Daily Archives: May 8, 2009

This pro made some rookie mistakes.

I did “power” circle recently, I took on a deeply personal and emotional issue.  A Circle of Understanding was held, no intention to change anyones stance, but to create more understanding.  To bring people together to hear the other side of the issue.  The topic was gay marriage.  After some dialouge in the campus newspaper, it was offered to bring people together, in a Circle.

I made a few ‘rookie’ mistakes.  I did a few things I “train” other people NOT to do.  I learned a great deal with the intensity of this issue.  I would not recommend you jump into a subject like this, without serious training.  I want to share with you my issues, and the solutions.  Then I’ll highlight things I did like a ‘pro’.  : )

Issue:  Meeting Space

I should have scouted out my site.  I made assumptions that the person scheduling the room, would know it should be private.  Instead, we were in a fishbowl of glass.  It was like the noise outside was being pumped in to our room.  Foot traffic going by made me think more people were coming in, when they were just walking by.  I had anxiety before the Circle, arriving to see the room did not have us on the schedule and it was locked.  Forcing me to call contacts, beg security to unlock the door.

Solution: Set up the area for the best success.  You might not have alot of choices in a school setting, but you can make the effort.  Communicate if someone is scheduling your Circle site.  Arrive early, you may need to find a plan B, and looking back, that would have been a better option.

Issue: Late arrivals

I can include people who are a few minutes late.  An hour?  I felt disrupted when two new people joined our Circle, missing out on the explanation, the values, the committment the getting acquainted and building relationships round.  It was faced with my inclusive value.  I asked the rest of the Circle, everyone “ok?”.

Solution: Using my “I’m sorry we’ve started sign”.  We hang this sign or some version of it on the door when we start Victim Impact Panels and Underage Consumption Panels.  I was somewhat unsure of the number of people who would attend.  I did however, make the information about Circles abundantly clear.  The start time was consistently posted as 6 pm, 20 other people made it at that time.  Next time, I’ll use the sign.

If you think of a continuum and one side is Restorative Justice and the other Talking Circle – this particular Circle was more on the Talking Circle side.  I knew I had participants that all felt like victims.  It was a deeply emotional Circle, I was exhausted, just wrung out.  Tense, yet hopeful.  Both sides spoke, actually many sides spoke.  Issues of Christianity, sin, rights, freedoms, hate crimes, discrimination, we heard them all.  Confusion, lots of confusion for the other points of view.  All in all, what happened at the end, was that people with totally different perspectives listened to each other.  I can’t guarantee how everyone processed it afterwards.  I think one or two might have felt personally attacked, I’m sorry for that, it’s my perspective, some might think that was deserved, I’m not so sure.

What I did well:

-pulled in a co-keeper to help out.

-promoted as much preparing for participants as possible.

-help a space of neutrality and Circle minded presence.

-trusted the process.

-learned from the experience, what I did well, what I would do different.  It was a powerful one, I sat thinking and contemplating some of the stories for days.  I did tell my board I have proved my ‘circlekeeper courage’ by doing this one.

-good luck with your Circles, Kris

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Filed under Circle Keeping, personal growth, Practitioner Skills

Restorative Justice gives people their own stories, you own your story.

One of the many reasons I love being a woman, is our love of language, our need to tell our stories.  I heard that’s what happened when women would talk around the fire.  Men had to be out hunting and gathering, silent stalking.  Women got to talk to each other.  We use more words in a day than a man, and we need to talk about something for it to be real to us.  So I’ve read, and so I believe.

Dodge Co WI logo

Dodge Co WI logo

Recently I had a new person involved in the Circle process.  In the role as community member, for a victim empathy seminar.   At SCVRJP we do ‘community conferences’ or ‘victim empathy seminars’ when a direct victim is not able or willing to be part of the traditional Victim-Offender Conference.  As I coach people into being part of these, I let them know that they speak to their own experiences, and that relevant stories have a way of appearing as needed.

That’s exactly what happened.

We were meeting and processing the harm caused by starting an abandoned car on fire.  My new community member told the story of selling his first car to his brother, as a favor to the brother.  Brother totaled the car.  New community member explained how this ‘bummed’ him out, it was his first car, the one he earned all the money to pay for.  The car with many memories and fun times.  He didn’t expect it to be gone like that.  He suggested that now the person’s who car was burned, well that’s their last memory of that car.  As he was talking I could see that the offender was listening, they were seated right next to each other.  The storyteller, seemed to feel better after sharing it.

By sharing it, some meaning was given to that experience.  No longer was the burden of brother totalling my car a random and disappointing event.  It was now a story, used to help promote empathy.  It was now a story to show our possessions hold meaning.  The story became a fable, an example, a learning. 

I learned so much about my new community member that day.  The earlier stages of the Circle and I learned where he was from, where he grew up, how he feels about his family. 

He shared another powerful story, a story from his past that had been dormant and seemed insignificant.  Yet when shared, it made the storyteller, much more real.   Imagine being upset your forest area of tree forts and childhood memories is being landscaped for new houses.  That anger and resentment turns to action and a construction vehicle is on fire.  My community member saw a friend go through the juvenile justice system because of that.  He knows he might have been with that friend, but by chance was on vacation when this happened.  He reminded the circle, that these kinds of things can happen to anyone.  It was a powerful reminder.

So it occurred to me today – the way Restorative Justice gives our stories meaning.  The way we get to put our life experience into the greater good.  Restorative Justice allows meaning to be assigned.  What we’ve done, what we’ve experienced is part of life.  How wonderful to get to share a piece of lives with others.

I believe these kinds of interactions are what promotes belonging.  It promotes community to know each others stories.  I selected the image from the Restorative Justice Program in Dodge County WI.  All the elements or Restorative Justice – Victim, Offender, Community member are represented in the image.

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Filed under Belonging, Community, Full Circle Experiences, offenders, Relationships, Restorative Justice