Restorative Justice, And That Thing I Stole When I Was A Teenager

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Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about restorative justice… the idea that harms done can be repaired, through encounters among the parties involved, which sometimes can bring positive transformational change. My 11 year old just started middle school, where restorative justice comes up a lot. And I’m starting to notice this term in the news as well.

Restorative justice is a hopeful concept, because it can feel good to try to right a wrong, face to face with other people, even many decades later.

When I was a teenager, in the late 1970’s, I stole something from the Harvard Coop in Cambridge, MA. It was a Discwasher, a small device for cleaning dust off vinyl records.

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I don’t know why I stole it, but it’s bothered me ever since. I probably could have afforded the $12 or so it cost. Maybe it was the thrill of doing it, who knows. But it felt good for an hour and then gnawed at my conscience for forty years.

Last month, finally, I was able to fix it. It had never occurred to me to call the Harvard Coop and confess, but I suddenly found myself in Harvard Square on a family trip, walking into The Coop with my partner and our ten year old, describing my theft and offering to pay for it.

The cashier was amused – here’s a 55 year old guy confessing a teenage theft – but didn’t know how what to do, so called the store manager. He was about my age, and remembered the Discwasher device well. At this point, the whole staff of the store seemed to be looking on, intrigued, to see what would happen.

Since The Coop no longer carried this item, they couldn’t charge me for it. But after discussing other payback options, we figured out that I could buy a Coop gift card and donate it to the store cashiers’ coffee fund.

I walked out of there feeling great. And I think the store staff and manager felt good about it too – probably doesn’t happen every day.

I’d publicly admitted a wrongdoing, and made some amends. And they had a chance to react to it personally. We decided together how to fix it. Probably not your typical restorative justice story, but with some of the same elements and a positive outcome.

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