Paul Tullis has a haunting piece in the New York Times on the role of forgiveness in the criminal justice system–explored through the aftermath of a devastating murder of a young woman, Ann Grosmaire, by her boyfriend Conor McBridge. The long article is a really tough read, but I appreciate that Tullis explores restorative justice through the response to an unquestionably terrible crime; too often, I fear, alternatives to traditional carceral approaches are discussed only for minor offenses like drug use and petty theft, which allows everyone, from defenders of the prison system to abolitionists, to avoid the hardest questions.
The details of the Ann’s killer’s sentencing process and punishment will likely only satisfy moderate reformers, but testimonies from the Grosmaire parents and Conor are deeply affecting and provide a powerful call to radically rethink our response to violence:
The Grosmaires said they didn’t forgive Conor for his sake but for their own. “Everything I feel, I can feel because we forgave Conor,” Kate said. “Because we could forgive, people can say her name. People can think about my daughter, and they don’t have to think, Oh, the murdered girl. I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment. I can be sad, but I don’t have to stay stuck in that moment where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”
Still, their forgiveness affected Conor, too, and not only in the obvious way of reducing his sentence. “With the Grosmaires’ forgiveness,” he told me, “I could accept the responsibility and not be condemned.” Forgiveness doesn’t make him any less guilty, and it doesn’t absolve him of what he did, but in refusing to become Conor’s enemy, the Grosmaires deprived him of a certain kind of refuge — of feeling abandoned and hated — and placed the reckoning for the crime squarely in his hands.
You can read the full piece here.