I Sought A Restorative Way To Deal With Life After Incarceration – Jose Pineda

Mar 23, 2022 | In Their Own Words, News and Updates

In 2022, RJI invited a contingent of New Yorkers to join us in traveling to Chicago, Illinois for the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice conference. Here are excerpts from an essay written prior to the trip from one of the extraordinary members of our local restorative justice community about their relationship to restorative practices. 

Some already know my story. What they don’t know is how the loss of my brother has shaped my vision for the future. Has it shaken my beliefs? Has it made me rethink my commitment to restorative justice? I’m out here trying to change the world, and watching my family disintegrate right in front of me. Maybe if I hadn’t spent so much time on Zoom, maybe if I spent more time visiting his room…. No one can save you but yourself, and when you live in a world without hope, it’s not crazy to lean into a life of coping. We cope with the pain, mask it or numb it, pretend it’s not there, forget with intention–because we’ve forgotten how to heal. 

We have been living with the realities of my brother’s opioid addiction for a long time. We knew this day would come, but there was no way to prepare. We got a lead on who sold my brother the pills. I talked to him. I told him a couple things: 1) Everyone knows this guy deals with fake pills. If my brother bought drugs from him, my brother knew what he was doing. 2) If he sold my brother drugs yesterday, and those drugs caused my brother’s death, I don’t blame him for my brother’s death. But I needed him to know that the $25 he made off that sale is not worth the lifetime of pain it will inevitably cause someone. The pain my family and I are feeling. It’s not worth it, and there are alternatives. You don’t have to sell people poison for you to live.

I stayed for when they took him out in a body bag, and the cop was reminding me of the advice I was giving other people, particularly my brother, about how what we see here today will pervade our memories of his loss forever. And I told him that’s exactly why I should have gone upstairs and seen my brother’s dead body. I am responsible for someone finding their brother dead in a bathroom, and I don’t know how I feel about protecting myself from the same pain I caused someone else. Someone had to watch their brother’s body be moved in a bag because of me. I needed to stay. The cop asked me if I thought I deserved that. I thought about it for a second. It’s easy to answer that from a moral perspective. Who deserves to hurt? But, ultimately, this wasn’t about deserving to hurt: We all deserve to understand how we hurt people.

I sought a restorative way to deal with life after incarceration. I found it for myself, and have dedicated my life to helping other formerly incarcerated community members find their own restorative way forward. I founded a non-profit for this purpose. We are building a coalition of organizations that can provide RJ training for people getting out of prison. I want to learn about the people doing this work, build relationships with them, and grow our capacity to heal as a collective.