Posted by: joshjasper | May 6, 2011

Calm Like a Bomb

60 men and women filled the courtroom to hear my presentation. Each of them had been found guilty of domestic or sexual violence and were now mandated to attend this victim impact panel. They made a point to make it known that they did not want to be there. The guilty filed into the room 10 minutes before we started. Complaints were being made before the last person could find their seat about having to wait “so long.” I sat in the front of the courtroom facing the crowd, wondering what the 10 minutes of unconsciousness felt like to the woman who was struck in the head with a baseball bat by one of these men. I reminded myself why I was there, repeatedly.

“I didn’t do shit.” “Why isn’t she here? That bitch knew what she was doing to set me off.” “You don’t know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through.” I could feel my face beginning to redden, my heartbeat was picking up, and I once again had to remind myself why I was there, repeatedly. And my presentation had yet to begin.

I play the role of a clean up hitter on this quarterly panel. The convicted hear from a woman who had a horrific tale of personal abuse. I have heard her story a number of times and continue to marvel that she is alive today. They then sit through a recording of a hysterical 6-year-old girl on the phone with a 911 operator. Her step father is abusing her mother in the background of the call and eventually her infant brother is harmed by this man before the police respond.

I take the floor talking about learned behavior, accountability, and choices. Surprising to many, my message is laced with empowerment. I share with them that in order to realize my vision of a community free of violence, I need their help more than anyone else. We explore what brought them to the choices they have made and then we talk about how they can make different choices to better themselves and their respective communities. To be clear, this conversation is rarely met with open arms. Defensiveness, anger, and even rage permeates the room….especially when I talk about them needing to be accountable for their actions. Excuses become a dime a dozen, and I can feel my skin beginning to crawl.

I validate their experiences and even express empathy. This is not easy. But then no one said ending violence is something that is going to be done overnight either. Afterwards a handful of men approach the front of the room to thank me for my presentation. I shake their hand, look them in the eye, and remind them why I am there.

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Responses

  1. Excellent post, Josh. You have an important and wonderful gift to do this work.

  2. Thanks, Brian. It is very empowering to know that I am not alone in this work. Your support and efforts are greatly appreciated.

  3. I’m so glad you are able to reach people where they are and have empathy for both the victims of violence as well as the ones who commit violent acts. I don’t believe anyone wakes up and thinks, “I want to hurt the people I love.” Violence is learned, and everyone is able to relearn better responses to stress. Thank you for reaching out to everyone in the community and doing the hard work of healing.

  4. Reading this makes me remember the guys in my jail program. I can actually say I miss that work. In that cell surrounded by men in orange were some of the most profound conversations. And I would add some of the most life changing moments for these guys.

    Has anyone continued what I started there in Carroll County?


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