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We Need A Justice That Can Transform Us!

We need a justice that can transform us
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I often describe restorative justice as a way of healing from harm by centering the person who experienced the harm, while supporting and holding accountable the person who transferred the harm. 


With the amount of harm in our society we will never run out of restorative circles to conduct. However, job security is not our aim. In fact, we want to work ourselves out of a job. That is why our mission is to TRANSFORM the retributive and inequitable culture of Oklahoma. For that, we must practice restorative justice (rj) and transformative justice (tj). 


We need a justice that tackles the root. 


We exist in a society where justice is defined as retribution. Oxford Dictionary defines retribution as “the punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act.” And we may have all heard of the phrase, “an eye for an eye,” but that will only lead to the world being blind. 


However, did you know that our current way of depending on prisons actually started as an attempt to reform a previous culture and method of beheading, torturing, and executing people for their crimes? 


Like many other failed attempts at reforming something, moving our way of punishing criminal behavior from the guillotine to a cell block only tackled a symptom and not the root of the problem. In order for us to really reform, or even abolish, our current way of punishing others via prisons and jails, we must address our need to punish others, not just how we punish others. 


As restorative justice heals a relationship by getting at the root of harm, transformative justice can heal communities by getting at the root of why harms continue to happen.


We need transformative justice!


We must remind ourselves that no one experiences violence for the first time by committing it. 


Transformative justice is the sister of restorative justice. While restorative justice is great at healing the micro, interpersonal harms that we see on a daily basis, it does not transform the systemic and historical roots of the harms that we believe every harm has. 


When a student fights in school, it is not just about that one decision to handle their battles with their fist. It is about that choice AND their understanding (or lack thereof) of what their other options are at that moment. 


To understand that we must first look at the student’s personal understanding of power and punishment. Then we need to look at their community’s understanding of power and punishment. And, finally we must look at their nation’s understanding of power and punishment. 


It is hard to stop school shootings in a country that has the largest military budget in the world. We have all been taught consciously and/or subconsciously to deal with our problems through violence. 


In Oklahoma specifically, we need transformative justice to address 


Restorative justice can definitely be used to support children experiencing trauma, people co-dependent on drugs, and individuals and families experiencing domestic violence. But TJ will help us to understand why and how so many people are getting their needs met through these harmful means. TJ can help support us in creating new solutions to get those needs met. 


How do we apply Transformative Justice?


Transformative justice looks like us centering the voices of the people most impacted by the harm, and supporting their voices to be lifted in order to transform the systems and cultures that lead to their harm. 


  • What would our schools look like if the students who were pushed out of them had a voice in policy and procedure making? 
  • What would it look like for people who are directly impacted by the carceral system, to inform policing, court sentencing, and prison reform? 
  • What would it look like for individuals who are experiencing houselessness to be a part of the decision-making process when it comes to city budgets and resource distribution? 


I know there is a movement to have people with lived experience on advisory boards and to conduct listening sessions with subject populations. However, TJ goes beyond just tokenizing people by their experiences and identities. 


It actually trusts them to lead us in making the change. It positions them to be co-laborers in the work with us. And they deserve co-power, co-compensation, and co-acknowledgment in the work and not just gift cards and a meal.


We need justice that heals!


Transformative and restorative justice is not just a more logical way of dealing with harm, but it is a healthier way as well. For us to actually center the voices of those who are the most impacted by harm, we must see their voice and their life as significant. We must be in-relationship with them and their humanity. That means seeing them for more than the worst thing that they have ever done, or the worst thing that has happened to them. 


We need to create spaces where they feel safe enough to process their harm and trauma and to ask for what they need. So they too can see themselves as more than the worst thing they have ever done or the worst thing that has happened to them. 


When you practice this, you really must believe that “Whatever harms you, harms me, and whatever heals you heals me.” 


Safety, significance, and connection; when we experience harm these are the things that are robbed from us. Healing happens when we show people that they are safe because they are connected, and that they are connected because they matter. 


Practicing tj does this, therefore, transformative justice heals us. 

author avatar
Xavier Graves

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