Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice

Unlikely Friends: A Film About Brutal Crime & Radical Forgiveness – in a Special LA Benefit Screening Saturday, 5 pm

When I woke up from surgery, as I was laying in ICU, I started to hate the man who shot me. I hated him with a passion. I hated him so much. Every breath of air I took was to hate him. He was sentenced to life in prison. But I wasn’t satisfied with that. I wanted him dead. He should be dead for what he did to me. I didn’t care if the state of Wyoming killed him, or another inmate killed him, I wanted him dead.

-Wyoming Highway Patrolman, Steve Watt

Before he was shot five times— once in the eye, and four times in the lower back—-Steve Watt was, in his own words, a pro-gun Republican who believed “if you’re not a cop or a family member of a cop, you’re a dirtbag.”

After Watt was gunned down by an armed bank robber whose car Watt unwittingly stopped when the robber was on his way out of the county, the injured patrolman, once a man who depended on his physical strength, struggled miserably with recovery. He was in pain every day, due to the damage caused by the bullets. In the winter, the eyelid covering his artificial eye would freeze to the fake eye and had to be repeatedly unstuck.

His emotional state was no better. Even on the best days, Watt felt he was being eaten alive by the rage and hatred that had forcibly commandeered his psyche, post shooting.

“I finally couldn’t take anymore,” he said. “I couldn’t hate any more. I couldn’t be angry and bitter at him any more.”

But Watt didn’t know what to do instead. In desperation he did something that, at the time, struck him as crazy: he sat down and wrote a letter the man who shot him, his enemy, the object of his hatred. His assailant wrote him back. And, for the first time since he got out of the hospital, something new began to happen for Watt.

Victims of violent crime (and their wounded families, also victims)—have well-funded political lobbying organizations. But many find little in the way of effective emotional help as they try, painfully, to reweave functional lives out of the shattering that a terrible crime produces.

Unlikely Friends,” a documentary by award winning filmmaker Leslie Neale—which has a special benefit screening this Saturday [see below]—profiles crime victims who take an unusual path to healing that is gaining increasing currency under the heading of restorative justice , an approach which postulates that the harm done by crime cannot be repaired merely through punishing the perpetrators.

Neale said she got the idea for this film years ago when working on another film, Road to Return a documentary about a unique prison reentry program. In the course of filming, she met victims who were struggling painfully with the after effects of crime. She also met perpetrators who wanted to face up to what they’d done and make some kind of amends, but had no clue how to do so. One such dyad Neale encountered, like Watt and his shooter, ended up meeting. Over the years, Neale heard many more accounts of healing for victims emerging out of confronting—and ultimately forgiving—the person who caused them harm.

Neale (who is married to former Doors drummer, John Densmore) has produced and directed a string of highly regarded documentaries that have strong social justice components. I met her when she was just finishing up “Juvies” a deeply affecting film about kids tried as adults in California, narrated by Mark Wahlberg. I have been a fan ever since. Thus I was not surprised that this new film of Neale’s packs such a wallop.

In some cases the victims Neale met could not talk to their perpetrators; the prison wouldn’t allow it. Or they found that their perpetrators were the angry ones, blaming everyone but themselves for the wreckage their actions had created. So the victims instead talked to others like their attackers, or their loved ones’ attackers. In the film, a mother of a murdered son talks to a room full of murderers, most of whom will never get out of prison. The surrogate process we witness, while not curative—for some wounds nothing is curative—is nonetheless visibly powerful and mysteriously salving .

Unlikely Friends, which I strongly urge you to see, is not any kind of feel good movie. It is not about forgiving and forgetting. It’s not about not holding people accountable.

It is, however, about a more radical accounting that—according to the victims who have experienced it— contains within it the seeds of healing that retribution alone does not.

Watching the film is an emotional experience that has its own healing effect.

Anyway, see Unlikely Friends. Then tell me what you think.


A special benefit screening of “Unlikely Friends,” is being held at the Barnsdall theater. It’s $25 for the screening and a reception that, I promise, will feature an interesting and varied crowd of people.

Click here to RSVP if you wish to attend.

All money raised from the screening will go to the Amity Foundation.


As pressure is put on Jerry Brown to further cut the state’s prison population, county probation chiefs push back—LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers among them.

KPPC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

California has about a week and a half to come up with a plan for lowering its prison population by about 9,000 additional inmates by the end of the year.

L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers wants to be clear that one option is not on the table.

“Under no circumstances are counties interested in expanding the current realignment population,” Powers said.

Powers, appearing before the L.A. Board of Supervisors Tuesday, said he was just back from a meeting in Sacramento with officials from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Powers said he and officials from other counties made it clear they’re not willing to take on any more new offenders.


Fox News Latino has the story. here’s a clip:

The city of Los Angeles reached a $4.2 million settlement on injury claims brought against the police department by two women who were hurt when police mistakenly opened fire on them during the manhunt for disgruntled ex-cop Christopher Dorner, an official said Tuesday.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced the sum to KNBC-TV Los Angeles, and an attorney representing the women has confirmed the amount to The Associated Press.

The settlement means the women cannot pursue any future injury claims against the city.
The agreement is in addition to a $40,000 settlement reached earlier for the loss of the women’s pickup truck.

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