What is the point of punishment? To prevent future crimes? To make amends to those wronged? To create consequences for those who break with societal norms? Whatever our goals with punishment, most everyone can agree that the modern American legal system is not working. It doesn’t create justice or fairness and too often treats individuals as disposable commodities, especially in an era of for-profit prison systems that need “lawbreakers” in order to profit from state-sanctioned punishment.
In Seattle, as seen in Eric Daniel Metzgar’s incredibly powerful A Once and Future Peace, the city is trying to start charting a different solution to these issues through a restorative justice program. Modeled after indigenous traditions of talking circles, the program aims to intervene for youth teetering on the edge of becoming lifers in the criminal justice system and instead offers an alternative path. Rather than talking at offenders, they offer a space to listen to them. Rather than separating offenders from their families and homes, they bring their homes and families into the circle to talk about how they have been harmed by the crime and about how to restore trust. In order to witness this process in action, Metzgar powerfully focuses on one 16-year-old, “Andy,” and follows him through the process. To protect his identity, Metzgar uses the audio from all talking circle sessions but uses animation to paint the visuals in this emotional and thought-provoking dive into how we can try to rebuild and sustain justice in our homes and communities. This one you don’t want to miss!