Spotlight and Pivot Questions: Ray Nickson

Ray Nickson was born in Adelaide, South Australia. Ray completed his undergraduate work at Flinders University (South Australia) where he received the Bachelor of Arts (honors) degree in English Literature and Criminology and the Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice (honors) degree. While completing his law degree, Ray was sent to the Legal Service Commission of South Australia, similar to the public defender’s office in the U.S. After completing his degree, he was offered a position as a criminal defense lawyer with the Legal Service Commission, where he was admitted as a barrister (an attorney who tries cases before a judge) and a solicitor (an attorney who does not try cases before a judge). Ray represented clients in both adult and juvenile jurisdictions and was frequently responsible for providing counsel to the inmates of Adelaide’s prisons.

While Ray found his work as a criminal defense lawyer rewarding, he became frustrated with the way the criminal justice system operated. As a response to his frustrations someone suggested that Ray pursue a Ph.D. to research alternatives. Thinking this was a good idea, Ray applied to the Australian National University in Canberra. There his doctoral work was supervised by John Braithwaite, the renowned criminologist and restorative justice advocate. Ray’s work focused on transitional justice, which looks at the ways we respond to abuses, human rights violations and war crimes during transitional periods from conflict or dictatorships to periods of peace or democracy. Ray’s research focused on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and was conducted in The Haag, Sarajevo, Belgrade and throughout Cambodia. Ray discovered that one of the significant problems was a gap between what people wanted from justice initiatives and what the justice initiatives could deliver. Thus, the focus of Ray’s thesis was to try and bridge that gap. After completing his Ph.D., Ray worked for several years for the Australian government in Canberra analyzing situations similar to his research.

Ray left this work to teach in the Criminology Department at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. There he continued his research on issues of restorative justice, which led him to Fresno Pacific University. “My research focuses primarily on the connection between restorative justice and transitional justice,” he says. So he and his family moved to Fresno for “an opportunity to work at an institution that focuses on restorative justice.” He is currently conducting research with tribal courts in Oregon to examine their restorative justice initiative. Last year, Ray was a member of a research team that was awarded a grant from the Australian Institute of Criminology to study the impact of a mass literacy campaign on the encounters that Aboriginal Australians have with the criminal justice system. Ray spent extended periods in remote Australia conducting fieldwork. Ray’s interest in teaching is genetic. Both of his parents are teachers, as is his sister. He finds his interactions with his students stimulating and mutually reinforcing. “Often students provide fresh insights that I haven’t thought of previously—it’s an invigorating encounter,” he says.

Pivot Questions

1. What is your favorite word?

Safe (in a baseball context).

2. What is you least favorite word?

Out (in a baseball context). Or strike.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

It depends on the situation. Recently, I’ve brought my baseball glove and baseball into my office and I throw the ball to myself and catch it and it helps me to meditate on particular things and work through them by giving my hands something to occupy them with while I’m thinking. I sort of find that meditative. Sometimes it’s music as well. For instance while I was writing my honors thesis I listened to Bob Marley nonstop and particularly a couple of the songs that are messages of peace, which I found inspiring. And Steve Martin’s albums while I was finishing my Ph.D. (His comedy albums or music albums.) His more recent bluegrass albums. Spiritually, it’s the Society of Friends’ testimonies to simplicity, truth, equality and peace. I try to bear witness to these every day and they are the driving force behind my work.

4. What turns you off?

Too much noise.

5. What is your favorite legal word?

Ex injuria jus non oritur [‘law does not arise from injustice’].

6. What sound or noise do you love?

Sound of the baseball bat hitting the ball cleanly. And I love the sound of my daughter’s footsteps as she’s running about the house.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

Car horns.

8. What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Sports journalist.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Anything in sales.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I hope he says, “Come on in.” That I’m invited to stay.