Back in 2001 a young teenager, whose real name is not David, joined his friend in a robbery. While a family in their neighborhood was away, they broke in and stole a coin collection, an old watch, and other items that David and his friend could fence for cash. The plan went off without a hitch, except that David and his friend were arrested when law officers linked them to the crime. David qualified for a community mediation program between victims and offenders that he agreed to participate in.
During the mediation, David learned that the items he and his friend took were of sentimental value to the family. The watch belonged to the homeowner’s grandmother, and neither it, nor the coin collection, were recovered. More importantly, David learned about the fear and emotional upset his actions caused the family. Following the mediation, the victims reported that they felt better after explaining the full impact of the crime on their lives. As partial restitution for his crime, David wrote the following letter of apology:
“I know that saying sorry will not bring back any of the items that were taken from your home, nor will it help your 5 year old son get to sleep at night without having to make sure that the doors are locked. Nor will it repair your broken marriage, and it definitely won’t make your daughter feel any different about me, but I can’t go back in time and undo what was done, because believe me I would. I’m sorry that I did not think about the consequences of my actions. I’m sorry that I did not think about the extent of the hurt that would come to you and your family because of my actions. I cannot tell you in words how much it saddens me to know that a 5 year old boy cannot sleep at night because of what I did, but I hope that the night-light that I gave him makes a difference, even if it’s only a little one. I only wish that I would’ve known the hurt that I caused before I did what I did. I never, ever, would have done it. In closing I only ask that you somehow can find it in your heart to forgive me for my actions and for the pain that I caused you and your family.”
David’s letter is a powerful argument for Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM). According to VOMA, victims who participate in mediation get more restitution and feel safer and less fearful than victims who don’t mediate. Similarly, offenders who take part in VOM feel more fairly treated, and make a higher rate of restitution than offenders who do not mediate. Studies also show that victim-offender mediation programs lead to a significant reduction in recidivism for juvenile offenders.
David’s story is one of many recorded by Amy Dowell in “Medley of Mediation Stories.” Intended to “spread the word” about mediation, Dowell’s fifty page compilation illustrates the power of mediation to change perspectives and heal emotional wounds. The takeaway is that Victim-Offender Mediation does more to bring about justice than the usual blame and punishment approach of the criminal system. “Doing time” may satisfy a criminal’s debt to society, but what about the criminal’s debt to the victim? Mediation provides a unique opportunity for victims and offenders to meet face to face and begin a conversation that may lead to tangible accountability and restorative justice.