Wilson-Hartgrove, with her husband, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove D’06, founded Rutba House, an intentional Christian community in Durham’s predominantly black Walltown neighborhood. They have welcomed into their community a teenager whose father murdered the teen’s mother when he was a small child.
“I see this work as an extension of my life as a member of the Rutba House and St. John’s Baptist Church in Walltown,” she says. This teen’s experience “taught me the importance of having one’s grief recognized, and shared, in order to begin the healing process.”
According to Tina and others, the work of CRJP is making a positive difference.
Tina had not visited her brother for three years after he was sent to Central Prison for the death of their parents. She was confused and upset. Then she heard from Sarah Anthony, a member of CRJP’s board, and met Reynolds and Wilson-Hartgrove.
“They were a little surprised that I wasn’t angry—I guess they’re never sure how they’ll be received—and I told them they really could help me,” says Tina. “I felt that the whole thing was so much bigger than me.”
She found comfort, she says, in hearing that her visits to her brother on death row made him “feel loved for the first time in his life. My whole mission became to make sure he had peace in his heart the night he was executed. What started out in anger and hatred had to end in love.”
It’s a misconception that you will feel better if the person responsible for the death of your loved one is removed from the earth, she says. “See, it’s the trickle-down effect—the pain doesn’t stop with just one person. You can sit on couches in homes that are mansions and homes in the ghetto and hear the same thing. This thing has no socioeconomic barriers. It affects us all and we can connect through these healing circles.”
Ann, a 62-year-old woman whose brother was executed a little more than a year ago, lives with the pain on a day-to-day basis. “He’s gone, but I’m still here, hurting and trying to make sense of it all,” she says. “My family said I wasn’t strong enough to sit in there and witness his death, but I told them I could handle it. I couldn’t let him do it alone.”
Tina felt the same way. “You know,” she says, “we think we get power from money or high positions in society, but we don’t even use the biggest power we all have. In forgiveness, we have the final victory.”
For more information on the Capital Restorative Justice Project, contact Reynolds or Wilson-Hartgrove at (919) 801-1781, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Web site at www.capitalrestorativejustice.org.
Debbie Selinsky is a freelance writer living in Durham.