Restorative Justice is Key to Rehabilitation

Restorative Justice is Key to Rehabilitation

For a peek inside the Restorative Justice process, see CNN’s original series The Redemption Project with Van Jones.


For the first twelve years of my incarceration I was convinced I had done everything I could to atone for my crime — then I was proven wrong. Although attaining a BS in Sociology and an MS in Psychology while becoming a certified recovery mentor have been milestones, they did not — and could not — fully rehabilitate me. My education could not provide me with the empathy-inducing face-to-face encounters with survivors that are necessary for complete rehabilitation. This transformative catalyst could only come about through the impaired driver victim impact panels.

By pouring all my efforts into a college education (privately funded) that would allow me to counsel adolescents struggling with substance addictions, I felt a sense of purpose and direction. During my studies, I came to understand the underlying causes of my addiction. I gained a level of insight that helped me grasp the complex biopsychosociospiritual model of addiction and criminality. I had convinced myself that because I no longer drank and helped men confront their own pathologies, while encouraging them to strive for better in their own lives, I had exemplified recovery and rehabilitation. What I have accomplished during my incarceration has been integral to my rehabilitation; however, it is not the most transformative component of this comprehensive process.

Three years ago I was given the opportunity to participate in an impaired driver victim impact panel. I eagerly agreed, knowing this would enable me to help others by sharing my story. Little did I know it would be the compelling stories I’d hear from those on the other side of crime that would leave a lasting impact on me!

During our first panel there were approximately 50 inmates in attendance and two volunteers from the community who had been impacted by drunken drivers: one had lost her 28-year-old son, the other was a survivor of a DUII collision. I intently listened to these two courageous women speak about the devastating losses they had endured as a result of these crimes. I found myself feeling ashamed to know I had also left indelible scars on the survivors of my victims, yet I felt encouraged to hear these women also speak of their ability to forgive the people who had taken so much from them. One said, “I can hate the man who has done this to me, but who does that really hurt? So, instead, I choose to forgive and live.” It was silent in the room but for the intermittent sniveling from men who futilely tried to gather their emotions. Since my sentencing, this was the first time I had met with people who are living with the ever-present impact of losing someone to a drunken driving collision. But there was another side.

Because I was recruited to participate in this inaugural panel, I was also asked to tell my story. I prepared intensely because I prided myself on being composed and fluid when I spoke. Thankfully, I was able to deliver, but it was what came afterward that surprised me. The two women thanked me for sharing; they told me they needed more of us to do the same when we get out so people can gain a different perspective from the offenders. I cannot adequately express how this made me feel. To know that the victims of crime would now be eager to work alongside those who, in many ways, represent the criminals who have victimized them was nothing short of remarkable. It was then that I was able to truly appreciate the necessity of coming full circle in my rehabilitative efforts by collaborating with victims and working toward a common goal: preventing further crime. Three years and over 20 volunteers later, the shared healing continues.

During my 15 years of incarceration, I have seen many programs that inmates are able to access (GED, cognitive restructuring, drug and alcohol treatment, religious services, anger management, etc.). All of these serve a valuable purpose in the complex process of helping inmates come to terms with their underlying issues that have manifested in deviant, criminal behavior. However, it has become painfully obvious that this effort would not be complete without exposing inmates to the unique, therapeutic, enlightening and empathy-producing experience that a restorative justice program offers. There is no substitute for hearing, feeling, and witnessing the severe impact our actions have had on victims, families, friends, and communities. As grateful as I am for having had the rare opportunity to earn a graduate degree, the empathy and insight I have gained from listening to those who are on the other side of crime has done more for my rehabilitation than I could have ever imagined. It is, therefore, imperative that any efforts to fully rehabilitate the inmate population include programs of restorative justice.

Honoring My Victims Every Day

Honoring My Victims Every Day

We are pleased to share this Opinion Piece in The Oregonian by guest columnist and frequent AI blogger Martin Lockett.


I had been drinking all day on New Year’s Eve of 2003 and then, had gone to a party to celebrate more. Later, as I drove my twin brother home, he tried repeatedly to get me to slow down, to drive more carefully. But I ignored him.

Moments later, I sped through the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fremont Street and crashed into a car. As I was being interviewed by a police officer, he told me that I had killed two people and another was being life-flighted to Emmanuel Hospital.

It was days later when The Oregonian newspaper was delivered to my cell that I grasped the devastation — and the irreversibility — I had caused my community. It turned out that my victims were actively working their own programs of recovery from substance use. They had turned their lives around and were helping others do the same. Now they were gone.

Employees and clients at Volunteers of America and other recovery-related organizations were in shock and disbelief as they learned about the tragic deaths of their friends, mentors and loved ones.

Nearly a year later at my sentencing, I was confronted by my victims’ family members who were just a few feet away from me as they gave their victim impact statements. They offered me forgiveness that I didn’t deserve, yet they also made it known I took something immeasurable from them that they could never get back: Any more precious memories they’d ever make with their mothers.

Then I stood up, turned around and addressed the courtroom: “My indictment says I acted with extreme indifference toward the value of human life, but I can assure everyone here that my feelings have been anything but indifferent since the day this happened. And I know it’s not much consolation, but I vow to spend the rest of my life doing all I can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

With that, I was sentenced to 17 years and six months.

For the next three years I lived with immense guilt and shame for the senseless decision to drink and drive that fateful night because it changed the course of these people’s lives forever. But once I was able to forgive myself, I was able to positively channel that energy into making a difference in the lives of others, carrying on the legacies of the people I had taken from this world.

In keeping with that solemn life vow that I made more than 14 years ago to my victims’ family and friends — and my own — I have used my time to earn an education toward a career in counseling. I knew this would give me an opportunity to help others struggling with addiction, the same addiction that led to me killing two people. In these efforts, I have earned a master’s degree in psychology and published my memoir, “Palpable Irony,” in an effort to detail and warn against the dangers of drinking and driving. Three years ago, I was given a rare opportunity to share my story and help lead panels of victims hurt by other impaired drivers here at the prison. This restorative justice program provides profound healing for many men incarcerated for fatal car collisions as well as victims who come in and tell us their heart-wrenching stories. Those in attendance are incredibly moved and grateful for having heard so many compelling stories that urge them not to drink and drive.I currently work as a certified recovery mentor in a drug and alcohol treatment program at the prison. I mentor men one on one, counsel them in group settings and assist them with recovery-related issues. This is such a unique position within the Oregon Department of Corrections, and I couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that I would be entrusted with such a responsibility. Through this effort, I have earned state certification as a recovery mentor, and I expect to receive my state certification as drug and alcohol counselor early next year. This work is my life’s passion. Not because it makes me look good, or makes a lot of money, or because it could reduce my sentence. It can’t.

Rather, I do this work because my reckless actions took two beautiful people from this world. Therefore, I will honor their precious lives and bring meaning to mine every day through using my story, education and experiences to help others not follow in my footsteps.

And, because I said I would.

— Martin L. Lockett, MS, CRM, is serving the 15th year of a 17-year sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.