Katy Hutchison believes people need to “lean in” rather than pull away when harm is caused.
And that’s just what she did when an unspeakable tragedy struck her young family. Hutchison will share her story at a Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College Lecture in Nelson on November 23 in conjunction/partnership with Nelson Police Department Restorative Justice during International Restorative Justice Week.
On New Year’s Eve in 1997, Hutchison’s husband Bob was beaten to death while checking on a party being thrown in their neighbourhood in Squamish, British Columbia. No one came forward with information about the crime for four years and when Ryan Aldridge finally admitted his wrong doing, he and Hutchison found themselves face-to-face soon after his arrest.
Aldridge and Hutchison entered a healing journey together that involved forgiveness and restoration that led to them travelling together to share a message that alcohol and drug use, peer pressure and misguided choices can lead to devastation. They also illustrated the benefits of reconciliation over retaliation, compassion over condemnation.
Today, Aldridge is employed, happily married and a father thankful that Hutchison gave him the gift of understanding and forgiveness. And Hutchison continues sharing about the benefit of “taking part in repairing the harm,” its humanizing impact and how it builds on a sense of community and tends to the needs of the victim.
“A punitive system focuses solely on what law has been broken and what the punishment should be,” she says. “The victim and community that are affected are left standing in the dust without the opportunity to say ‘my needs haven’t been met.’”
Almost 20 years later, her advocacy continues. She’s published the best-selling book Walking After Midnight: A Journey through Murder, Justice and Forgiveness, is part of The Forgiveness Project, has over 100,000 views of her 2013 TEDx talk and garnered the attention of the Dalai Lama and Oprah. She describes her work as an accidental career sparked by a “rogue decision to swim against the current” made with her two young children and her heart’s intention in mind.
“I came careening into this place at the far end of the criminal justice system as a victim of violent crime. That’s where my work began,” she says. “But the more I worked at that end of the system, the more I realized what we really need to do is start at the beginning with our families and our schools. Until we educate a generation of young people to look for a restorative opportunity before they look for a punitive opportunity, we really aren’t going to achieve the changes we want in the justice system and the global way we deal with conflict and harm.”
Transformative Justice Program at Selkirk College Teaches Alternatives
Selkirk College offers a Transformative Justice Program that provides learners with an alternative prospective on wrong doing which emphasizes healing and working toward right relationships after harm has been done. Jennie Barron teaches Transformative Justice in the School of University Arts & Sciences.
“Moving away from a mindset of retribution, or vindictiveness, is a huge, huge shift. It’s not an easy one to make” says Barron. “The restorative approach that Katy adopted takes great courage and integrity. But it is not about being saintly or forgetting your pain or letting those who hurt you off the hook. It’s about inviting them to accept full responsibility and to help heal the harm they have caused. It’s about looking for ways to support all parties and strengthen the community so such things never happen again. When this is taught and modelled in schools, there is great potential for social transformation.”
Hutchison will be in Nelson for the entire week, a guest of both Selkirk College and Nelson Police Department Restorative Justice Program. She will be training with local restorative justice volunteers and appear in local schools. She has spoken to over 500,000 young people in more than 500 schools all over the world helping them understand social responsibility and emotional intention.
Hutchison remains close to the devastation of losing her husband so suddenly and violently every time she shares her message. The strength it takes to live the forgiveness she advocates for is mighty.
“Forgiveness isn’t a one-off. I have to revisit it constantly,” she says. “Life continues on, things happen, and it’s impossible for me not to think along the way how different it would have played out had Bob been here.”
Human Connection Gives Strength
As Hutchison’s work continues to evolve, she finds strength in human connection. She is now working with the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in in the northern communities of the Beaufort Delta in Canada’s high Arctic. Along with partner Shannon Moroney, they co-founded of Full Circle Facilitation & Consulting and bring their experiential workshop called The F Word: Exploring Forgiveness to on-the-land camp retreats and remote communities.
“We are working with people who have been impacted by residential schools and these people are hungry to forgive, to change the trajectory of their lives and their collective experience,” she says.
Hutchison looks forward to visiting Nelson, a place of familial roots. Her grandparents immigrated to the Grey Creek area where they became fruit farmers. Hutchison’s father, Leonard Hugh Clark was born here and her grandmother, Catherine Clark, wrote many children’s books in the 1950s including The Man with The Yellow Eyes which used real local place names. Both family members are featured in just released Tom’s Gray Creek Part II by East Shore legend Tom Lymbery.
The event will be held at the Civic Theatre at 719 Vernon Street in Nelson starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and are $16 for the public; $13 for seniors and students.