Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

This story is a lightly edited version of an article first published in the June issue of Mule Creek Post, a newspaper inside Mule Creek State Prison. 

Restorative justice has helped us change the way we look at crime. Rather than being hurried to the back of the courtroom and asked to stay out of the way, victims and victims’ families are given a voice in their cry for justice. 

Additionally, the prison system is calling for a push toward rehabilitation instead of locking people up and throwing away the key. Moreover, offenders are being educated to understand the impact of crime, helping us put a face on the victim we’ve created. 

Contributing greatly to this much-needed transformation surely comes from a closer look at our forgotten victims: our families. These people are often overlooked, taken for granted, and expected to stand beside us. As willing as they are to do this, consider what it must be like to have a family member serving time in prison.

Francisco Palomino, who is serving 23 years, reflected on his family’s re­sponse to his incarceration. 

“After my dad passed away and my brother and I went to prison,” began Palomino,” it devastated my mom. She felt like she had three deaths in her family, while my brother and sister were left to answer questions and make excuses for what I did. Mom was disappointed and con­fused. She couldn’t understand what I was thinking and had a hard time accepting what I did. But she prayed that the Lord would help me find a better path. I was furious with myself for what I put her through.”

If we are blessed enough to have a loving family who is willing to stand behind us, we owe it to them to acknowledge the sacrifices they make for us, to count the sleepless nights they endure, and to recognize the un­founded guilt they must experience on our behalf. 

While society offers them very little empathy due to our senseless acts of violence, it is up to us to provide them comfort for the grief we have caused them, to provide them answers to their unspoken questions, and to give them confidence in our determination to fix what was broken when we committed our crimes.

No doubt, we have used much ink over the years in trying to find the right words to tell loved ones how sorry we are, but perhaps the best way to say sorry is through our personal accomplishments, by presenting ourselves accounta­ble for our actions, and by accepting full responsibility for our conduct.

We cringe at the idea of hurting our loved ones and thinking of them as our victims, but the sooner we come to terms with what we put them through, the sooner they can put it behind them and together we can move ahead to a better life. These steps help bridge the gap between victims and offenders.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Ricky A. Ortega

Ricky A. Ortega is a reporter for the Mule Creek Post, a newspaper inside Mule Creek State Prison in California.