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Tad Lewis

Ted Lewis works in Victim/Offender reconciliation.

Interviewed by Sophie Aust May 2015

I work in restorative justice. In the past I’ve worked as a mediator, a program manager, and right now I work as a trainer, so I train other people to lead mediation. I help people work out their disputes. Probably about 3/4 of all the cases I’ve worked have been juvenile offenders, and then maybe one fourth have been adult offenders. I work with groups too, groups that have disputes. I teach groups about how to litigate in the workplace. I’ve probably worked with about five churches. Churches can get really complicated because you have this tangled web, these years and years of hidden tension that you have to unpack and work through. I’ve overseen about 1,000 cases, and personally worked around 400. We begin with talking to the offender and the victim separately. The offender in one room, the victim in the other. I have had times when one person really did not want to talk to the other, and that’s more difficult of course, but not impossible.

For example, I once worked a case where a drunk driver killed a 22-year-old boy, and the boy’s father wanted to forgive him. It took real courage to do that, on both sides. It took six months of preparing them separately before they could talk face to face. When they did they just spent four hours talking to each other in the prison, connecting, both crying a lot. And then in the end they both left with this enormous burden lifted.

Peace isn’t just the lack of physical violence. Peace is harmony in relationships, relational restoration. When there is no peace people build this wall up around themselves. I call that impact. Look at the word impact, it has the Latin word for peace, pac, right in there, im-pac.

I don’t think forgiveness has to be a two-sided thing. A victim can forgive without the permission or the participation of the offender, but it is more difficult. Forgiveness is all about moving forward. A good example of this from the bible is the story of Hagar. Hagar is rejected, abandoned, and told that she can’t belong. She falls out of the community. But God goes out there and gives her inner peace, so she can face the future again. Forgiveness and peace is all about moving forward.

The world isn’t peaceful because there aren’t enough good models of peace. Not for children, but not even for adults, either. We think that the things we say or do on the micro level won’t affect people, but it does. It leads people to do bigger forms of violence.

Forgiveness is really about trust. It’s not easy to do. It has to be earned, by validation and listening to the other person’s story.

People have this unresolved pain inside, and in order to forgive and to accept forgiveness you have to resolve that pain. Most offenders were once victims. When we get together the victim and the perpetrator, we do this thing called unburdening of the past. Forgiveness is unburdening of the past. And when they leave there’s this relief, they look visibly lighter, unburdened.

You can’t really choose to forgive. I guess it all depends on how you define forgiveness. There are two different types of forgiveness that we use in restorative justice. There’s emotional forgiveness and then there’s decisional forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is when a person decides to forgive, but emotional forgiveness, forgiveness from the heart, that can take years. It all depends on the person and the situation. Take for example the murders that took place in the Amish community. In Amish culture they are trained to forgive, and they could forgive from the heart very easily, because they had had practice. In our culture we don’t have that practice.

It’s also hard to choose to feel sorry for what you did. There are three steps for the perpetrator to resolve the issue: regret, remorse, and then, finally, reparation. That also takes training. When you’re working with kids younger than nine or ten, it’s important to teach them to say that they’re sorry, even if they don’t really mean it from their hearts. Once they get to be nine or ten, that’s when they start really feeling empathy.

Forgiveness is all about empathy. Empathy leads to respect. You need empathy to forgive, and dialogue is necessary for empathy. You need to know why a person feels the way they do. A lot of my job is just facilitating dialogue.

I don’t think you need to be a Christian to find peace. There are some real touchstones between the bible and the study of peacemaking, though. The other day I was teaching a group of Christian lawyers and I asked how God solves problems and disputes. In the Bible, God is always invitational, He’s never coercive.

Look at the word atonement, it is literally at-one-ment. It happens between people, when two people are like one, when they bridge that gap and know each other, they can hear each other’s stories and understand. At Onement.


Recommended links:

Forgiveness film done by my supervisor:

Case narrative by me:

My website: has some biblical content re: conflict resolution issues