Ann closed her eyes and bowed her head, then extended her hand across the table. The man who had ended her son's life reached out and took her hand. In this moment of connectedness, he put his head down on their joined hands and wept. Within them both, there was a shift beyond the bodily level to the place where forgiveness is the only choice one would consider and instantaneous healing occurs.

The bitterness, even the misunderstanding, the distance between these two human beings from vastly different worlds, vanished. In seeing the humanity in each other, they knew they had certain interests in common. Where forgiveness has occurred, there must be Oneness among people, for nothing remains to keep them apart.

After this meeting, Thomas Ann's life went from one consumed by darkness and self-pity, a small life at best, to one of giving, compassion, and commitment, teaching others the healing effect of forgiveness. She began speaking in prisons, telling inmates how victims are impacted by their misdeeds.

Experiencing her defenselessness and nonjudgment, many heard her and understood. The remorse that transforms behavior is more likely to be felt under these circumstances than in the face of judgment and condemnation.

Before their meeting, the young man who killed her son had been a problem prisoner, having accrued nearly one hundred fifty violations while in prison. Since their meeting, he has only had a few. While some people may forever label him as a murderer for the wrong he committed in a few fleeting moments, this mother's forgiveness of him brought forth a different way of being. Each day, Thomas Ann now prays that no harm will come to him.

Out of tragedy came transformation. Isn't this how justice should be?

Based on an excerpt from Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Retribution: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution.

Posted on on 8-27-10.


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Attorney, author, blogger. After several years as a trial attorney, Sylvia Clute became disillusioned with the legal system and began her search for a better way. This led to writing two books, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a (more...)

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