'Angels in America,' the right play for our fractious times - Los Angeles Times
It isn't easy, it doesn't count if it's easy, it's the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet. Peace, at last. When Joe meets and starts to fall for Louis, who works as a word processor at the court, the two . Forgiveness. Maybe that's where love and justice finally meet. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet. Belize's call for Louis to join him in forgiving Roy, which appears in Act Five, Scene Three of Perestroika, .
On the rare occasions where victims have broken through the practical barriers and written directly to judges saying they do forgive the offender, the court has found itself rather perplexed as to what to do.
In a series of cases discussed by Edwards19 the position appears to be that forgiveness by the victim or its lack or indeed feelings of vengeance should be irrelevant to sentence, unless the effects of the offence on the victim would be exacerbated by ignoring the views of forgiveness.
Clearly, the state is saying that whatever may be happening in the victim—offender communication dyad, its own communications with the offender and victim are not affected. Again, we see that the state does not do or take on board forgiveness though of course the monarch does retain the prerogative of mercy.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
The state seems bounded by the offence, with its future relations with the offender as a person being almost unconsidered. In conferencing, what communication is there between victim and offender and supporters and to what extent does forgiveness figure in this communication? I shall primarily be referring to the results of the evaluation we undertook of three restorative justice schemes in England and Wales, which were evaluated between and Both violent and property offences were included, but not sexual assault or domestic violence between partners or ex-partners.
The offences were primarily serious offences, with some of them, particularly in London and Thames Valley, including very serious offences such as robbery, assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, and burglary.
All the offences involved individual victims, rather than companies. JRC used random assignment to test the effects of restorative justice.
Randomization took place after victims and offenders had given consent to take part in restorative justice conferencing and the research. Hence, those who consented and whose cases were randomized into restorative justice the restorative justice group experienced the normal criminal justice response to the offence as well as restorative justice. The control group experienced the preparation for restorative justice so that they could properly give consent and the normal criminal justice response.
Both restorative justice group and control group victims and offenders were interviewed after the case and restorative justice had finished, and a small number of victims and offenders who took part in the pilot phase were interviewed before the restorative justice conference as to their experiences of the preparation and their reasons for wishing to take part.
Many JRC victims said that being able to have a say in how the problem was resolved was important to them, but they also referred to wishing to help the other person, wanting the opportunity to express their feelings and speak directly to the other person, and feeling they had a duty to attend though they did not feel in any way coerced to do so.
Though offenders often wanted to apologize and to repay the harm done, only a few victims wanted such repayment meaning compensation. Victims were much keener on aiding offenders to turn their lives around, to reduce the possibility of reoffending and thereby to ensure that others did not suffer victimization in the future.
We have called this symbolic reparation. When interviewed after the conference had taken place, both victims and offenders indicated considerable satisfaction with the process. Victims were also satisfied with what had happened in the criminal justice process as well—but their ratings for the criminal justice process were lower than for restorative justice.
Interestingly, victims who experienced conferencing were significantly more satisfied with criminal justice than those who did not. Restorative justice was clearly adding something for them. That something strongly revolved around communication: It was clearly, though, not about reparation or compensation. Very few conferences or sentences ended with the offender offering to pay compensation or undertake direct work for the victim.
This was not what JRC victims wanted. We know that victims in other countries have wanted reparation—so the low priority and indeed definite disinclination of victims in JRC may have been because these were serious offences and adult offenders and so compensation was impossible or inappropriateor because reparation was less important to victims in England.
JRC offenders were also very satisfied overall with conferencing and slightly more so than victims. Explaining what happened, answering questions from the victim and apologizing were all important. Neither victims nor offenders found the process easy, with offenders being significantly more nervous than victims. There is clearly a link here between each party wishing to help the other person, victims wishing to help the offender address offending-related issues and turn their lives around, and offenders being able to take steps towards this.
Did apologies figure in conferences and, perhaps more importantly, in outcome agreements signed by all parties at the end of conferences?
Apologies were in fact the most likely element to figure in outcome agreements. Did conferences prompt apologies from offenders by inducing shame or guilt, as, for example, Harris and others22 looking at conferences in Australia very similar to the JRC conferences, have suggested? Prompting apology has been linked by these authors to the engendering of emotion through the communicative process in conferences.
Certainly, the JRC conferences were often found emotional by all parties—but not always. The conference itself provided the opportunity for a direct apology to the victim, which criminal justice had not.
But it did not need to induce the wish to apologize—that was often already there. If apology was common, was then forgiveness often offered in response? This comes to the crux of this article. Victims did respond to apologies from the offender. They rarely stayed stern faced or immobile.
Occasionally, there might even be a hug. Sometimes there were good wishes for the future uttered. We must not put this too strongly. In interviews, such victims talked about their religious beliefs in forgiveness and how these had been put to the test by the offence, but they had found it possible and sometimes surprised themselves that it was not too difficult to feel, to mean, and to say that they forgave the offender.
This leaves us in somewhat of a dilemma. Victims in general were clearly responding to apologies from the offender and were also wishing the offender well and were keen on helping the offender. There are several possibilities: What we can do, though, is to examine the effects that victims and offenders said the offence had had on them and their feelings about the other party, and see whether these would lead us to favour one or other of the three possibilities set out above.
Many of the offences were serious offences, which had considerable and long-lasting effects on victims. Conferences were, therefore, being held at times when victims were often still suffering effects from the offence and the criminal justice response was still active the conference might be pre-sentence, or pre-release, or during a community sentence.
Even at the time of our interviews with victims, some months later, because of the seriousness of the offences, victims were likely to be still suffering effects. Angel interviewed some of the victims robbery and violence victims from the London areas who took part in the conferences we evaluated to see whether they were suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD symptoms.
It is very difficult to measure to what extent any process may help to alleviate the effects of offences on victims. Partly this is because victims react individually to offences and, though there is a correlation between the seriousness of the offence and the likelihood of more severe or more long-lasting effects, this is far from a perfect correlation. Though effects of offences do change over time and their impact reduces, the time scale for this is also hard to predict.
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Measuring the effect of restorative justice is, therefore, attempting to measure a variable effect on the impact of crime over time which is itself variable and different between people. One possibility is to use the randomized experimental nature of the conferencing we evaluated, comparing the experimental and control groups over time as to what effects they have.
Even then, there is no reliable, population tested, measure for crime victimization over time similar to those used for health states and medical interventions by bodies such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence NICE in the UK.
Hence, the only way to try to measure the effect of restorative justice is to ask victims what they have experienced. These measures of the effects of restorative justice, though not showing overall psychological or social impact, do however potentially relate to how the victim is thinking about the offender and possibly to forgiveness. Forgiveness is clearly incompatible with active or strong feelings that one would like to retaliate. One of the consistent results on the effects of restorative justice is that conferencing seems to lead to victims feeling less revengeful or wishing to retaliate.
What do victims themselves say about how restorative justice has affected them? Comparing the group of JRC victims who experienced a conference with the control group who did not, significantly more victims in the restorative justice group said they felt more secure lessening fears of revictimization. Indirect mediation the mediator shuttling between victim and offender did not seem to create more feelings of security, but here victims again predominately said they felt better.
We have seen that victimization affects victims in different ways. For the majority of victims restorative justice is seen by them as being positive. Both lessening negative effects of the offence reducing feelings of revenge or experiencing flashbacks and feeling more secure are aspects of closure—that victims feel they can put the offence behind them.
We know very little about the effects of offending and being caught and going through the court proceedings on offenders. We saw above, though, that typical court proceedings do not provide offenders with much opportunity to communicate themselves, either to the court or, particularly, to the victim.
It was as though the criminal justice process, which the vast majority saw as fair in terms of both process and sentence, still did not provide the sense of ending or being able to move on. Criminal justice had left unfinished business in relation to the victim, which the conference helped to alleviate.
They could now move on. Moreover, several also said that the conference had brought them closer to their supporters, and in a sense helped to reintegrate them into their micro-community of people on whom they relied and who would support them. We can see that restorative justice seems to bring closure for offenders, as well as for victims.
For many victims, there was also increased security, less fear of revictimization, and less intense or fewer feelings of revenge against the offender. For some offenders, there was a greater sense of reintegration with those close to them and stronger attachments.
There was much greater opportunity for offenders to apologize to the victim and for that apology to be acknowledged, and sometimes accepted. But does any of this add up to forgiveness, whether that be forgiveness from the victim to the offender, or for either, forgiveness of oneself?
To start to try to answer this, we need to deconstruct how forgiveness has been conceived of and operationalized in different disciplines.
There is not space here to provide anything approaching a full review of what is a very disparate and prolific set of writings in some disciplines.
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Forgiveness has been a key topic for theology and for philosophy, with some work in psychology, though little in criminology or victimology. All I can do is to point out some aspects of this literature.
- 1. VICTIM–OFFENDER COMMUNICATION, APOLOGY, AND FORGIVENESS
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Starting with victimology, Fohring has shown that how victims regard the incident has implications for whether and how they respond. The kinds of offences which led to restorative justice in our evaluation were generally what would be regarded by the public as serious, and were being dealt with by the criminal justice system as such.
Hence, victims and offenders were faced with a societal definition as well as their own. If then, forgiveness is related to closure and moving on, then forgiveness may be found more relevant to those suffering more serious offences who saw themselves as victims. Forgiveness then may be more relevant for victims at the more serious end and also at the more minor end to them of the seriousness spectrum—for different reasons.
We also need to deal with self-labelling as a victim and forgiveness as always signs of weakness. It may well be true that past cultures and maybe some present ones expected forgiveness of those labelled as victims, as some kind of opposite of revenge, where revenge was seen as an aggressive self-motivated response as it can be.
However, other past cultures and even our current English criminal justice system have expected revenge from victims and an angry, not a passive response. Refusing forgiveness might then be less agentic than forgiving. Is forgiveness related to closure and greater feelings of safety? Field and others comment that most psychological studies have tended to look at only minor infractions or incidents, rather than serious crime—not surprising, given the ethical difficulties manifest in doing experimental studies on serious incidents.
Forgiveness is then a coping strategy for the victim. The third theory, the process model, sees forgiveness as a voluntary and unconditional act in which negative feelings are replaced by compassion and love towards the offender. They are however, as Field and others point out, interpersonal theories about victim views about the offender and actions towards the offender. The weeks that followed were a blur. So did the police; he had gone into hiding.
We were interviewed and the story was released to the media to help with the investigation. I remember breaking down in tears when I saw a photo of Karen on the front page of the newspaper. For me, that made it real. It was a big funeral. It felt like a dream but it was comforting to see all of those people.
Back at school, everything was different. I had a large group of friends who were supportive and I felt very lucky to have had them around. Many avoided talking about it and acted as normal.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
I remember one girl, who I had known since the age of five, came up to me and said she was sorry to hear what had happened. It took great courage and this meant a lot to me. Then, they caught him. He was arrested by transit police while travelling by train. I expected to feel some sort of relief at this news but it never really came. He was sentenced to 15 years, locked away, and that was the end of that. Ten years went by and we all got on with our lives. I started work, moved out of home, travelled the world and led a normal life.
But the sorrow never went away and I always felt a sense of emptiness because there were so many unanswered questions. Inwhen I was 28, we received a letter from the restorative justice department asking if our family would be interested in attending a victim-offender conference.How Self Forgiveness Leads to Light, Love and a Joyful Life! - Eileen Timmins - TEDxOakParkWomen