A recent collaborative effort between people incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center and members of the Lewis University community has resulted in a significant contribution of toiletries and school supplies to people served through Guardian Angel Community Services in Joliet. This was a project initiated by Marcos Ramirez, a man currently serving life without parole at Stateville. His efforts have been numerous to foster greater connection between people inside and people outside, primarily to heal harms that have been done and to remind all of us of the humanity of each individual no matter what their past actions may have been. This and other Inside Initiatives led by Marcos have been rooted in the principles of restorative justice.
Restorative Justice (RJ) reshapes our understanding of responses to crime and those involved in them. It calls persons who have done wrong to accountability. It also reminds us that crimes harm people: the victim(s) and their families, the person who did the crime and her/his family members, and communities from which both parties come. While our current system, which is largely retributive, seeks to determine innocence or guilt, the “winner” and “loser,” restorative justice seeks to heal the harm that has been done. While forgiveness and reconciliation are not presumed facets of RJ, they can and do occur.
Marcos acknowledged to me that many men inside Stateville deeply regret past lives in which they were involved in negativity and caused harm, even to those they loved most. Guardian Angel serves women and families who have been harmed by incidences of domestic violence. Some men “inside” wanted to offer a form of reparation, if you will, to women and children who have suffered. With incredibly few resources, they scraped together the will and the money to buy various toiletries that Guardian Angel staff identified as needs. These were collected at Stateville and were picked up by friends of Marcos who work at Lewis. Parallel efforts were made at Lewis for staff, faculty and students to contribute to Guardian Angel at the same time. Sabrina Poulin, of University Ministry, and I, friend of Marcos and part of both theology and service learning, brought the collected items to Guardian Angel on August 17th. The contributions were received with enthusiasm and gratitude.
My hope is that this project, and again, there have been others as well, demonstrates the way that many women and men who are incarcerated have made efforts to change. Their transformations didn’t stop with them; they recognize that they have a responsibility, as we all do, to give back and heal human relationships around us. I find their actions and generosity inspiring. Restoring relationship with self, others and society, rather than punishment and warehousing, should be the goals of our courts and corrections systems.