Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, July 28, 2019

Restorative justice -- a better way

This is a tale of two men -- one of them attempting to be an axe-murderer, the other attempting not to be his victim.

            I can give the name of the intended victim; Doug Martindale, a United Church minister who spent 21 years as a member of the Manitoba Legislature. I can’t name the perpetrator, because I don’t have his permission. Besides, he’s dead.

            I should also acknowledge that Doug Martindale is a friend of mine.

            The way the story goes, Doug agreed to paint the cottage of an elderly acquaintance, who owned a 10-acre woodlot. Doug would get some wood; the older man would get his cottage painted.

            But when Doug went up for a weekend’s work, no one told him that another man would also be there -- a second-generation-distant nephew. For simplicity, I’ll just call him “the nephew.”

            The nephew was drunk. He’d been in constant trouble since he was 14, between alcohol and cocaine. He got drunker as the day went on.

            Still, the two worked reasonably well together, painting the eaves. Until they got to a bird’s nest with eggs in it. The cottage’s owner would want to preserve the wildlife, Doug thought. He suggested they move on to another section of the eaves.

            The nephew objected. He didn’t like being told what to do. He’d been pushed around enough in his life already.

            Doug tried to calm him, but the hostility escalated. Anger turned into threats. The nephew picked up a double-bitted axe and raised it over his head to strike Doug.

            Doug admits he was more scared than he had ever been in his life.

            The axe swung down. Fortunately, the nephew was too drunk to coordinate his muscles. The blow missed Doug’s head. It hit his leg, but only with the flat side of the axe.

            The nephew blacked out from the exertion, and later had no recollection of his actions. After he came ‘round, Doug suggested that they talk. They sat at the kitchen table. Doug tried to reason with him. His mother would not be happy with her son’s behaviour, he suggested.

            About 20 minutes later, the nephew’s wife arrived to pick him up. She wasn’t happy with him either. She told the nephew’s mother. Who was even less happy.

            Over the following weeks, the nephew directed death threats at Doug. As a member of the legislature, Doug was entitled to, and received, expensive security.

            If the case went to trial, the nephew would almost certainly receive up to 14 years in prison for attempted murder and uttering death threats.

            Doug didn’t see how that would achieve any benefit. He suggested Restorative Justice.  Both parties have to agree.

            The first meeting was a disaster. The nephew blustered. He repeated phrases taught him by his lawyer. Doug was prepared to call the Restorative Justice proceeding off, and let the nephew go to jail.

            Doug demanded three conditions for continuing the process: The nephew must apologize. He must attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and take part in its 12-step program. And he must take anger management training.

            The nephew’s mother got involved. She talked some sense into her son. The whole family participated. Everyone got their turn to speak. The mother said later that it was harder to go through mediation than to go to court, because everyone had to hear each other’s pain.

            But -- and this time it’s a good “but” -- the system worked. The nephew met the conditions. He went back to school and completed Grade 12. He completed a three-year trades training program. He found a partner, and had a daughter.

            And he kept studying. He earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the University of Winnipeg, and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Manitoba. Doug attended his graduation ceremonies, as a guest.

            His further career was cut short when he died. At roughly the same time as he would have come out of jail, had he gone through the conventional punishment system.

            It costs over $100,000 a year to keep an inmate in maximum security. Restorative Justice saved Canadian taxpayers about $1.5 million.  That alone would make Restorative Justice programs worth trying more widely.

            Beyond the purely monetary considerations, Restorative Justice has a much greater likelihood of turning people who commit criminal acts into responsible members of Canadian society.

            The biggest block to greater use of Restorative Justice, it seems to me, is that many people would still rather seek vengeance than healing. Maybe this story will change a mind or two.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week’s column recalled the moon landing July 20, 1969, and moved from that into the Gaia hypothesis that the world – actually, the biosphere wrapped around the earth – is a living organism that needs to be treated with respect. Various readers focused on various elements of that column,.


Eileen Wttewaal, for example, connected it to a personal loss: “My mom was killed in a car accident the day men landed on the moon. Her memory lives on as clearly as that happening -- with no unholy conspiracy to mar the significance of either event.”

Frank Martens was skeptical about us being more compassionate to Gaia:“Just think of all the harm we are doing to ourselves and to other people around us (who are much more obvious than the flora and fauna), what makes you think we will ever stop hurting Mother Earth?”

            Frank went on to conspiracy theories: “I don’tbelong on the list of people that don’t believe in the moon landing; however, I do belong to the Pilots and Architects group that dobelieve in the conspiracies surrounding 9/11. There is far too much evidence on the ground and in the air that has been established by far too many reliable sources to deny the fact that certain people besides the so-called pilots who took over the airplanes were the only ones implicated.”


Cliff Boldt liked thre Gaia hypothesis: “I like the oneness idea and how the complexities of Earth, humans and all other forms of life and processes, are intertwined.”


So did Suresh Bansal, writing from Pakistan: “I also believe that earth itself is a single giant living organism.”


John Shaffer recalled skepticism on another continent: “When I was in South Africa in 1971 I had the privilege of ‘preaching’ in a mining compound to a group of 200 men in an ecumenical setting.

After I shared a sermon, there was a time for questions.

            “An older man stood and said: ‘We have heard...that your country has put a man on the moon. Is this true?’

            “I assured him that it was true. The two hundred men applauded in unison.

            “Bear in mind that he was asking the question two years after it had happened. It was a touching moment, even as it reminded me of the oppressive regime that kept a percentage of its populace illiterate as a method of control.”









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                       You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, I posted a new poem last week on my webpage It’https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetryrecently. It’s about driving across the prairies west of Winnipeg. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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