Restorative justice inside out

Markhasev, Mikhail



Restorative Justice Inside Out ‘by Mikhail Mrkhasev I I smiled throughout the court proceedings. Arrogant and uncaring, I smiled at the victim's devastated family, as thy watched me strut into the courtroom day in, day out. Unmoved, I smirked when the guilty verdict was announced. When the flocking journalists outside the courthouse asked me how I felt, I grinned disdainfully and flicked an obscene gesture in reply: an apt summary of my life's purpose, values, and identity at that point. This was my parting token to the free world. A month later, I was sentenced to life in prison withut parole. When asked if I wanted to make a.statement: I declined. Mockery, silence, and more wrongs, shaped my life's response to the wrongs I had committed. There was no rational explanation of my irrational evil: it is absurd, like a man wh willingly dives into the deep, not caring if he drowns, and yet pushes down others with him, hoping to stay afloat at their expense. The murder I committed a month after my 18th birthday fell into the legal classification of "murder with special circumstances." According to statutory law, the only appropriate sentence was either the death penalty or life without parole. The current justice system, a reactionary pendulum of cause and effect, of crim and punishment, sought the appropriate retribution. In my case, it meant lex talionis: eye for an eye, life for life. But another form of justice was present as well -- a vaguely perceptible fragrance wafting through the intolerable stenh of my actions and behavior. This was restorative justice -- expressed by the victimls family, who requested that I receive life without parole, and not the death penalty. Instead of just retribution, they chose to provide me a deposit of mercy. The victim's sister later explained: "I don't believe in the death penalty. There were many times when I wishd and envisioned a cruel gruesome death for Markhasev, but I believe justice has been served knowing that he will be in jail forever... I would never wish upon Markhasev's mothr and family what he has done to ours... As long as we must live without Ennis, I only wish Markhasev serves his sentence for life without chance of parole. Even in jail e is fortunate to have something he took away from my brother -- life." II Restorative justice (RJ) may be embraed and experienced, bti because it is not a system of strict guidelines, it is not easily expounded. Rather, it is a way of life -- a path of healing wherever the organic fabric of a community has been torn by a definite wrong. If he criminal justice system is dminated by actions and consequences, by specific laws and corresponding penalties, then RJ is a principled endeavor -- both within this system and parallel to it -- which utilizes criminal justice as an unfortuate platform in the jorney toward complete justice. Thus, even the penalties and consequences of criminal actions are not ends-in-themselves, but are cauterizing measures toward healing of the person and wholeness of the community. When I murdered Enis I believed I had to choose between two evils: I either shot him or he will identify us to the cops. I did not want to go to prison for armd robbery, and so one sin usually leads to anoter. Self-preservation along with complete disregard for hman life allowed me to rationalize that even murder was a part of my "doing what I had to do" in order to come up. when I ventured to rob my victims, I did not perceive a "wrong" being committed, only an opportuity for gain. My criminal actions were not "wrongs" I stmbled into, but an extension of a spiritual blindness and warped belief system I willingly embraced. My victims were not persons to be considered, but mere objects for e to plow through in order to get what I wanted: money to support my drug habit. Even when apprehended for my crime, I stuck to the convict code: admit nothing, deny everything, and do whatever is necessary to squeeze out of jail. If the first tenet of RJ is that a wrong has been committed, then others would have to worry about it while I crouched in the darkness of wicked indifference. The facts of my wrong were thoroughly dissected in court. The faces of my wrong were represented by the state (jdge, the district attorney, etc.), by law enforcement (detectives, everyone involved in the ongoing investigation), the victimls family, and my own family -- all of whom were jolted into this evil I committed yet continuedto deny. The daily presence of all these victims was not only a conviction of my action, but also of my entire lifestyle. And yet, th factual confirmation of the wrong and the resulting penalty could hardly be labeled "restorative" or "just." I was convicted and sentenced, but I remained undeterred an the wrong was not restored. In the words of Ennis's family member: "There is nothing that will repay the loss of Ennis. A life was taken -- life without parole -- that's justice, it's not the price of Ennis's life." III The "hie" in prison is where I first read Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUISHMENT. I was deeply oved by the parallels to my predicament: a student cmmits a senseless crime and gets away with it. The subsequent cat-and-mouse chase of the criminal investigation ends as a spiritual path of redemption. The lead detective did not merely seek to nail the suspect, but to lead him to an open confession of his guilt, and thus toward repentance. No, the guilty man did not avoid years in prison, and no, there was no happy ending. But because the youg murderer acknowledged his role in the wrong and was determined to make living amends even in imprisonment, the end signified the beginning of healing for the commuity wounded by this heinous crime. The principles of RJ were evident not only in the success of the investigation, but in the values espoused by the imacted persons. The investigative process in my case was a search for facts, in which a measure of justice was achieved: truth triumphed, and the guilty person was punished. But how did the process impact the victims? A surviving sister wrote after my conviction: "1 look at my parents, two people I love more the life, and the path of loss that I see on their faces and in their hearts is the deepest kind of pain that I would not wish on anyone. It has been devastating that our grieving -- something so private -- was violated by media hands." Quite often, the investigation is a painful ordeal which squeezes for facts necessary for the legal procedure, but which does not address the ongoing agony described here. Worse yet, the process soetimes mangles the very persons it seeks to help. Despite the merciful gesture extended to m by Ennis's family: life in prison instead of the death penalty, I reained entrenched in a racist mindset,tumbling through life as a drug-addicted gangmember. To use an earlier analogy, I was the irrational man, drowning in the choppy waters of terrible choices, and when thrown a lifeline by the very people I harmed, I pushed it away and paddled into the deep. The RJ values were not a guarantee of my coming to my senses or of some visible sucess. In fact, the huane action was mt by an inhumane reaction -- I used the opportuity to burrow even deeper into the mire of prison politics. But, contrary to my understanding at the time and certainly against anyone's expectation, the chance to spend the remainder of my life in prison became the future foudation of my realization of the harm I unleashed on my victims, and an ideal of how I am to be with others in the new life God would grant m. IV As a way of life, RJ is relational and interactive. If retributive justice seeks to penalize lawbreakers, RJ attemts to restore broken relations. Criminal justice is about legal enforcement, RJ is a personal encouter. This is true even if the offender refuses to face himself, his actions, and the harm caused to others. Like Plato's famus caveman, I was content with the darkness of my ignorance, wilfully chained to evil impulsivity and criminal mentality, gazing at the flickering shadows on the wall of what I perceived was reality. My world revolved aroud me and my addictions. I did not see the deposit of mercy granted me by the victim's family as at wake-up call to see my life in its true light. To the contrary, faced with an unfixable predicament, what was the point in even contemplating change? There was nothing to gain in my amendment of life: murder is still murder, life in prison is still the sentence. Thus I reasoned in myself and recoiled against their goodness. But, the values practiced by the survivors provided a framework for restoration when -- through Divine intervention -~ I came to my senses and embraced a path of repentance. Perhaps the request for life imprisonment was not intended to give me a break, and did not anticipate my rehabilitation. But RJ values were a gracious response to my wickedness -- a refusal to mercilessly deal with me as I had mercilessly murdered their loved one. The sown seed of grace resulted in the restorative path encountered by the offender. I was not prepared for an RJ encounter, unwilling to take responsibility. Therefore God encountered me in my cell. I was overwhelmed with the dreadful realization that there is a place worse than prison: Hell. This is where my actions have taken me and what my self-absorbed life had chosen. My unexpected encounter with the God of the Gospel provided me with acute insight not only into what I had done, but into who I was as a erson. I beheld my lifetime of wrongs, and how they cut through others as a sword, But what is that to my victim's family? How can RJ reply to the just demand expressed by those I have harmed? "I've seen television shows/documentaries on prison life, sometimes profiling ruthless killers who... have found God and make dramatic changes in their lives and personalities. I find myself sympathizing with their 'plight.' But I've always asked myself (even before Ennis died) what about the victim? The family and friends? These stories of salvation do not change the crime they committed, nor the incredible loss they inflicted upon the friends and families of their victims..." V’ Criminal justice seeks to punish those responsible for committing crimes. Restorative justice asks: "Who has been harmed and what is my role in this?" RJ addresses the community as fellow-stakeholders in its wellbeing, and as a majority impacted by the criminality of the few. Every person's role is ascertained by his or her uique position: law enforcement, first responder, victim, witness, taxpayer, family members of both victims and perpetrators, etc. , Ennis's loved one said: "The monsters responsible for this don't care that they took away a man who was too young, too outstanding, generous, of a human being." Because this was true, it had to change. After gaining soe insight into what I did, how was I to undo it? I slowly began to uderstand hw my actions reverberated through so many people's lives, but what was I to do at this point? The sentencing court could not compel e to take responsibility or to be reabilitated. The criminal justice system's intent was to guarantee that I never harmed another citizen in the free world. Life without parole accomplished this, but was this the sole goal extracted from my senseless crime? In jail, I continued to hurt people (including my family), and remained a criminal. M first disciplinary infraction in prison was battery on a peace officer. In my blindness I perpetuated the cycle of violence, creating new victims and draining society's resources. Like a fierce animal, I had to be housed in the hole, in accordance with my behavior. God opened my eyes to the utter foolishness of my actions. Even though I had little to lose and did not know the tenets of RJ, I knew I had to change. Understanding should lead to action, which meant being honest with others about my role in this crime. Thus, my initial step on the path of RJ was toward personal restoration. I had lost myself to serious sin, to willful rebellion, to extrme antisocial behavior. RJ eant walking on a nrrow path of repentance and denying the very things I had blindly embraced. Justice is synonymous with truth and righteousness. The first step in righting a wrong is being honest. My nearest victims were my family. I had to humbly confess who I was ad what I ad become, how I had deceived them and used them. Then, I had to take responsibility for my actions and confess my guilt to the other parties involved, the society I victimized. I wrote a letter of apology to Ennis's family, and abandoned my appeal. This insured that their hope of my imprisoment for life wold be honored. VI Wise Solomn once said: "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have ercy" (Proverbs 28:13). This Biblical truth became my guiding principle toward RJ, a light to illumine the road of responsibility and remorse. My confession sufficed for the legal aspect of finalizing th case: I acknowledged my guilt, my appeal was closed, and I remained to rot in prison until death. Punishment is often the only closure criminl justice can offer. But RJ compelled me to "forsake" my "sins" -- an undertakin of a lifetime, with the promise of mercy. The insight into my crime and evil way of life was the beginning of a lengthy process toward personal restoration and integration back into commuity. Rather than being a soft and sentimental soapdish of justice, RJ is a cornerstone of flint, against which both my actions and the mentality which led to them must be smashed and refashined anew. As the offener I had to take responsibility for what I have done. What did this mean to me, a convicted urderer? Responsibility is my response to what I have done. It compels me to take ownership for my actions and restore control of my life. It is doing everything in my power to make sure I never again comit the crime which brought me here. Insight into my crime and responsibility for my actions are two ' sides of the same coin: by being responsible, I gain greater insight into the causative factors of my criminal lifestyle (of which my crime was a natural consequence). Through a rigorous personal inventory, I do my part to prevent the mistakes of my past from being repeated in the future. My inventory allows me to acquire the virtues opposite to the vices I previously cultivated. If addiction to drugs and the cycle of violence led me to murder, then I have to claw my way back to sobriety and mbrace a path of peace. My responsibility for my past must become my foundation for the present and a deposit for my future. . This process was not a journey I traveled alone. While I was in the hole, there were no selfehelp groups, religious services, or external aids for change. But, even there, I found other individuals willing to change, to drop out from the gang life, with whm I was able to form a certain support » system. More importantly, my family and Christians outside of prison were a positive source of encouragement and accountability. Just as it took a criminal community (a street gang) to lead me to prison, now RJ uites me to a commuity of support and accoutability to help m to change. "Clearly," said my victim's mother, "Markhasev is an unremorseful killer." What was true about my past had to be changed in my present: in order to shw remorse and cease frm violence, I had to follow RJ's principle of empathy: become other-centered and see things through my victims’ eyes. VII The 20th century, a period of unparalleled scientific and techological advancement was also a period of unimaginble wars and crimes. Against the backdrop of thriving civilization, millions of innocent persons were destroyed by those entrusted to maintain it. Surviving philosophers, John-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, viewed life through the prism of the world wars they experienced. Life appeared absurd and meaningless. After witnessing the horrors perpetuated by man against man using the latest technology, they denied God or some purpose of life. Everything was arbitrary, they said, and the only freedom given to man is to choose who he will be through what he does. Existentialist philosophy says that despite the lack of meaning and the prevalence of absurdity, man must seek meaning in his response to the absurd. In other words, the freedm to choose meaning is what transforms the absurd and senseless. This is the difficult task of each huan being. Similarly, the crim I committed was absurd and senseless. An invaluable life of a great human being was destroyed through a coard's pull of a trigger. The sentence of life without parole also promotes absurdity: I had nothing to lose by continuing in my madness, and nothing to gain by changing my behavior. Retributive justice perpetuated the senseless absurdity of my crime: what is the point of keeping alive an incorridgible criminal? Through RJ I was encouraged to ask: what is my personal responsibility and my obligation toward others? I must grapple not only with the consequences of my past, but also with my current responsibilities, even if sentenced to life in prison. I mst live in such a way that my absurd crimes are reshaped into a meaningful life. From a Christian perspective my life is not only meaningful, but is a trust with eternal cnsequences. God brought me into being, and has called all men to eternal life through faith and love in His Son. What is my Christian duty in loving God and my neighbor as myself? These questions are especially relevant when I fail in my obligations tward God and neighbor. How I live out my life sentence is a direct response to my victims’ piercing perspective of life after my senseless crime: "This heinous crime has left me bitter, depressed and doubtful about the future. Bitter, because of the violent manner of Ennis's death and the feeling of helplessness for retribution. Additionally, the lack of remorse and the criminal mentality of Markhasev perpetuates this feeling. Depressed because Ennis is no longer with the family and that he is sorely missed. Finally, doubtful because of the future and because of the frequency of similar crimes being committed across the coutry and knowing the devastating impact of the families of those victims." VIII Murder is an attempt to kill God by destroying the person made in His image. It guarantees estrangement from God, from oneself, from one's comuity, and one's environment. If the essence of man is expressed in love and mercy toward others, murder destroys not only the life taken (along with numerous secondary victims), but also the life of the murderer. It mars the killer's relations with all mankind. When, in the Genesis narrative, Cain murdered his brother Abel, he complained to God about his puishment: flt is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven m out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a Vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me" (Gen. 4:13- 14). Cain blames God for the consequences of his crime and for the resulting‘ acute fargmentation in every sphere of his life. This is the opposite of the RJ principle of encounter: where one faces the harm done to another person, to one's fellow man and equal, and seeks to repair the wrong. Once I was ready to face the truth of my actions, my debt to others clamored for justice. The first token of my responsibility was to accept the consequences of my past, a life sentence, as a merciful opportunity for change and living amends. The second token of repentance was to work on myself in the present, seeking to restore the broken web of my relationships. RJ is more than a self-recovery program, because it is other- centered. Living in my victims' enduring shadow is a purposeful mindfulness of my accountability to them. It is a conscious reversal of my "low regard for huan life," as pointed out by my victim's uncle, "and mcking the criminal justice justice system which is holding him responsible for murdering Ennis." The steep climb toward reclaiming a semblance of my humanity led through encounter with my victims. Their perspective, as expressed in the "Impact Statements” subitted to the Court at sentencing was instrumental in pointing me in the direction of proper repentance by showing me the ripple- effects of my crime. Five years passed before I read them, but the timing was perfect: at last, I was ready to see myself through their eyes. These letters were living documents, saturated with pain and suffering I caused, riddled with questions that had no answers and agony which found no consolation. The Impact Statements became my first important inventory: revealing the despicable vices I needed to uproot, and the opposite virtues I had to acquire. Justice demands that I listen to my victims and restoration compels me do something about the cold-blooded person they see. IX My personal path toward RJ is not an aademic exercise or a neat map of theoretical principles. RJ is the messy arena of a personal and painful struggle toward redemption, together with others who are striving to bring restoration to a boken world. I a indebted to God for allowing me enough borrowed time to come to my senses. I am indebted to others -- especially my victims -- at whse expense I am changing, growing, and seeking to be a vessel of peace in prison. RJ means that no one owes me anything and I cannot blae anyone. I am the one who owes everything to everyone, and personal responsibility is the price I must pay for whatever consequences I must face because of the mrder I committed. RJ is ot a system that works, but a fraework that builds even when things fall apart and my on personal goals remain unfulfilled. Victim awareness is an important component: I have had to learn to see life from the victim's side, to listen to people whose lives I have scarred, and to show solidarity with victims in prison. At the same time, empathy taught me endure wrongs and injustices, to reap the bitter harvest of the poisonous seed I sattered inmy youth. I had to learn to forgive and love even those who wronged me. The Gospel commandment to forgive is intended for my healing, with my salvation at stake. If I dare hope for mercy from God, how could I decide to refuse it to others? If my victims receive no consolation, then is it just for me to be consoled? I must learn to live with loss and to still remain a servant, doing to others as I would have to me. In this manner, RJ is a worldview which permates my life and impacts all of my relationships. This lesson I was taught by the ercy extended to me by the survivors of my crime. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and philosopher, said that in the concentration cmps men were stripped of all human dignity. The philosophical question of lifefs meaning was superfluous because it had already been answered by a lifetime of positive choices, and then scrapped by the cruel Nazi death mechanism. Those who had found life's meaning for themselves were now marked to be gassed and cremated. The only remaining question in this dark hour was: what does life demand of them there, in their personal Golgothas? The answer was to remain human and retain their dignity at all costs. This is a fitting description for my quest toward restorative justice, well summarized by the Jewish proverb: "Whenever a man is needed, endeavor to be that man." X Our Thursday night Lifer class is a think tank for parole board preparation and a suport group as we navigate through the daily challenges of prison life. Most of us there are lifers convicted for violent felonies, who collectively have spent more than a hundred years in prison. We are of different backrounds, beliefs, and cultures, but what is common is our desire to change and to earn our way back into the free world. In this factory of failure we are entrusted with the tim and opportunity to cobble together a restorative community -- an island of change in a sea of diffused indifference and criminal insanity. RJ literature (such as Victim Awareness modules, Insight packets, Twelve Step literature) provides us with a needed roadmap of what must change and where we are headed. However, I mst choose this path and decide to make the difficult journey toward redemption. Parts of my past will atrophy and die along the road, but that is the necessary price to pay in order to become a new man -- rather than the one accuately depicted by my victims: "Sick people like him don't deserve to walk among us." A certain school of thought states that every man is free to choose one of two actions: to take a step forward into a challenge and growth, or backwards into the comfort and safety of what already exists. RJ is a step forward into the uknown: it guarantees challenges and growth, but not necessarily favorable results. It is a journey of becoming who we were created to be, despite the wrongs we have committed. As the offender, the primary means of showing remorse is making sure that my past evils are conquered by God's good. It is dangerous for the offender to seek justice, so I must embody it in my approach to others. This is the proof of a transformed life built on restorative principles. After digging my own pit of injustice, I am slowly inching forward, sometimes stumbling forward, seeking to make a dent in a debt I can never repay. But, despite my past, I am determined to make no more victims, to have no more enemies, and to fulfill my obligations in helping other men on the road of change. The past cannot be changed, but we live with the hope that by embracing RJ principles, we will prevent more wrongs and victimization of others in the future. After all, if prison is a version of our self—made Hell, what better way to show remorse than by conquering a corner of it for the service of God's Heaven?

Author: Markhasev, Mikhail

Author Location: California

Date: April 20, 2019

Genre: Essay

Extent: 10 pages

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