I come in peace

Young adults spend time with offenders

August 31, 2011 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent

Even in Christian circles, murderers, rapists, child abusers and hardened criminals are viewed as some of the most reprehensible people in society. They are left to rot in jail and then chased out of communities when they are released from prison. Many people in Canada believe that these offenders are too far gone to ever be healthy, functioning human beings again, unless they somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

But there are some young people involved in restorative justice programs who have learned that no one is too far gone or undeserving of help. They have also seen that the current justice system isn’t working very well for the people who are victimized or for the people who are incarcerated.

Winnipeggers Adam Klassen, who attends Hope Mennonite Church, and Daniel Epp, who attends Douglas Mennonite Church, have seen these truths firsthand.

Epp, a volunteer at Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), a voluntary program for men at high risk of reoffending, has seen incredible transformations in those who had committed heinous crimes in the past. The men in these programs have very difficult, violent habits formed over many years to break. “It takes a lot of work to defeat [the habits], but it is possible,” Epp says.

Klassen, who volunteered at Open Circle and now is the community facilitator at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba restorative justice program, Journey to Justice, has learned that people who are incarcerated are just like everyone else. “You can talk to them about sports, the weather and politics,” he says. “They are regular, everyday people who have done some pretty terrible things.”

While a lot of people believe that prisoners or ex-cons are terrible people, Epp believes they just don’t understand where such people are coming from. “A lot of people are not taught that they are important or that they have value,” he says. “They end up committing acts of violence because they were victimized themselves. It’s important to stop cycles of violence by understanding them and the people who commit them. . . . We are all fundamentally human beings.”

Klassen, who is working with a group of people from the community through the use of listening exercises—learning how to listen to other people’s stories, and discussing their own stories, in relation to justice—is trying to help people in the Winnipeg area to understand those who are incarcerated at Stony Mountain, a nearby penitentiary. Community group members are given a chance to see the people behind the acts of violence in their backyard. For the inmates, they are given the opportunity to interact with people like those that they hurt, he explains.

Klassen sees his work with Journey to Justice as social gospel, believing that the Bible calls people to social action. “We need to follow Christ’s example and not only care for people’s souls, but also people’s bodies, minds and spirits,” he says. “Restorative justice does this in a really beautiful way.”

Epp says that working with the men in the CoSA program gives him a profound sense of shalom. “I have a good connection to God,” he says. “Through that, I have a good connection to others and to myself. Circle meetings are good examples of that shalom.”

Both Epp and Klassen plan on working in the restorative justice field for a long time to come.

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.