The meeting began with a prayer. Eight hours later, it ended with Sharletta Evans feeling that she'd found much of what she'd been seeking from a face-to-face encounter with Raymond Johnson, one of the people responsible for the killing of her three-year-old son Casson seventeen years ago. She would later describe last week's sit-down, the first of its kind ever held in a Colorado prison, as "everything I had hoped for."
Under most circumstances, state law prohibits contact between a convicted felon and his victim or a victim's family members. But the trip Evans and her 23-year-old son Calvin made to the Limon high-security prison on May 23 was the first victim-offender meeting to take place under a pilot program launched by last year's restorative justice bill, sponsored by Colorado Springs Representative Pete Lee.
As we reported in a feature last October on the state's powerful victim rights lobby, the effort to bring restorative justice efforts to Colorado prisons met with considerable resistance from prosecutors and some victim advocate groups. Lee's bill ultimately passed, but without any funds attached to it, leaving it up to volunteer facilitators to help arrange any victim-offender meetings, which must be initiated by the victim.
Evans testified in favor of Lee's bill, telling Westword that her quest to sit down with her son's killers "was something I needed to do for myself, my family and my community, as well, which has been affected by this."
Johnson was sixteen years old when he and fellow gang member Paul Littlejohn, fifteen, joined in a drive-by shooting in northeast Denver in 1995. Bullets sprayed a car where Casson Xavier Evans, better known as Biscuit, was sleeping while his mother retrieved another child from a duplex. Both of the shooters are now serving life without parole.
A restorative justice "dialogue" has no impact on an offender's sentence, but Johnson had agreed to meet with Evans to answer any questions and, if possible, aid in her healing. A statement released by Lee after the meeting says the opening prayer "set the tone for eight hours of respectful, soulful discussions," and that Evans "expressed particular satisfaction that Johnson had been forthright and honest with her."
Representative Lee praised Evans for her courage and credited the Colorado Department of Corrections for its cooperation. "This is exactly the kind of healing encounter I hoped to see when I sponsored the Restorative Justice Law," he declared. "Nothing can totally heal the pain of losing a loved one, particularly to homicide. But we, as a society, should do what we can to help them begin to heal."
Colorado's pilot program is one of twenty prison-based restorative justice programs around the country.
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