Tag Archives: Texas

Restorative Justice, Face-to-Face

I’m committing the bulk of my attention this calendar year to the fascinating field of restorative justice. I’m writing a new book (available in 2018) that tells the story of a young man who killed two people in a 1996 drunk driving wreck and subsequently received a forty-year prison sentence. He experienced transformation not because he decided to rehab his life, as if it was a do-it-yourself solo job. His reformation came via a gradual process that was greatly enhanced by encounters he had with surviving victim family members, and other victims of crime. His healing was the direct result of face-to-face encounters with those deeply and innocently wounded by the ravages of his crime and other crimes.

State-sponsored retributive justice is a bedrock of modern Western society as understood in the colloquial phrase “You do the crime, you do the time.” Societal order and expectations are positively shaped by laws and corresponding punishments of their violations. In retributive justice theory, the state is the principal victim and consequent administrator of punishment.

Restorative justice—distinct from retributive justice—goes back to traditions that pre-date modern Western societies. Its goal is to restore the relationships damaged by crime and sustain the community where both victim and offender reside (usually the case). In restorative justice theory, the person violated is the principal victim, not the state. Face-to-face encounters between victim and offender aim to match victim needs and offender responsibilities as concerns confession, apology, information, restitution, reconciliation, and future security. In restorative justice practice, offenders take responsibility for their crimes by acknowledging their debt to their victims and by paying them back, if possible, in concrete ways. A grade school teacher, for example, practices restorative justice when she has two of her students, previously fighting, sit down face-to-face to work out their differences instead of sending them to the principal’s office for mandatory discipline.

A restorative approach is not applicable to all situations of crime victimization. Situations of sexual abuse, especially, are not suited to face-to-face encounters. Surrogate meetings, where victims encounter offenders—offenders of similar crimes but not the offender(s) in their particular case—are effective vehicles to positively impact both parties.

Texas’s was the first state criminal justice system to offer a restorative approach for victims of violent crime—its program starting via profoundly unique circumstances in 1993. A woman by the name of Cathy Phillips wanted to meet with the imprisoned killer of her daughter. She didn’t know the man but wanted to tell him face-to-face what her daughter meant to her and what his actions did her family. Anthony Yanez was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the brutal kidnapping, rape, and murder of Brenda Phillips. Most of Phillips’s friends told her she was crazy, but she was undeterred. As there was no official means by which to pursue her desire, Phillips eventually appealed directly to Texas governor Ann Richards. Richards had previously appointed the first crime victim, Ellen Halbert, to the powerful Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board—and Halbert’s advocacy led to Phillips having her day across the table from Yanez. The meeting, with a trained mediator present, allowed Phillips to unburden a part of her soul. It wasn’t about forgiveness or reconciliation—it was about honesty and disclosure: This is what you did to my family and you need to hear me out. The meeting occurred in 1991. Yanez offered an apology and Cathy Phillips said she felt better after the meeting, with some of her questions answered. She no longer had to play the “What you don’t know will drive you crazy” game.

Ellen Halbert and John Sage receiving TDCJ Board special recognition for prison ministry work in April 2017. Sage’s “Bridges To Life” prison ministry uses restorative justice practices to bring together offenders and surrogate crime victims.

After Phillips’s encounter with Yanez, Halbert helped direct funding to the victim services unit of Texas’s criminal justice system and a victim-offender dialogue program was created and made available to victims of violent crime in 1993, the first of its kind in the nation. To date, almost forty other state criminal justice systems have followed suit.

My book-to-be tells its story in narrative fashion, the specific story of the 1996 wreck fitting into the larger story of Texas’s foray into state-sponsored restorative justice practices. The goal is to reveal the life-changing and -enhancing practices of restorative justice. Before I delved into this project, like many, I was only vaguely aware of restorative justice practices. This book aims to expose many to its healing ways.

A number of friends and acquaintances have asked if this book project has anything in common with my first book, Just a Little Bit More, which exposes economic and social inequalities and offers a better way forward. This new book will be very different in form and message, but, yes, it will lift up, as does Just a Little Bit More, face-to-face meetings as a powerful balm to cure some of what ails us in our current day. The sharing of and listening to a genuine story, told with humility and honesty, holds within it the ability to help us see our shared common humanity. We need more of that today.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web www.blueocotillo.com!

 

 

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Death, Resurrection, and Cilantro

(Thanks to the Austin American-Statesman for publishing this post as an article in the Saturday, March 20 edition.)

The winter gardening season – in Texas, at least – is coming to a close.

Almost twenty-five years ago, I planted my first winter garden in Texas. Having grown up in Chicago, I was unaccustomed to winter gardening. That first year in Houston, I planted some cilantro seeds (coriander), as instructed on the package for Zone 9, the middle of October. As the temps subsequently cooled off into November, the tender green shoots emerged. Wow – plant growth in the winter made me feel like I was somehow cheating. The shoots soon turned into baby cilantro plants, their little leaves exhibiting the defining crags and jags of the mature version.

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A first of the year harvest of cilantro

One post-Christmas December morning, however, I woke to see my beautiful garden covered in frost. My baby cilantro plants were drooped over, weighted down by ice crystals. My heart sank. All my work for naught – the future harvest ruined. So much for winter gardening.

But then the sun came out, and the temp warmed. To my complete shock, my baby cilantro plants revived as they soaked in the winter sun. AWESOME! The coating of ice melted, my garden glistened once again. My confidence in Texas winter gardening restored, I anticipated plenty of fresh pico de gallo fortified with our homegrown cilantro for months to come.

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March Madness – the flowering and seeding out process of my cilantro garden

For two months, the harvest met those expectations. An unexpected thing happened in March, however, right in the middle of Lent. My cilantro plants put on white flowers, beginning the deathly process of seeding out. I had a plan, though. I’d simply cut off the flower shoots, thus extending the life of my plants. What a plan! To my further surprise, my plan to stave off the death of my plants only hastened their death. Where I had cut the shoots, new ones came up only faster. There was no other option – my plants wanted to die, and timed their demise to coincide with Holy Week. As a pastor, I realized my garden was reflecting the cycle I taught and preached about during Lent: unless a seed falls to the ground and dies . . .

There are natural limits to the creation and how it works. Try and do all you can, but most of these limits are unassailable. Sometimes the spirit of “just a little bit more” needs to accommodate itself to the spirit of “enough is enough.” Creation, if we pay attention, teaches this invaluable lesson in many and various ways. My cilantro garden followed its given script. It thrived and produced during the cooler months of the year and then produced something else when spring warmth returned – hundreds upon hundreds of seeds. October would come again, and with it, the glorious cycle of rebirth.

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Cilantro pesto

Since this first described excursion, I’ve been growing cilantro every winter in Texas. The last few years, I’ve discovered a more effective way than chopping the shoots to extend the harvest: cilantro pesto. I’ve been making basil pesto for years (from the summer garden), and use a simple blender recipe: harvested cilantro leaves, walnuts (or pecans), extra virgin olive oil, a few slices of fresh sweet onion, and a touch of salt. It keeps in the freezer for as long as needed and goes really well with grilled fish and Viognier. Provecho. 

Oftentimes gazing upon my cilantro garden, I am reminded of the cycle of death and resurrection. Death, many times, is undesirable and cruel. Yet, my garden testifies: death is not the end. More is to come.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que Bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

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Open-Carry, (Big) Cars, and a Theology of Power

The Texas legislature is in session, and the consideration to legalize the open-carry of handguns is a top agenda item. Intriguingly, Texas is out of step with most of the nation when it comes to permitting open-carry of handguns. It is one of only six states that currently doesn’t permit it (open-carry of shot guns and rifles, long associated with hunting, is permissible in Texas). Open-carry means a weapon is visibly holstered to a waist belt or harnessed on a shoulder strap. Proponents consider the holstered gun of a law-abiding citizen a deterrent to potential criminals, who, in contrast, typically conceal their weapons. This part of the argument makes good sense; yet, there is one factor on this issue, rarely mentioned, that I’m concerned about in today’s environment of increasing economic and social inequality: the human propensity to misuse power.

I recently saw a Toyota truck commercial – linked here – that invited you, the potential buyer, to view the showcased truck as “your castle on wheels.” Let’s face it: some people drive as if they would be kings and queens in four-wheel machines with public highways their own personal fiefdoms. No sharing of space, get the hell outta my way, screw you if you think I’m letting you in, you’re not driving fast enough for me so I’m going to ride your ass until you move, etc., etc., etc. Do people treat others like this when jointly walking toward a similar destination? Hardly. Something happens – linked to human nature – when we get behind the wheel, enclose ourselves behind glass and steel, and rev the engine. Like Obadiah Stane as Iron Monger, we become supersized.

et.0423.sneaks.484 –– Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) surveys the Iron Monger armor in the 2008 movie "Iron Man". Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment Present A Marvel Studios Production. ***2008 SUMMER SNEAKS movie.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane in Iron Man

The twentieth century Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (credited with writing the Serenity Prayer, used by twelve-step groups) wisely opined concerning human progress: “There is therefore progress in human history; but it is a progress of all human potencies, both for good and evil.” Our use of power in the last three centuries – for better and for worse – amazes. Incredible inventions and discoveries making human existence less brutish and more enjoyable; incredible inventions and discoveries able to kill grand quantities of humans (and other forms of life) within seconds. The more power we have, individually and collectively, the more so living life on this planet becomes complex. Religious traditions, from the Jewish commandment “Walk humbly with your God” to the Buddhist teaching “Respect all forms of life,” encourage us not to become supersized in our estimations of self.

The majority of drivers and gun owners are responsible in their respective actions. Yet, as our relationships become thinner and more homogenous in a society of increasing inequality, our fears of one another and our impatience with one another negatively impact our actions. Motor vehicle death per capita in America is down (thanks in part to airbags and safety regulations), but it remains the leading cause of death for Americans under thirty. Ninety Americans die in motor vehicle accidents – entirely preventable – every day. More than 30,000 Americans die yearly from gun violence; more than thirty a day die by homicide and more than fifty a day die by suicide. African-Americans John Crawford and (twelve-year-old) Tamir Rice were shot to death by white police officers, rigorously trained in gun use and safety, because they were thought to be “perpetrators.” As a result, violence directed toward police officers is unfortunately on the rise. The misuse of power in all directions can tragically lead to the loss of innocent life.

We yet live in a society where the fear of the other predominates; many whites fear blacks and browns. In response to fear, human nature dictates that we protect ourselves. With a twenty-year downward trend in violent crime and homicide in America, however, the move toward nationwide open-carry begs the question: Do we as a society and as individuals know the limits of physical power? Supersizing ourselves – with guns or cars – takes away energy and resources from something else potentially much more beneficial to a shared societal common good. What if we put supersized energy and time into the depth and scope of our relationships one with another – especially with those we don’t know? Rich and poor, whites and persons of color, young and old, civilians and police, conservatives and liberals – renewed relationships in public space are more powerful than we realize and help prevent our misuses of power.

niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

 

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

The views expressed in this blog are reflective of my work in the 2014 book, Just a Little Bit More:
The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.  

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase JaLBM from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

Click here for Summary Version and Study Guide from the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, ideal for book clubs and community of faith study groups.

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Monday Matters Book Club Studies “Just a Little Bit More”

The Monday Matters book club, based at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, has been gathering for discussion and shared insight more than twenty years. The group originally met in the house of Ted and Velma Ziehe; the first book studied was Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, its debut conveniently coinciding with the group’s formation in 1994. The initial group, consisting of Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists, liked Borg’s depth of critical scholarship within a faith perspective. Borg’s journey from a naïve, unquestioning faith to one of maturity and authenticity was a positive struggle shared by many in the group. The group decided to keep meeting. The lure of Velma’s cookies and the conversation promised by the study of other good books guaranteed the group’s viability for many more years.

Five years ago, the group started to meet at Triumphant Love. Engineers, pastors, teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs comprise the group. While neither diverse ethnically nor socioeconomically, the group colors the political map blue, red, and purple. It’s good for Democrats, Republicans and independents to be in conversation with one another in a religious setting: all are reminded that theology is to inform politics, and not the other way around. We might not see eye to eye politically, but we can be in conversation with one another on how best to love and serve our neighbor in God’s name – together.

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Monday Matters book club – Triumphant Love Lutheran, Austin, TX

Thanks to Norb Firnhaber and Leroy Haverlah who suggested that the group study Just a Little Bit More. Group convener Doug Nelson graciously told me more about the group and helped distribute copies of JaLBM. I introduced JaLBM themes to the group on February 16 – including the dominant religion in America as represented by the Caddy Man (you need to get to know him if you don’t already) – and they took it from there. They convened five sessions to discuss chapters one through eight and invited me back for a closing session on April 6. It was good to meet new folks and see others that I already knew – Ralph and Ellie Erchinger, Dorothy Kraemer, Jim and Kris Carlson – and to be in meaningful conversation with them. Doug Nelson says JaLBM brought out “the most vibrant discussions” the group has had for some time.

If you have a group at church, synagogue, or temple that appreciates meaningful discussion on the important social and economic issues of the day – without falling into well-worn blue and red ruts – take on a study of JaLBM. The book challenges readers with a perspective that cuts against the grain of today’s accepted conventional wisdom of money as highest good. As Peter Steinke says in the book’s foreword, JaLBM benefits its readers by showing “how we have shaped the system we are a part of and what can lead to a new way of doing economics that embraces the common good.”

The summary version of JaLBM with study guide questions is now available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. The study guide version summarizes JaLBM‘s eight chapters and poses questions for discussion at the end of each chapter. Whether reading the full length book or the summary version, all present in a group setting can enter into meaningful discussion and conversation, just like the Monday Matters group at Triumphant Love did for seven sessions.

For those groups in Austin and its vicinity, I am available for presentations to lead JaLBM discussions on the topics of egalitarianism, social mobility, economic democracy, and common good – all from a faith perspective. I’m confident the discussions will be worthwhile and influential.

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“Anderson’s book is an extensive chronicling of the people, movements, and streams of thought that have led us on the quest to want just a little bit more. In the role of a theologically aware social critic, he reminds me of Niebuhr. He is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition, but has listened carefully to many other voices and thus speaks a reasonable, balanced, and authoritative public word. Anderson shows us the way back toward a commitment to egalitarianism that has become lost over the last century.”
Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones, Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Texas Lutheran University

 

Just a Little Bit More is available through the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing, www.blueocotillo.com, and Amazon. Blue Ocotillo Publishing – paperback – $14.95 + tax (for Texas residents) + shipping. Ebook format available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook. JaLBM Summary Version and Study Guide is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

 

 

 

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