I asked my friends Jamie and Oscar to do a practitioner interview. I really enjoyed reading the interview, I hope you enjoy it as much. My questions are in bold, and the responses from Jamie and Oscar follow. With gratitude for good friends and fellow Circlekeepers –Kris
ps – if you would like to do an interview, just email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Oscar Reed, I’ve been involved in Restorative Practices for approximately 15 years. Even though I’ve worked with a number of RJ practices, I find that I’m really partial and more comfortable with the Circle Process. I have learned from many great teachers and mentors especially children of this way of life and I continue to learn.
My name is Jamie Williams and I have been working in the field of Restorative Justice and specifically Peacemaking Circles for over 10 years. I self designed my Masters Degree which is in Restorative Justice and my thesis was titled Philosophy and Function of Peacemaking Circles in School and Community Settings.
In 1997 when working for the Seward Neighborhood Group in Minneapolis I discovered my “calling”. F. Buechner said, “a calling is when a deep gladness in your heart meets a deep hunger in the world”. The Seward neighborhood was developing a wide range of programs that included community oriented policing and a community Restorative justice program. Many of us received training in mediation, family group conferencing and finally Peacemaking Circles. Since my first Circle training 10 years ago this month, I have felt like I am home…my life way is Circle. I was very fortunate to have as my first trainers: Chuck Robertson Sr., Kay Pranis, Shane Price, Jessica Jackson Hughes, Mary Ticiu and from the Yukon Territory, Phil Gatensby, Harold Gatensby, Colleen James and Judge Barry Stuart. I was very blessed to have these amazing human beings as my teachers. My greatest gratitude goes to the students at Red Lake School who taught me more in 2 days about Circle than I could have learned on my own in a life time.
Kris: What was it about Restorative Justice/Circles that attracted you?
OSCAR: Equality. The Circle turns a blind eye when it comes to politics, race, gender, religion, professional status, etc. The Circle says, “ I will embrace you”…no matter what.
The Circle is very Inclusive, in a way, it has no boundaries, but a focus on respect, love and compassion.
JAMIE: I believe that Restorative Justice is actually very ancient…present during matriarchal times when the Goddess or Mother was sacred. Historically justice shifted with the progression of patriarchal thinking. This is my opinion.
I realized that most of my life I have tried to solve issues “with” people. Always felt doing things “to” people was authoritarian and doing things “for” people was paternalistic. Restorative Justice seemed to encompass what I had always felt in my heart was “right”.
Circles and roundness have attracted me since I was young. Nothing better than a “big apple pie circle” holding hands with classmates or that big round red ball for the playground at recess! Circles are an archaic form that has always existed in the minds of humans…and the Circle reflects our Universe/World: earth, sun, moon, planets, stars, seasons, life cycles, wind, nests…the roundness of a pregnant woman. The Circle, ancient, timeless, no beginning, no end…
Kris: Can you relate a rewarding story about RJ or Circles?
Oscar: There are many many rewarding stories. Under “share a memorable story in Circle” I have described such a story.
JAMIE: Over and over again I have seen the miracle of forgiveness, of life affirming experiences. I have seen more people than I can count literally find “their voice”, people realizing their power and discovering their place in this Universe…the Circle ignites our Fire.
Kris: Can you recommend a resource (book, website, training) for learning more:
We recommend a 4-day training for a beginning, anything less leaves one feeling incomplete…books can’t really take the place of a real experience however they can enhance ones knowledge immensely. Living Justice Press has many wonderful books on the subject of Justice and Peacemaking Circles. We recommend checking out their website for books and as an additional resource. www.livingjusticepress.org
Kris: Can you share a memorable moment in Circle?
OSCAR: One of the things that teenage African American boys find difficult to do in group is expose themselves emotionally or mentally. Dom was one of those cool very bright kids that everyone liked and looked up to. He had no plans what so ever to share what he shared in Circle this particular day in front of 23 high School boys. After our fifth Circle together something happened as Dom tells it. I say that there was a shift and Dom found himself sharing his deepest private concerns. He started by tell the Circle that his mother was in prison and he had to live with his grandparents. The reality of it all at that moment made him break down in tears. From that moment on, to this day the Circle for Dom and the boys has never been the same and that was six years ago. I first meet Dom when he was a freshman, he is in college now and he comes back from time to time to talk about how Circle has helped him and to encourage the young men to stay connected, help each other and trust the Circle.
JAMIE: Honestly, every time I sit in Circle is a memorable moment. I work hard at being in the present moment in life and especially in Circle. The more you are present in the moment the more every moment is memorable! I have experienced Restorative Justice and the Circle in prisons, faith based organizations, community centers, homes and schools. The most memorable moment in any Circle is when everyone feels “the shift”. “The shift” is difficult to describe in words. But when “it” occurs everyone feels it, everyone knows “it” happened. Some words from Eckhart Tolle may help describe in part what I’m trying to say:
“When you don’t play roles, it means there is no self (ego) in what you do. There is no secondary agenda: protection or strengthening of your self. As a result, your actions have far greater power. You are totally focused on the situation. You become one with it. You don’t try to be anybody in particular. You are most powerful, most effective, when you are completely yourself.”
The essence of Circle is story. Story telling touches us, affects us, reaches us, enlightens us, shifts us, affirms us, teaches us and most importantly mends us. Restorative Justice to me is mending through Storytelling.
In Circle we begin by becoming acquainted and building trust…getting to know each other through the telling of our stories…what values have we each chosen to live by? It is necessary and imperative that we share with each other what we value…we do this through Story. Sometimes identifying issues and concerns isn’t even necessary because sharing values has clarified the situation, incident or event for everyone. Finally, everyone shares their wisdom. We all have something significant to contribute. The Circle is alive, it is a creation that can only come to life with everyone’s voice being heard…
My most memorable moments are always when young people feel, show or experience empathy. I call it “pay day”. No paycheck ever compares to seeing a young person “getting it” or “sharing it” and “experiencing the shift”. My and Oscar’s old work partner Chuck Robertson Sr. said of the “shift”
“It takes place between the head and heart, but is it a ‘shift’ or an expanding ‘inclusion?’ I think the heart becomes included in the awareness and experience of the process and the participant begins to genuinely care about what they are thinking. The caring comes from personal validation in the Circle. Jung calls it unconditional love. I emphasize ‘love of SELF’ (personal validation and I call it regression to a preschool comfort level) something unusual that hasn’t happened genuinely in a long time for most of our fellow Circle participants (trainers and keepers included)…”
Kris: What do you see as the future of RJ & Circles?
OSCAR: What I see and what I hope for are two different things. Since we spend approximately 90 per cent of our work in educational institutions, my hope is that Restorative Practices will become the law (if you will) of the land.
Mandating the Restorative Process would be a big mistake. Way too many children are being unnecessarily suspended and too many teachers are being overwhelmed with deadlines and test scores while ignoring what’s really important and what really promotes learning.