Restorative justice was the focus of this year’s National Crime Victims Rights Week for incarcerated youth at Ventura.
Emily Evans, Victims Coordinator at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, orchestrated multiple activities, art projects, speech forums, and victim advocate workshops. There were also question-and answer-sessions among youthful offenders and volunteers from local victim assistance organizations and survivors of crime.
The event featured guest speakers from Ventura County Parents of Murdered Children and Ventura County Victim Advocates. They shared their experience of overcoming tragedy while giving a face, name and voice to loved ones forever changed or lost to senseless violence.
DJJ youth Sage O. said the events made an impact.
“Victims’ Week really opened my eyes. Hearing all the stories about them losing a loved one really got me thinking. I didn’t just hurt one person, I hurt their whole family. Hearing the pain in a mother’s voice as they talked about losing their child brought tears to my eyes; it touched my heart. If I could see my victim and the family, I would tell them I’m sorry for all the pain I put you guys through,” Sage said.
Facility Superintendent Maria Harper thanked the volunteers brave enough to tell their stories.
“The compassion and caring our guests demonstrate as they recount horrendous, life-altering crimes, cannot be appreciated enough,” said Harper. “They share their hurt and suffering so youthful offenders can gain insight into the far-reaching impact their acts of violence have had, which goes way beyond one person. The impact upon victims, family, extended family and the community is immeasurable.”
The guests visited various cottages, repeatedly sharing their experience of tragedy, triumph, transformation and hope. Youth participants were respectful, insightful, and supportive of guests. The speakers encouraged the youth to stay on a path of redemption, praising them for taking responsibility for their commitment offense.
The message deeply resonated with youth like Skye S.
“Having her talk about everything made me cry. I could feel the pain she was going through. She is strong and beautiful. Her story really impacted me, changing my outlook on everything,” Skye said. “I learned forgiveness and to always do your best even if you don’t want to. She has changed my life in every way someone can change it. She was able to forgive her offenders, which got me to thinking; if she can forgive them, then I can forgive anyone.”
Guests lauded youth participants for working diligently in their treatment programming, taking advantage of educational and vocational opportunities. The speakers encouraged youth to become positive, productive, and contributing citizens.
“Some victims actually want us to get out of these cells and do well in life,” said Angel A. “Victims (showed they) have the heart. I also learned that the best way to apologize to my victim and their families is by being successful and doing something with my life.”
Other interactive restorative justice activities included working on a victims awareness art project with The Human Element, thanks to a partnership forged by Community Resource Manager Tony Chavez.
The Human Element’s goal is to “create an on-going dialog about difficult topics with under-served or marginalized communities.”
The youth created a series of self-portraits, showing the person they were when they committed their crime or commitment offense, as well as a portrait of who they are now. They also included a portrait of their victim, accompanied by a letter to them. They also deconstructed both self-portraits, followed by a construction of a self-portrait containing elements of their before and after self-portraits.
Youth participants also delivered compelling trauma narratives, sharing their commitment offense and evolution to becoming a better version of themselves.
Treatment interventions to facilitate healing include working on restorative justice projects throughout the year. Earlier, Parole Agent Tracee Agee and staff psychologist Dr. Deborah Leong spearheaded a restorative justice project involving youth making over 250 beanie caps from a knot technique. The beanies were donated to the Ventura County Homeless shelter.
By Supervising Case Work Specialist Karette Fussell