Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP) is a community based organization that focuses on changing people’s lives by facilitating restorative justice processes for the victims and offenders of crimes which occur in Longmont. As the volunteer coordinator, the following story came across an employee’s desk. These cases are often referred by Longmont Police Officers who recognize that the typical legal route may not offer the best solution to the offender, the victim, and the community they live in.

I recently received an e-mail from Samantha, a young woman who was looking for the name of the referring officer in her case which occurred about 6 years ago because she wanted to thank him for what he had done. I wrote back and let her know that I would try to find out and would get back to her. After few days of legwork, Amy Stenson, the LCJP program manager contacted me with the name of the officer, John Winship. He is still with the Longmont Police department and it was no problem to pass on his name and number to the woman. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to know what experience prompted Samantha to get back in touch with the officer after so many years. She was happy to share her story and with her permission I am sharing it with you.

I was in a pretty bad place when it happened. I had just had my first daughter about 5 months prior, and her father was away at Navy boot camp. I am not proud of it, but I was still partying pretty hard at that time. I missed my husband and I was dealing with the stress of being a new mom. I had just been at a party and I was on my way home and got turned around. I was too drunk to realize where I was, and I turned into a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood going way to fast. I didn’t come out of the turn fast enough and ran straight into a new Mercedes Benz sedan. I was in a small Honda Civic and my car was pretty much destroyed. The glass in the windshield of my car had been shattered in the accident. I must have hit my head on the windshield and passed out when it happened because I woke up disoriented and covered in my own blood. I got out of the car and started wandering, looking for help. There was a grocery store nearby, and I found myself in the middle of the store, lost, drunk, and covered in my own blood. I later on found out that I had wondered across a busy highway, and that I was lucky that I wasn’t hit by a car. The store manager found me and called the police. Officer John Winship arrived at the store, although I don’t remember that first meeting with him.

Two days later I was at home in the evening feeding my daughter, Annie, when I heard a knock at the front door. I went to answer it and found myself face to face with Officer Winship. As I said, I didn’t remember our first meeting, but I invited him in.

We sat down at the kitchen table, and he began to tell me the story of what happened that night. He then pulled out a recorder and played me the recording of my own voice on that night as I answered questions about what had happened. He explained that if I hadn’t told the truth the outcome could have been much worse.

He also explained that he had come there that night to arrest me for a felony, but that if he did that, it would be very difficult for me to go to get into college. Annie, although young, was present as he explained this. He then explained what he knew about the Restorative Justice program, and then went on to ask me if I would be willing to participate in the process. He actually was not familiar with all of the details in referring a case, and had to call another officer to make sure we did it correctly.

The deal was that if I chose to go through the Restorative Justice process and completed the items in the contract on time, my actions would not go on a criminal record, and I would have a chance to go to school. I took the opportunity that Officer Winship presented that day, and my life has totally changed because of it.

Part of the restorative justice process requires that both the victim and the offender in a case have a support person present during the process. I asked my Mom to be my support person, and she accepted. During the process, each person is asked to share how the actions of the offender impacted them. I expressed that I felt ashamed and embarrassed, as well as lucky to be alive. My mom shared that she felt ashamed and that it was difficult to trust me anymore. There were members of the community there who talked about how unsafe it feels to live in a place where this type of drunk driving accident can occur. I worked with everyone in the group to come up with a list of contract items I could complete that would help repair harms to everyone impacted by my actions, including myself. Some of the actions included cooking, cleaning, and community service.

Of all of the people involved, I was the luckiest, because as a result of the process and listening to how my actions had impacted the lives of others, I realized that I had hit rock bottom. I got help and completely stopped drinking. Later on I went on to enroll in nursing school. It has been six year, and next year I will graduate with a nursing degree. I plan to practice in the Denver area.

I just want to thank officer Winship and let him know that this was a life changing experience, and to let him know his choice that day changed my life. To anyone who is lucky enough to be referred to the Restorative Justice program because of their actions take the opportunity. You get a second chance to realize what you have done. After you turn 18, you don’t always get chances like this. Longmont Community Justice Partnership is an amazing program. I am clean and sober, finishing nursing school, and own my own home. If I didn't do the LCJP program those wouldn't have happened.

Because of the confidential nature of these processes, we don’t always get a chance to share about their positive impact. These kinds of stories occur every week as a result of the restorative justice process. In this case, a good officer saw something more in Samantha and referred her to the program. Samantha took the opportunity and it has changed her life for the better. The restorative justice process included trained volunteer facilitators and community members from the Longmont area and clearly addressed the impact of Samantha’s actions on the community. www.lcjp.org