March 2018 | By Brittany Tayloe
It was a beautiful morning beside the Nile River in Jinja. It was an overcast morning but men in matching yellow jumpsuits and women in matching yellow skirts and shirts showed bright against the vibrant green grass. Heavily armed but relaxed and friendly guards stood by watching the various activities—farming, walking, sitting, and arranging tables and chairs.
That day, I would see the eyes of a man who raped a 12-year old girl. I would talk to a man about whether he knew he had HIV when he infected and impregnated an underage girl. I found myself thankful for the fact that the relationship was at least consensual. The second day of the project I would hear, “Thank you mama,” from a young man who was part of a lynching mob that stoned and cut a man to death for stealing a cow.
At any given moment, I didn’t find it difficult to complete our task. Assisting in training and negotiating with the prosecutors was hugely interesting and impactful for me. I did find out something about myself. Although other team members had some cases that deserved sympathy—where a prisoner was on remand for longer than what their actual sentence would be or where the sentence was clearly too high, my team received no such cases. It got me thinking how compassion is driving others, but what is driving me?
After some digging, I found that I enjoyed stretching myself, considering humanity at its worst and still showing love through action. I also found that systemic justice was important to me. Regardless of the judgments in my heart, I was able to see the importance of our work overall. Not only would the judge’s trial docket be shortened by our work, but we also facilitated a redemptive process. This process is only for those who accept that they are guilty—that what they did was wrong. I was a witness to people accepting their own depravity, seeking an end to their suffering and hope for their futures. Regardless of my own opinions, judgments, beliefs, or capacity for compassion for these individuals, I was blessed by this overall experience and the ability to contribute to something imperative to the development of a redemptive justice system.