“Michelle Jones was released last month after serving more than two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. The very next day, she arrived at New York University, a promising Ph.D. student in American studies….”
A provocative New York Times story about reintegration is making the rounds across social media. The article documents one woman’s exceptional journey from prison to PHD program; and the barriers she faced along the way (and which millions of reentering individuals face on a daily basis). The story, in many ways, speaks for itself. Take time to read and consider the inherent messages.
From my perspective, I am drawn to one of the central questions of the article: what does remorse look like? And, secondly, who gets to decide whether someone is remorseful? These questions have clear implications for people, such as myself, who ‘do’ restorative practice. And it’s particularly important for people who face both implicit and explicit judgements for their past actions.
Reintegrating individuals, such as Michelle Jones, do not have the luxury of voluntary disclosure; their worst actions are part of the public record. In the face of both real and perceived condemnation, defensiveness and guardedness would seem to be natural and perfectly human responses.
If we want to do this differently, we might consider giving as much (mutual) attention to learning as to remorse. Questions such as: what have we learned from the harm that we have caused? Or: how has the harm that we have caused changed our lives and how we relate to others? A dialogue around learning might create an opportunity for an inclusive exploration of harm, rather than a preordained exercise in exclusionary judgement.
In this light, it seems as if Harvard missed the boat.