Being a good Circlekeeper is about facilitating your own disappearance.

A few years ago, I was kind of dating someone and I just stopped calling and emailing him.  A few weeks later I got an angry email, suggesting I go to Vegas with my “disappearing” act.

I still do a great disappearing act, now it’s just in Restorative Justice Circle process.stage_performer_92317

A ‘circlekeeper’ is the person, or pair of people facilitating Circle process.  Facilitating a Circle is much different than running a meeting agenda.  Circlekeepers has a role in explaining and guiding the process.  They do not direct it.  The Circlekeeper is not above, or more important than anyone else.  The Circle keeper invites EVERYONE to be keeping the Circle.  Everyone gives a value to the center.  Equality and respect are breathed into the Circle, by the Circlekeeper.

Essentially, you make yourself (as the keeper) disappear into the flow of the Circle.  You are not the focal point.  The person with the talking piece, that person is speaking yet group flow in Circle is something different.

One element of Group flow is the loss of a feeling of self-conscious.  You are no longer paranoid about your own selfish appearances.  The Circle in a space of group flow, is an experience of collective understanding.  Listening takes on a new meaning when we recognize we are there for each other.  The “bearing witness” to anothers story becomes a powerful act.  It happens naturally and emerges by the very design of Circle process.

A recent Circle of teens from different groups came together.  I didn’t realize at the time, I had made judgements.  I suspected that the group had young people with limited abilities at communication, honesty, empathy.  I guess in the back of my mind I had limited expectations for how they would respond to the Circle.

Being impressed with them was a good feeling.  As I was experiencing the students being so in tune with Circle, so open, so honest.  It was then I realized I had some pre-judgements.  It occured to be that “disappearing” in Circle is more than just making your role as leader, equal to everyone.  Disappearing means letting go of the judgements.  Clear the way for people to bring their best selves to Circle.

Milk cows can give you restorative story, even briefly.

I had a really odd morning.  While taking my cat to the kennel, a fox darted across the road, I helped move cows and ran over a squirrel. 

Is that all a little crazy before 10 am or what?  Do you need a few details to not feel crazy?  I think those experiences helped with the brainstorm of this blog post:  Restorative Justice gives people their own stories.

The story of my morning.  Taking our cat to the kennel.  My stepMom arrives today, she’s staying with my daughter while I got to the National RJ Conference.  Last time the cat went a little crazy on her, and she has a history of having to get rabies shots from a naughty cat on the farm.  I feel guilty, or bad for our cat. 

Driving the cat to the kennel, the perfect fox, crossed my path.  I love seeing wild animals.  I think there’s meaning and significance when you do see them.  This brown fox with a puffy tail, topped off in white, shot across the highway.  I watched him get up the hill, and had to get my eyes back to the road.  I thought “that’s a sign” of something good to come. 

I turned off the highway and on the winding tree lined  country road.  I came around a bend and saw milk cows out on the road, a car off the left, it seems to be trying to herd cows.

I thought how odd, I started to pass very slowly and I noticed someone stepping out of the car.  I decided to stop and help.  Farm girl background, comes in handy. 

The cows were happy to find green grass, they were milk cows so I knew they could be ‘herded’ easily.  I walked two of them into the pen.  The man that got out of his car, he was just trying to help.  I suggested a call to the Sheriff’s department, he said someone was doing that.  He said there was a bull, and he doesn’t trust bulls.  I asked where.  You don’t generally keep a bull in with your milk cows.  He said it was the brown one.  I didn’t see a brown one. 

I pulled the broken section of the fence closer and he was going to stay with the other cows.  He thanked me for stopping, I said I needed to get my cat to the kennel.  I honestly thought I should have shook his hand, or thought of how I could recruite him to be a restorative justice volunteer.  I mean he did care enough to stop for some cows on the road.  I left, getting my cat to the kennel.

I was feeling good about my ‘stop to help with cows self’.  Then I ran over a squirrel.  I tried to avoid it, but not so much, it happened really fast.  I felt terrible.  I mean BAD . . . so dashed my feel good mood about helping with cows.

Life is ups and downs, and stories, and restoring and repairing.  Its just life that we harm and help.  Lets help purposefully and harm as little as we can.

Does ‘shame’ get the results we want?

Why are speeding tickets and court matters in the paper as public record? 

Is it ‘stockade’ thinking?  stockadebrianWhat was the rationale of using a stockade, did it work?  In Herbert Packer’s book from 1968 “The Limits of the Criminal Sanction”  he writes about the formal system having two competing priorities 1.) deter crime and 2.) due process.  He makes the arguement (in 1968) we need to address this or we’ll have a mess.  I guess we have the mess, with the US leading the world in ‘per capita’ incarcerations.  The PEW Center Study – will give you details.

A new term, a passion and taking life on, full force.

Today in Bikram Yoga, the teacher introduced me to a new term.  “Yoga Buzz”.  We do a pose that gets your heart pounding like you ran up a set of stairs.  In reality it’s a backward bend in 104 degree heat.  I love it.  It’s not for everyone.  In one class I remember thinking “am I going to pass out”.  This morning when she said “Yoga Buzz”, I had to quite my mind and relax, but not before I could relate it to restorative justice, and start to wonder about a “restorative justice buzz”.

I know exactly what that is, a “restorative buzz”.  Let me tell you about a few this week.

Monday at the SCVRJP board meeting.  We use “interactive meeting” format.   This includes an opening question and a closing ranking of the meeting.  The opening question kind of reminds me of my days back in 4-H.  There was always a “roll-call” question.  Well, that is what the interactive meeting format question is like.  This month the question was “what aspect of restorative justice do you think is most valuable to the community”.  There were two things that gave me the restorative buzz.  The first was the going around the room, one voice at a time.  This obviously was very much like a circle.  A circle is where I feel safest and most confident with my fellow human beings.

The second part of the buzz, was from hearing the terms and words my board members used.  I lost track of if he was talking about the offender or the victim, it applied to both.  Board member was saying that the punishment of pain and hurt does not have to be taken on forever.  RJ gives a place to process the hurts.

Someone else described how Restorative Justice both closes and opens things for people.  It brings closure, to an issue, yet opens up future possiblities.  I thought I was going to shed a tear!  Seriously.  Other comment that were very important included how we make victims a full and equal partner in repairing harm.  The reflection on what happened is part of the process, and teens need help both in how to, and what to reflect on.

I’ll never forget an apology letter: “I’m sorry you left your keys in the car”.  We went back to the drawing board on that one.

Let me share my other “buzz”.  I particularly enjoy weaving the lives of victims and offenders together.  At our victim impact panels, we strive to have speakers that have been vicitm or offender.  Sometimes the speaker is a survivor or community member.  I usually greet the speakers, we sit in the front row together.  The speakers don’t have far to walk to speak.

Now I need to confess, I haven’t been to a victim impact panel for a few months (thanks to dedicated volunteers).  At our most recent panel, my speakers all stayed in the back of the room together.  I sat all alone up front.  What gave me the buzz, was my team back there.  After each one would speak and return to the area they were sitting in.  They hugged, every time.  Speaker one finished and got a hug.  Speaker two finished and returned to get another hug.  It was just between them, the hug exchanges.  It looked like the speaker that just finished was the reciever.  The speaker that just gave a hug, came up to speak and when she returned to the back, she got a hug.

I’m always amazed at the speakers ability to see beyond what someone else did in the past, and honor what they are doing in the present.  One of our speakers was a police officer, the drunk driver that T-Boned his squad car into a light pole died.  The Officer was forced to retire and faced numerous medical and health issues in the years that followed.  He started coming to the panels to help me get people registered.  He told me he had issue with a room full of offenders.  I encouraged him to treat everyone kindly.  He finally told me his story.

I got him to speak about it at victim impact panels.  He ended up being a support person for a young woman that killed someone drinking and driving.  She was an excellent speaker and a VERY accountable offender.  When she would leave the room, crying, after telling her story, it was the retired Officer that went to console her.  He once told me, he told her “if I can forgive you, anyone can”.  Later the retired officer told me how speaking helped him.

He said, “for nearly 20 years I would wake up and the first thing I would do was to get mad.  To hate the bastard the drunk driver that  hit me.  I don’t do that anymore”.

I think maybe I’ll just live life buzzed by miracles like that.

Why I am writing a book on Safe Teen Driving Circles.

I had to title the blog in present tense.  To say I am doing this.  I am writing a book on Safe Teen Driving Circles.

The number one cause of death for people 16-24 is car crashes.  Depending on the study 40-60% of those crashes involve alcohol.  The other 40-60% involve other factors.  For example distracted driving (by an ipod, cell phone or friend).  Teens made risky driving choices.

This means that parents are losing teens to something preventable and sudden.  Losing a loved one, before the natural order of life adds trauma to the grief.  Preventable and sudden are also common denominators when trauma is involved.  I love my own kid more than anything else.  I’m writing the book for those parents who have lost a child.

I’m also writing the book to teach others about using Circle process.  The use of Circle in Safe Teen Driving Circles is the “topic” selected for the Circle.  I started with Kay Pranis, and Peacemaking Circle approach.  Her tool that indicated how to address problem-solving with relationship building became the four phases of Circle that I use. 

Restorative Justice is typically a response to wrong-doing.  The Safe Teen Driving Circle process is using Circles to prevent, address a problem.  Stories of those tragically impacted share their heart, their experience and the reality they live.  It is the story within the Circle process that is designed to change teen behavior.

I’m writing the book.

Carefully consider, will you re-act or re-spond. One is more restorative.

No matter who we are someone in life is going to hurt our feelings, make us mad or frustrated.  Someone will push a button that pushes an emotion.

I was telling my friend/old boyfriend that I wanted to be like Mother Theresa and that no one would make me mad.  He asked “How do you know, no one ever made her mad”.  I guess I didn’t know that.  I realized I want something, that by stressing over it, made me not have what I wanted.

I want to keep my perfect “zen” all the time.  I want to *love* everyone, and have them find me compassionate, kind, supportive.  I want these things back from people.  Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.  It doesn’t happen because that’s not life.  The most we can do is strive to be in right relationship with others.

As I’ve grown up, I’d like to think I am a kinder, wiser, gentler version of myself.  I think the restorative justice work has helped.  Its helped me understand and learn from reacting to try and simply respond.

In turn I’ve also learned that by helping victims and offenders process and prepare for restorative justice, formulating a response to wrong-ing doing is helpful on the path to healing.  This response takes the form of telling the story around the incident, sharing what you were thinking at the time.  Each party shares what life has been like since the harm.

A response to wrong-doing is making a plan to make it right.  I think reacting is to focus on the punishment.

A quick side story, where I used a response, rather than a reaction.  In preparing a young man to meet with the people he harmed, he asked if could wear sunglasses during the meeting.  Rather than react to this question, I responded with a few questions.

I asked where this question came from.  He shared that it would be hard to meet with the people, he would be feeling really bad.  I asked him what he would think about someone who was wearing sunglasses.  I offered if they would seem sincere.  He identified for himself that wearing sunglasses would not be a good idea.  I asked if he still had a question, he said no.

We moved into talking about his feelings being quite natural for the type of meeting (the conference) we were preparing for.

That’s also part of conference preparation, helping each side consider and prepare responses, to the conference questions.  As you as the facilitator learn what needs and questions may arise specific to the incident, you can help people be prepared.  When people are prepared they are responding, not reacting.

I think life goes smoother, and our relationships are better if we can take a moment to consider our responses.

Keeping quotes & notes to promote Restorative Justice techniques.

Take Pain as a Passport To Help Others.

Heal whatever Thwarts your Good.

Why are you going?

Your work is to find your work.  Then to do it with all your heart.  -Buddha

Happiness – simply do the right thing.  Just do the next right thing.

Circles help us step towards our best self.  Values & living in those.

I want to know if you don’t agree.

The quotes above are from a little notebook of mine.  I keep little notebooks, of quotes, ideas, websites to visit and books to read.  I’ve added listing ideas for blog posts, to the notes in these notebooks. 

The notebook, where I found these quotes was from ’07, I didn’t start blogging until September of 2008.  I guess I was keeping snapshots like this for something. 

Each of the concepts listed above, is about Restorative Justice.  I don’t know what I was reading when I found these, but I’ve made them my own.  These quotes have helped me in my practice. 

To see that people that have experienced tragedy as having a ‘passport’, that means they have traveled somewhere the rest of us haven’t.  We don’t have to travel to the destination of grief and loss to be helped.  I think of one of our volunteers, he didn’t intend to kill anybody, but it happened, after he decided to drink and drive.  Now, he helps others.  He’s turned the experience into one of service.  His story is one aspect, but the pain, the pain he suffers from what happened, is the lesson.  It could be young people ticketed for underage drinking or a audience at a victim impact panel, where everyone attending did the same thing, drove drunk, just without the lethal consequence. 

Ironically enough in the same notebook, was the phone number of the Mother of the victim in the situation above.  She was also in contact with me about volunteering and sharing her story, her story of her son’s death.

Growing in restorative justice means developing and deepening your own relationship to positive values.

Tips to a Restorative Justice Path . . . personally and professionally.

To be better at blogging I read blogs.  One I subscribe to is Write to Done.  As you can tell by the title, I’m hoping this will help me get the On the Road Together Book done.   The blog is full of tips, hints, suggestions, ideas.

This particular post – was very helpful.  As I was reading these short sentances, it occured to me I could duplicate this project.

I’ll start with 20, 30.  Then you send and your tips.  Together we can get this list to 100!  Think of things you have done, would like to do or have seen others do.

100 Tips to a Restorative Justice Path:

  1. Read all you can find on Restorative Justice.
  2. Know the movement movers & shakers.
  3. Become a movement shaker.
  4. Be in Circle, as a keeper and a community member
  5. Identify your own life values (mine are generosity, spirituality, community & love)
  6. Challenge yourself to grow in restorative justice
  7. approach a problem with love
  8. Listen, really listen to the next person who speaks to you
  9. Deepen your own understanding of yourself
  10. Think through a judgement or stereotype
  11. Heal a wound in your own heart
  12. Volunteer in your community
  13. Update your Restorative Justice ‘elevator speech’
  14. Make up a Restorative Justice Bumper sticker for example, dealing with healing, Repair Harm and  Judge None)
  15. Be fearless in your love of people, nature and Creator
  16. Share you practice with others, seek feedback
  17. Attend a professional conference on Restorative Justice
  18. Give your time, money and talents to Restorative Justice programs
  19. Identify where you already use Restorative Justice values
  20. Decide to do one more thing restoratively
  21. Attend a training, even if you think you already know how to do it, you might find something new
  22. be humble, no matter how many years you’ve practiced restorative justice
  23. accept change gracefully
  24. believe in healing – as the natural state, act on this belief
  25. start a restorative justice blog
  26. subscribe to a restorative justice blog
  27. search Restorative Justice in Facebook, add new friends
  28. Join Twitter, post Restorative Justice quotes
  29. recommend a good restorative justice book to someone else
  30. Seek to understand your local vicitm advocates

You can post your list here as a comment, or email me at and I will get this updated in one month (September 16, 2009).  Thanks – I am interested in reading what everyone else has.