In rural Pennsylvania, where James Kimmel grew up, being the son of an insurance agent meant he was often at the receiving end of jeers by his classmates, many of whom came from farming households. The harder he tried to fit in, the more they harassed him. In his final years of high school, Kimmel’s classmates snuck onto his family’s property and shot his beagle, Paula. Kimmel found the dog when he went to feed her the next morning. “She was laying there in a pool of blood,” says Kimmel, now 55. The police did nothing.
The following week, that same group of classmates left an explosive device in the family’s mailbox, blowing it up — and with it, Kimmel’s patience. Grabbing his father’s .32 caliber revolver and the keys to the family car, Kimmel jumped in the vehicle and chased the bullies, cornering them against a barn. When the kids exited their truck, Kimmel grabbed his dad’s gun from the passenger seat and opened the door. He was about to step out of the car when a moment of clarity set in.
“If I murdered them, I would be murdering who I was,” he says. “Jim Kimmel would never be the same person after that. I wasn’t willing to pay the price.”
Today, Kimmel is the co-director of the Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies, which researches violence motivation and prevention. There, Kimmel developed what he calls the “non-justice system,” an intervention program designed for people like his teenage self; individuals who have an overwhelming desire to punish those who have mistreated them.
Unlike the U.S. criminal justice system, Kimmel’s approach isn’t focused on reprimanding offenders for harming victims. Instead, it borrows techniques from psychotherapy to explore victims’ motives for vengeance in a controlled setting.
The non-justice system is comprised of nine different role-play exercises, each of which is moderated by a trained facilitator. The aggrieved individual imagines himself as the prosecutor, then as defendant, witness, defense attorney, judge, jury, prison warden (or other punishment enforcer). In the final imaginary scenario, the victim plays out a…