Why is Restorative Justice and the power of apology not fully integrated into our justice system?

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I never seem to stop being baffled by aspects of our society. But more than anything else, I’ve been baffled by the illogic of our criminal justice system since I was able to think for myself. Last night I co-facilitated a Restorative Justice conference that brought it home to me once more how important a role apology has in the process of repairing the harm caused to another.

In so many cases the victim, the most important person within the context of a committed crime, can be hugely helped by the “simple” act of a genuine apology. Isn’t that precisely what we are taught to do as children when we have done something bad? And yet as we grow up and do more seriously bad things, the role of apology is largely replaced by punishment, a revenge of sort that responds to and feeds a victims’s natural and justified anger but contributes little to the easing of their pain. We’ve seen examples of apology countless times in politics: Ireland’s decades of pain-filled longing for an apology from the British government for Bloody Sunday in contrast to the hugely powerful yet simple gesture in Germany in 1970 when Willy Brandt spontaneously knelt at the memorial to the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. No words were needed and it was accepted by the world as a public acknowledgment of wrong – no excuses, no justifications, just a silent and humble act of apology.

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1945 to 2013 in one painting

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Untitled (with lipstick) 2011

by Angela Findlay

My most recent solo show Fragments of time at McAllister Fine Art in Godalming is entering its final week. It shows work combining photographic collage and oil and is a development of ideas and techniques that led to a collaboration with John Helseltine and a joint  exhibition Filling the cracks in 2011

Reflecting on the paintings I find myself wondering where to next? This body of work has been the result of several years of an on-going interest in capturing glimpses of the everyday, usually overlooked and yet often very beautiful testimonies to peoples’ lives within the privacy of their homes. Initially I worked from a dawning sense of the fragility of what we call “home”, a paradox in the face of the security and consistency we seek there.

In 1945 as an eleven year old German girl, my mother fled her home with her younger sister, the approaching Russian army a mere 40 miles away. The few stories of her childhood experiences float silently in my imagination, their edges blurring with those of my own memories. The implications of her sparse accounts didn’t register fully until I was older. But the images she sketched of a Berlin in flames, the train station heaving with jostling people, and the agonising choice of which doll to take – the beloved but threadbare one or the brand new one from her father on leave from the front? – began to provide a source of inspiration for my work.

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The essence of it all…

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“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn