Category Archives: Crime victims series

A death in prison

Marion Berry 4-29-14
Marion Berry in a 2014 prison photo

I got word this week that Marion “Marvin” Berry has died in prison at age 44. Berry was incarcerated for 29 years and five months, since the age of 15, when he and another 15-year-old, Gary Brown, were arrested on charges of kidnapping, raping, and killing 26-year-old Cathy O’Daniel.

I wrote about the case in the first installment of my series for Slate on crime victims. In that story, I focused on O’Daniel’s mother Linda White and her brand of radical forgiveness, which she has shown toward Berry’s co-defendant, Gary Brown.

Berry never experienced the kind of turnaround and redemption that Brown earned for himself. Instead, his years in Texas prisons were marked by trouble. Just five years into his 55-year sentence, he got another 12 1/2 years tacked on for possession of a homemade knife. After more fights with other prisoners and guards, and incidents of self-mutilation, Berry’s minimum sentence stood at 64 years. If all went well — and, with Berry, it never did — he was due to be released in 2051.

A Texas prison spokesman, Jason Clark, confirmed to me in an email today that Berry died at the Bill Clements Unit in Amarillo, a prison that houses prisoners in solitary confinement or requiring mental health care. Clark wrote:

On March 27, 2016, Berry was found unresponsive in his cell. Staff began life saving measures as he was taken to unit medical. EMS arrived on scene and unit medical briefed them on the situation. A physician later arrived and pronounced the offender deceased at 8:37 pm. The preliminary cause of death was natural causes.

White was the first to let me know of Berry’s death, when I coincidentally reached out to say hi and to ask if she’s heard lately from Brown. Texas’ victim-notification policies had served their purpose, and she received a letter promptly giving her the news. Speaking of Berry, White wrote in an email, “His was a very sad life, to say the least.”

As for Brown, he has remained out of touch with White, which was how I ended the story when it was published last June. When I arranged a meeting between White and Brown, and for months afterward, Brown was doing all he could to fulfill his promise to White to live a law-abiding, productive life after his release from prison. I expect and hope that is still the case. No matter what, he’s done far more than his partner in crime to turn bad into good and to show that some lives can be redeemed.

For the rest of my series, go here.

New-wave victim advocates

David Guizar lost two brothers to LA gun violence
David Guizar lost two brothers to LA gun violence 29 years apart.

In my recently concluded series for Slate on crime victims, I touched occasionally on a theme that I wanted to develop further in those stories but didn’t get the opportunity. Now, in my latest article, published by Al Jazeera America, I dug more deeply into the story of how victim advocacy is changing.

I focus on Californians for Safety and Justice and Los Angeles activist David Guizar, the chair of its crime-victims affiliate. Guizar joined CSJ through his friendship and longtime collaboration with a more prominent LA organizer, Aqeela Sherrills. I tell how those men’s experiences with violence and traumatic loss influences their approach to helping other victims — not through increasing the severity of punishment, which has been the approach often taken by traditional victims’ advocates, but through better crime prevention and services for victims.

CSJ is at the front of a movement that aligns victim advocates more with criminal justice reformers than with law enforcement. That seeming mismatch makes sense once you know their experiences and understand their argument that crime policy for too long has ignored the views of the crime victims at greatest risk: people of color, whose communities are ravaged just as much by excessive incarceration as by violence. As they see it, harsh punishment of offenders makes many victims feel good, at least temporarily, and is the response that outsiders imagine first, as we are hard-wired to avenge wrongdoing. But if retribution is the only choice we give victims, we’re shortchanging them of the aid they really need. And we’re setting up today’s victim to turn into tomorrow’s criminal, because untreated trauma — especially the repeat victimization suffered by people in the toughest neighborhoods — so often leads to mental illness, addiction, and violence. Victim support, in other words, is the best crime prevention — if we put our money and actions where our mouths are when we say how we sympathize with victims.

When it became clear that I would have to find a new home for this story, so much time had gone by since I first started reporting the story in mid-2014 that another writer beat me to the punch. Sarah Stillman’s excellent story last fall on The New Yorker‘s website hit many of the same themes. I intend for my story to expand on that by telling the history of where these groups sprang from, the shape and future of the movement, and — most important — the personal struggle and mission of Guizar and his mentor, Sherrills, that bring these ideas to life.

On my portfolio pages, I’ve now separated my stories on crime victims from my other recent work.

Crime victims series recap: what besides retribution?

Whenever people confront a complex social problem, gut reactions might feel good and right, but they rarely provide true or long-lasting solutions. Few problems are as complex as crime. And so, when we think about crime victims, especially about victims of violence, our first reactions get it wrong so consistently that it’s remarkable we ever get anything about it right.

In the stories that I’ve told at Slate after a year’s work under a Soros Justice Media Fellowhip, I have tried to show that victims are not simply defined by their wound, nor can that wound be healed by lashing out blindly at those who harmed them — or encouraging them to find their only solace in such anger and simple retribution. These are natural emotions. Most of us have them, and no one should ever judge victims for grasping at punishment of their offender as their medicine. But we owe it to victims to understand them and their experience much more deeply than we do when we shed a tear, rage at the “senseless” crime that befell them, and then move on, secure in the belief that punishment is the primary response needed. And we must offer victims more options than just indulging their first reactions.

Though I have admitted doubts that my stories might change hearts and minds about the range of victims’ true experiences, I hope they did.  I plan to continue reporting on these topics. Please keep watching this blog and my social media feeds for updates on my work. Thanks for reading. And thanks to the hundreds of victims and experts whose time and writings informed my work; to Slate and my talented editor John Swansburg for helping me sharpen the telling of these stories and for giving them great exposure; and to my friends, colleagues, and benefactors at the Open Society Foundations for supporting criminal-justice journalism through the Soros Justice Fellowships.

Here are the highlights:

Archive of blog posts on the series in progress, outtakes from the stories, and summaries of the stories as they appeared.

The stories:

Part One: Linda White’s example of extreme forgiveness as the antidote to victim anger

Part Two: Bridges to Life and the victims who enter the belly of the beast to counsel prisoners

Part Three: Bill Otis, tough-on-crime’s last man standing, and the arguments that motivate federal criminal justice policy

Part Four: Susan Herman’s mission to change NYPD culture and serve victims from One Police Plaza

Part Five: Los Angeles’ dedicated cadre of victims who respond to crime by seeking to save others from it

Part Six: The promise and peril of restorative justice as an alternative to America’s punitive system

Series finale: Why not restorative justice?

Dennis Wittman, founder of a groundbreaking program
Dennis Wittman, founder of a groundbreaking program

Since June, my series at Slate on crime victims has told the stories of victims and approaches to criminal justice that counter popular myths about who victims are and what they need. Three of the first five stories in particular (Parts 1, 2, and 5) pointed to a philosophy called restorative justice as the counterweight to traditional tough-on-crime policies that have given us excessive imprisonment, counterproductive policing tactics, and a punitive mentality underlying all of those systemic problems.

So why isn’t restorative justice the solution to all that ails our criminal justice system? The last in the series, which was published today, asks that question and examines why restorative justice — which focuses on what victims and communities need to heal from and prevent crime, rather than just on how to punish wrongdoing — has failed so far to fulfill the promise that its believers see in it as a powerful alternative.

Restorative-justice advocates no doubt will object to my premise, as their mission is to press for social change by pointing to all the good that restorative justice programs have accomplished already. My own series pointed out such successes, and the virtues of taking this healing, alternative approach. But as a journalist, my job is to step back and measure its impact. The conclusion I came away with was that restorative justice remains marginalized, rarely embraced by the public or policymakers, and rarely discussed in our current criminal-justice reform debate.

To show why that it is the case, I visited one of the first and most ambitious attempts to embed a restorative approach in a countywide justice system. The program in Genesee County, in western New York state, peaked early and its reforms have not proved long-lasting. The current state of affairs at a program called Genesee Justice is not all bad. As I say in the story, victims in this county enjoy a level of state-provided care that’s rare in America. But the founders’ dream, to remake justice in this county permanently and radically, is all but gone. By telling the story of how it grew and shrank, I hope to shed light on the broader restorative-justice movement and its place in American justice.

Thanks for reading.

Part 5: Victims seeking a cure for violence

Adela Barajas in front of the South LA community center she urged the city to build to keep her neighborhood kids safer.
Adela Barajas in front of the South LA community center she urged the city to build to keep her neighborhood kids safer.

In the fifth installment of my series on crime victims at Slate, published today, I visit the heartland of tough-on-crime policies — California — to look at a thriving subculture of crime victims and others whose work in crime prevention and gang intervention belies myths about who victims are and what they need.

In the simplistic binaries preferred by partisans, crime invites two alternate approaches: the conservative one that treats our cities and their black and brown majorities as amoral killing grounds that can only be cleaned up through iron-fisted policing and extreme prison sentences; and the liberal one that focuses on addressing police brutality and mass incarceration without worrying much about the predominately black and brown victims of everyday violence and disorder.

There is a third way, and it’s what I set out in search of in this latest story. I focused on Los Angeles activists, in part because of the city’s long history of police-community tensions, which have boiled over spectacularly twice, in the riots of 1965 and 1992, and because of California’s leading role in promoting policies advocated by and for crime victims that ratcheted up prison sentences and gave us an historic prison boom. The victims who favor these get-tougher policies are the ones we’re used to hearing from. The people and programs I write about in this story show a different side to victim advocacy, one in which prevention, making peace, and treating trauma take priority. And where there is no great divide between victims and offenders; they are all part of the same community, often the same families.

My subjects include:

  • The Southern California Cease Fire Committee, longtime gang interventionists who work, at times uneasily, with law enforcement.
  • Father Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries, offering former prisoners and gang members an escape from crime through meaningful job training and other needed services.
  • Karl Cruz, another activist in a faith-based program whose past as a gang member helps him connect with youth in his San Fernando Valley community.
  • Adela Barajas, whose tribute to her slain sister-in-law is a program called L.A.U.R.A., which provides comfort for the families of murder victims and an alternative for the neighborhood’s children who otherwise would be sucked into gangs and crime.

Among the more clueless reactions to the “Black Lives Matter” movement are claims that protesting police brutality obscures the real problem: violence within black and brown communities. In these critics’ view, there must be something wrong with those communities’ culture or they would do more to prevent violence. The people in my story demonstrate how preposterous those assumptions are. They work hard every day, over the span of decades, to make their communities safer. They have all witnessed or been the victims of violence repeatedly, and know the communities of victims and of the imprisoned are often one in the same. And they show that a true partnership between police and citizens requires strategies that transcend the discredited approaches from the era of zero-tolerance policing.

On this page of my site, I link to all five stories in the series published so far. The sixth and final story, assessing the restorative justice movement’s potential to solve many of the problems pointed out in the series, is coming soon.

Part 4: Victims, policing, and trust

Eric Garner's death and then the murders of two NYPD officers made Susan Herman's job immeasurably harder.
Eric Garner’s death and then the murders of two NYPD officers made Susan Herman’s job immeasurably harder.

Part 4 of my crime victims series, now available at Slate, asks what happens when you put a veteran  victims’ advocate in charge of the cultural makeover of the nation’s largest police department. That’s what has been happening in New York for the past year and a half, with the subject of my story, Susan Herman, working behind the scenes to carry out NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s mission to mend relations with communities of color while simultaneously improving services for crime victims.

Herman is no ordinary victims’ advocate. She articulates a different approach to serving victims, one that emphasizes doing much more for victims who are more often hunted by the police than helped by them; young, black men, in particular. Trying to accomplish that from inside NYPD while addressing the department’s racially tense community relations at such a volatile time, with such a vocal community of police critics in New York, makes Herman’s job seem impossible — until you see what she’s done already.

When I first planned this story in 2013,  Herman was a criminal-justice professor at Pace University pushing a philosophy of policing and victim services she calls parallel justice (which I explain in the story, and wrote about here several years ago). Then came her appointment as deputy commissioner for collaborative policing at NYPD. Then came Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and all the rest. The story evolved, following events right up to the present. What was to be one window into the victims-services world turned into an examination of a much more complex set of issues at the heart of policing and victim services.

I look forward to hearing readers’ comments on Slate, here on this blog, or on my social media sites.

Part 3: Tough-on-crime’s last true believer

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 8.37.56 AM
Bill Otis, testifying at a House hearing in 2014

The third in my series on crime victims, now published at Slate, arose from my  disposition as a journalist (and, I suppose, as a person) to be contrary. I don’t mean that in the ornery or negative sense, but in the skeptical sense. As I looked around the criminal-justice reform community, and the media coverage of it, I saw such unanimity of opinion on the inevitability of reform’s passage that it made me wonder: What might they be missing?

And that’s how I settled on profiling Bill Otis, a former federal prosecutor who writes about criminal justice at the Crime and Consequences blog. Otis remains practically a solitary holdout for the status quo in tough-on-crime sentencing policy as Washington cheers on the reform movement. And, as I explain in the story, Otis is worth watching because he has some effective trump cards to play that just might keep his side winning (as it has been all along).

My story examines Otis’ victim-themed arguments for maintaining the status quo in federal sentencing laws (and the logic extends to the states as well). I chide reformers for failing to voice a loud enough victim-centered counter-argument (though I do note some significant new voices starting to find a way to say that reducing punishment can be done in tandem with policies that help victims).

But my underlying point is one that’s articulated in the story by Otis’ frequent sparring partner, Doug Berman of Ohio State, who writes his own influential blog on sentencing from a more liberal point of view. I only touch on it in the story, but in my interview with Berman he explained at more length why he values Otis’ role in the debate even though the two can hardly agree on anything:

I do think it’s an enduring shame that we don’t have as much rigorous public policy debate about these issues as I think is needed. I think it’s a particular shame that both Bill and I have to resort to comments on blogs to really have somebody to mix it up with in a setting that I think should lead to lots and lots of mixing it up. …

It’s only as a result of really sustained engagement with these issues that you go from a useful but superficial first-cut instinct about a lot of this stuff, to get deeper into what’s really at stake, who are the real winners and losers in different proposals.

That’s why I read Otis regularly, and why I decided to write about him in a series that asks what needs of victims we neglect when we focus only on tough sentencing as justice for victims. His passionate, clear writing articulates the view that has prevailed for decades. And there’s a reason that it has — because many believe it.

There’s a bit of know-thy-enemy in my story, but I have a hard time thinking of Otis as an enemy, given his gracious agreement to talk to me. He recognized my obviously opposite leanings (a favorite target of Otis’ is the philanthropist George Soros, whose money funded the Soros Justice Fellowship that paid for my work on my series for the past year; also, Slate’s liberal leanings are hardly a secret). And yet he gamely engaged with me.

Full disclosure: Before I decided to write my story about Otis, he and I mixed it up in the comments on this blog post. I criticized him for his attack on a news story that I praised. The comments back and forth got a little heated. To some, that might justify a permanent grudge. But, like Berman, I believe there’s value when we see our ideas challenged. We might modify our ideas, or at least our strategy, as a result. Plus, the debate-club nerd in me (and, I suspect, in Otis) enjoys the mental exercise. It’s invigorating.

One other bit of backstory: As with all of the stories in this series, I began the research and reporting in spring 2014 and continued through the rest of that year and into the spring of 2015. I drafted this story in January and then revised it and updated it, after getting edits back, in June and July. In the Internet age, such a protracted schedule is unheard of, but it’s the nature of such a large beast as this series. But for this story in particular, given its strong grounding in the news, I spent a great deal of time in a state of anxiety, worried that something major would change in Washington politics to undermine the entire point of the story. Would Sen. Charles Grassley convert to the reform side? Would key legislation pass, contrary to my thesis that the traditionalists still hold sway? It seems we’re on the verge of new proposals that might unstick what’s stuck. But, at least for now, Washington’s gridlock didn’t magically disappear while my story was in queue. The basic storyline I developed more than a year ago never really changed, although I kept busy updating examples and developments in the interim between drafting it and publishing it.

In just the past few days, we’ve seen this by Andrew Cohen on the enduring politics of tough-on-crime, and this report by the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys (a group Otis has worked with), with a counterattack by Families Against Mandatory Minimums), all of which adds up to pushback by the tough-on-crime side. So I’m glad that my story on Mr. Pushback himself has finally been published — before everyone else gets in on this theme.

 

Part 2 in a series: victims who counsel prisoners

Albert and Michelle Cotton
Albert and Michelle Cotton

The second story in my series at Slate on crime victims has now been published. Like the first, on the mother of a murder victim whose dramatic meeting with her daughter’s killer I witnessed, this story grew out of reporting I’ve done for years on restorative justice. I ran across both White and the man who runs the program I write about this week, John Sage of Bridges to Life, five years ago when working on other projects. I’m glad I was able, finally, to bring their stories to a prominent national forum.

Not all of my series focuses on restorative justice — the third, fourth, and fifth stories look at other questions concerning who victims are and what they need — but the final installment will return to restorative justice with an assessment of whether that movement can gain enough acceptance in this country to address the biggest challenges my series is pointing out.

What intrigued me most about Bridges to Life,  a prisoner-counseling program based in Texas, is not just what it does for prisoners to teach them to live more responsibly, but what it can do for the crime victims who serve as volunteer counselors. By sharing with the prisoners the stories of what crime did to them and their families, what do the victims get from it? They shared their stories with me to show to others why someone deeply harmed by crime — many of them are survivors of murder victims — would want to step inside a prison and work to improve the lives of prisoners who live in shame for the harm they caused others.

One of the people I interviewed in Houston for this story who didn’t make it into the final version is a Bridges to Life volunteer, but he was not a crime victim. Instead, he spent more than 25 years in prison for a murder he committed at age 17. He and his friends jumped a man and his son who were waiting for a bus. Cotton chased down the father and, in a struggle for his money, shot him.

In all his years in prison, the one program that made a deep impression on Cotton was Bridges to Life. He decided when he got out that he would volunteer to teach youth from his own horrible experience what can go wrong, and how to avoid such a life. While holding down a good  job and buying his first house with his wife Michelle — his middle school sweetheart with whom he reunited after his release — Cotton takes the time to go juvenile jails and give his talks. He tells the kids what it is like to have spent his 20s and 30s behind bars, and what it’s like to know that somewhere lives a man about his age who has spent the past 29 years without a father.

Cotton told me, “Sometimes I look at a class and wonder if I can help save any of them. But, at that point, you really never know.” He does know that if he doesn’t try, then they likely won’t get the message from someone whose word they trust as authentic. “At their age,” Cotton says, “if somebody could have spoke to me, I don’t know if that would have changed me. But I would have liked to see. I would like to have had that opportunity.”

As my visit at Cotton’s North Houston house was winding up, I noticed a sign in his front yard: “PRIVATE PROPERTY. LAST WARNING.” I asked Cotton about it. His answer struck me as both ironic and hopeful, about a man many would have written off as hopeless, but who spent a long time incarcerated and now tries to live a good life and give back to the community. In other words, people can change.

He explained the sign went up after he experienced crime first hand. “Somebody tried to steal my truck out of the driveway,” he said. “Busted my window.” His voice turned incredulous at the nerve of the thief: “It’s like, here it is, I’m workin’ for that!”

He is indeed. And, by every indication, we’re all better off that he is, instead of having gone to his execution or died in prison. That his commitment to do better was inspired by crime victims makes his atonement all the more satisfying.

“I know what I’d do”

Not many people would imagine themselves doing what Linda White has done after losing a child in a violent crime. It’s perfectly natural to imagine taking revenge against the killer, or at the very least seeking his permanent removal from society.

And so one key point of my recently published story about White was to explore her reasons for moving from that typical starting point to a much different place. Her radical form of forgiveness for Gary Brown, one of two 15-year-olds who abducted, raped, and killed White’s 26-year-old daughter Cathy O’Daniel in 1986, did not happen by magic or fluke. It was a process. The story walks the reader through that years-long process — which famously culminated in a mediated encounter in prison in 2001 — and then observes as the two meet again, in 2014, at my invitation.

Another key point was to take what we see in White’s experience and place it in a broader context. As I attempted to show in the story, ignoring or marginalizing the Linda Whites of the crime-victim world has had a perverse effect on public policy and opinion. We like to say that we support crime victims, but in reality we want them to fit our preconceived notions of victimhood. All too often, we don’t truly listen to victims to discover the full range of who they are and what they need. We don’t pay enough attention to their journeys as their reactions change, from anger to questioning to various forms of letting go — which is, fundamentally, what forgiveness is all about. It’s certainly not the only way to come to terms with a traumatic injury and loss, nor should it ever be imposed on victims who aren’t ready or never will accept it. But it exists and should be understood for what it is: an important part of the victim experience.

So it was no small irony that many of the hundreds of comments that readers posted to that story not only rejected White’s views, they didn’t even try to listen to them. Many expressed disdain or revulsion toward White. One I saw even wished that Brown would kill White to prove to White how wrong she is (it was at that point that I decided to stop reading the comments for a while). It was evident to me that many commenters merely saw the headline and a photo of White and Brown smiling together and promptly reached their verdict on whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. In other words, a story about how we don’t listen closely enough to all victims produced an outpouring of the same.

A public weaned on ideologically driven opinions masquerading as news is comfortable reaching snap judgments without doing the hard work of exploring, sifting through facts, weighing evidence-based arguments. It also isn’t clued in to the distinction between empathy and sympathy; between understanding others, even those with whom we disagree, and blanket endorsements. Why can’t we read about someone who contradicts our assumptions and accept that the world is more complicated than we knew? Instead, many reject it out of hand, and ascribe bad motives to the story subject, the writer, or both.

I was wrestling with all of those reactions to my story when I read this recent Columbia Journalism Review article by researchers Lene Bech Sillesen, Chris Ip, and David Uberti. They describe their work in seeking to understand how journalistic narrative evokes empathy, and how that might change when the narrative is read online rather than in print. They write:

We need a certain amount of information about another person, accumulated over time, before we start sensing that crucial similarity between us.

Once engaged and transported by a story, readers are more likely to change their beliefs about the world to match that narrative. In magazine journalism, this makes perfect, intuitive sense. We know that longer narratives with complex characters and strong storylines can have a deep impact on readers who take the time to read from start to finish.

That is why my stories about crime victims — the one on Linda White is the first in a series — are told as character-driven narratives rather than as policy-argument essays. I can tell you, as the headline on the story does, what White did. But you’re unlikely to understand it and accept it (which is not the same as embracing it) if that’s all you know. To understand it, you must see her transformation, experience it as best one can reading a 6,500-word summary of 30 years of her life.

The best reaction I can hope for is to see a reader express surprise at reaching a new understanding of how the world works. Fortunately, I did see some of those sorts of comments, but they were often shouted down by others who clearly hadn’t bothered to read the story before reacting to it, or who flatly rejected White’s experience in order to describe their own imagined response; usually a violent one.

One of the moments I witnessed between White and Brown that didn’t make it into the story came during our lunch, when the two were loosening up a bit. They talked about how easily misunderstood their relationship is, how people feel compelled to tell them it’s wrong for White to have not only forgiven Brown, but to treat him as a friend. White told Brown that this is what she wants to say to those who judge and doubt her:

You do not know what you will or will not do in any given situation until you’ve been there. You just don’t know. For anyone to tell me, ‘Well I know I wouldn’t do this,’ or ‘I would do that,’ I say, ‘I don’t believe ya. I know you mean it. But you don’t KNOW always who you are and what you would do until you are confronted with it.’ And I just think it’s easy to say ‘I know what I’d do.’

What my crime victim series tries to show

What’s my point about crime victims?

During the months I’ve worked on my newly launched series at Slate on crime victims, I’ve blogged here about my work in progress and about some of the themes I’m exploring. In this particular post, I described in broad terms the point I’m trying to make in the stories I’m telling about certain people, places, and ideas. I wrote:

So far, the sentencing-reform debate has made little mention of crime victims. To the extent we think of them at all in this context, most people probably assume that any retreat from the toughest punishment policies equates to a betrayal of victims’ interests. By that thinking, sentencing reform is a zero-sum game: anything we “give” to prisoners and defendants (shorter sentences or more humane ways of promoting public safety) is something we take from victims.

What if that isn’t true? And what if the tough approach, as it has played out in politics and policy, ignores victims whose crimes go unreported and unsolved; ignores those for whom retribution toward criminals provides little lasting comfort; and paints a picture of victimhood that misunderstands who they are and what they need?

The kinds of victims and issues I explore show up from time to time in the news; to cite two familiar examples, when the families of the Charleston church massacre forgave the accused shooter, or when the parents of Boston Marathon victim Martin Richard opposed the death penalty for the bomber. These anecdotes tend to be fleeting exceptions to the rule that we expect victims to react a certain way. My series steps back and asks what all those exceptions mean.

The choices I’ve made and the conclusions I draw in my stories clearly display my point of view, which generally is to favor criminal-justice reform and to question the effectiveness and fairness of harsh punishment policies of recent decades. I hope readers will learn from the series, question my choices and conclusions, and gain a deeper appreciation for all different types of crime victims, not just the ones we tend to favor in our politics and imaginations. The point, in other words, is to listen to all victims.

The first story focuses on a remarkable reformer, Linda White, who took me up on my invitation to meet face to face with the man who killed her daughter. Their dramatic reunion (their first meeting years ago launched Linda’s career as a restorative-justice advocate) taught Linda new lessons in what it means to have a relationship with someone who hurt her so deeply — and what it means when a victim and the state have very different notions of how to hold someone accountable for such a terrible crime.