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Jon Wilson helps victims talk with perpetrators - and find closure

When victims go behind bars to talk with those who did them harm, they receive something the legal system doesn't provide: a chance to find real closure, maybe even forgiveness.

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On the night of Jan. 31, 2001, a 19-year-old named Joel Turner was in an apartment in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood when three young men broke in. One of them carried an unusual knife, a foot-and-a-half long. A driver waited in a van outside.

In moments, the lives of these young men were viciously broken. Mr. Turner had been stabbed to death. Three of the men would go to prison for their roles in what happened that night. The crime left Turner's family in confusion and pain.

The thought of being able to face in person someone who has committed a horrible crime against you or a loved one can stir dark instincts. But it also can be a path toward resolution, healing, and, for some, even forgiveness.

Janet Connors, Turner's mother, has met behind bars with two of the men involved in her son's death. It is not the sort of meeting a grieving parent is likely to want to experience alone.

That's where Jon Wilson steps in.

Mr. Wilson owns a business dedicated to boats and boat building, a craft as artful and precise as the taking of a human life is violent and horrid. Wilson was there with Ms. Connors, as he's been with dozens of victims of violent crimes, because he believes such meetings are crucial to the healing process.

This concept, called Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD), lets agonized victims or their surviving loved ones do something the justice system rarely lets them do: talk with the wrongdoer.

"I believe that the process of giving voice is therapeutic," says Wilson, who is not a professional therapist. "When a survivor is able to give full voice to their feelings, they suddenly feel heard in a way they never could have in any other context."

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