Copyright © 2017 | The Ahimsa Collective | All rights reserved. 

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means non-harm, and non-violence.  

Victim Offender Dialogue Program

Whatever has brought you here, you have taken a step to explore the possibility of meeting the person who has harmed you. We commend your courage and determination to be an agent in your journey of healing. Many, who walked this path before, describe this process as life changing. You can read what they have to say about their VOD experience here. link to testimonial page.

 

“Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life.......”    - Akshay Dubey

What is a Victim Offender Dialogue?

 

A Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) is a face-to-face meeting between a person who was harmed and the person responsible for the harm.* Talking in a safe setting allows those harmed to give full voice to their experience and all that was endured in the aftermath of the crime. What needs to be said can be said. Questions that only the person responsible for the harm knows about, can be answered. People responsible for harm, no matter how severe, are given the opportunity to face the often wide-ranging and complex impact of their actions. Understanding the consequences of what they have done, can ignite an empathic response and a desire to make amends. This can take the form of apologies, material restitution or symbolic gestures that support the healing process of the person(s) harmed. Both parties are encouraged and empowered to mend what was broken. Thus, the outcome of a dialogue is determined by the participants.

* A note about language: 

Labels like victim and offender can trap people in the identity. Many people don’t identify with these labels, and people’s life experiences are more than the worst moment in their lives. At the same time Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) is the standard name used for this nationally recognized process. Generally, we use the terms “person who committed a harm / responsible party” and “person who was harmed / harmed party,” or “survivor.”

VOD Guidelines

within the California Department of Corrections

  1. A VOD is a collaborative non-adversarial process.

  2. All VODs are voluntary: either party can end the process at any time.

  3. The process is initiated by the person harmed.

  4. Participating in a VOD doesn’t affect the sentencing, or parole, or release date of the person who caused the harm.

  5. A VOD is centered on the person harmed and is equally sensitive to the needs of both parties

  6. A VOD is confidential unless agreed otherwise by all parties.

  7. All VOD documentation is confidential and will not become part of the prisoner’s CDCR prison or Victim Services (OVSRS) files.

  8. Both parties are welcome to express their emotions fully.

  9. Both parties actively contribute to the VOD outcome.

  10. Written assignments enrich the processes of healing and accountability.

  11. Specially trained VOD Facilitators guide the process and have no attachment to the outcome.

  12. VOD facilitators’ primary goal is to allow full expression while preventing any re-traumatization or harm.

  13. VOD facilitators have equal respect, compassion and care for both parties.

  14. Facilitators meet separately with the parties during a preparation phase until both parties feel ready for the dialogue.

  15. The preparation phase requires at least three meetings on separate occasions over several months, each 2-4 hours long. The VOD process can take up to a year, sometimes even longer.

  16. Each party may invite a support person to attend the dialogue.

  17. We expect both parties to fill out a post VOD survey.

  18. The VOD process does not at all require a desire to forgive or to reconcile. Forgiveness is a personal and unique journey for each individual.

Frequently Asked Questions about VODs

(maybe make diff sections? initiating a VOD, during the VOD, Post VOD)

 

What is a Victim Offender Dialogue?

The Victim Offender Dialogue is a well prepared and facilitated, confidential dialogue between the harmed person and the often, incarcerated person responsible for the harm. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Office of Victim Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS) offers dialogues for persons incarcerated in any CDCR State Prison. The nature of crimes ranges from property crimes, to assault and murder.

Who participates in dialogue?

The harmed and the responsible parties, one or two VOD facilitators, and both parties are encouraged to invite a support person. Sometimes a prison administration will require a correctional officer in the room to ensure safety, though not within hearing range. Victims may request the presence of a CO for safety.

Why do those harmed choose to participate in VODs?

They most often look for healing which can be supported by:

  1. Getting answers for questions that were not addressed in the court proceedings and can only be known to the person responsible for the harm.

  2. Sharing the impact the crime had on them, their families, friends and the wider community, physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. 

  3. Experiencing and learning if the responsible party has remorse for the crime, or has learned from it

  4. Having the opportunity to get a felt experience of who the responsible party is today.

  5. Gaining a measure of self-empowerment by actively engaging and shaping the VOD process.   

Can a responsible party initiate a VOD?

No, the process is initiated by the person harmed.

Does a responsible party have to do this even if she/he doesn't want to do it?

No. It is a voluntarily and personal process intended to have no bearing on the person’s prison sentencing, parole status or other court proceedings. 

Is anyone required to do this?

No, VODs are victim initiated and voluntary for both parties.

Why do people responsible for harm choose to participate in VODs?                   

Many responsible parties feel remorse for their crime(s) and welcome the opportunity to be held accountable for their crime. There is often a strong sense of obligation to repair the harm they have caused and a sense that they owe the victim something. A dialogue is often the only means to repay the debt they owe.

 

Who facilitates the dialogue?

VOD volunteer facilitators who have received VOD training. The OVSRS is working in collaboration with restorative justice agencies like the Ahimsa Collective in Berkeley who provide community volunteer facilitators.

 

How long does the process take?

The actual VOD is usually a one-time event 2-7 hours long. The preparation for the VOD entails facilitators arranging several 2-4 hour long in-person meetings with the harmed and the responsible party separately. The preparation time depends on the nature of the crime, the emotional-spiritual state of both parties and the goals for the meeting. There is a minimum of three pre-dialogue preparatory meetings, spanning about three months. The completion of a VOD can take up to a year or longer depending on the complexity of the VOD case and participant’s current life circumstances.

Where do the VOD preparation meetings take place?

The facilitators meet with the incarcerated party at their prison in a private setting like an attorney visiting room or a parole board hearing room to ensure confidentiality. The harmed person gets to decide where they would like to meet; most meetings take place in the comfort of their homes.                          

 

What are ways to prepare for the meeting?

It is advisable for a person harmed to have moved beyond the acute trauma and grieving state before embarking on this journey. A good support network is also advisable. Personal journaling, counseling, spiritual and faith based practices are encouraged. The facilitators will provide questions for both parties to engage with and will guide them through the preparation process to find out what the desired outcome is. He/she serves as a spokesperson for both parties going back and forth presenting relevant information to move the process forward until both parties feel well prepared and ready for the actual dialogue.

Do I have to forgive the person who harmed me?

No, forgiveness or a desire to reach forgiveness is not needed at all to engage in a VOD. Forgiveness is a personal and unique journey to each individual.  

Is there anything we can’t talk about in VOD? Can I ask any question I want?

In general, there is no topic or question off limits, but the facilitators encourage relevancy and respect. 

Where will the dialogue take place?

The dialogues take place in the prison where the responsible party resides. If the responsible party is no longer incarcerated the dialogue can take place at a parole office or another victim service facility. 

What about travel cost?

Those harmed are eligible for travel expense reimbursement through the Victim Compensation Fund. Facilitators will provide the necessary forms.

What if I find that, after starting the VOD preparation process, I don’t want to continue with it?

Both parties have the right to discontinue the VOD at any time of the process. This includes terminating the process on the day of the scheduled VOD or at any time during the actual dialogue. 

 

How would a victim/survivor initiate a Dialogue?

If the responsible party is in a California State prison, the person harmed can contact the

CDCR Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS)  victimservices@cdcr.ca.gov or 1 (877) 256-6877 (toll free). If the responsible party is not in prison, the survivor can contact The Ahimsa Collective at vod@ahimsacollective.net or 1 (888) 683-1626 (toll free).

Is there a minimum age to do this?

The minimum age to participate in a VOD without a legal guardian is 18 years. Participation under the age of 18 would be granted on a case by case basis depending on the circumstances. A parent or legal guardian would have to sign affirmations, waivers and releases.

Does the responsible party receive any benefit in return for doing this?

The responsible party benefits from these dialogues because it gives them a chance to be accountable, show remorse, and express empathy for the impact their crime had on their victim. They can take actions, even if only symbolic in nature, to make things as right as possible. To contribute to the healing process of victims has had life-changing positive effects on people responsible for harm. The engagement in the process does not change sentences or parole eligibility in any way.

Can participation change the release status of the responsible party?

No. Not in California.

Confidentiality 

All VOD preparation and dialogue documentation is confidential. VOD case files are only available to appropriate staff as determined by the OVSRS VOD Coordinator and the assigned facilitator. All parties agree that the content of the dialogue is confidential, unless all subsequently agree otherwise. 

 

CDCR Release of Liability Form

All participants sign a release of liability form.

 

Post VOD 

The facilitators will contact the harmed party within 24-48 hours after the dialogue to ensure that they are processing the dialogue well. They will visit with the responsible party as soon as possible after the dialogue. There are usually two or three follow up meetings and the facilitators remain available for subsequent issues regarding the VOD in the future.

All participants are expected to fill out a VOD survey

Can I stay in connection with the responsible party after the dialogue?

That depends on the situation. Special visiting rights in prisons for primary victims have been granted. Usually “victim-offender” contact during parole is strictly forbidden and can be considered as re-offense for the responsible party. Contact between the responsible party and any secondary victim is less of an issue. Writing is also a possibility.

 

Alternatives to VODS

If for whatever reason a dialogue doesn’t take place, alternatives to a VOD are explored.

Some victim/survivors will participate in restorative justice programs that offer them the opportunity to share their story of harm with inmates participating in victim awareness groups in various California State prisons. Or we will support the responsible party in writing a sincere apology letter to the person they harmed.