The Real Consequences of Justice NPR listener and social work professor Frederic Reamer finds his belief in justice tested every time he faces criminals and victims at parole board hearings in his home state of Rhode Island.
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The Real Consequences of Justice

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The Real Consequences of Justice

The Real Consequences of Justice

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a generation of young people...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply and sincerely.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of passing this knowledge...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Unidentified Man #4: All of these add up to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

Unidentified Man #5: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.


On Mondays in recent weeks, we've been bringing you our revival of the 1950's radio series, "This I Believe." We've also been inviting you to contribute via our Web site, Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON (Series Curator): We began our series with the idea that many of the essays would come from you, and today we have the first of these. For many people, personal belief is a personal matter. Not so Frederic Reamer. Reamer works within a system that might make some cynical, but he still believes in it, and his belief is important because it has a direct impact on the lives of others. Here's Frederic Reamer of Rhode Island with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. FREDERIC REAMER: Last Tuesday morning, I stared across the table at a woman with severe scars lining her otherwise gentle face. Her raging husband carved those scars and sliced off her ear when she told him she wanted a divorce. I'm a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board. Month after month, 13 years' worth of months, I've met with criminals and victims. Immediately before my colleagues and I conduct parole hearings for the criminals, we meet with their victims if they wish to tell us their stories.

Every time I walk into those hearing rooms, I retest my belief in justice. I do my best to balance my concern for public safety and my faith that some offenders truly have the ability to redeem themselves. And I can't ignore my wish to punish those criminals who willfully ruined another person's life. On hearing days, nearly always, the victims plead with us to keep the prisoner behind bars. All morning long, I hear their gut-wrenching stories of murder, rape, child molestation, armed robbery and domestic violence.

The victims return to their lives, which are often in shambles, and hours later, I find myself face to face with the perpetrators. I settle in to hear what the prisoners have to say. Often their stories are filled with regret, with hope and lots of promises. These back-to-back encounters force me to confront what I really believe about people's fundamental rights.

I'm proud to be part of a system like ours, as imperfect as it is. The system does most of its work in the open and takes seriously the rights of both victims and the accused. But the truth is, I struggle to balance these clanging, colliding rights. Only an hour after meeting with the woman with jagged scars on her face, I met with her offender. In his khaki inmate uniform, this monster explained with impressive insight, and remorse, how he had mishandled his failing marriage. The inmate showed me, with heartfelt words, the fruits of his hard emotional labor while in prison, what he had learned in treatment programs and from his own soul-searching. All of a sudden, he didn't seem quite so monstrous.

So how do I administer justice? I believe that justice can't be shaped by simplistic formulas. Rather, justice happens when real human beings sort through a jumble of laws, rules, conflicting stories and plain old instinct. Sitting there in front of me that morning was what justice is all about. The victim heaved and sobbed, fearing the prisoner's release. But both of us knew that the inmate would walk out of that prison someday. After all, the judge did not impose a life sentence. The question I had to answer was whether he would walk out the front gate on my watch.

Administering justice is not theoretical. There are real consequences every time I answer the question, `What do I believe?'

ALLISON: Frederic Reamer of the Rhode Island Parole Board, reading his essay for This I Believe. Reamer sent us his essay through our Web site and we encourage you to do the same, to sum up your personal belief in three minutes at You can also find essays from others who took on the task, both in the 1950s and in the last few weeks.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: Next Monday on "All Things Considered," we'll bring you another letter from a listener, Sarah Adams in Seattle. She frames her beliefs within what she calls the four principles of kindness to the pizza delivery dude.

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