Restorative Justice: Restorative of Right Relationships, of Community.

On August 15, 1995 my sister was shot several times in the face and chest while she lay sleeping by a male “friend” our family had known since childhood. She was a wife and mother of 2 small children, a daughter, and a sister. Her family was shattered. Our family was shattered. The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was to tell my seven-year old niece that her mother was dead.


picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Because there was a confession and a plea-bargain, we had no day in court. It was all handled by the state prosecutor, and because my sister was not considered my “immediate” family because we both had families of our own, I was not kept in the loop by the police and prosecutor. I was not informed when the murderer was released from jail, finding out only through a picture of him through a friend of a friend on Facebook.
Neither I nor my family have ever received any communication from him, no explanation, no apologies. I am still waiting for an explanation.

Retributive justice is the idea that those who commit crimes should have to pay in some like fashion for the crimes they have committed. An eye for an eye. We have some innate sense that the scales of justice need to be balanced; offenders must pay in some way for the crimes they commit. Through paying for their crimes, they somehow rebalance the scales, and we feel in some way that justice has been served. But I never felt that way. Of course, he did not receive the death penalty, which would have been in-kind, but for me, that would never have balanced the scales, the only way to do that would have been to bring my sister back from the dead.

What I have been seeking is something else—restorative justice. The goal of restorative justice is a restoration of right relationships, sometimes through restitution, sometimes through talking, and a restoration of community. For example, a few years ago a neighborhood teen stole our motor scooter. A goal of restorative justice would be to re-establish right relationships between neighbors, perhaps having the teen work off what he had done through yard work, thus balancing the scales and restoring community. This lets the teenager know just how much hard work it is to work off $1300, and through getting to know us, it would have humanized us to him. So what if we were to redefine our concept of justice, to rethink it? This is not difficult to envision when it comes to teen petty theft, but in violent offenses it is much more difficult.

But I can imagine what might bring me some peace of mind. Crimes are not just a matter between the perpetrator and the state—all family members should be kept abreast of all developments in cases like these, including release of prisoners. Perhaps I do not want a restoration of a relationship with the murderer, but some kind of explanation why and an apology would go a long way in my healing. I long ago, intellectually, forgave him, but emotionally is another thing. Restorative justice sometimes involves a sit-down conversation between parties—I would welcome that. It is also important to realize that not only my family was shattered, but his family as well. Restorative justice involves reintegrating the offender into community, maybe not with my family, but with his. Judging from Facebook photos, his family has welcomed him back, but my family and his family have had no contact and no restoration of community or an attempt at an apology or understanding.


picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Perhaps an illustration from Africa would help our nation reformulate ideas of justice. After the genocide in Rwanda and Barundi, many perpetrators of the violence were put in prison. A few years ago, when they were about to be released, the community was worried that the survivors would retaliate—an eye for an eye. That is when the program Healing and Rebuilding our Communities was born (the Richmond Peace Education Center has since brought this program from Africa). This program brings together survivors and perpetrators in weekend-long settings to talk about the trauma that resulted from the violence. As survivors talk about their trauma, those involved in violent crime see the effect their actions have had. But they also begin to open up and speak about their own trauma, in a non-judgmental setting. What happens, then, is through the telling of stories, and seeing the others point of view, both sides begin to heal, forgiveness sometimes occurs, and community is restored. Even though it seems like it shouldn’t work–bringing murderers and rapists together with survivors–their experience is that it has rebuilt their community and prevented more violence. This is restorative justice at the most difficult level. But only through a rebuilding of right relationships, a restoration of community, and healing from trauma, will future violence be prevented. This is justice re-imagined.

Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez is affiliate faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She holds a doctorate from Union Presbyterian Seminary, here in Richmond, and has lived in Richmond since 1986.  She is a board member of the Richmond Peace Education Center, and the producer, along with her students, of “A Time for Peace” radio segment on WRIR 97.3 FM.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email


Perspectives of Mothers of the Movement: Alice Twining

“What will matter is the good we did, not the good we expected others to do.”

-(Elizabeth Lesser)


What does “A Mother of the Movement” mean to me? – Nurturing, loving; mentoring, encouraging; positive communicating; excited about others’ energy and drive for social justice.

First I think, “I am not a mother of the movement,” I have just been around a long time! I was a farm girl. I worked my way through school in Boston where I first learned about sexual and domestic violence from Antioch graduate students I taught: a co-founder of Emerge (Batterers’ Intervention) and a domestic violence advocate in Cambridge. What I would learn later in California was the sneaky power of a psychopath.

In 1987 I moved to Virginia, fleeing with my baby from an abusive husband. My sister, Mary, took us in and mothered us. She found a lawyer at HER Shelter with advice on legal steps.  I saw a therapist who helped me manage my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and secondary trauma. New friends at Virginians Against Domestic Violence (VADV) and the YWCA helped me recover. We worked, played, laughed, cried, sang and danced as we evolved with Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA) into the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance). Many advocates joined us. I focused my practice on assisting survivors and children who witnessed abuse, and joined the VADV (now Action Alliance) Training Institute to facilitate learning on violence and trauma, prevention and intervention.

I feel like I am always standing on the shoulders of mothers  – from Seneca Falls women in 1848 and Sojourner Truth in 1850 to Patricia Hein and others in 1983 who walked the halls of the General Assembly in flowered dresses and large hats (“To meet the legislators where they are.”). When I was asked to serve on the VADV Board, I did not think I could help since my self-esteem had been crushed in the two years I was married. I wanted to contribute, and was mentored and encouraged to do so. My work as a YWCA crisis counselor and at Samaritan House was invaluable: we listened to women and children. We mothered each other.

Our movement expanded with trainings by national experts such as Carole Warshaw. More of us learned how to lobby and build bridges with other advocates to get protective orders and other laws passed. I will never forget the day when hundreds of us attended the Senate committee hearing to add marital rape to sexual assault laws. The room filled with VADV and VAASA supporters wearing ultra-green-stickers: “Married Women Can Be Raped, too.” We brought the media with us. None of the committee members attacked the bill, and it became law. I know we made a powerful difference, and we continue to make a difference.

The social change I have observed in 68 years is remarkable: freedom to evolve past stereotyped gender roles, freedom to marry persons we love, and to establish norms based on equality for all. More profound is knowing the loving children and grandchildren we raised with values and prevention tools from our work. Looking back, it is a joy to be a role model and mentor.

(Dedicated to my late mother and my loving son, 30.)

Alice Twining is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, trainer and expert witness in the psychology of women and children, and trauma and its impact on survivors. She was a psychotherapist for 30 years, specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and battered women who are criminally charged. She has been on the faculty of the Action Alliance Training Institute since 1997, and is also a Lifetime Member of the Action Alliance. She was Program Director of the YWCA Domestic Violence Program of South Hampton Roads and Program Director at Samaritan House in Virginia Beach. Previously, she served for fourteen years on the VADV Board of Directors, and was President of the Board for four years. She is a painter, gardener and a jazz singer.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

Working Together to Empower the Survivor.

Years in the making, Governor Terry McAuliffe recently signed into law a layer of safety for those who seek relief from the fear, intimidation and threat of lethal violence. This measure will enable individuals and families to begin rebuilding their lives outside of abusive relationships without firearms looming in the background.


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, center, with survivor and advocate Lisette Johnson, and Del. Kathleen J. Murphy, D-Fairfax,, after signing her bill relating to removal of guns owned by persons who have a restraining order against them during a news conference at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Behind him are Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, and Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Picture credit: The Action Alliance


This is as a significant improvement in the protective order process; celebrated by and for those who advocate for and who are survivors of intimate partner violence. Empowered by measures beyond that of possessing a piece of paper, more women will seek and follow through to make their protective orders permanent now that the law gives it bones by requiring respondents to surrender firearms within 24 hours.Police now have the leverage to seek search warrants to find and seize guns of those who do not comply, and carries with it a Class 6 Felony charge with up to five years in prison.

As a survivor, after it is all said and done, I am brought back to the simple fact I just wanted a divorce. That is all. I did not want to speak out against domestic violence. I did not dream my life’s calling was helping women make tough decisions about their futures, their safety and that of their children. I never saw myself as an activist who would be a public voice, or represent those silenced by abuse and lethal violence.

I just wanted to move forward with my life and give my children a peaceful home.

In that simple statement is the heart of what every person leaving an abusive relationship wants; to leave without event and rebuild a life without violence. This legislation provides a needed protection and is the first step in letting survivors of abuse know they are not alone now that they have backup in the legal system, and that they can move from victim to survivor, with a much lower risk of being a statistic.


picture taken by the Action Alliance

The journey of a thousand miles has only just begun. There remains much work still to be done. We need funding for prevention and awareness. We must continue to look for new ways to keep families safe. When they are not safe, we need to have funding for adequate shelter, resources and support for survivors. Just for today, though, let us stop to rest and enjoy this victory.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness. You can read her first post on this issue published on January 25th here


Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  


Note from the Action Alliance: The Action Alliance is proud to stand with Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, as he signs historic bipartisan legislation that will increase safety for victims/survivors of ‪#‎domesticviolence‬ by prohibiting the possession of firearms for persons subject to “permanent” (max 2 year) Protective Orders.

The connection between guns and lethal domestic violence in Virginia is clear: over a 10 year period, firearms were used in more than half of all intimate partner homicides in Virginia.

We applaud the Governor’s willingness to reach across the aisle to enact common sense gun legislation to reduce lethal gun violence.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email

The Cost of Freedom

Lisette D. Johnson – Survivor

Every day the price for loving the wrong person is paid with lives. Once you know this, it is impossible to ignore the news. For every one woman killed, there are eight to nine who survive an attempt. Survivors share emotional scars that intertwine with the very fiber of who we are, who we’ve become, and who our children have become. It ripples into families and communities.

The price is high. Beyond the emotional toll there is another cost of freedom; the dollar price tag not calibrated by studies. It is increased health care costs for victims of IPV (intimate partner violence) which can extend as much as 15 years after an abusive relationship is exited. Compound the extraordinary costs of survival from gun violence and the profound associated residual physical challenges. I personally know women left paralyzed, blind, brain and neurologically impaired who will require lifelong intensive medical interventions, some lifelong caregivers.

Guns and abuse are proven to be far and away the most lethal combination; not knives, bats or hammers as naysayers insist. Bullets are quick, they’re clean and shooting can be accomplished from a distance.
The cost of my freedom continued long past the initial trauma surgery and hospital stay in ICU. It includes two subsequent surgeries, periodic cardiac monitoring, extensive psychotherapy for the children and me, at one point with five therapists between the three of us, plus hospitalizations for a suicidal child. Inching close to $200,000; some, but not all of which was covered by insurance, my bills are minimal as compared to the bills of others I know.

Nothing could have prepared me for the fallout from the shooting. Recovering from the physical injuries and my trauma while navigating the solo parenting of two traumatized children proved emotionally impossible when combined with running a business with employees. I closed a business I had owned for sixteen years within months.

Some days I wonder if I’ll be done paying for someone else’s choice to shoot me. Beyond the abuse, beyond the end, beyond my children’s suffering, beyond difficult days, I failed to take into account my recovery was going to plateau. I had no way of knowing that I would continue to struggle with focus and memory, and be continually exhausted. I expected to bounce back. I took for granted that I’d be on top of things again, be sharp, have the energy and mental acuity to go out and create a living like I enjoyed before it happened. I could not have imagined how I would struggle with simple things that are so every day you don’t even know you are doing them. Acknowledging that others have challenges far greater than mine does not negate my own.

I am eternally grateful to wake up every day to another sunrise. Even my worst day now is better than my best day in my marriage. Still, there is no denying the layers of damage when I add it all up.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

*Statistics: Jacquelyn Campbell PhD RN FAAN Anna D. Wolf Chair & Professor Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing Multi City Intimate Partner Femicide Study and CDC Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email