The gun was pointed directly at us. What scared me was not so much the gun but the crazed look in the 18-year-old’s eyes. It was as if anything done at that moment would make him jump and inadvertently pull the trigger. I, at 15 years old, was paralyzed with fear. My brother gently eased my seat back and told me to stay low. He slowly stepped out of his car. I remember the young man had a cut on his forehead and blood was draining down his face. My brother explained who he was and incredibly – the young man let us pass to go into our home.
His nickname was Leffy. My family knew him very well. He was “the neighborhood thief” and had broken into our home on at least three different occasions. Leffy was the second oldest in a home of 10 children and both of his parents were in the home. However, his father was enslaved to alcohol. We all lived in government-subsidized apartments, nestled in an environment inundated with warring gangs, overt poverty, drug trafficking, prostitution and daily gunshots. My parents did not allow us to go outside very often.
Leffy’s home was the poorest in the neighborhood. Everyone knew it. The younger children always seemed to be hungry and wore soiled clothing; we shared food with them whenever we could. Leffy initially started stealing at a very young age to help support his family.
On the night referenced, Leffy had been involved in a shooting a few blocks away and had fled on foot. His forehead was bleeding because a bullet had grazed him. Leffy would eventually be apprehended, locked up and released…two days later. He came to my house and I could hear him apologize to my brother at the back door. I wished he had apologized to me, too.
I never grieved about this event. We did not cry over such things in the neighborhood because that was the norm. In fact, it was a much better scenario than what other persons had experienced. My environment told me I was not truly a victim. It wasn’t until years later in university, whilst trying to give a humorous speech in my Communications class, that I truly understood the extent to which those events affected me. In my speech I referenced this incident and in a matter of seconds the audience went from laughter to awkward silence as I burst into tears. The ripple effects from that night were far reaching.
Unfortunately, Leffy became a career criminal. Since the incident, he has been in and out of jail numerous times. His last sentence placed him in prison for 20 years.
Although this incident negatively affected certain aspects of my life, I never held any ill will towards Leffy. None at all. And it’s because I view him as a victim. I see him as a victim of his environment and circumstances. This is not to say that Leffy couldn’t choose to make better decisions. Of course he could! But it is to say that the first act of stealing performed at a young age and done to assist his family was the gateway for a life of crime. He did not have the privilege to choose his family or his environment.
Restorative justice “has, at its heart, the notion of victim and offender coming face-to-face as part of a restorative process for those involved. It is a process for resolving crime that focuses on redressing the harm done to victims, while holding offenders to account and engaging the community in the resolution of conflict” (New Zealand Ministry of Justice, 2014). What if a restorative justice tool had been used to address the incident which I described earlier? Could things have turned out differently?
My next blog, Healing for the Victim and the Offender Part II will discuss restorative justice tools that may have led to better, more sustainable results for all persons affected including myself, Leffy and the community.