The mission of Re:store Survivors is to identify and respond to the unmet needs of survivors. We work in collaboration with community-based organizations, government victim advocates, and incarcerated people to identify system reforms and community resources to address needs and provide opportunities for healing. We understand that systemic oppression and intergenerational trauma are foundational to much of the violence in our society.
We believe that victims’ needs can be met most fully when our response is grounded in human rights and facilitated by a restorative approach. Victims’ rights can be met most effectively by creating more opportunities for restorative and non-adversarial processes for both victims and offenders within and beyond the criminal justice system.
Acknowledging the humanity of victims and offenders allows us to identify and meet the full-range of what victims may want from offenders. More than punishment and retribution, their healing may require that the offender is accountable, makes an apology, expresses regret and remorse, and makes amends to the extent possible. While these actions cannot be required from an offender, when freely given, they may be the source of true justice.
Victim Offender Dialogue
Victim Offender Dialogue is a facilitated process that allows victim and offender the opportunity to communicate and connect outside the structure of the traditional criminal justice system. Victims have the opportunity to tell the offender in their own words about their experience of the offense/violation and the impact it has had on them, ask questions and receive the answers and insights only the offender can offer the victim, empowerment and resolution, and the opportunity to bring healing to themselves and others.
VOD allows offenders to face the full impact of their actions upon the victim(s) by hearing first hand the impact their behavior had on them and the depth of grief, sadness, pain experienced by the victim/survivor; express feelings of remorse related to their actions and the resulting impact; experience a deeper sense of accountability; answer questions for the purpose of assisting the victim/survivor; and bring healing to themselves and others.
Transformative Justice Classes Inside of Prisons
Re:store Justice conducts several weekly classes at California State Prison Los Angeles County, which is 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Working inside prisons builds a direct connection between our advocacy work to create a second chance for people sentenced to extreme prison terms and the people who are directly impacted by mass incarceration. We are aware that these opportunities impact survivor family members, and as a restorative justice organization, we are also committed to supporting survivors and addressing their unmet needs for healing, transformation and violence prevention. Our classes inside prison give survivor family members an opportunity to share their testimony. Sharing their stories is an opportunity for them to be heard and have their loved one remembered and acknowledged. For some survivors, contributing to the insight and rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals with the goal of healing and violence prevention can bring healing and meaning to their lives.
The sixteen week program helps participants begin to think critically about their values, identity, and the impact of early childhood trauma. Participants learn about emotional intelligence, communication skills self care and self regulation. The program culminates with sessions on accountability, apology, self forgiveness and a presentation by a survivor. Participants gain powerful new insights into themselves, the impact of violence on victims, offenders, and communities, and their own need for healing.
For many incarcerated people, this is the first time they have really thought about how their crime impacted the victim’s family members and the community. This initiates a process of introspection that helps inmates attain a new level of awareness, which can help them take responsibility for their crime and importantly, their current behavior. The practical components of the program – skill building of emotional intelligence, communication skills, and stress reduction techniques offer concrete tools to help them integrate their insights into behaviors, and also to support emotional well-being as inmates confront painful aspects of their past experience and behavior.
Re:store Survivors' Monthly Calls
This group serves as a space for people who have lost loved ones to violence to receive information and support from a community of survivors. Our goal is to provide resources and support to help each person in their own healing journey. We believe that survivors are more than what happened to them, and that each person has the capacity to heal, even if this is a process that is ongoing over our lifetime. California has many community-based support and advocacy groups for survivor family members and we didn’t want to create one more. Instead, we hope that this effort will be a place for the members of these different groups to come together for support, learning, and community-building. This is an open space to learn about opportunities/resources for healing, discuss unmet needs, and collaboratively work on transforming trauma and creating healing for us and our families.
Community Days of Healing
Together with community-based victim support groups, we co-sponsor Days of Healing and community celebrations for adults and children impacted by violence. These gatherings are informal, and include activities that allow for people to express themselves creatively and connect with others who have experienced similar losses.
This past year, the theme of National Crime Victim’s Rights Week, “Expand the Circle, Include All Victims,” allowed us to recognize all of the survivors we work with, both inside and outside of prison. Every member of the circle, incarcerated and from the outside community, had lost a loved one – a cousin, brother, best friend – to homicide. The day was an opportunity for each participant to be recognized as survivors and for many, their losses had rarely been acknowledged, let alone mourned.
Here, in the words of those who attended, is what the day meant:
Until the Day of Healing, I had never once stopped to write down or even express myself to my dad who I lost 28 years ago. This one activity (when we wrote a message to our loved one) provided me with the courage strength, comfort and security to write my dad a letter of what I have been holding in for 28 years.
The activity that impacted me the most was when we broke into smaller groups and spoke about who we lost. The friend I lost was also my victim. As I spoke about it, the emotions overwhelmed me – shame, guilt, regret. But I also took accountability for my actions.
My deep thanks and kudos to all of you who participated. I have never experienced an R:J event that brought together those who did harm and those who have lived through harm in the same space based on the commonality of their loss of a loved one to homicide, and it’s a brilliant idea. Please count me in for future such events!