This story is about a man whose case was referred to a sentencing circle, a community-based, pre-sentence advisory process with a strong reparative and restorative focus. He received a community sentence rather than three years in prison for several driving and theft offences.
John Doe, 42, was charged with several driving offences, possession of stolen property and various petty offences. Partly because of his lengthy record and many prior related offences, the Crown office wanted a sentence of three years.
John heard about circle sentencing while he was in jail awaiting trial and thought that this might help him quit drinking.
John made an application to Kwanlin Dun Community Justice Program by answering some questions. What kind of steps he has made to become sober? What steps he would like to make to continue his sobriety and healing? How can the community help him do this? It was hard for him to fill out the questionnaire properly because he wasn’t quite sure what he needed or wanted.
All he knew was he was tired of living in pain and wanted to start living for himself and his two children. Because of his drinking problem he hardly knew his kids. He had tried to quit drinking several times over the last two years, but it never lasted.
John started drinking at 14 and his consumption started to get out of hand when he was allowed in bars. His drinking and criminal behaviour steadily increased over the years, which led to his incarceration in correctional institutions for about 10 years. He no longer felt a part of his community and didn’t know how others felt about him.
When he told his mom that he planned to apply for circle sentencing, she was very excited and went to many meetings with him.
At the first meeting, there was discussion about what kind of assistance John needed. He agreed to take residential treatment, try hard to stay sober and keep busy with community service. It was at this time he realized how many people from his family and the community were willing to support him. He attended meetings quite regularly after this and at these meetings he talked about how and what he was doing and what help he needed in his healing. Once his criminal charges went to a sentencing circle he had many people in the community supporting him, including his family and friends. Most of the people in the sentencing circle spoke about John and how they knew him, what they knew about him: both the good and the bad. Everyone that spoke brought a new perspective to whom John really was and what his family and peers knew John was capable of doing.
At the end of the circle, with the community behind him, representatives from the sentencing circle asked the court if John could have another chance. The circle believed, after they heard John speak of how he so desperately wanted to change, that John could do exactly what he said he would do.
John was given a three-year suspended sentence with a very lengthy probationary period. He also was ordered to do 200 community service hours, take alcohol assessment, counseling and treatment, life skills training, upgrade his education and abide by a curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
John has been completely sober for three years. He has been employed with his community in the Justice program as a Justice Community Support Worker. He sits as a member of the Community Justice Committee and is a well-respected member of his community.
John says the circle gave him the opportunity to change and to help him understand how to live a healthy lifestyle. What he has learned throughout his life and experience through the circle is what he shares today with people he helps in his community. The volunteer work helped him get to know his own people and required him to help these people that in the past he may have indirectly hurt.