Van Jones, a civil rights leader focused on prison reformation among other things, explains in his first episode the focus of the show. “The Redemption Project” is one of the first documented shows about restorative justice, a rehabilitation program that attempts to bring peace to both the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. The family of a victim has been wronged. In the cases of “The Redemption Project”, these are family members of homicide victims. Often, they have questions. “Why was my family member taken?” “What don’t I know about how this whole thing went down?” Sometimes, these are people who are just hurting who need to talk to someone who needs to hear the message.
The other end of dialogue is with the criminal. In “The Redemption Project,” the convicts have been in prison for some time. They are harboring guilt. They have thought about their crimes. They see the wrong that they have done, and they need to apologize. Rather than making a reality or documentary show about two diametrically opposed forces ready to duke it out, “The Redemption Project” focuses on resolving pain in a responsible and wholesome way.
My wife cried watching the second episode. She was busy with her to-do list and only caught glimpses of what I was watching in the background. But I noticed her turning more and more to the television. She would pause and focus on what was going on in my show. She stopped her to-do list and sat down. Within fifteen minutes, she was sobbing.
The biggest takeaway I had from the show is that there never really is a moment where any member of the crew was shooting for an outburst. Each episode starts with Van Jones as host introducing the different parties. He talks to each player in these stories with empathy and conviction. For the victim, he speaks as a peer. He doesn’t aim for tears, although often those tears come. He allows the families to tell their own stories. But he also does something that, as Catholics, we are called to do as well.
He talks to criminals like they are his equals.
Without letting them off the hook for their crimes, he hears their whole stories. In some of the cases, the story is far more in-depth than others. In a few of the episodes, we hear about childhoods. In others, we hear a far more complex web of events that lead to the day of the crime. But Van Jones and his team focus on the restoration process. Those events that led up to the crime, that’s what makes them human. But the focus of restorative justice is taking responsibility for actions.