Student Reflects on Restorative Justice Program at Green Bay Prison

Student Jillian Dickson-Igl has put together these thoughtful reflections about her experience with the restorative justice program at the Green Bay Correctional Institution.   

Back in October, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) as a part of the Restorative Justice class that was taught by Professors O’Hear and Schneider. The trip consisted of three days at the prison, two of which I was able to attend, as part of the prison’s Challenges and Possibilities program for inmates. The Challenges and Possibilities program is a thirteen-week program that helps the participants focus on their own personal growth as well as aiding them in realizing the impact of their actions, past and present, on other individuals. At the conclusion of the program is when the three-day restorative justice component comes into play, and this is when community members, lawyers, judges, and survivors of crime come to the prison to spend time with the men in the program.

Going into the experience I was very skeptical as to what was going to happen.  

Were the men really going to change? Would they appreciate the experience? What was the importance of us as students coming to the prison and participating in the circle? Quickly my worries were quashed after spending time with the men and watching the impact that the circle had on everyone participating in it. Additionally, I must confess I was not so thrilled about going to the prison initially because it required me to miss work and other activities.

The day before I left for Green Bay I had a quick chat with my boss about being gone for the next two days and to make sure all of my responsibilities were handled. I should also mention that I work for a criminal defense lawyer, and during our conversation we joked about whether or not I would run into any former clients at the prison, especially any that may have not been happy with the way their case was resolved. Well, as coincidence would have it, I did run into a former client while in Green Bay, and what a profound moment it ended up being.

On the last day of the program we were going around the circle sharing what we were going to do and take away from this three-day experience. Many men stated that they were going to write to their families and apologize for the effects of their actions, and other said that they were going to work towards trying to forgive themselves and move forward with their lives. One individual stood out because he began to talk about how he was thankful for the second chance that he had been given recently, and that he was going to get in touch with his family and thank them for the support that they had given him. Well, the second chance that this man was given was that he won an appeal. Upon going back to circuit court, the man was appointed a new lawyer who was able to advocate on his behalf and ultimately get some significant time shaved off of his confinement. After hearing this man tell his story, I got goosebumps. I just knew that it was a case that my boss had worked on, and I had done extensive research on, prior to the resentencing.

After we finished for the day I approached this man, and told him who I was, and in particular who I worked for. I was not prepared for what happened next. The man instantly began crying and told me that he was so thankful for what my boss had done for him and then he thanked me for working on his file as well. He told me that he felt that he had renewed hope for his life knowing that he could be home with his family years sooner than he had originally thought. After talking with me, he shook my hand again and told me that his wished that he could give me a hug.  He also asked that I go back to work and tell my boss again how thankful he was for what he had done for him and his family.

After having this experience, I was no longer a skeptic and was convinced by the process and the program. For any fellow students who are interested in this program, I would encourage you to take the Green Bay Prison Restorative Justice class with Professors O’Hear and Schneider. I would like to thank Professors Geske, Schneider and O’Hear for coordinating our participation in the program as it was an experience that I will never forget.

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