Margot Van Sluytman: Restorative Justice is Poetic Justice
Date:  07-24-2015

He murdered her father but justice for a poet came in an unexpected way
Recently Reentry Central received an email complimenting Managing Editor Beatrice Codianni on a blog she wrote for Ms. Magazine. The email, from Margot Van Sluytman, mentioned that she met, and shares healing with, the person who murdered her father. Both she and the man, Glenn Flett, speak to groups about restorative justice. Intrigued, Reentry Central asked Van Sluytman if she would share her story with our subscribers. Her words follow.

Restorative Justice is Poetic Justice By Margot Van Sluytman

The murder of my Dad, Theodore Van Sluytman, on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978, was my own death. At the age of sixteen when pimples and boys and sports were once my interest, how to wake to a new day, if to wake to a new day, became my focus. One solace and one solace alone, compelled me to wake. That solace was poetry. I not only read it, but I wrote my own. I bled my anguish upon many a blank page. My tears spilled, my silent screaming found voice. As the years unfurled, opened up, opened out, and my pain dulled, betimes eased, I recognized how vital words had become to the very essence of how I both found and created meaning. I created courses about writing and healing, and wrote books about this as well. The first book entitled, Dance With Your Healing: Tears Let Me Begin to Speak, is the book that changed my life in almost equal measure as my Dad’s murder.

The man, Glen Flett, who put the bullet in my Dad’s heart, emailed me because he read about third book, and about my work with what I term “poetic justice.” That email came to me almost thirty years to the day that my Dad and Glen shared that poignant and life-altering encounter. Three men had decided to rob an armored car that was collecting money from the store at which my Dad worked in Toronto, Ontario. My Dad was at work on his day-off. The robbery went terribly wrong. Murder was not part of the plan, but it happened. My Dad and Glen encountered each other. My Dad’s last words, “Give it up son, it’s not worth it,” would see him wear a bullet in his back from Glen’s partner, all of nineteen years of age, and then a bullet from Glen, twenty-six at that time. My Dad was forty, an immigrant to Canada, from Guyana, South America, with my Mom, my two sisters, my brother, and I.

When I received that email from Glen that May morning in 2007, not only did sobbing and tears shake my body. My soul and the intellect of my heart knew in one poignant and pressing moment that we would have to meet. And meet we did. After each of us did our due diligence, we met in British Columbia, Canada. We met in an informal, but enriching act of what some term: restorative justice. Eyes to eye, heart to heart, we embraced, we cried, we talked. We shared in the vital values of restorative justice: respect, responsibility, and relationship. Glen and I use the word: Sawbonna, for our encounter. Sawbonna means, “I see you.” I see your very humanity, your vulnerability, your fears, your anger, anguish, pain. I see you. You see me. This is poetic justice. This is a justice that works for, teaches about, creates a society where justice is a lived and living experience and expression of never being satisfied by an us versus them manner of living – no matter the crime we have committed, no matter the crime committed against us. We are us with us.

Glen and I give talks together and separately in prisons and in community. A scant two years after we me, I did something I never dreamt I could or would do. I began graduate studies, which culminated in a thesis entitled, Sawbonna: Justice as a Lived Experience. In researching and writing about Sawbonna, a sibling of restorative justice, I was able to learn much about how and why words matter; how and why our voices matter. Affirming what I already knew that it makes no difference the prison in which we find ourselves. Our voices matter because we are the very essence of the changes we want and need in how it is we treat each other, daily. Poetic justice bonds us to the values of: respect, responsibility, relationship, and a fourth and vital value: wonder. And wonder means we continue to hear each other, care with and for each other. This is the essence of restorative justice. This is Sawbonna.

Margot Van Sluytman is an award-winning poet, justice advocate, and therapeutic writing teacher. Her talks and workshops are shared around the globe. Her published books include: Sawbonna: A Real Life Restorative Justice Story; The Other Inmate: Poetry and Workbook for Restorative Practices; and, Dance With Your Healing. Margot works with inmates and victims, applying the techniques of Therapeutic. She believes that the personal, the public, and the political are symbiotic siblings. For more information or to purchase books by Margot Van Slutyman, please click here.

Master's Thesis: Sawbonna: Justice as Lived Experience