Taking Justice Into My Own Hands by Mikhail Markhasev
Unknowingly, I stumbled unto the path of restorative justice through the family of the man whom I murdered in cold blood during a botched robbery. During my trial, this family decided not to pursue the death penalty because they did not want my family to suffer the agony they experienced as a result of my crime.
At the time, as a calloused teenager blinded and bound by a straight-jacket of self-absorbed thinking, I did not recognize my first encounter with restorative justice (RJ). I did not realize that the life sentence without parole (LWOP) given me was a deposit of mercy, not justice: a lifetime to figure out WHAT I was going to do with the rest of my life, WHO I was going to become, and WHERE I was haded, when the curtain of mortality collapses on the dim stage of this brief life... Would I spend the remainder of my days trying to claw my way out of the pit of my own making? would I bury this deposit of mercy beneath the suffocating quicksand of a wasted and unexamined existence? Or, would I actually understand that this mercy came at the priceless cost of a man's innocent blood, and the untold suffering of countless people, including my own family?
The injustice of my crime cried out for a response, and so - blind and bound - I was corralled by God toward the road of repentance, steered toward RJ without recognizing it. The first important step was realizing the scope of my destructive and wicked actions, carelessly smeared all over my life and the people I chanced to meet. This sort of introspective RJ did not come about through court legislation or reformed sentencing guidelines, but simply by seeing myself through the eyes of the people I harmed.
The cold truth about myself was felt in the "Victim Impact Statements," letters submitted to the Court at my sentencing. Years later, they became my first and most important self-help inventory. Life in prison cannot wait for proper programs to materialize out of thin air. RJ means being responsible with what I am given, undoing what I have done, and understanding why my past led to my present, so that my future may be changed. It is my personal response to the injustice I have inflicted on others, and nothing less than pursuing the justice of becoming the person God created me to be.
More than two decades behind bars have come and gone. Neither the consequences of my crime, nor the reality of my sentence have changed. RJ is not a magic wand that resurrects the dead, dispels the pain or opens prison gates through a flood of programs cascading from the sky. It is an upward path of repentance and hope, narrow and steep, on this side of the barbed wire. It is now my desired path, and even if nothing more changes, I know that the mercy shown me by the persons whose lives I destroyed was not in vain.
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