Eric Smallridge presenting his journey of responsibility and restoration to conference attendees.

René Napier during her keynote address at the University of Wisconsin's 3rd Annual Conference on Restorative Justice.

On Monday, March 7, 2016, RJBehindtheWire representatives Andrea LoMonaco and Linda Summitt, attended the 3rd Annual Conference on Restorative Justice at the University of Wisconsin. This was an excellent opportunity to learn, interact with restorative justice providers on the national stage, as well as to gain exposure for RJBehindtheWire and the initiatives we are working to advance in the restorative justice arena. Also in attendance were restorative justice professionals, law enforcement personnel, judges, victim service providers, faculty from multiple universities, crime victims, as well as ex-offenders.

Perhaps the most impactful presentation of the day was the keynote address given by René Napier and Eric Smallridge. René's daughter Meagan was killed in a tragic drunk driving accident in 2002. Meagan's best friend Lisa was also in the car and they died together as a result of their vehicle being struck by a car driven by Eric Smallridge who was intoxicated. Eric was later tried, convicted and sentenced to twenty-two years in prison, eleven years each for the deaths of Meagan and Lisa.

Soon after, René and her family opened a dialogue with Eric while he was in prison. This ultimately led, unbeknownst to them at the time, to Meagan and Lisa's families going through restorative justice processes. Meagan's family, Lisa's family, Eric's family, and Eric all experienced healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Out of these processes, Meagan and Lisa's families later petitioned the court to modify Eric's sentence so that his sentences were run concurrently, effectively cutting Eric's time in half. Most important in their journey was Eric's initiative to accept responsibility for his choices and to be accountable.

René has now been doing DUI presentations for well over a decade. Eric began joining her at these presentations in 2010, even while still in prison. Handcuffed and shackled, Eric, accompanied by local sheriff's deputies, joined René in preventing others from experiencing the same pain and tragedy that they had experienced. They have shared their story with hundreds of thousands of people. Eric has since been released from prison and they continue to join in their efforts to not just prevent tragedy, but also to help those who who have been impacted by crime to find healing and forgiveness. This extends to doing presentations in prisons, emphasizing the importance of taking responsibility and initiating action to be accountable. René and Eric are now like family and together present a compelling case for restorative justice practices.

RJBehindtheWire and René Napier had been in contact prior to the University of Wisconsin restorative justice conference. RJBehindtheWire's representatives Andrea and Linda had traveled to this conference primarily to meet René and Eric and attend their presentation. To Andrea and Linda's great surprise, René presented a copy of Mending Fences (RJBehindtheWire's program framework for victim oriented offender rehabilitation) before the entirety of conference attendees, during her keynote address. During a Q&A session held later in the day, Linda was able to thank René for drawing attention to Mending Fences and further detail efforts of RJBehindtheWire before a large group of conference goers.

Andrea, Eric, Linda, and René spent much of the conference together and later shared dinner while discussing future opportunities. RJBehindtheWire is excited to be exploring the possibility of collaborating with René and Eric on future projects to expand and reinforce restorative justice efforts in the correctional environment and the community. We encourage you to visit and to learn more about their story and ongoing efforts. RJBehindtheWire is extremely grateful for their support and encouragement.

More about their story to follow in future updates.

From Left: Andrea LoMonaco, René Napier, Linda Summitt, & Eric Smallridge at the 2016 University of Wisconsin Restorative Justice Conference