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This victim chooses forgiveness

The Union StaffKaiser

Cheryl Ward-Kaiser considers her current battle with three forms of cancer secondary to her war for victims’ rights.

On June 14, 1991, five young people invaded her Monterey County home, murdered her husband and raped her daughter with a shotgun.

“It wasn’t any fun and the system wasn’t any more fun,” Ward-Kaiser said. “I was kept in the hallway during the trials” by defense attorneys “because they felt I was too strong of a victim,” who might too easily sway juries to convictions.

But during recesses, she would enter the courtroom or find the offenders because “I knew they needed to see my face and be accountable to my face.”

Some years after the convictions, Ward-Kaiser learned of the restorative justice concept Lisa Rea hopes to get the state of California and the Catholic Church to embrace.

“We’ve implemented it here in Monterey County,” she said. “We have a commission of restorative justice” that brings offenders and victims together for forgiveness and accountability.

“We do it with first-time offenders, and their recidivism rate is low,” Ward-Kaiser said.

The commission wants to make youthful offenders accountable early on, before a life of crime evolves, Ward-Kaiser said.

She learned the four young men and women who sullied her home and sensibilities “had already done 17 home-invasion robberies. They wanted power over the family” because of their bad upbringings.

“They couldn’t hurt their dads, so they hurt other dads.”

As a Christian, “I had to forgive them. I had to choose not to hate,” particularly the one young man who pleaded guilty and apologized to her. She sat down with him, and that’s when restorative justice stepped in.

She told him to keep his nose clean, and that she would help him on the outside when he completed his prison term. “It was one of the best two hours of my life. I told him, ‘you’re going to have to hear what we’ve been through.'”

Restorative justice is “about making them accountable. It’s not the state of California versus them, it’s us,” Ward-Kaiser said of victims in general, herself, her daughter who survived the rape and another daughter who wasn’t home but still was deeply affected.

“We have to be first. We are part of equation, all the way through the system.”