I was deeply moved by Sarah Liz Uyehara's letter in this week's Bohemian. As someone who has worked in the restorative justice field, everything she said resonated with restorative justice principles. It was a beautiful and inspiring letter.
The reality is that until we stop stigmatizing, shaming, judging, and punishing people for making mistakes in judgement, people will not be able to look at their (and our) behavior realistically nor will they (or we) be able to make true amends and be welcomed back into their (and our) communities. Do we really want to permanently exile people for stupid, drunken behavior? Yes, I know the officer involved said that Efren really wasn't drunk, but without a blood test, how would he know for sure? Efren has admitted he was a binge drinker; most binge-drinkers have black-outs. The description of his strange behavior on that night definitely sounded like black-out behavior. It's also obvious that by doing what he did, he scared the crap out of himself. It was his "bottom" in 12-step parlance; only one direction was left to him: up. And he has been moving in that direction ever since, to his credit.
I have been appalled at the vitriol and open hatred directed at Efren, especially by this allegedly "enlightened" community. Turns out this "progressive" area isn't so open-minded and openhearted as they like to think they are. Seeing the picture in the Press Democrat yesterday of a father holding what looks like a three year old in his arms while his face is contorted with rage as he hurls judgement and shame at another human being, I couldn't help but wonder what lessons that child is learning about human behavior.
I've read postings on local online bulletin boards and letters to editors that claimed knowledge of terrible motivations for Efren's behavior; many were filled with coded racist and bigoted language. People jumped to all kinds of conclusions without real proof that their conjectures had any basis in fact. The revenge fantasies were incredibly disturbing.
Believe me, I do not, nor will I ever condone the kind of behavior Efren displayed on that night last July, but this young man showed tremendous courage Tuesday listening to not only the other supervisors chastise him, but he also sat through what looked like what one observer called " a public stoning with words." For THREE HOURS. All this after he displayed sincere remorse, talked about what he is doing to change himself for the better, and expressed understanding that what he did was a huge mistake and was very wrong.
People have been very upset about Efren's initial behavior of getting an attorney, refusing to comment, and going into rehab immediately. What many people do not understand about our justice system and why Efren did this, and then pleaded "not guilty" is that the justice system is adversarial; there is no room for sincere admission of guilt, expression of remorse, any kind of apology or making of amends to the victim with an expectation that that open honesty will be rewarded with a thoughtful, unique-to-the-situation response. Not with mandatory, cookie cutter sentencing in place and certainly not with a public "out for blood." I am sure Chris Andrian explained this to him.
I have facilitated restorative circles where a young person has laid their soul open to a room full of people who they knew hated them for what they had done and I have seen those victims who were filled with hatred soften and begin the process of forgiveness, because they have seen the sincerity in that young person's eyes. I've seen that same sincerity in Efren's eyes; he cannot hide the shame and remorse he feels and that is such a good sign that he has already changed for the better.
Too bad a restorative process wasn't done instead of a trial. And too bad he was tried and convicted in the public sphere and by the media before he got anywhere near the courtroom. I venture to say that the outcome would have been much more healing for the victim, her family and friends, as well as Efren, his family and friends, and the community.
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