In the criminal justice system, justice is served more than forgiveness is given. According to John Sage, founder and executive director of the non-profit organization Bridges to Life, this lack of forgiveness among victims and perpetrators of a crime comes at a detriment to the victims, the criminals, and the community at large. Focusing on ways to reconcile this critical issue in the U.S. prison system, Sage entitled his lecture “Restorative Justice – Why We Need It Now to Restore Victims, Offenders, and Communities.”
What makes Sage’s perspective on the matter of restorative justice so enlightening is that he was the victim of a senseless and heinous crime when his sister Marilyn was murdered by two 19 year olds in
After Marilyn’s death, her killers were sentenced to death and Sage struggled with serious ongoing depression. Sage recounts that the road to forgiveness was not an easy one. Determined to find some meaning in this horrible event, Sage participated in the Sycamore Tree Project in 1998 for people who have been victims of a crime that dramatically impacted their life and those who committed serious crimes. It was through this experience that Sage discovered the value that forgiveness had in the healing process for all those involved or affected by crime. In fact, he began to learn how to forgive the man and woman responsible for the death of his sister which slowly restored his own spiritual health.
This same effect on spiritual health could be seen among prisoners who typically have very low spiritual awareness. However, by means of this restorative justice program, criminals came to understand and take responsibility for their actions by listening to victims and searching through their own conscience. This resulted in only two percent of criminals in the project returning to the system for a violent crime ;tragedies in families and communities were successfully prevented.
Inspired by his experiences with restorative justice and its positive effects, Sage launched Bridges to Life with two goals in mind: to reduce the amount of repeat offenders of serious crimes and to heal victims and offenders in the same way that he had been healed. To accomplish these goals, inmates and facilitators break into groups and develop trust, empathy and oftentimes guilt while learning that their unfortunate backgrounds are not an excuse for their wrongdoing.
Bridges to Life has benefitted thousands of prisoners through Sage’s efforts. In addition, the organization has scheduled 85 projects in 37 Texas prisons and 5 juvenile and prison alternative facilities in 2014.
Sage believes that education is what makes people more aware of their crimes and actions. He said, “I do not believe that anyone is beyond God’s reach.” That is why Criminal Justice post-graduates should work to establish restorative justice programs on the east coast in the future.
To learn more about the issues of capital punishment and restorative justice log on to www.bridgestolife.org or read, “Where Justice and Mercy Meet: Catholic Opposition to the Death Penalty,” by the Mount’s own Trudy Conway, David Matzko McCarthy, and Vicki Schieber.