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OP-ED: Restorative justice — part II
December 24, 2013, 05:00 AM By John Kelly

John Kelly

A couple months ago, I had the distinct privilege of writing a guest editorial on the topic of restorative justice for this paper. To recap, restorative justice seeks to heal, reconcile, restore rather than punish, retaliate, isolate, not only in cases of convictions but whenever there is conflict among people. Restorative justice also strives to address community issues that help generate division which demand our consideration.

So much for theory. What are some of the realities one gets into if he espouses the cause? Well, last weekend I spent a great deal of time in San Quentin State Prison. I attended my first Christmas party in the Protestant chapel. There were about 200 guests. Three fourths of them were dressed in blue. The others represented the variety of programs that come in regularly to help the men in blue heal, reconcile, restore. The diversity, the warmth, the spirit — I don’t expect to find anywhere else.

At the very same time in the Catholic Chapel at least 100 people had gathered for one of the ongoing discussions on this very topic. It was devised and promoted by the men in blue, well over 100 of whom met every Wednesday and Thursday to discuss restorative justice and apply it to their lives. So many of them are committed to help young people not repeat their mistakes. Fittingly enough, one of the areas for discussion was bullying in our schools.

During the weekend, I saw three of my good friends who are part of a program called KID/C.A.T., Creating Awareness Together. This program was featured recently in a front-page story in one of our local papers. It is comprised of young men sentenced to state prison when they were teenagers. They did commit a heinous crime. The life story of how they came to do what they did is something those of us who grew up in relative stability will never be able to fully comprehend. I can personally testify to the fact that these men have changed and are thoroughly committed to being an influence for good in the world.

Locally, I had an interesting experience in my role as a board member of the Police Activities League. I was contacted by a young man was one of the original Hispanic students at San Mateo High School back in 2006 for whom PAL organized a soccer program to keep them out of gang activity. It took a while to get them to change their thinking. This young man did get into some trouble at the start. Today, he is an impressive 23-year-old man, the father of a 6-year-old son. He is gainfully employed. He is representative of where this original group of young men are today.

And why did he want to see me? He wanted a letter of recommendation to federal immigration authorities in his appeal to be accepted as a legitimate member of our society. I recall the day I asked our original group of boys how many of them had Social Security cards and almost all of them were consumed with laughter. When will we ever get so many of our youth who truly grew up American and who missed out on being born here a chance to be official?

One final experience. About a month ago, a group of 15 men went into the 6 West Pod of the San Mateo County Jail and put on our third weekend retreat of the last two years. It is a program based on one most of us had experienced at San Quentin. It was sponsored by the Service League of San Mateo County which promotes programs in the jail. It took some doing at first to get an OK from the Sheriff’s Office. A week later, a similar retreat was conducted in the women’s county facility. I can testify to the fact that the spirit generated among those inside who had this chance to take a deeper look at themselves and who had the experience of people from the outside who genuinely cared about them made a profound and hoped for lasting impression on who they were really meant to be.

In a way this is a not-so-subtle introduction to a future very important discussion of what we might accomplish in our own county as we build a new jail and face the challenges of increased numbers of the locally incarcerated as the realignment program is implemented in our state.

John Kelly, a proud native of San Francisco, has lived on the Peninsula since 1956. He spent 15 years on the faculty of Serra High School, another 15 as director of Samaritan House and has volunteered in various self-help programs at San Quentin for more than 20 years. He is currently on the Board of the Service League and the San Mateo Police Activities League.



Tags: young, program, league, justice, restorative, people,

Other stories from today:

Letter: Bozo diplomacy
OP-ED: Restorative justice — part II
It’s a wrap

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