Photo: Bill Metcalfe

LETTER: Lessons learned about crime and justice

From a reader who got in trouble and took part in the Restorative Justice program

Sometimes people make mistakes due to lack of judgement. About two months ago, I made the decision to steal from a local supermarket, and ultimately would pay the consequences of that action.

I found myself in a situation of having little to no money, and a week or two until my next job began. I headed to the store to use my last $20 to purchase a few items that I would try to make stretch two weeks. I put what I thought was roughly $20 worth of items into my bag, and in that moment made the decision to just keep filling up the bag knowing that I would not be able to afford it all.

I took my bag and began to walk out of the store, only to be apprehended by the store’s loss-prevention officer, and escorted back into the store’s back offices. The police were called, and I was informed of the situation I was currently in. The items were confiscated, photographed and identification was taken and recorded.

Upon the police arriving, I had images of myself being marched through the store in handcuffs and having the overwhelming feeling of embarrassment and self-disappointment. The officers couldn’t have been more professional and kind, and after going through the preliminary questions and statements, I was given an opportunity.

The Nelson Police Department offers a Restorative Justice Program that allows people who made bad decisions involving crimes (of a certain kind) the opportunity to give back to the community they have wronged, and to come together with those directly affected by the crime and have a positive conversation about what things should be done.

I went through this program, and found it to be tremendously positive, and an effective way to establish a strong, open community, as well as allow people who did the crime to offer apology and reimbursement to those directly affected. You are assigned mentors who monitor and get to know you on a personal level, and together you try to establish a potential outcome that doesn’t just involve paying a fine and not being able to mend the true problem of the issues that led to the crime itself.

The final stage is meeting with those directly affected by the incident, and engaging in a thoughtful and open conversation from all sides of the incident in question.

This allows feelings to be heard, and understood, while also establishing a proper means of dealing with the situation that can have a positive impact on all who were involved.

My crime was theft under $5,000, which in the long run may not appear to be a crime that affects a large number of people. The fact is the action I chose to do that day ended up affecting many people from the employees and managers of the store, to the mentors (who volunteer their time), to the police who could have been doing better, and more productive, things with their time rather than dealing with my situation.

I would like to personally thank the volunteers, and members of the Nelson Police Department, for creating an initiative to help all people right their wrongs, and offer a new foundation that might have otherwise gone unimplemented.

James Gordon