You were supposed to give me salvation

A Reading Note

Ejeris Dixon captures one of the the many challenges with transformative justice practices:

I was helping a friend think through a really challenging transformative justice (TJ) process, and we were talking about how best to support the survivor. The survivor felt betrayed by their support team because they had desired a goal for the process that involved permanently excluding the person who caused harm from a space without giving this person a pathway for reentering the space. The support team was trying to name their own boundaries, name their politics around the goals that they wouldn’t pursue, and negotiate an alternative. This process angered the survivor, and they were directing their fury at my friend. Their anger was personal and cruel. There is a way that survivors navigating recent trauma can process boundaries as rejection. And when this happens, I’ve witnessed and experienced survivors raising their voices, yelling, seemingly directing the entirety of their pain at the support team. When this has happened to me, I’ve felt it was impossible to know what piece of this pain I was supposed to hold. And the guilt and self-loathing that this experience can trigger or unearth can feel unbearable.

Through talking with my friend I began to think about the intensity of the rage TJ practitioners hold when the process doesn’t go exactly how a survivor expects. And the anger and hatred is not just directed at TJ practitioners, but at TJ as a practice itself. There’s a piece of capitalism in it. It feels like a terrible purchase. “I purchased a process, and you were supposed to give me salvation. This is not salvation. I hate you and I curse you and all your generations.” I’m not blaming survivors or support teams at all. It’s just that we can’t return people to their lives before trauma, or before violence, and that realization can feel devastating.

Dixon & Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Beyond Survival, page 205

Dixon is addressing how to handle the stress and challenges of doing TJ work, but I will note something else here. Many of the criticisms I’ve seen lobbed at TJ practices function similarly: either TJ needs to prove that it is a perfect alternative to the prison industrial complex, or else it must be discarded as unworkable. It’s as if someone were saying, “This process cannot guarantee justice, therefore it is illegitimate to consider it as an alternative to the present system in which lynching is commonplace.” It smacks of bad faith.

Everything I’ve read about transformative justice demonstrates that it is a messy, complicated process. But it is a process that reaches for recovery and safety and love, while the prison industrial complex reaches only for death. I’ll take a messy, complicated process that strives for life over the opposite any day.

Related books

Beyond Survival

Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Featuring essays and interviews from grassroots activists and practitioners of transformative justice, this collection offers clear, practical, and brave advice about how to respond to violence and crises in your community.