Heather * is a 17-year old that was charged with retail theft and possession of stolen property. She was accompanied by her mother at the initial meeting with the Restorative Justice Panel at the South Burlington Community Justice Center. A volunteer restorative justice panel provides opportunities for offenders to take responsibility for their actions and repair the harm they caused when they have committed some types of criminal offenses.
At this first meeting, it was evident that Heather did not have an open and positive relationship with her mother, and the panel members could sense the tension even before they spoke about the matter. Heather had kept this incident from her mother and instead sought support from her father with whom she had just reconnected, after not having contact with him since she was 4 years old. This caused Heather’s mother a lot of distress and hurt.
Heather admitted that her friends had taught her how to steal and she honestly didn’t think it was that big of a deal. She didn’t think any harm would result from stealing from a big corporation. Heather seemed to brush the incident off. She was more concerned about the bitterness that she was holding because she was the only one of her friends caught during the incident.
Working with the Panel was a transformative process for Heather. She researched the impacts of retail theft on both the store and the employees. She was very surprised with what she learned. She also interviewed someone who had been directly impacted by retail theft. She soon realized that something that seemed insignificant to her actually had a huge, lasting impact on store employees and community members.
Heather’s new perspective on an activity, that she once believed was ‘normal,’ caused her to re-evaluate some of her friendships. She discovered the importance of a true friend, and she made several new friends who contributed to her life in a positive manner.
Heather also took the opportunity to mend her relationship with her mother and this brought out an emotional side to Heather, which Panel members had not seen previously. She reflected on the importance and value of a mother-daughter relationship. She began to confide in her mother and sought comfort from her.
Heather was glowing with pride and happiness at her completion meeting with the Panel. She got a job and was proud to be earning her own money to purchase things that she wanted. Connecting with her guidance counselor, she began to get organized and set several goals for her future.
When the Panel first met Heather, she was dismissive and felt inconvenienced by the entire incident. By the time Heather completed her contract, she blatantly admitted that she was grateful to have had this experience. She was walking away with such valuable lessons, which many people don’t learn until later in life, if at all. Proud of herself, Heather had matured and looked forward to the many opportunities in her future.
*This is not her real name.
About the Community Justice Center
The South Burlington Community Justice Center serves the South Burlington community by providing opportunities to address crime and conflict as a community, at the local level, through a restorative justice approach. The mission is to create and enhance the sense of community in South Burlington by fostering relationships, honest dialogue, respect, and healing. We strive to prevent and address crime and conflict in South Burlington by working with those involved through shared decision-making to make things right.