Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Letter from Handlon Campus

Philosophers from Socrates to Rawls have given us their definition of justice. Nevertheless, if you ask 100 people to define justice, you would get 100 different variations. That being said, what if I were to ask you to define restorative justice? Moreover, what if I asked you to define recovery ministry? 

Don’t worry; prior to being a Calvin student, I couldn’t have defined either with any sort of confidence or accuracy. However, as a Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI) student, I have had the pleasure of taking such courses as CMS 251: Theological Reflections in Recovery Ministry, as well as being a member of the CPI Restorative Justice Club. Calvin University teaches us that each of us suffers from brokenness and is in need of God’s grace. Looking back over my life’s experience, prison and now CPI, I can wholeheartedly say that I agree.

I believe the key lies in coalescing social justice movements, such as restorative justice and healing ministries like recovery ministry.

However, brokenness is a condition, a state of ill repair. The ultimate solution is salvation found in the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves how we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, can help heal the brokenness that lies within the marginalized, disenfranchised, wounded and broken members of our society. I believe the key lies in coalescing social justice movements, such as restorative justice and healing ministries like recovery ministry.  

Prior to coming to prison, I accomplished many things. I’m an honorably discharged combat veteran, a father and a former physician assistant, who worked primarily in emergency medicine. I say these things not to boast, but rather as proof of how we are all broken. Any one of us is capable of making life-altering decisions that cause harm as a result of wounds we refuse to process, that prevents healing. 

Despite my outward validations, I suffered inwardly from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), moral injury and perfectionist tendencies, all of which I refused to admit to, much less seek help with. I believed that seeking help for these would be a display of weakness, and I saw weakness as nothing more than failure. My refusal to admit I needed help led to my ultimate failure — prison. 

While I have since taken accountability for my actions, part of that accountability demands I seek to correct the character flaws and find healing for the brokenness that allowed me to make such regrettable and harmful choices. Accountability is more than just admitting the wrong and saying you are sorry; it’s taking the actions necessary to heal the harm that has been done, while also trying to ensure the harm is not transferred any further. This is one of the basic tenets of both restorative justice and recovery ministry.

The restorative justice (RJ) model was first created out of concern for needs that were not being met in our current system of justice. The RJ model teaches us that there are three stakeholders in the justice process: the victim, the offender and the community. All three of these have needs that, in a perfect world, must be met in order to achieve true justice. In our current system of justice, when a crime is committed, the state takes over the task of prosecution and punishment, essentially disenfranchising the victim and the community while at the same time marginalizing the offender. 

Currently, the United States has over two million people incarcerated and it spends billions of dollars each year adjudicating criminal cases and housing inmates in correctional facilities. Our system is very adept at finding guilt and assigning retribution. It is inept at seeking out the underlying reasons that oftentimes influence harmful behavior. As a result, families are separated, communities are broken and countless people are haunted by the traumas they suffered. This system leaves little to no room for healing and prevention and does nothing to promote recovery, restoration or healing.

In the book titled, “Harm, Healing and Human Dignity; A Catholic Encounter with Restorative Justice,” author Caitlin Morneau tells us, “Restorative justice is not ‘soft on crime’ or an ‘easy way out’ when addressing harm and violence. We succeed at restorative justice when we learn to foster healing, transform relationships, and build a culture of life.” Furthermore, she goes on to say, “Unhealed hurt can cause us to act out in ways that harm others” (13).

As you can see, there are deeper issues at play that are not addressed by our current system, deeper issues that restorative justice and recovery ministry seek to address. In CMS 251, we learned that recovery ministry is an outreach ministry birthed out of humility, compassion, empathy, community and love of neighbor. Recovery does not simply refer to drug and alcohol addiction. Countless people in our society have fallen victim to all sorts of process addictions such as sex, gambling, eating, shopping, perfectionism, work and so many others in an effort to fill the void left inside them from the unhealed wounds they suffer from.

Many of these addictions can lead to harmful, often criminal behavior on the part of the addict. Mental illness is also at an all-time high among people who deal with these addictions. Many of us require assistance to transform that pain into something manageable, if not productive, before we unintentionally transfer it to someone else in the form of harm. 

The need for recovery ministry is greater now than it has ever been. It goes back to the age-old question: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The same could be asked: “Which came first, mental illness, violence and addiction, or the brokenness from which we suffer?” If we take the stance that each one of us is broken in some way, we can then fully appreciate how many people must be living daily with unresolved shame, guilt, pain, loneliness and isolation. These things are insidious and leave deep wounds; wounds that will never heal unless tended to properly. 

Morneau tells us, “It is often said that hurt people, hurt people” (xii). Until we learn to not only recognize but also tend to these wounds, society will continue to suffer. Watch or read the news on any given night, and you will hear about overdose deaths from rampant drug addiction, skyrocketing crime rates, increased gun violence and hate crimes, rapidly growing homelessness and mental illness, all talked about as separate issues plaguing our society. What if I could convince you that, in many instances, these issues are mere manifestations of the same problem, people who have been suffering in pain, isolation and desperation, simply because they feel unwanted, unloved and/or unworthy? 

Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have been disenfranchised, marginalized and harmed in some way. Unfortunately, we are traditionally a reactionary society: something happens, and we react. However, in this instance, I believe the answer is to be proactive in our efforts toward recovery, healing and restoration. In order to get the answers we seek, we must start looking at the people who suffer from these addictions and commit these criminal offenses as more than just simply addicts and criminals, but as humans in need of love, care and healing.

Empathy leads to healing, healing to recovery, recovery to restoration and restoration to the life in which God intended for us to live.

In the end, I believe through coalescing recovery and restoration, we can help heal many of the woes that plague society by simply loving and caring for our neighbor as Jesus instructed us to do in the gospels. We must first start by recognizing the image of God in one another, regardless of what religion, race or culture we come from. Until we begin to acknowledge the humanity in one another, we will never be able to empathize with the basic needs that lie within each of us. Empathy leads to healing, healing to recovery, recovery to restoration and restoration to the life in which God intended for us to live. This is ultimately the mission of recovery and restoration.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Calvin University Chimes Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *