Earlier in her life Sara Jane Olson committed crimes,
avoided arrest for decades, subsequently was identified, sentenced to prison,
and has now served her time. Our criminal justice system has determined that
Ms. Olson has paid for her crimes and that it is time for her to return to
society. That is the role of our judiciary â not of our executive or
legislative branches of government. Our role as a society is to now determine
how we deal with that judicial decision.
Being in South Africa
as Sara Jane Olson returns to Minnesota
to complete the terms of her parole, provides an interesting framework to
consider the controversy surrounding her release from prison. South Africa is, after all, known for its Truth
and Reconciliation Commission that was created after the fall of apartheid to
allow a forum for both victims and perpetrators of violent crimes to come
forward and tell their stories in public. There was no guarantee that the
perpetrators would necessarily receive amnesty â most, in fact, did not â and
although there is not universal agreement on the effectiveness of the
Commission, many people credit the efforts towards reconciliation as a critical
step in South Africa's
generally peaceful transition to democracy.
I am not suggesting that the charge of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
and the circumstances surrounding Ms. Olson's imprisonment and subsequent
release are similar. I do believe, however, that the broader issue of
reconciliation is one that must be considered in this â and other â cases,
because the reality is that Ms. Olson will once again be living amongst us.
The prosecutors and the defendant have had their day in
court. Perhaps, if we are going to move forward as a community, we now need to
have our own version of truth and reconciliation in the Twin Cities. Creating a
public space where victims of Ms. Olson's crimes could come forward to tell
their stories and where Ms. Olson could respond to them may result in greater
understanding than simply allowing this controversy to continue to play out in
the press and gradually be forgotten.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chair of South Africa's Truth
and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has said that there can
be "no future without forgiveness." In cases like Sara Jane Olson's that may be
difficult to swallow â but it is worth remembering.