In Detroit today, we had the first brainstorm session for The Atonement Project with an amazing team of advocates and academics who are all committed to facilitating the process of healing post-incarceration.
Mothers of Murdered Children is a Detroit-based organization that hosts regular, confidential, self-help groups for women who have lost a child to murder. It was founded by Andrea Perkins, whose unarmed son was maced and repeatedly shot by a security guard at a night club while taking photographs at a party gone awry. Her friend and colleague Bernice lost both her sons on the streets. The justice system’s oversimplified “find the bad guy, lock ’em up” fix doesn’t offer them a solution to the overwhelming grief and senselessness they both continue to experience over the loss of their children. Bernice lost her 18-year old son to one of his best friends, who used to come over to her house all the time. When asked why he killed her son, he said it was because he was too playful. A satisfactory answer? Not really.
Lots of complex unreconciled emotions swirl around in the hearts of those who grieve–wonder (why did my son die?); guilt (I should have done more); denial (my son can do no wrong); and even protectiveness (no matter what I will not throw my son under the bus).
Shaka gave birth to the idea of The Atonement Project because once upon a time, he was the guy who murdered a mother’s son. And while he was in prison serving his 19 year sentence, he had the opportunity for dialogue with his victim’s family, which helped him accept, own, and ultimately atone for his crime.
“Atonement,” Shaka says, “is taking an action that’s reflective of your apology. It’s being at one with your decisions and with those you victimize.”
Over the next few months the Media Lab will be working with Shaka, Bernice, and Andrea to identify the types of conversations and technologies we can use to facilitate dialogues of atonement.