5:33pm

Sun July 6, 2014
My Big Break

After Assault, Woman Finds Hope And Career In Restorative Justice

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 8:28 am

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Lorenn Walker works to help both victims and offenders after crimes are committed. She's a restorative lawyer from the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, where she focuses on violence prevention and works on re-entry programs for prisoners.

Her work in restorative justice began after a personal encounter with crime, when she was assaulted 38 years ago.

"My friend worked in Waikiki — she was a bartender — and I was meeting her to go out dancing when she got off work," Walker says. "I was intoxicated and went out the wrong door of the hotel where the bar was that she worked in."

Walker found herself in a dark alley, where she was approached by a man she didn't know.

"All of a sudden, he grabbed my breast," Walker says. "I said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'Shut up or I'll kill you.' "

The man punched her in the face, then strangled her as she lay helplessly on the pavement.

"I just thought about my daughter," she says. "I was a single parent of a 5-year-old daughter and the only thing I could think of to say to this guy was, 'I have a baby.' "

The man stood up and ran away.

"The police came and the ambulance came, and I was assigned to a psychologist named Harold Hall," she says.

During therapy, Hall encouraged Walker to apply for college.

"I didn't finish high school. I only finished the ninth grade of high school," Walker says. "Before I got attacked, my life was really pretty much dead-end. ... I think I really was depressed even before it happened."

She finally enrolled in college, and ended up loving it.

"A year after the attack happened, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer because I was interested in justice," she says. "I finished my bachelor's degree at the University of Hawaii and then I went to law school in Boston."

Seven years after the attack, she graduated from law school and took the Hawaii bar exam — at the same hotel where police found her that night in 1976.

"The person who hurt me, he was never found," Walker says. "That incident has really motivated my work that I have done in restorative justice, working with people who have been victimized by crime and also working with people who have committed crimes."

Walker says she has deep empathy for other victims, and she also feels for those who have performed acts of violence.

"I still think we have to give people hope that they can change," she says. "I think that restorative justice is about helping people heal."

She says her work helps her heal, too.

"My big break was a really traumatic experience," she says. "I think that no matter what happens to us, we can find some way that it strengthens us. It could have ruined me, but it didn't."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's time now for the latest installment of our series My Big Break about triumphs, big and small. Lorenn Walker is a restorative lawyer from Oahu's North Shore in Hawaii. That means she designs programs to help victims and offenders after a crime is committed. Her work in this field started after she was assaulted 38 years ago.

LORENN WALKER: My friend worked in Waikiki. She was a bartender. And I was meeting her to go out dancing when she got off work. Definitely, I was intoxicated. And I went out the wrong door of the hotel where the bar was that she worked in. And so I ended up in this dark alley. And then a few minutes later, one guy by himself started walking down the road towards me. All of a sudden, he grabbed my breast, and I said, what are you doing? And he said, shut up or I'll kill you. The next thing I remember is I was down on the ground. He was on top of me. He had his 10 fingers wrapped tightly around my neck. He was asphyxiating me. I couldn't breathe. And I just - I thought about my daughter. I had a 5-year-old daughter. I was a single parent of a 5-year-old daughter. And the only thing I could think of to say this guy was I have a baby. I said it, and he let me go.

The police came and the ambulance came. And I was assigned to a therapist named Harold Hall, who is a psychologist. And after a while - after about a month or two he started talking to me about going to college. I didn't finish high school. I only finished the ninth grade of high school. Before the incident happened, before I got attacked, my life was really pretty much a dead end. I wasn't really doing anything productive. I was just - I think I really was depressed even before it happened. And I ended up loving college.

A year after the attack happened, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer because I was interested in justice. And I finished my bachelor's degree at the University of Hawaii. And then I went to law school in Boston to Northeastern University. And I graduated right on time. Exactly seven years after being attacked, I graduated from law school. And I took the Hawaii State Bar at the same hotel where the police and the ambulance found me that night in 1976. The person who hurt me, he was never apprehended, he was never found. And that incident has really motivated my work that I have done in restorative justice working with people who have been victimized by crime and also working with people who have committed crimes. In my case - the people who have been attacked. I have really deep empathy for them. For the people who've done things like that, and I've worked with a lot of people who have done violent things to people and to women. I think I also have empathy for them.

I still think that we have to give people hope that they can change. I think that restorative justice is about helping people heal. And what I've gotten out of it is that it's helped me heal. Yeah. My big break was a really traumatic experience. And I think that no matter what happens to us, we can find some way that it strengthens us. And it could've, like, ruined me, but it didn't.

MCEVERS: That's Lorenn Walker, a restorative lawyer from Oahu's North Shore in Hawaii. We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email at mybigbreak@npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.