Everyone has a reason for choosing the profession they are in. For some, it’s simply what they fall into, and for others it’s what they have been working toward for years. Call it what you will – a ‘calling’, ‘meant to be’, ‘the perfect fit’ – whatever it is, some people just know what they want to be. In Stacey Alderwick’s case, she wanted to be a Restorative Opportunities Mediator.
“Restorative justice allows me to be the peace I want to see in the world,” says Stacey. “It also answers a question for me, which is, what more can be done when communities and individuals are harmed by one another? I have witnessed how restorative justice can respond to the harm and the emerging needs that come from it.”
Stacey began working in a restorative justice program with a community-based organization in Toronto in 2004. From there, she decided to take CSC’s victim-offender mediation in serious crime training, and began doing case work in 2010 under the mentorship of Mark Yantzi. Mark is a Restorative Opportunities Mediator, a well-known champion of restorative justice, and a deeply respected individual within the restorative justice community, as well as amongst CSC staff, inmates, and victims. To say that Mark, who is retiring shortly, has had a significant impact on Stacey would be an understatement, she says.
“I wouldn’t be here without him,” says Stacey, clearly emotional as she reflects on Mark and his influence. “He means so much to me and to the others. It feels like the end of an era and I already miss him.”
Though Mark is widely considered to have been part of the birth of the restorative justice movement in 1974 as a result of his famous “Elmira Case” in which he had teenaged vandals go from home to home to apologize to their victims, he is not comfortable with the limelight or being the center of attention. For Stacey, this speaks to his character.
“He has this quiet humility about him and a brilliant mind,” she explains. “He does not seek accolades and is the guy at the back of the room quietly listening and taking everything in. When I was working with him, he was generous with his time and gently led me to being competent in this field. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.”
As Stacey explains, his teachings included the importance of simply listening to people without judgement, without bias, and without pre-conceived notions. For some, this may be a challenge given the fact they are often dealing with offenders who have committed heinous crimes against innocent people, and often their loved-ones. But for Mark, it just seems to come naturally says Stacey.
“What I have learned from Mark can’t be written, talked about, or explained. You just have to sit back and watch and learn because his approach is truly remarkable. He is compassionate with every single offender he works with, just as he is with the victims, and he handles each case without judgement or expectation. I was and still am struck by how good he is at this.”
One of the first cases Stacey had the opportunity to work on with Mark was Susan McDonald’s case. It was Stacey’s first experience with a mediation that involved a surrogate victim and offender, which happens when a victim and an offender from separate but similar cases go through a restorative process together.
In Susan’s case, her grandmother was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1994 by someone who has not been found. The surrogate offender was a male who had sexually assaulted and murdered an elderly woman. Though they were not connected by the same case, they were eerily similar, so both Susan and the offender were able to meet and give the other something they needed. In Susan’s case, an answer to why someone would do this to an elderly person. In the offender’s case, a chance to explain.
For Stacey, this case was powerful not only because of its subject matter, but also because of the creativity Mark used in his mediation of it.
“It taught me that if you only use or consider a conventional process, you might not satisfy an individual’s needs. I learned that you need to think in broader terms about how the program can help people. Using the surrogate approach for Susan and the offender was a great example of Mark thinking outside the box when it came to giving both parties what they needed from a mediation process.”
Although this career has been rewarding for Stacey, there is still a lack of understanding in the public about what restorative justice is and what restorative processes are actually all about, she says. That doesn’t deter her, however, from believing in what she does and in the power it has to change lives for the better.
“There are a lot of judgements about people who have committed serious and violent crimes,” she explains. “But I think that what is missing from the conversation is that people who have been victimized can also victimize other people. I have not yet met an offender who has not been victimized themselves. Every single one has been violated in some way, most often sexually and violently as a child during their formative years. To me, this program could be an answer to stopping the pattern of using violence as a means of coping with violence.
“To those who don’t understand what I do, I say this – if I lost a loved one in a violent way, my restorative justice process might not be about forgiveness, but it might be about getting the answers I need to find peace. People come to this program with a variety of needs – sometimes answers, sometimes forgiveness – but it’s different for everyone. When I work with people, I make sure they have a chance to tell their story so they feel heard and validated. And then we see about the rest.”