Restorative justice is an approach to dealing with crime that put the victim of the crime front and center and considers how the offense affected the community, rather than looking at it as an isolated incident. Wyoming Public Radio has a three part series about restorative justice efforts in Wyoming.
In Part 1 we heard about how Stephen Watt and Mark Farnham initially crossed paths. Part 2 outlined how restorative justice works and fledgling initiatives the state is taking to use it. But since there aren’t any restorative justice programs for adults in Wyoming yet, Watt and Farnham had to sort of improvise. Still, it seems to have worked out. In part three of our series, we’ll hear what this self-led restorative justice therapy has meant for Watt and Farnham.
FARNHAM: When Steve visits me, I get to see the socket where there's no eye. We never have whining sessions or complaint sessions, but things will come up in the course of a conversation like they would with any friend. For example, in the last 5 years he's been through 3 operations, 3 or 4, that are attributed to the shooting and the state doesn't pay for it. And so he's up about $120-150,000 in debt. So the shooting consequences are still going on. He's still undergoing PTSD, I mean the slightest sound, smell, a police car...the slightest...Steve can tell you that he relives the shooting and it's many times a day and he's still going through it at night. And because I'm familiar as the perpetrator I can't see myself as the victim. I can't say wow, I've done 30 years in prison, my life is gone, because I get to see that he's in a prison, I get to see that he's spending his life now in crutches or in a wheelchair, because of what I’ve done to him. I get to see the pain that he goes in. When we're talking...little things will come up. For example, he couldn't play football with his kids because of the bullet next to his spine [gets emotional], so he lost out on a lot of stuff. When, recently he told me that he was going to do some things like ride a 4-wheeler because he didn't do it when his kids were younger, he was afraid of getting paralyzed because of the bullet that's still next to high spine...
WATT: I wouldn't trade places with Mark for anything. I can't believe how hard being my friend is for Mark. It's like Mark said, every time he sees me he has to think about what he did to me and because of that every time he deals with someone else he has to think of how I would do it. He has to stop if he's angry at somebody, stop and think about how I forgave him, and so it's hard.
FARNHAM: There's many stories with this friendship, it's 31 years. My father was a policeman for 16 years. And when I shot Steve, he couldn't deal with it. To a policeman, a cop shooter is the worst thing, absolutely the worst. And every letter I sent to him, he tore up, every birthday card, every Christmas card, every Father's Day card for 5 years. People would ask him how his son is and he would say I don't have a son. And Steve wrote him and said, if I can forgive him, why can't you? And my dad forgave me after that. And my dad's relationship and mine has never been better. The power of this story, of his forgiveness , just affects life after life after life.
WATT: And now, Mark's dad and I are good friends. And his sisters and I are good friends. In fact, this summer I'm going to go back and meet his uncles and his family back there and I can't wait.
FARNHAM: I want to get back to the forgiveness a minute. Whether you're a Christian or not a Christian, forgiveness is not about the person that you're forgiving. You’re doing it for yourself. And I could tell you about 100, 1,000 incidents over the years where I made the decision to forgive somebody, whether it was an inmate, a family member, a staff member, and I just forgive them, make the choice. When you forgive them you can put it...you can go forward, instead of looking back...
WATT: ...and hanging on to that, and staying in the same spot. Because that's what you do, you stand in that one spot and you just can't move on until you do forgive. And so whether you're Christian or not you have to forgive and it's for you, not for that other person. They don't even have to know that you've forgiven them, so you got to forgive to move on. And restorative justice to me is for the offender to try to make their victim as whole as possible, and that's what restorative justice is. Is for the offender to make their victim whole, or society as whole as possible, to heal over those wounds, to do what they must do, because there is a debt to pay, and the debt is to the victim and to the society.
FARNHAM: For me there's a humanizing...in terms of, it would really be easier in prison to get hardened, to get bitter, especially if you're doing lengthy periods of time. But when you understand that you're responsible for the pain and you see that person and you have the empathy and the compassion - I'm not saying everybody will or every perpetrator, but where the perpetrators can get that - there's a humanizing. And for me, I definitely, definitely have more empathy today for my fellow man than I did prior to coming to prison. Part of it is the pain of doing time. Doing time is painful. A big part was becoming a Christian. Part of it is seeing the pain that I brought into Steve's life. So, for the perpetrator, I think there's a humanizing and I think that's important. We don't want to send people out of prison that are callous, that are cold, that are calculating.
HOST: Watt and Farnham recently participated in a movie titled Unlikely Friends, a documentary about other, similar cases of friendship between victims and perpetrators through forgiveness. Watt recently re-married – he wanted the ceremony held at the prison where Farnham resides so that Farnham could serve as best man, but the Department of Corrections denied his request.