Compassion, forgiveness and hope in a memoir

In Memoir by Lea

Scales of Justice.

Memoirs are written for many, many reasons. One of them is to find understanding and figure out how to forgive. I’m reading Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney and she’s doing just that in her book. Shannon, a woman from Ontario, married a man who went on to commit despicable crimes. The crimes had nothing to do with Shannon but being associated with him, the public found her guilty, too.

Her memoir follows her through the process of dealing with a man she has known and loved as a husband, and a man who has kidnapped and sexually assaulted two women in 2005. Her husband and the violent criminal are the same person, Jason. How does she reconcile this?

When Shannon first met Jason Staples, he was on parole after serving time for second-degree murder. However, Shannon believed in second chances and had seen how kind, thoughtful and generous Jason was with the people around him. She discovered his childhood was brutal, suffering abandonment by his parents and adoptive mother and being sexually abused, among other issues. Shannon thinks that after spending 10 years behind bars; Jason has worked through his challenges. It was all in the past and Jason posed no threat to her or anyone else. She was wrong.

On Nov. 7, 2005, while working in a shop in Peterborough, Jason unleashed his sexual fury on two women. He took them to the home he shared with Shannon while she was away. He kept the women in the basement for several hours before calling 9-1-1 and confessing to his crimes. Shannon was floored when she heard the news from police, delivered to her Toronto hotel door while she was at a conference. She asked herself why hadn’t she known that Jason was still a dangerous man.

While Jason was going through the justice system, Shannon was also convicted by family and friends and people who thought she should have known Jason was dangerous. She called this the “ripple effect of crime.”  She lost her job and was filled with regret and anger over Jason’s actions. However, her questions for Jason weren’t answered because he was locked away in prison. This was when she was forced to take on the justice system and started looking at offenders in a completely different way, the restorative justice way.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is defined as a response to crime that focuses on restoring the losses suffered by victims, holding offenders accountable for the harm they have caused, and building peace within communities. It’s certainly not a cut and dried philosophy, it’s complicated – complicated by emotions and thoughts and opinions and by the fact we’re human and not one approach works for everyone.

Eventually, Shannon was allowed to see Jason. She confronted him about his crimes and how they deeply marked many, many people. Through further visits with the criminal, a human emerges as Jason takes responsibility for his terrible acts. It helps Shannon realize that while prisons protect us from prisoners, they also protect prisoners. The people who are locked up are safe from facing those who have suffered loss and unbearable heartbreak. It’s not right. Instead, offenders should be held accountable to their victims as well as the offender’s own families. Prisoners also need to address the root causes of their crimes and get the proper help.

Shannon found a path to healing via confrontation and communication and thinks RJ is society’s way forward. Restorative justice gave her the opportunity to escape a lifetime of being dragged down into the mire with Jason. She thinks the RJ experience is a lot healthier than holding on to anger and wanting retribution. Restorative justice is a way to discover compassion, forgiveness and hope while going through incredible moments of grief, anger and shame. Shannon is asking that the Canadian justice system prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and compassion over dehumanization.

Jason Staples was convicted on a total of 10 counts relating to his abduction and assault of the women. In 2008, he was declared a dangerous offender. In 2013, he was ordered to pay his two victims more than $1.8 million CAD.

I am in awe of how Shannon opened up about her journey in her memoir. Her writing is emotional and, at times, raw with regret and rage. I can feel the love she had, and still has, for the man she once called husband. She gives us several examples from her experiences with the punitive system that back up the restorative justice approach. I’m not sure if I fully believe restorative justice will work for everyone just by reading her book. But she gave me a lot to think about.