“It’s hard for you, too,” she says.
At the end, Katherine hands David a copy of a scrapbook she’s made about her mother’s life. It’s his to keep. And then she tells the man who killed her mother that if he gets out of prison, she’ll be there for moral support: “I want to be there for you.” The two then get up from the table and exchange a long hug. It’s an unexpected part of the script. On tape, Wilson leans back in his chair, both hands atop his head. He looks relieved. He looks triumphant. So does Katherine.
Today Wilson watches the screen with the same amazement he felt when he saw the scene play out live in April 2001. He stops the tape. “She looks different, doesn’t she?” he says. “It’s all about having been heard by him–getting a chance to say to him, ‘You took my mother away from me; you took God away from me.’ That’s what happens when you get a chance to do that. That’s what makes me do what I do.”
Part of that includes telling others about his work. Take this afternoon, a late winter day at the University of Maine at Orono. After a storm, a foot of fresh snow plays beautifully against the blue sky. Wilson is here to speak to about 20 undergraduates. Being on the road is a regular thing for him these days, driving around New England, ducking in and out of airports in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas, where he regularly leads VOD sessions. Currently he’s working on five cases, plus training sessions in Kansas and Louisiana.
Wilson likes being in the classroom. Today’s group, a “peace studies” class of freshmen and sophomores, trickles into a second-floor classroom just before 2:00. Several are clicking away on laptops as Wilson and the professor wheel a TV into the room, to little notice. Finally, one woman, a blonde with square glasses and wearing a pink, polka-dotted UMaine sweatshirt, looks up and sees the set. “So, we’re watching a movie, right?” she asks. “Well, how soon are we watching it? Because if it’s not too soon, I’d like to open the blinds. I’m really, really sleepy, and this is the longest day of the week for me.”
“We’ll be watching it soon,” the professor replies. “But if you need to splash your face with cold water, go ahead.”
Following the professor’s introduction, Wilson steps to the head of the class. He remains standing as he tells his story, how he started doing restorative-justice work. He’s a casual speaker; he clutches his chest whenever he begins to talk about a survivor he’s worked with. As he talks, the students pay closer attention.
Wilson slips off his blue blazer and takes questions from the group. Has he ever worked with gangs? (No.) How come the victim doesn’t just rant and rave? “If they do, the offender will just shut down,” he explains. “It’s not that he doesn’t deserve it, but he can’t deal with it, so my job is to help the survivor deflect the anger.” Could he do that himself? “I have no idea,” he says. “I might still want to kill him. I might feel like I would go crazy in that room. It’s a beautiful process to watch, but I don’t know if I’d be capable of doing it.”
Wilson slips a DVD into the TV. It’s a clip from a news program detailing a VOD session, led by David Doerfler, between Paula Kurland, a Texas woman whose daughter was brutally murdered during a home invasion, and the daughter’s killer, Jonathan Nobles. The meeting had taken place just two weeks before the offender’s execution.
It’s hard to watch. The cameras track Kurland’s back-and-forth on whether she can meet with Nobles; her family’s reluctance to support her; and then the meeting itself. As the tape plays, some students wince; more than a few wipe away tears. When it concludes, Wilson steps back in front of the class, where the students sort out their emotions.
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