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A Courthouse Moment: “I can see the progress.”

On September 14, just before 2 p.m., Courtroom 7D buzzes. Attorneys chatter in the well; family members, religious leaders, and local organizers share smiles in the gallery. Today, those gathered at the Durham County Courthouse bear witness to Donald Fields Jr.’s journey toward restorative justice—an unlikely tale of accountability and making amends.

In 2016, Donald Fields Jr., now 30, was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter. Amid an argument in the family home, he fatally stabbed his father, Donald Fields Sr., who was 54. Three months ago, after serving almost six years in prison, Fields was released on a newly reduced bond. He entered a pre-trial release agreement with the state.

Restorative Justice Durham, an initiative of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham,  seeks to holistically understand and repair communities harmed by wrongdoing or violence. All affected parties—including victims, offenders, community members, and law enforcement officials—create a plan to make things right. Here, offenders are allowed to take responsibility for their actions—and grow.

Today, Fields and his attorney Matthew Cook are at the defense table. Fields, dressed in a fitted white polo shirt, sits straight and tall. 

Prosecutor Kendra Montgomery-Blinn outlines the conditions of Fields’ release. Over nine months, Fields must, among other things, obey the law, comply with mental health treatment, and “respect the boundaries of his father’s family members.” If he meets these conditions, Fields will not serve any more time. 

It has been three months, and for the most part, Fields has stayed true to the pact. He has even completed cognitive behavioral intervention programs ahead of schedule. He is still looking for a job. 

Blinn summons Rev. Annette Love from the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. Love, who appears to be in her 50s, also wears white. Over three months, she has mentored Fields. 

“He says I am like a second mother to him,” Love says. “He wants to show the community that he can be a productive citizen after all this has happened. He just made a bad decision. I’m grateful that he has been able to go through this process.”

Leticia Soria-Thomas represents Jubilee Home, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated men. She praises Fields’ adjustment to the transition home. 

“From day one, he has been a model resident,” Soria-Thomas says. “He consistently builds healthy, well-rounded relationships with other home members. He shows up caring about the environment that he is in.”

She notes that Jubilee Home is in Historic Hayti, a neighborhood that, though rich in culture and community, is burdened by drug trafficking, prostitution, and violent crime. Still, she insists that she has “no concern” about Fields’ ability to stay out of trouble.

As the witnesses speak, Fields stares straight ahead.

Alexander Fields, Fields’ uncle, goes last. He represents the victim’s family—and their capacity for forgiveness.

“Thank you for giving my nephew a second chance,” he says. “I can see the progress.” 

He continues: “Recently, Donald told me, ‘I’m grateful for the chance to breathe clean air.’ He was grateful for being able to get bitten by a bug.”

Once the testimonies conclude,  Judge O’Foghludha directly addresses Donald Fields. The judge is the first—and only—person to do so throughout the 20-minute hearing. 

O’Foghludha permits the removal of the defendant’s electronic monitor—a reward for good behavior. Then, behind his thin-framed glasses, his eyes fix on Fields.

“When we talk about forgiveness… it does my [heart] good when someone has done everything you have. I don’t get to hear this very often.” O’Foghludha nods. “So, thank you, Mr. Fields. And keep up the good work, sir. This gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

The judge asks if Cook, Fields’ attorney, has any final comments. Fields leans into Cook’s shoulder and whispers. 

“Mr. Fields requests permission to travel to Clayton and attend church with his father’s family on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Cook says.

The room pauses while Montgomery-Blinn confers with the Fields family seated behind her. They welcome the motion.