My husband and I talk a lot about justice. He has a very different perspective from mine, but we understand each other.
“I never wanted my brother in prison,” I told him the other day, knowing he would have loved to see my brother locked up for life. “But I wanted the trial.”
To me, trial and punishment are not the same thing. Not the same need. Not the same wish.
One is about creating a public record of my brother’s place in my life. The other is about exiling him from my life.
It’s an interesting dilemma, because our adversarial system defines success as “winning” a prosecution or exoneration. What about someone like me, who wants desperately to take the stand but seeks neither conviction nor exoneration?
On occasion, my husband has shared my writings with Restorative Justice advocates because my story generates friction at contact points between RJ and adversarial justice: On the one hand, I crave connection with my offender, and on the other hand, I have experienced great healing and validation through obtaining documents related to his prosecution for molesting another victim. For the first time in my life, I felt free to reveal “our secret.” In my grief and love, I seem like a poster child for RJ, and yet, without those court documents generated by the adversarial system, where would I be in my healing?
How do you square these conflicting needs? In RJ, you remove the retributive element in favor of connection; in adversarial justice, you may not get connection, but you get a narrative on the record, unlike sealed or secret restorative circles.
It’s interesting also when I interview people who knew my brother. They sometimes seem reluctant to reveal what they know, as if prosecution–and hence, punishment–were still real possibilities even though my brother has been dead since 2008. They often precede stories with my least favorite words:
Off the record. If only they knew the pain those words inflict. How they feel like “our secret” all over again.
I don’t have an answer to my dilemma, except to keep writing. My memoir is not vigilante justice. It is not about winning in the court of public opinion. I just want a testimony, however I can get it.
My favorite words in the whole file of my brother’s case? These:
Be it remembered. That’s what keeps me going.