VORP: A Story of Redemption


Eric had big career plans but his involvement in a crime undermined his chances of obtaining his goal and a brighter future. He was now faced with a criminal record. It seemed like a minor act of retaliation “because a friend asked.” But a few minutes of "drive-by-paintball" vandalism resulted in a felony with long-term consequences. Eric’s future was unclear and certainly bleak.

I am always moved by the stories I experience while doing mediation work with the community & faith-based Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP). I have been a volunteer VORP mediator since 1992. Serving as a VORP mediator has been both worthwhile and inspirational. It is some of the most important work that I could do for my community as I see the redemptive message of Jesus Christ come to life.

While I have had the privilege of helping a number of juvenile offenders, Eric (not his real name) comes to mind most certainly as a person with a story of redemption due in part because of VORP. Eric’s story consists of many events that contributed to his transformation journey. However, I am pleased to share that a VORP mediation was one of those events that helped him on his journey of character development.

The Fresno County Probation Department referred Eric’s case to VORP. VORP assigned the case to me. I met with Eric to explain how VORP could help with his situation. I told him that if he wanted to cooperate with the VORP program, he would be given an opportunity to make things as right as possible with his victims.

While I could not guarantee that a judge would be any easier on him because of VORP, I did tell Eric that if he cooperated and worked on a constructive resolution to his offense, the VORP program might be beneficial for him at his court time. He would still have to pay his fines, do his community service, finish his classes, and do all the justice system required of him. I could not change any of that for him. I could only offer a program that might help him, his victims, and his community to heal from the offense.

Right from the start, Eric was a willing participant in the VORP mediation process. He arrived on time and constructively added to the success of the mediation as we met with his victims. He also quickly fulfilled his VORP agreement with his victims. In fact, Eric went above and beyond what was expected of him in making things as right as possible. He did practical jobs for the victims, expressed apology, regret, embarrassment, self-assessment, and remorse in addition to being the author of a generous restitution amount. He also paid the restitution in full and sooner than agreed.

The victims’ willingness to participate in this redemptive story is another wonderful feature of Eric’s journey. The victims gained not just payment for damages done, but they also gained an opportunity to become agents of change. Eric was impressed with their “big hearts” toward him, their kindness, and their openness to include him in their community once again. He said their words were healing, but what made the difference was their redeeming actions toward him. I can’t go into detail on their exact actions, but it was a huge step toward healing.

The day before his scheduled court appointment, Eric asked if I would write a letter to the judge outlining all that he had completed with the VORP program. I gladly wrote the letter. Eric said as he stood before the judge all he held in his hands was his VORP letter. He gave the letter to the bailiff, the bailiff gave the letter to the judge, the judge read the letter, and the judge looked down over his glasses at Eric. “Have you learned your lesson,” the judge asked. “Yes,” Eric replied. “Charges dismissed,” said the judge.

Dismissed? What did this mean? It meant that Eric would not have this felony on his record. In essence the judge had forgiven him and, thus, no longer held the offense against him. Eric’s future all of a sudden became clear and bright.

Today, Eric is not only enjoying a brighter future but he is also growing in his faith, attending both church and a young-adult Bible study, planning on going on a mission trip, and learning to choose better friends.

This is Eric’s redemptive story which continues to this day toward a brighter future.