This story concerns a hostage taking at gunpoint for which the person responsible was facing the prospect of 10 to 12 years in prison.

On January 17, 1993, Richard Wiens, a farmer from the town of Rosemary (a town two hours outside of Calgary) and Peter Plett of a neighbouring town, woke up to a startling story on the radio detailing a crime that had happened the night before in Brooks a village twenty minutes down the Trans Canadian Highway. A young man had taken some family members hostage, forced them into his truck, and ended up at the Brooks Hospital carrying an automatic weapon and looking for his wife.

Medical staff had been held hostage until an RCMP officer had managed to talk the perpetrator into giving himself up. Automatic weapons, attempted kidnapping, assault this wasn’t the kind of thing that happened in a sleepy Alberta town.

Then the bomb really dropped: a young man named Michael Gallup was in custody for the crime.

“Michael was on my school bus.” says Peter. “I couldn’t believe it.”

A year later Mike himself shudders at the folly of that horrible night. Too many drinks at a bonspiel party, a fight with his wife, pent up anger from an unresolved family issue, more drinks, and the crime spree was on. Yet the story here is not of a good kid gone bad or a young man lost in the prison system. Unfortunately there are enough of those to make Mike’s case relatively commonplace.

Darrel Heidebrecht, director of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta’s former Community Justice Ministries, believes the real story, the story of community involvement and a different approach to justice. It’s the story of a more biblical, restorative way of doing justice.

With support from Darrel at MCC, a community meeting was called to learn as much as possible about the crime and the sentencing procedure.

“We felt our role was to ask the court for leniency,” says Richard Wiens. “It would have been foolish to ask for a dismissal after all, Mike was guilty. But we wanted the judge to know that we, his community, felt the best possible option for Mike was to come home from jail as soon as possible.”

Within a few days, more than 80 people from all walks of life had signed a letter to the judge describing the community’s response. The meeting also gave Mike’s mother, Allison, and his wife, Carla, a chance to speak forthrightly with the community. Rumours had engulfed the already-sensational story like a prairie brush fire and here was the opportunity to tell their story and acknowledge the pain that Mike had caused. The fact that both the meeting and the letter were initiated locally is a crucial part of the story, according to Darrell.

“This wasn’t a case of MCC or any other agency parachuting into town to tell people what to do. The criminal justice world doesn’t need another program. It needs people like Peter and Richard and all the others who signed the letter who are willing to implement a new vision. What we hadn’t counted on was such an aggressive prosecutor,” adds Peter. “Here was a first offender, a young kid who could have been anyone’s son…”

Darrell felt that the prosecutor’s vocabulary left no room for forgiveness or leniency. The prosecutor asked for the harshest penalty he could, ostensibly on behalf of the interests of “the people.”

Yet, what is the state if it is not the community that believes in it? The community believed locking Mike up for years and years in a federal penitentiary was not the answer.

Mike’s own testimony and the unusual support of the community had a strong impact on the judge. Instead of the maximum ten to twelve years he sentenced Mike to five and a half years.

“It’s critical now, until parole becomes a reality,” says Darrell, “that Mike retains connections with his home community. If he doesn’t, there’s another community waiting to embrace him.”

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