My newest talking piece, a gift that shows some people really “get” Restorative Justice.

I got a new talking piece last night.  It came with a wonderful explanation.

My newest talking piece
My newest talking piece

As it was presented to me, the giver said:  “It has all kinds of colors, a variety, like people, so it shows everyone is included.  You can bring things back together with stitching.”  He ran his finger along the seam of the bright red threads.  I took the ball.  He went on to say “life can throw you a curve ball, but you can still hit a home run”.  I smiled and said “that’s great!”  “oh yeah, and it’s round” he added.

I love talking pieces that are given to me as gifts.  The story comes with the piece.  It’s so much better than saying “I picked this up at Wal-mart”.  Now I can carry forward the givers take on this talking piece.
As I type this I keep picking it up and rolling it in my hand.  I love the tie-dye and I love the fact it is a baseball.  I’ve used an old beat up softball as a talking piece, but I’ve never had a baseball.  I immediately decided it would be one of the pieces for my next college class. 
I knew the person giving me the talking piece “got” restorative justice.  He noted inclusiveness, repairing harm and bringing the good from the bad.  All in that talking piece description.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to share Restorative Justice philosophy with so many people.  I like having it come right back to me like a boomerang.

Lesson from a Restorative Justice Conference “Once you cut down a tree, you can’t put it back”

tree%20of%20life%20%20elliottmetalIn typical Restorative Justice fashion, when Circle is going well stories emerge.  Stories that may previously only been events or experiences are tranformed into meaningful life lessons for everyone in the Circle.

Yesterday we had a Grandparent in the Circle.  He spoke about raising children and having faith they would turn out ok.  Faith was the value he placed in our Circle center.  Faith was what he needed before the Circle focus was directed to ‘addressing issues’.

When the Victim shared her perspective with the Circle, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  You cannot escape the accountability in Circle.  The shape requires we are all focused.  When the earlier stages have set the tone and created the safe place – then addressing issues is very powerful.  The story of the victim was incredibly moving.

She explained being in the military and traveling all over the world.  Now because two boys entered her home, she sleeps on the couch until her husband is home.  She is frightened to be upstairs alone.  She expressed this again, with her hand moving the talking piece in rythym to her expression:  ” I’m 53 years old and I have never been afraid, yet I am now”.  A alarm system of $1,000 was installed.  The house is locked even if she just goes the the garage.  She was tearfully asking about the Christmas gifts, under her tree for Grandkids, ripped open and stolen.  She said her 5 year old Granddaughter didn’t deserve that.  The silence in the room packed a punch as we all listened stunned, that a impulsive, random act of entering homes and stealing would tear such a path in a person’s life.

The young men in the room had to absorb what they had done.  They expressed remorse, they made apologies (both in the Circle and after).  Their parents and grandparent – made expressions of shame, confusion and concern that these young men would do such a thing.  Tears filled Mom’s eyes as she explained being embarrased about her own child.  Dad’s voice choked back tears as he directed an emotional apology at the victim.

One boy explained the sky was the limit on what he would do to try and make things right.  He wanted the trust back of his community and family.

Grandpa shared about his own kids doing something harmful.  They cut down a neighbors tree.  He asked “how do you put that back?”  He paused for a moment and handed off the talking piece.

Shortly after the next person started speaking Grandpa leaned the other way and with his hands demonstrating said “the tree was this big around”.  His Circle neighbor stayed focused on the person with the talking piece.  It was the cutest thing I ever saw in someone not honoring the talking piece.

His analogy made it perfectly clear for me.

When you harm someone – it is like cutting down a tree.  You just can’t put it back.  You only have control over other things.  I thought of the analogy of planting more trees.  Making up indirectly is about the only thing you can do.  The formal system, doesn’t give people a place to make it right.  Restorative Justice does – and time and time again – the plans include things like “learn from this experience”, “get something good to come of this”, “be a good role model in the future”.  It really helped me see that victims can’t be put back, like trees can’t be put back.

I hope for our victim yesterday – who was so brave to be part of the conference.  She planted a whole bunch of trees and she didn’t cut any down.  See by her time with the offenders and explaining her impact – she may have changed the course for those teen boys.  I know for me, she made me a better person.  The depth of understanding and awareness grew for me (and I’ve been doing this for awhile now).

It’s good to be reminded how positive and amazing this work can be!

“Wow, that’s really brave!” response to learning about Restorative Justice

I had a new visitor to the Restorative Justice Center.  She was dropping off some brochures for another agency.  I was happy to have them, we just got a new brochure rack.  We chatted about her project, then she asked “what do you do here?  I don’t know what Restorative Justice is”.

I explained it’s a philosophy that crime and conflict is harm to relationships and it’s important to heal that.  Things between people, resolved by people directly.  Victims and Offenders meet, community members are involved.  I paused to see where she was at.  She asked if this happens in Court.  I said “oh no, here let me show you”.  I took her to the back room of the Center. 

Restorative Justice Center July 28, 2009
Restorative Justice Center July 28, 2009

Last night after new volunteer training I asked everyone to leave our Circle set up.  I’m a little odd like that.  I like to see the Circle space set up.  We don’t have any other meetings in the space, until the next training so instead of putting the chairs away and pulling them back out, why not leave it up.  It makes me happy to see it.  It played out beautifully then, to show my new friend where we “do” Restorative Justice.

As we looked over the chairs, I explained how we use values to guide our discussion.  I pointed out the talking pieces and said it was so empowering.  I added that the ‘structure’ allows a ‘freedom’ to express yourself.  She said “wow, that’s really brave!”.  That gave me a big smile and I was able to say “yes, it takes a lot of courage”.

She went on to say her husband is a teacher and the philosophy was introduced a few years back.  I gave her a Little Book on Restorative Justice in Schools.  good book disciplineI explained we’ve learned a lot the last few years about doing Restorative work in schools.  She asked if schools call it ‘Circle’ I explained sometimes, and sometimes it is morning meeting.  She shared her son, in elementary school talks about Circle.  She mentioned the school, I’ve had teachers from that school in training.  Again I smiled, knowing how small the world can be.

I gave her my card, she said she has been in River Falls for 10 years, she had heard my name before.  I resisted the urge to make a joke about it being in the police blotter.  We made a great networking connection in the short time she was here.  There is so much to the power of a positive relationship.

She left here impressed with what Restorative Justice is, pleased to know more about what her son is doing in school and with a gift to share with her husband.  I have some brochures for my empty rack, and am connected to another resource in our community.

It’s good to know that a brief introduction can result in someone know and having so much about Restorative Justice and SCVRJP.

Don’t be afraid to share the gifts of your restorative work.

On the Road Together: Safe Teen Driving Circles engaging law enforcement

Written for the upcoming book: On the Road Together: Safe Teen Driving Circles.

At SCVRJP as part of a Driver Improvement Class, which is a diversion course for traffice violation, a Safe Teen Driving Circle is held and a River Falls Police Officer is part of the Circle process.  The only difference between this class and a standard Safe Teen Driving Circle is some time at the beginning discussing the deferred prosecution agreement and the participation of a police officer.  At first I was a little afraid and concerned that the officers would leave thinking I was really weird and that ‘restorative justice’ was fluff.  Thankfully, like most of my fears, that did not happen.

Instead the Officers have provided positive feedback about participating.  It appears they like interacting with the young people, in a different light.  Instead of the “do you know why I stopped you?” introduction.  The youth feel safe in Circle and describe the “who, what, when and where” of the incident that led them to class.  The Circle provides a place conducive to storytelling.  Kids mention things like “My Mom, kept warning me not to speed”.  The Officer also experiences the story told as a member of the Circle.  The storytellers make a lasting impression.  The Officer observes young people listening respectfully, intently and often times it is out of character for the age group.  The other thing that often strikes me is that before the Circle starts there is horse play, teasing, the normal adolescent group behavior.  Then during and after, the young people are adult like in respect attention and feedback.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.  I LOVE Circle process for the gift it gives us to role model for others, especially for teens.  This really cool bilateral relationship between the speaker/storyteller and the youth is a miracle to observe.  Storyteller needs listener, listener changed by storyteller.  This is the clencher for the police officer, I don’t think they get to witness “instant” transformation that often.  What happens in Circle is really, really real.  I didn’t expect the uniform to become ‘invisible’ in a positive way.  The improved relationships between teens and officers is very positive for our community and the young people in general.

Thank goodness I didn’t respond to my fears and keep the officer out of the Circle.  Actually I couldn’t have done that, I live by the inclusive value.  When implementing your Safe Teen Driving Program, engage community leaders in participating.  It will pay off in the end.

Can I admit this . . . Restorative Justice Volunteer Facilitators are hard to maintain.

We have a blessing at SCVRJP, our conferencing case referrals for June, more than what we’ve had January – thru May.  This has forced me to get volunteer facilitators to do some cases.  When we have had small numbers, I usually can cover them, I like to do it this way.  I feel I have the time, and I have the skill set, since I have been blessed to do this full time for 4 years.  Now I am faced with increasing the training, the support and the management of volunteers.

It’s not just St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice, I know this happens and it happens more than people speak about.  I’d like to find some solutions to managing Restorative Justice Volunteer facilitators.  The volunteers that spend time doing victim-offender conferencing or Restorative Justice Circle process.

Acknowledging volunteers is important
Acknowledging volunteers is important

Maintaining volunteers, in general is hard work.  Volunteers are labor intensive.  I’ve got holes in my net, we all do.  I’ve talked to enough people, non-profit Executive Directors and other Restorative Justice programs.

I’ve read – imagine having a labor force without a HR department.  That’s what happens with volunteers.

I’ve wanted to get a volunteer – volunteer coordinator

Wait – – I cannot go any futher without this disclosure:  I LOVE MY VOLUNTEERS!!!!  I do!  I really, really, really appreciate what they do.  I appreciate people who donate their time to SCVRJP, and other organizations.  Please don’t think I am knocking volunteers – because I’m not.  I even do some volunteering to keep my perspective fresh and relevant.  (I pick up cigarette butts, serve on two boards, attend fundraisers to name a few).

Restorative Justice facilitators are a really unique breed of volunteers.  They have to attend hours of training.  Then to keep them engaged you need to get cases to them.  This is very difficult, because cases ebb & flow.  SCVRJP lost a large group of interested individuals when they did a big training and had no work for them.

All volunteers want to feel part of the organization, they want to bond.  When you’ve got nothing for them to do.  I’ve had potentially awesome facilitators migrate to different programs.  I asked them to help with something else and they became part of that service, not the facilitation of dialouge cases.

Another issue I face is getting them mentored enough with case experiences.  No two cases are alike.  It’s hard to give out all the scenario’s, and I work a case like it’s a lump of clay.  Interviews and meeting with the victim, offender to determine what service best suits the situation.  Often times my gut tells me where this goes, and since I facilitate everything I know all the classes and how they work.

Just recently I made a “refresher” powerpoint, something for my experienced facilitators.  I had two of my volunteers review it.  One said – “way too overwhelming, it made me nervous, too much all at once”.  The other said – “VERY helpful, clear and concise, you nailed it”.  So as you can see, your facilitators are very unique and needed to be treated individually. 

As a volunteer or a RJ program person – – any thoughts, suggestions, feedback for managing volunteer facilitators?

The power of storytelling, using stories in community and in connecting.

Stories are the most basic tool for connecting us to one another.  Research shows that storytelling not only engages all the senses, it triggers activity on both the left and the right sides of the brain.  Because stories elicit whole brain/whole body responses, they are far move likely than other kinds of writing to evoke strong emotions.  People attend, remember, and are transformed by stories, which are meaning-filled units of ideas, the verbal equivalent of mother’s milk.   – Mary Pipher

The above is from the book Writing to Change the World.  At Amazon, here.

I really love the use of written story, but I appreciate the oral story more, because it happens in Restorative Justice talking Circles.

There is something that happens when we listen to a good story.  We construct our story along side the one that we hear.  We can place ourselves into the other persons story.

Stories are, our gifts we give people.  We aren’t very good at listening so we don’t take the time for story.

My Dad is a lecturer.  He can explain something with more words than the constitution.  He makes rationale points, he doesn’t check in with the ‘victim’ of the lecture.  We all respect him and its a running joke in our family.  Our joking hasn’t changed him either.  I try to get my Dad to tell me stories about things.  I ask him where he learned something or how he knows it.  Without being rude and challenging him, it’s more because I 400px-Millais_Boyhood_of_Raleighwant the oral history of my family.

At my Dad’s 70th birthday party, my Uncle commented to my Dad.  He mentioned a look around the room and realizing “Jesus Christ, we’re the oldest ones here”.  We all laughed.  But it struck me.  My Grandparents used to be here at family gatherings.  The house on the farm, my Uncle and Dad grew up in.  So they went from kids to being the elders in our family.  It seems like it happened overnight.

I made sure we told stories as a family.  These stories connect us and when we tell stories in Restorative Justice, we create a kind of family that is the community of shared story.

No two Restorative Justice Circles are ever the same, and it is the stories that make them different.



Making a personal committment to challenge myself and change.

I have decided to do a 30 day Bikram challenge.  That means in 30 days, 30 sessions of Bikram Yoga.

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I wrote an earlier post about Bikram.  How much I am really, really liking it.  I started this post on July 20 and right this moment it is July 25.  So in the last 7 days I have done 4 Bikram yoga classes.  That means I missed 3 days this last week.  I’m going to restart the 30 days now.

I’ll spare you my excuses for not making those 3 days.

This is a post about making changes.  Change is not easy.  I know I’ve changed some things in my past.

For example I quit smoking, quit dating controlling disrespectful men, quit a daily habit of yummy, fluffy, chocolately sweet, coffeelicous mocha’s.  Everyone has change examples.  We change regardless of wanting to . . . my need for readers, the slower loss of weight (when I do get into an exercise routine), the need for more sleep.  The ability to understand, appreciate and respect the love of friends and family.

We all change, we all evolve, we all grow.

What about when we want to do it on purpose?  That comes from the inside out.  Restorative Justice is about change.  Its about changing harmful and hurting behavior.  Its about personal responsibility and accountability.  And accoutability to yourself, when no one is watching.

The world could most definately go on if Kris Miner doesn’t tone up and lose weight.  My life would really be relatively the same.  But I FEEL better when my clothes aren’t tight.  I like to feel good in my skin.  To change you have to focus on what you like and what is GOOD.

How can we do this in Restorative Justice?  How do we teach young people, being good FEELS better than hurting people.  I am going to track my change process, my committment to 30 days of Bikram and keep you posted.

If you really want to make a difference, work on your work ethic. Make your work your purpose.

My daughter and I had the airport shuttle all to ourselves.  The driver’s name was Bo.  My daughter had finally stopped giving me dirty looks for conversing with our drivers. 

We had a shuttle driver on the way to the hotel and three cab drivers while visiting Boise.  She was used to me practicing conversation skills, getting the person talking.  She had also seen the value of these conversations.  We got some really interesting and funny stories from people.  I was also parenting incognito then, mentioning valuable life lessons in these conversations.  She could over hear them.  Later I would say “would I have learned anything talking?”.  I was trying to teach her the art of connecting and listening, by role modeling.  (she’s 17 and wants to leave me further behind than toilet paper on your shoe in public!)

Bo had quite the story.  He had been in a crash with his newly restored corvette.  The glass t-top roof shattered crosswise, fell in severed OFF his right arm.  The first time he said this, my eyes went to his right hand which was adjusting the temp on the dash.  My mind immediately said I didn’t hear him correctly because I was seeing him fully utilize his right arm.  He also lifted our suitcases in the back of the van.  There was no indication of this.  I didn’t follow up on that comment, we talked further about the car.  Of course I had to mention helping crash survivors tell their story of the incident.  He let me know he almost died on the way to the accident, losing so much blood from the severed arm.  Now I had to clarify.

“Did you say your arm was severed OFF, that arm?”

Turns out Bo’s Doctor told him he would probably not be able to hold a spoon.  To not expect much from the reattachment.  Bo told me that he knew what work was.  He grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, he knew work, so he made his arm his “work”.  He was now flexing his fist for me.  His son had a bowflex machine, so he went 3 times a week and worked his arm.  I told him about growing up on a farm and how I learned about hard work.  My Dad’s work ethic rubbed off on me.  I looked at my daughter, she was engaged and listening.  Bo and I talked about how hard work will get you through just about anything in life.

Deb Hilmerson.   Featured in the Minneapolis StarTribune Business section on July 24.  Hilmerson has built a business from the ground up.  She learned hard work from her Dad.  She works 60-70 hours a week and says “It’s how you make a difference in your life.”

It’s Saturday morning almost noon, I’m at work.  I do intense hours – adding in last Sundays time in the office and my time today I’m at 58 hours.  But I don’t see work as work.  I see it as my purpose.  I was put on this planet to do restorative justice.  I live it.  Social Justice is a relevant issue and it takes WORK to make structural changes.

I know you make a difference.

I don’t even have to know who you are.  I know you are here, therefore you make a difference.  Let the difference you make be one of contribution.  Work on your purpose.

I have a friend that works really hard, she sells concession stand stuff.  I know that she makes a difference.  I’ve never seen her at work concessions, but I’ve seen her work other places.  I know she is kind, friendly and helpful.  She works hard and gets the tasks done.  Just demonstrating that for community makes a difference.

I watched my road construction workers.  You can see who is radiating work ethic.  You stand taller, you put effort and focus into what you are doing.  To me – that is making a difference, because you are DOING.  Doing whatever is yours to do.

You can work on yourself, make that your purpose, go to work on your community.  Work on the garden, work on writing a book.  To me, because of work ethic, I know . . . NOTHING feels as good as a good day of work.

How related are belonging and structure? Restoratively, maybe one in the same?

I was speaking with Linda Baker, author and Restorative Justice/College Campus advocate.  I was sharing about Restorative Justice Circle process and she mentioned that sounded appropriate for young people with Asperger’s.  I talked about the talking piece going around, the four stages, collectively established guidelines.  She mentioned that anxiety would go do and performance would increase.  This made sense to me, even for my own self – and as far as I know, I don’t have Asperger’s.

This made such great sense I began to repeat it outloud.  Then I got feedback the structure is important of students learning English.  The more structure and predicitible the safer.  Reduced anxiety, increased performance.

Circles are a bit of a paradox – although structured in how we communicate (one at a time, with the talking piece).  There is also tremendous freedom to be yourself.  This way of order allows things to flow.  There is a creative direction no one person controls.  Really neat things happen.  Circles have structure.

Belonging, what do you think of when you think of belonging?  I think we should cultivate this in ourselves more.  I think when we look for evidence of something we find it.  I think belonging – is like attachment – and I like the attachment theories.  When we create structure (restorative structure, inclusive structure) we create a space for EVERYONE to belong.

As far as I can remember, I have only had 2 youth that weren’t able to identify a value.  That makes the incident about 2 in 5,000 people in Circle.  I’ve given out prompts or suggestions, but these 2 boys refused to think they had a connection to anyone.  The most recent wrote down “nothing” because he had “nothing” to say about it.  I offered him another plate and indicated we were about to share what we put on the plates, in case he wanted to change his.  It’s funny, I could see my volunteers look scared that he was so cold, closed and resistent.  I just routed us to my right, since he was the first person to my left.

He stayed with “nothing” despite every other person in circle identifying values of: respect, faith, trust, honesty, patience, smart.  I know this because I save the paperplates.  : ) DSCN4268

When we got to the stage in Circle, to commit to the values, I rephased his value of “nothing” to mean that we could be “accepting”.  See consensus is about the room to allow everyone.  The young man didn’t have an objection to that, the rest of the Circle did not speak out against it.  We routed the talking piece for a committment to these values for this Circle and everyone, accepted.

I gave him a space to belong, within the structure of our process.  So I just wonder if restoratively belonging and structure could be the same.

Restorative Justice gives you more information about yourself.

At a recent Circle session  – a Victim Empathy Seminar.  I kept the Circle and attending were four young male ‘offenders’, three Moms, three community members.

A Victim Empathy Seminar is a SCVRJP service where juveniles and a parent or guardian attend with community members.  The orginal intent was to have a surrogate vicitm present.  This hasn’t always worked, and most everyone attending has been the victim of something so we discuss and process that.

There is so much “value added” during Circle process.  Social skills are practiced, the safe enviornment to have difficult conversation simply runs parrellel to the really great direct goals of accountability and healing.

A specific moment in yesterday’s Circle captured this for me.  We were on the ‘building relationship’ round.  The tone was set and the Circle members were starting to feel more comfortable in what was happening.  The question of the round was “tell a story about a time, you or someone else was lost”.  A Mom had the talking piece, and she started to share about being in Las Vegas when her son (sitting next to her) was 3.  He’s almost 18 now.  The young man was leaning forward hands folded together, elbow resting mid-thigh with his head down.  When Mom said this, his head popped up, he quietly said “I was in Vegas?, Cool”.  He then sat back and gave his Mother, full eye contact and attention. 

Yes, he briefly spoke without the talking piece.  But he went immediately into a listening mode.  Mom didn’t respond or converse, she nodded and continued her story.  I saw a connection made for the young man.  He got information about himself he didn’t know.  My mind wandered to my daughters bedtime routine from ages 6-12, she would ask “tell me a story about when I was a baby”.  She would love to hear about silly things we did.  It could be when we played in a mud puddle or her falling off of a slide.  Maybe the time she set up her mini-play castles and Ants in the Pants game.  She gave each Castle a piece of cheese, is she snnaped the ant and if it went in, she “captured their cheese”.

These are family stories.  These stories are what tie us together.  We belong where are stories are.  I believe belonging is what keeps us from hurting people.  You don’t harm your own.  Stories give us common experiences and these experiences designate us from strangers.  The more you learn about your self, the more you get the chance to think about ‘self-realization’.  That is where the internal cogs of change are.  We as human beings change from the inside out.  That’s my belief.  That’s where restorative justice goes . . . to the inside, to the heart.

ANE_Book_Cover_OBC_LGI picked up A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle .  I wasn’t very far into it and I flagged something to blog about.  He mentions that you cannot “force” someone to be good, you have to direct them to the good already inside of them.  Then they can focus on that and ‘be good’. 

I related that to Restorative Justice.  When you do a bad behavior – you can get labeled as “bad person”.  By those around you and by yourself.

Later in Circle – a Mom related feeling much better and realizing she wasn’t the only Mom with a son having trouble.  Most of the Circle laughed in the manner she shared this “relief”.  She talked about knowing she wasn’t a “bad Mom”.  Our society does far too much judging on good/bad – right/wrong.

Relationships hurt us and relationships heal us.  Take what you know about yourself and view it from the perspective of healing.

Ask someone to tell you a story about yourself.  Really listen to that persons description.  Find information about yourself.