It was the picture that threw me off. I mean, I’d probably been off-kilter for a while and just didn’t know it, but it was the picture that brought it to my attention. It’s funny how that works, how a picture of someone you haven’t seen in 16 years can throw you. All the emotions and fears and anger and grief came rushing back. He hasn’t changed much since that day he took his plea deal. He looks much the same; though that said, I doubt I could have picked him out of a line-up or anything. But there it was.
They pulled him out of his cell to do it. He knows why it was happening. The background is a pale blue. The top of his shirt is all I can see of his clothes and it’s white. His eyes are sad. He looks a little gaunt. He seems innocuous enough save the neck tattoo but I’ve got 20 of my own so who cares. He doesn’t, at first look, even seem like a killer. That’s what he is though, one of my brother’s murderers. There are four of them but this one, the face staring back at me in that photograph which is only a few hours old, is one of the men to last see my brother and his best friend alive 16 years ago.
I’m in the midst of a lengthy process known as Victim Offender Mediation. This is one step of many. The mediator offered, because I hadn’t seen him in so long, to send me a picture of the offender so I wouldn’t be surprised when I saw him in person. At first I felt like it was an odd request but I said yes anyway because what the hell. This was part of the whole experience right? Now I’m glad she did. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I not tempered my soul with the pain of seeing that face again. It still hurts. Deeply.
Murder is such a fucked up normal thing in society. It happens all the time in every society ever known. Some societies it happens less then others but it’s still there. It lingers. In America though this isn’t some social phenomenon, it’s commonplace. Which is insane because the devastation such an act causes to a victim, to the victim’s family, to the person who commits the crime, and their families is huge. The immediate, unexpected loss of someone is traumatic at best. The immediate, unexpected, and completely unnecessary loss of someone is… worse? More traumatic? I don’t know. How do you quantify losing a brother over a couple hundred bucks worth of drugs? They were probably shitty drugs, too. How do you describe that feeling?
At 17 those feelings made me wish this man dead. I prayed for his death. I longed for it. I craved it. Now at 32 my anger has eased, the grief is worn, the truths I kept close have been discussed, and now I long for Justice. Not some sense of justice that equates an eye for an eye. Because killing him like he killed my brother isn’t Justice. It doesn’t ease the pain. It doesn’t offer a solution. It just offers an end. An end is not Justice.
So I seek Justice now. It took over 15 years to get to that point. Justice is not an easy path and it rarely offers an end; instead it offers a process. For me, Justice means entering a relationship and finding solutions that may mean a ton of emotional work and more hurt in order to heal. Seeking Justice means seeing this man. Seeing him. I’ll talk more about Justice later but for now it’s important to know that this man is human, full of both goodness and bad. This isn’t to say I’ve forgiven him. I haven’t yet. I’m not sure I will. I don’t know if mediation is about forgiveness for me as much as it is about being in the process and acknowledging that Justice is that process and not an event and its outcomes are often murky and unquantifiable.
I look at the picture now with intent. I will seek Justice. I will see this man as human. Slowly. Calmly.