Locking up the wounder and letting the wounded make a victim impact statement doesn’t treat the trauma.

Agnes Furey and I created Achieve Higher Ground (AHG) to respond to the untreated trauma we saw in people hurt by crime. AHG has come to understand that society gets no real benefit from demonizing people who break the law. While that serves the interest of those who profit financially off of their incarceration, it is an unwise approach to the problem of criminality and undermines the interest of the community.

Our vision is to create spaces where people who’ve been traumatized by crime can heal. We’ve identified people in prison as a class of severely traumatized people. Their unaddressed, unhealed trauma will lead them to commit more crimes and traumatize more people. We cannot continue to ignore their need to heal because of our collective anger at them. Not if we want to solve the problem of violence and crime in America.

Personal experience has taught us that the criminal justice system in Florida doesn’t do much to address the problem. Locking up the wounder and letting the wounded make a victim impact statement doesn’t treat the trauma. In fact, we began to see that the system is invested in deepening that trauma when we were attacked again and again for daring to argue that there was another way to deal with crime beyond a single-minded focus on retribution.

We decided that the private sector rather than the government was best equipped to provide services that focused on helping to resolve the trauma we saw in the people we encountered in our work.

We began by starting the Achieve Higher Ground Facebook page to provide a space for people to connect on these issues. We then began offering individual counseling and support groups for the wounded and wounders. We also started Restorative Justice centered programs in prisons. Our challenge to the status quo was eventually deemed to be a threat by prison guards. So they destroyed our programs in prisons. Afterward, we decided to end active participation with the systems of oppression that profited from cyclical trauma and focus on treating individual prisoners.

So, we’ve started donating The Manual: Holistic Justice and the Path to Higher Ground to prisoners and are planning to open AHGNES’ House, a reentry house located in Tallahassee that will address the trauma of formerly incarcerated people and assist them in successfully returning to society.

Smart justice demands we treat these folks like human beings and tend to the trauma that led them to harm people. It is the only way to break the cycle that creates victims and destroys communities.