Serving justice. Giving hope.

James and JanineIs there somebody you encountered only once who made you think about them often? In February, I came face-to-face with my somebody.

I was more than curious when Marquette colleague Dr. Theresa Tobin reached out to say that a student in her class asked to meet with me. Theresa, an associate professor of philosophy, directs the Education Preparedness Program (EPP). EPP provides academic support and career-building resources for incarcerated and recently released students through Marquette’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching, & Outreach, in collaboration with partnering academic institutions and community organizations. That’s how Theresa met James.

James Price. The name didn’t register with me when the three of us had lunch at Marquette Law School’s Tory Hill. James insisted on paying. The conversation flowed easily enough as the 40-something-year-old spoke about his current work, which necessarily touched on the tougher subject of his previous time in prison. Paroled after serving 27+ years for homicide, James is employed through 414LIFE, a Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin hospital-based violence interruption program that treats violence as a disease. The goal: to save lives by interrupting the cycle of violence.

Among the program’s team of formerly incarcerated men serving as Violence Interrupters, James has a dangerous job. He taps past neighborhood and criminal experience as well as EPP-acquired mediation skills to meet victims and offenders of gun violence where they’re at. He mentors, helping steer them toward positive changes. Many of these individuals are kids. But that’s what makes James ideal for the job.

As lunch continued, James described a 14-year-old convicted of killing a teen walking down the street, mistaking a cocked cap for membership in a rival gang. As I listened, inspired by how James puts himself in danger each day by working with these kids, it clicked. He was the 14-year-old I sentenced back in the early 1990s for that senseless crime. Over the past two decades, I would think about that young kid in my court who thoughtlessly did the unthinkable. A criminal to be punished for the safety of the community, who received the harshest sentence I had given to a juvenile. A kid I sent to prison, with no chance for parole for a quarter century.

Yes, I remembered James. He was the somebody who was always in the back of my mind because, really, how could I forget the reaction of a child who, after hearing his sentence, said his life was over?! While his name escaped me with time, I often wondered how he was doing and what had become of him. Apparently, he never forgot what I had said to him: that when/if he got out of prison, his life was not over. He could have a productive and meaningful future. James shared how those words meant nothing to him at the time but, with nothing but time to think — 27 years, 7 months and 14 days to be precise — he came to realize that it had been the first occasion somebody expressed any hope in him. That hope helped shape his prison time and compelled him to take a course in restorative justice, launching his new journey.

I will never forget that lunch — or the name James Price — grateful to know now that by serving justice while giving hope decades ago, I was blessed with the grace to inspire James to do the same.

We all know and are somebody for somebody who can make things right. God moments are real.

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When Claude Got Shot

Marquette Law School’s Andrew Center for Restorative Justice hosted a viewing of the Emmy award winning documentary When Claude Got Shot on February 1, 2023. The next day, February 2, the Center hosted a “talk back event” with Andrew Center Director Janine Geske moderating a discussion with co-producer and impact campaign advisor Santana Wilson Cole, and Claude Motley.

Claude discussed his experiences of being shot by Nathan King and his journey after the shooting which led to his restorative justice advocacy. Santana shared her experience filming the documentary, her relationship with Claude, and empathy towards Claude’s shooter, Nathan. Claude’s friend, Brad Lichtenstein directed and produced When Claude Got Shot. Santana joined the documentary team as an intern. The film highlights Claude’s journey and Nathan’s criminal justice proceedings.

Claude’s journey began when Claude returned to his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a high school reunion only to become a victim of gun violence. When two cars pulled up, Nathan, a 15-year-old, attempted to carjack Claude. Nathan got out of his car and while attempting to carjack Claude, shot Claude in the jaw. Claude fled in his vehicle, not realizing he was shot. The next day another victim shot Nathan while he was attempting yet another carjacking. As a result of those injuries, Nathan ended up being paralyzed from the waist down. Nathan and Claude ended up being treated at the same hospital, at the same time.

Claude and Santana described how the film follows Nathan’s juvenile court proceedings, which resulted in Nathan’s eventual transfer to be tried as an adult. Claude discussed how he was torn between his empathy and his anger. Nathan was given numerous chances to avoid being tried as an adult but absconded twice which resulted in his transfer to adult court.

Claude gave an impact statement asking the court to give Nathan a lighter sentence; however, despite that, the Judge gave him 12 years. Claude recalled conflicting emotions at Nathan’s sentencing. Most impactful for Claude was when Nathan was taken into the custody of the State and Nathan’s mother was prohibited from giving Nathan a hug because he now belonged to the State.

Claude eventually realized he wanted to sit down and talk to Nathan to express his forgiveness so; he reached out to Professor Geske. Claude was inspired by going through the restorative justice process with Nathan and, since the documentary, Claude opened his own non-profit for restorative justice reform in Charlotte, North Carolina. He wants to be a father figure for those struggling and wants to help others find peace. Despite push back from the community, Claude maintains his resilience in trying to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Despite Santana’s anger toward Nathan for hurting Claude, she empathized with Nathan during the victim offender meeting. Santana reasoned that Nathan was only a kid, a kid who truly struggled, who likely felt alone, who did not have positive role models in his life, and who was lost. She has been inspired to advocate and assist juveniles as much as she can.  Santana advocates and helps educate communities on the impacts of gun violence.

Professor Geske ended the talk-back session with discussing Santana’s new projects all involving racial impact themes. Santana is currently managing and advising for multiple impact campaigns, filming, and directing her own short film, and writing a comedy series.

In 2021, Marquette University Law School established the Andrew Center for Restorative Justice, recognizing the generosity of Louis J. Andrew, Jr., and Suzanne Bouquet Andrew. The Andrew Center is intended to continue into the future the work of the Hon. Janine P. Geske, former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who led the Law School in establishing its former Restorative Justice Initiative in 2004. Restorative justice seeks particularly to help support victims and communities in the process of healing from the effects of crime.

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Restorative Justice Week

Restorative Justice Week, running from November 20 to November 26, seeks to highlight the significance of access to restorative approaches to address harm. This week is for celebrating, raising awareness, organizing events, for restorative justice.

Too many people affected by harm do not have access to restorative practices which can lead to healing. These processes seek to bring survivors, perpetrators, and community members together for facilitated conversations to promote accountability and transformation. Restorative justice approaches are ingrained in many indigenous cultures in numerous kinds of conflicts. Restorative Justice focuses on the harm and ripple effects of harm created by wrongful acts by encouraging victims to share the trauma they have suffered, for perpetrators to take responsibility for what they have done and for communities to work on safety and healing.

Family survivors of homicide victims, like Dr. Mary Kay Balchunas, who recently held a public conversation with Professor Janine Geske at Marquette University Law School, reflected on the positive impact Restorative Justice had for her. Mary Kay, the mother of a murdered law enforcement officer, has not yet met with the perpetrators who killed her son. However, Mary Kay did participate in restorative justice circles with other serious offenders at Green Bay Correctional Institute with Professor Geske and her students. In those circles, Mary Kay shared her story with a group of inmates, victims, and other community members. It was through that process of sharing her story and experiences that Mary Kay was able to find her path to healing. Professor Geske and her law students have worked with other victims, ranging from mothers to fathers, daughters to sons, brothers to sisters, community members to perpetrators. Those participants have all expressed similar experiences as they felt the positive impact that Restorative Justice seeks to promote.

Access to restorative processes provide an efficient and effective way of promoting understanding and healing for the wounds associated with crime and other harms. These approaches also positively impact the greater community. When victims, offenders, and community members come together with a trained facilitator to share their experiences and stories, each person feels heard. We learn that communities are also harmed by crime even if each resident is not a direct victim of a crime. For example, when a university sends out the safety warning texts – which usually notifies students and the university community that an armed robbery occurred nearby, it invokes fear throughout the campus. That fear harms the greater community. For instance, some people may not feel safe leaving their residence hall or begin avoiding certain areas of the city out of fear that they could be the next victim. Restorative Justice seeks to bring everyone affected together to come to a common understanding and agreement on how that harm can be best repaired. Every step taken towards healing is a step in the right direction.

With the opening of the Andrew Center for Restorative Justice about a year ago, Marquette Law School has promoted the efficacy, availability, and access to Restorative Justice. The Andrew Center for Restorative Justice recently appointed a new director for 2023 – Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano. In addition to celebrating Restorative Justice Week, the Andrew Center is planning events for 2023. One program is a conference to be held March 9 and March 10, 2023. That conference will focus on Native Americans and their significant influence on the development of Restorative Justice.

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