Finding Meaning

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Justice That Heals

By skip Hellewell

Have you caught any of the “Real Talk” events at Laguna’s Susi Q Center? Real Talk is a series of 15-minute lectures followed by community discussion, sponsored by Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach.  Past events addressed empowering youth, the impact of social media, marriage and spirituality, helping the mentally ill, and better conflict resolution. I don’t know of a more thought-provoking way to enjoy a Laguna evening than these Real Talk events freely provided by our Baha’i’ community.

Last week “Restorative Justice,” was introduced by Brett Brian, an Orange County prosecutor, and David Dowling, a mediation lawyer. I wasn’t aware of restorative justice, but the goal is to arrange a mediation between the victim and the accused that can heal both. It’s an alternative to the “lock ‘em up” culture that often turns juvenile offenders into career criminals. Here’s an example of how restorative justice worked in one Riverside County case.

A cell phone was stolen from a high school teacher during class. The phone is later recovered, and a 16-year-old boy apprehended. The assigned probation officer, after consideration of criteria that include public safety, proposes restorative justice. The teacher and the accused student, with his parents, all agree. In the next scene, the teacher, the accused with his father, and a mediator meet. The accused boy, racially different from the teacher, is a tough kid, hard to reach, talking in monosyllables. The conversation isn’t going anywhere until the teacher tells his story, of trying to raise a family on teacher’s wages, of how much he needs his phone for his busy life, of having to take his daughter’s flip-top phone because he can’t afford a new one.  The tone of the meeting changes; it’s now one human sharing with another.

The boy’s father, himself struggling to raise a family on a modest salary, begins to talk to his son, perhaps more than they had spoken before. “Do you think everyone is made of money?” he concludes. The son, by degrees, begins to open up. He has a story, too. Unlike other kids, he doesn’t have a phone and saw a chance to have one. A tentative apology is extended. All are understanding each other in a deeper way.

A plan is proposed. The student will prepare a written apology, earn $30 to pay for damage to the phone, and perform community service. The teacher suggests a nearby care facility where his own mother had recently passed away, saying it would mean a lot to him if the service could be done there. They have a deal. The mediation ends with an awkward handshake between victim and offender, that turns into a warm embrace of reconciliation. Later, the teacher says that when the $30 is paid, he’ll give it back so the boy can buy some treats to take to the care facility. The healing of restorative justice is a growing circle.

Restorative justice appears to reduce recidivism. Of 52 juvenile cases in Riverside, all but four remained out of trouble a year later. It also saves money, the intervention above was a small fraction of the cost of a court room resolution and detention.

Haven’t we all offended others in ways where restoration is needed? The Beautiful Wife comes to mind. I once forgot her birthday, compounded by the visit of her old girl friend who remembered. How many times have I failed to listen well? And what about the way I compliment her dress when it’s actually the one she hates. Marriage is a complex dance, often in need of healing. I’m thinking of restitution now, something special. Maybe I’ll buy her a new frying pan.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email:
[email protected].


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

Salt Chrch, 8681 N. Coast Hwy, 10:00 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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  1. Dispute resolution has changed. Years ago, as an employee rights attorney, I had to use the courts in many cases. Thankfully, now most cases are resolved through mediation, a much more speedy, compassionate and effective method. Thanks got pointing out better ways to treat our neighbors.


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