I want to share with you a personal story about the true practice of restorative justice and how it plays a part in my life.
In 2014, I participated in a restorative justice roundtable here in San Quentin State Prison and it was one of the first self-improvement programs I was involved in. During the course of the program, a video was shown about a police officer being shot at by an assailant. As a result of the shooting, the police officer lost one of his eyes. I was both shocked and surprised by the video because I also shot at a police officer.
In the video, the police officer wanted to meet the shooter to find answers into what made the assailant want to kill him. The officer and the shooter agreed to meet each other for a year and gradually developed a strong bond and friendship. They met for the first time to have a dialogue about the shooting on that day that ultimately changed their lives.
I could not believe what I was seeing, but I was glad that they found healing from past pain. It was wishful thinking to think that something like this could happen to me, but I held onto the hope that one day it would.
On July 26, 2017, I went to my parole board suitability hearing and received a three-year denial. I was disappointed and hurt by my parole board denial, but a miracle happened. After the parole board hearing, Tom Morgan, the police officer I tried to kill on April 13, 1997 wanted to meet me.
Starting the process
At first, I was nervous and didn’t know what to think about Tom’s request. Eventually, we both wanted to meet each other, and the process began. A few months after Tom’s request, I was contacted by Martina and Sonia, who are representatives of Victim Offender Dialogue. We sat down and discussed about the program and how it works. I was asked to write a letter to Tom and he responded. We continued the letter writing and we developed a bond between each other.
Before our first in-person meeting, I was told Tom’s wife Christy did not want to be a part of this restorative justice dialogue. I recognized the pain and fear that I’ve caused Christy and the Morgan family. I felt a lot of guilt and shame for my actions in terrorizing the community and the Morgan family and their friends.
I was asked to write a letter to Christy, which I was more than happy to do. We continued to correspond. On May 9, 2018, I was informed that Christy would attend the scheduled meeting between Tom and me; she wanted to be there to support her husband. Christy was reluctant and skeptical about the meeting.
On May 11, 2018, I walked into the San Quentin visiting room to meet Tom while CNN was recording the event. I was nervous and in disbelief to see the man who I tried to kill 21 years ago standing across from me. I reached over to Tom and gave him a hug and told him how sorry I am for the hurt and pain I’ve caused him and his family.
With so much guilt and shame, I immediately began to sob. Tom graciously comforted me with his love and understanding. We sat down on the chairs and spoke about self-help groups that I have participated in like Kid CAT [Kids Creating Awareness Together], The Beat Within and No More Tears.
Also, I mentioned about obtaining my GED in prison. I wanted Tom and Christy to know that I was not the 17-year-old kid who committed a senseless act against them. Tom looked directly into my eyes and told me that he was proud of the mature and responsible person I have become.
What restorative justice can do
At the end of the meeting, I was told that Christy wanted to say something to me. I was very surprised about that. When I saw Christy walking towards me, my heart was beating like a drum, because I didn’t know what to expect. I stood up straight and placed my hands behind my back. I thought Christy wanted to slap me, but I was pleasantly surprised; she wanted to give me a hug.
During the hug, she said, “I am very proud of you!” We both cried … and cried … and cried. I apologized and thanked her for coming to see me. It was a special moment for me to be able to share this restorative justice experience with Tom and Christy. It was the best day of my life.
Tom, Christy and I will continue our restorative justice practice by sharing our stories to whomever will listen. In my opinion, restorative justice is about telling the truth, humility, respect, care, personal healing, honesty and being accountable for my actions. If you are able to reach out to the survivors of your crime and make amends, I encourage you to do so, because you’re able to give these individuals some healing.
Even if they don’t want to hear from you, then find some healing for yourself in the process. Restorative justice brings dignity, community and humanity to all of us if we allow ourselves to have an open heart and mind to receive it.
Looking back, the restorative justice video shown in 2014 was a sign from God. I recognized that God granted my prayers by me being able to restore hope, inner peace and freedom with two very special people. Tom and Christy Morgan gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to truly practice restorative justice in its finest form. They are my angels and I will always appreciate their support, forgiveness and compassion.
Jason Samuel is serving a life sentence for attempted murder at San Quentin State Prison.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.