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“Dead man walking” is an expression often used by a police officer when accompanying a criminal walking towards his death. How can a dead man walk? This is a contradicting sentence that makes no sense. It dehumanizes the person walking and lets the person know that is going to die for the infraction committed. This is one of the last sentences Matthew Poncelot in the movie “Dead Man Walking” heard. Ironically, the last sentence Matthew said was “I love you”. How was he able to express love in such a “culture of death”, surrounded by people that hated him and wanted him to die? This was part of Sister Helen’s job, to build a culture of life in Matthew and use restorative justice instead of retributive justice to make him grow as a person before his death. For Matthew being fully alive meant having what he wanted and doing what he wanted, even if his actions affected someone else.
He was racists and thought that black people were less worthy of living; this is a perfect example of a “culture of death”. But he was taught a lesson, after he killed two people and was sentenced to the death row; he met the person that would bring a “culture of life” to his life before his death. A “culture of life” is reflecting the image of God within us by imitating the perfect image of Jesus Christ, in loving God and one another. Sister Helen brought this culture and love to Matthew by loving him when everyone hated him. She applied retributive justice which focuses on restoring the good that has been harmed by criminal activity for the victims, the community, and the offender too, when he was been judged by the government with restorative justice which is the approach to criminal justice, in which the emphasis is on hurting the offender.
At the end, her work paid off because Matthew apologized to Mr. Delacroix, the father of the person he killed and reconciliation was eventually reached. The concept culture of life and death makes me think a lot and I have realized that the world, in general, lives constantly in a culture of death. The media and society tells us that we will be happy when we have what we want. It implies that people that look in a certain way will be happier. It makes me feel frustrated and sad because it is very shallow to think that money can buy happiness. In my opinion happiness is a combination of love, hope, gratefulness and patience. I also realized that culture of death is linked with restorative justice; it brings death to the offender who is viewed as less worthy of life because of the mistakes he/she made. In the same way, culture of life is linked to retributive justice; the point of this approach to justice is not to harm anyone so it does not bring a culture of death to anyone, instead it uses the love of forgiveness and conciliation to help the offender and the victim.
By studying the concepts of culture of death and life, retributive and restorative justice, I have discovered another way to bring culture of life to my life and everyone surrounding me: to use retributive justice whenever someone hurts me. Using restorative justice will only bring more hatred to me and the people that surround me and revenge is not the point of justice, the point of justice is to construct a healthy society, this can only be reached with retributive justice. I also learned that money cannot buy happiness and being fully alive does not mean to have what I want, but to love everyone, knowing this is very helpful in my life because I am surrounded by advertisements and media that tell me that I will be happy when I look in a certain way or have certain things.
Now, I know that is not true and that I will be truly happy if I follow Jesus’ example of love. Matthew lived in a culture of death, he thought that in order to live fully he had to have and do what he wanted. He did not care if his actions affected someone else, until he killed someone and got caught. He then was judge by the government with restorative justice and since he had killed someone, his life had to be taken away too. In this process he met Sister Helen, she brought culture of life to him, she used retributive justice so that the father of the victim and Matthew healed, he stopped being racist and finally admitted he had made a mistake. In conclusion, restorative justice brings culture of death to the victim, offender and society and retributive justice brings culture of life.