Restorative Justice for Victims and increased victim participation.

A few recent events pulled this post together.

1.) At the IIRP Conference, I teased the Prosecuter in attendance, asking him if he was lost.  It was just a little sarcasm about the different philosophies sometimes held by ‘prosecution’ and ‘restorative justice’.  I then shared with him how I appreciated prosecutors that took initiative in using Restorative Justice.  I told him I was hopeful that this would bring more victim-witness advocates to Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice Conferences, like the one we were attending.

2.) I was told I smell like an offender.  The sentance, is out of context.  In a powerful presentation by Wilma Derksen, she shared that victims can smell when an offender is in the room, she said they can smell when a offender advocate is in the room.  She also shared impressions that Restorative Justice, and it’s practitioners smell like offenders.  She went on and had a captivating story, and experience that showed the victim-offender trauma bond, cannot be ignored.  (I plan to shower, and work on smelling a little more neutral)

3.) Howard Zehr’s most recent blog post is titled: Restorative Justice and Victim Services Collaboration.  He points out the need to find out where gaps exist and why.

A few observations I made along the way.  Don’t go around people.  I saw isolation grow for a practitioner who decided that if victim-witness was not going to provide victim contact information then it would be sought out from a probation officer.  This did nothing to build a relationship with victim-witness.

Ask.  I have asked others for permission to explain restorative justice to victims.  I use the line, “I get to do this full time”.  If you are working with a victim and you have never attended therapy, support groups or restorative justice.  It’s hard to explain to a vicitm what those services might look, feel and be like.  Most people have some sense of therapy and support groups.  The shortcoming is in explaining something you’ve not ever seen.

When I ask to explain to victims, I also make sure my partners in service, know, that victims are given the choice.  A choice to participate, a choice to send information, a choice to send someone in their place, a choice to meet the offender.  Not all Restorative Justice means victim/offender encounter.

Our first victim participant in Victim Empathy Seminars, had never met his offender.  He saw him in court.  He wanted to help him.  It was an interesting case of identity theft, they never caught the people that stole the identity by using stolen checks.  They had the young man that stole the checks.  So his crime was liason to the bigger crime, where no offender was apprehended.  This victims path to healing, included helping others.  So that’s what he did.  He came and shared his story, he offered his experience to younger offenders with hopes of teaching empathy.  Teaching empathy that would protect the community.

My experience with victims, the 40-60% that do choose restorative justice is that they are TRUE Community Hero’s!  They make such an impression on the offender.  Its amazing to see.  Its like they are the ones least likely to divert crime, and yet they are the most powerful ones to do it.  AND, they do it after being harmed.  IT’s amazing.  Its my favorite part of restorative justice.  When victims input so much, its hard not to get pushy wanting them to participate.

I work hard at relationships within the system of people that work with victims.  I also make sure some of my time and resources as a non-profit is spent, trying to reach vicitms who don’t have an offender apprehended.  I’d like to end this post with some advice I got from Kay Pranis.

Work on the relationship with victim services.  Understand what they do, how and why they do it.  It was simple, and I think as a movement, restorative justice should spend a little more time repairing these relationships.

Restorative Justice promotion, took a new step.

One of the most popular posts on my blog, has a picture of stairs.  The point of the blog, is learning stairs.  Playing off the term ‘learning curve’.  I do think the popularity of the post, is not in it’s content, but in the photo.  People search stairs, and that photo catches them and gives them the link to my blog.  I hope people that get to that post find it helpful.

When I used the photo I found it helpful to conceptualize the rise and run of stairs.  To taking information to the next step, having enough to get to the next level.  I found this in action for the concept of School-based Restorative Justice.  In a break out session at the IIRP conference, two wonderful leaders of Restorative Justice, Bruce Schenk and Terry O’Connel presented a session on implementing restorative practices in schools.

One area of the presentation I took strong note of, was the suggestion and recommendation for talking to school staff.  Today I have 67 posts tagged on this topic.  I’ve learned how to approach and talk to schools.  But I was never informed how to LISTEN to schools.

It was so simply, like a lightbulb.  Use a Socratic method!  (I have no link to what this method is, I don’t like how it is described.  I will share my understanding.)  Socratic method is gently inquiring and really listening to what a person shares.  A kind way of framing questions that really ask “how’s that workin’ for ya”.

I have met many educators frustrated and feeling disempowered to change, what they see is not working.  I have seen OVER, OVER and OVER again the demostrated and effective results of using restorative justice.  When the session participant asked, “what can I DO?”  the answer was “do, nothing” but “ask everything”.  (ok, I modified that a little bit).

Point being, that if you inquire, the response will boil down to an acknowledgement to try something else.  I loved it!

I feel a great honor to see a change in education.  I’ve always been an “outsider” to schools, either as a family therapist, trying to collaborate or a social worker trying to help a student.  I always felt “outside” as a parent.  I’ve been a close observer and I have been allowed in the building, for meetings, IEP’s, trainings, etc.  I feel like I’ve had a pretty clear view, but the view of an outsider.

I see the change in zero tolerance.  I see articles on school districts leaving the hard fast exclusion models.  I see more character education plans, and MANY aspects to social, emotional learning and EI schools (my favorite piece).

The idea that we will just listen, lets me know that the time has come that collective wisdom about community and resolving conflict has arrived.  Its arrived and it’s in our schools.  As restorative justice practitioners we just need to tap that wisdom.

I can’t wait to do my next school training session!


The power in hearing every voice, and the power of Circle participation.

“I was at a training, about leadership and meetings.  They said something that struck me, and reminded me of Circle.  They said the meeting doesn’t start until every voice is heard.” – spoken in a talking circle.

My immediate thought was about how many meetings I was in that had really never started!  It also validated the idea I bring out as much as possible.  Opening reflective question and end meeting ranking.  The opening question can be a ‘roll call’ type or a reminder about mission.  The meeting ends with everyone ranking the meeting at the end, picked this up from Moving Beyond Icebreakers.

In my experience these two little additions to a meeting, really help.  I feel like I know I will have two places to share, so I don’t have to work my comments.  I think how this relates to other personalities like mine, people who want to say “hello” to every person in a room.

It reminds me of the tradition I am familiar with when attending a Native ceremonies.  You go around give a handshake and say hello or introduce yourself to every person.  You can tell new people, they don’t know or forget to do this.  Its never been talked about, I just know this is how we do this.  I am glad, the ceremony I go to is an ‘Inipi’ Lakota for ‘sweat lodge’.  Glad to meet everyone and be greeted by them.  The ceremony is a real spiritual experience, and its good to know who you are in the company of.

I guess  that aspect, who you are in the company of, could just easily be translated to COMMUNITY.  Community is an important, important concept. 

Last night I had some serious dreams going on.  Worries about Circles that need to happen and some individuals.  I woke up and the dream carried over to an “ah-ha” question I could use in Circle.  A end of the Circle question, after we have acknowledged and worked on repairing the harm.  The question works, because what is SO important is to have clearer expectations of behavior after the Circle.

The question/statement to finish:  I believe my community expects me to . . .

In my dream, a police officer was explaining the point of their role and the community expectations matched the values the officer shared.  Next a young person shared perceptions of what the community wants, he said “I believe my community expects me to f*ck up”  I woke up shortly after this, because in my dream, everyone was mad at me and I couldn’t get them to help the young person.

I laid awake and thought of my own answers. The first,  as a nonprofit direct, my community expects me to . . .

I thought about as a Mom and a girlfriend and then decided Ididn’t like these expectations sometimes.

I will just try out the question in a Circle.  I hope by speaking and listening to the responses, people will have a better idea of who they are in the company of.

My wonderful experience at the IIRP 12th World Conference on restorative practices

I can’t believe it’s come and gone!  Last week I attended the 12th World Conference, hosted by the International Institute for Restorative Practices.  It was AMAZING!  My first IIRP conference was in 2002 (the 3rd IIRP conference).  That is where I first met IIRP President Ted Wachtel, as I mentioned in another post, he impressed me by following thru and sending my the Harvard Business Review – Fair Process article.

Ted mentioned that article again, at this conference, and as luck would have it I was telling a new friend about it when we had supper on the eve of the conference.

We had excellent speakers and breakout sessions.  The IIRP site, keeps speaker papers and conference articles, check out the library of on-line articles.

What this conference held, that was different from last years or other professional conferences, was seeing the impact of being a Restorative Justice Blogger, and social networker.  I got to meet a few people “in the flesh” and I felt connected, because we are facebook/twitter/linked in buddies.  A few of my new friends found me, because of these social network sites, and a conversation to chat on the phone happened before we actually met in person.  It was delightful to see them and spend time with people equally passionate about restorative justice!  A shout out here to Matt and Mary Ellen!

I was also approached by a few people who are blog readers, the response was heartwarming, the way they said “you’re, Kris Miner”, like putting two and two together in an ah-ha moment.  It was like they discovered something, and by the 4th or 5th time it happened, I had the feeling that it was ME, who discovered something.

I approach time and attendance at professional conferences as “professional development”, really focusing on deeping my connection to my profession.  Finding resources and shifts that make me richer and deeper as a person and a practitioner.  This conference provided a wonderful enviornment at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem and the Central Moravarian Church.  The shops on the street were cute, I’m wearing my new sweater today, purchased across the street from the hotel.

Connecting to people at conferences is so much fun.  Our conversations get to skip over an explanation of Restorative Justice and dive right into how and what type of work we do.  One of my friends said it was like being at the “spa”, he felt refreshed.

In Matt’s session, an attendee talked about being “the lone voice in the wilderness”.  That struck me right away, I know the feeling, being in isolation and the only one thinking about things in a certain way.  Then I started to think about what comes next.  It occured to me it depends on what we are using our “lone voice” for.  It it is to cry for help, that brings in others, in a certain way.  That “lone voice” could be singing a tune, like the 7 dwarfs, “hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go”.  The “lone voice” could also be sharing information to those interested, as he or she is carving a path in the woods.

regardless, the conference was a clear indication, we are no longer lone wolves, isolated voices . . . we ARE Restoring Community in a Disconnected World.

Just enough trauma, to validate my trauma knowledge and understand victims more.

I was cleaning out my garage yesterday.  Up in the rafters was my daughters old metal scooter, like the one pictured here.  As I was working hard, getting things re-arranged to get my car to fit.  I was clunked in the head, hard, it hurt.micro_scooter_flex_1

I saw the scooter hit the ground, so knew it was that.  It was very sudden, and it left me stunned.  I took a few steps and in response to the pain put my hand to my forehead.  I thought it felt wet, but my brain told me there was no explanation for it to be wet, so it must be my imagination.

I looked at my hand and it was bloody, a little bloody.  I put my other hand to my forehead and my forehead was very wet, I knew I was bleeding.  I looked down at my t-shirt, drips of blood were now falling off my face.

I thought, “plan, focus, execute”.  I got my keys, my car unlocked, got my phone, called my daughter.  I went back towards my garage, a little stunned, yet.  Thankfully my neighbor overheard my phone call and was curious.  He looked at me and by the look on his face, I knew it was ok to ask for help. 

I asked him to look at it.  I lifted my hand.  He said “oh my god”.  I put my hand back over the area.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I knew my daughter was on the way.  I asked if he had a towel or anything.  I couldn’t think of anything in my garage that would help.  He said, yes, then instead of getting something in the garage, he went into the building.

I tried to play out what was happening in my head, what did I need to do next.  I made sure I had my insurance card, wallet, keys, locked the car.  Called my daughter back to say “really, this is urgent”.  The neighbor returned and he wrapped by head with an ace wrap, really tight.  Gave me a towel for the blood, and my daughter arrived.  I ended up with 3 stitches, right where the hair and forehead meet.

It was enough trauma for me to experience and compare to the text book trauma knowledge I have.  I have seen trauma played out for others, and this was enough to validate a traumatic experience.  Mind you, I know 3 stitches isn’t ALL that traumatic.  Yet- I drew some comparisons to what I experienced and what I have seen, learned and heard from others.

Returning “normal” – as my neighbor, who I didn’t know, was wrapping my head, and my face was in very close to his chest, I noticed he was wearing a Vikings t-shirt.  He had just asked me my name.  It felt akward to be in his personal space, so I made small talk.  “Did the Vikings win today?” I asked in my calmest voice, while noticing he was shaking like a leaf.  I can only remember that moment, not his response.  I believe in the human desire for homeostasis – keeping things the same.  I was trying to restore a balance, and perspective that I was “ok”.  I think victims of trauma, seek this out.  Trying to get back to a state that existed prior to the trauma.  One of our volunteers told me the only thing that is the same in her life before her daughters death, is that she volunteers.  All other pieces got shattered, gone with the tragic loss of losing a child.  I was trying to be normal with my football question.

Understanding what happened.  Victims often seek understanding, why and how did this happen.  For some victims of crime, meeting the offender and asking these questions, lends to the understanding.  The number one question for victims, is “why me?” followed by “are you going to do it again?”  Some victims want and need to see the crash site, or talk to others that were involved.  One mom learned that the driver in the crash that killed her son, advised his passengers to put on seatbelts.  The Mom, took this piece and made it into “gratitude”.  When meeting with the offender, she thanked him for that, otherwise the family would not have been able to have an open casket.  (Talk about a lesson in grace for all of us).

I had to walk back into the garage, I had to see all the blood drips on the ground.  I had to see the scooter again.  I had to re-trace and replay the events with my daughter.  “what did I say when I called you”.  My instincts were on auto-pilot it seemed, my mind was racing, evaluating, planning.  I wasn’t totally remembering our conversation, because I remember trying to think how would I know this is more serious.  It was important of me to make ‘meaning’ of what happened and understand it.  I know that making meaning, getting perspective is an important part of integrating trauma into your life, as a crime victim.  This helped me realize just how much.

The final part, I really understood, it “residual fear“.  As I tried to go to sleep last night, I had this fear something was going to hit me in the head again.  I even got up turned on the light, and checked what was on the shelf above my bed.  I have been sleeping just fine, with that shelf and the items on it.  I knew rationally, NOTHING was going to fall on my head.  But laying down closing my eyes, left me vulnerable, and since this clunk on the head was out of the blue and random, I just worried.  It made me understand how the fear placed by crime, stays with a victim.  Despite rationale explanation.  I understand the burglary victim that sleeps downstairs until her spouse is home.  I understand the offender who killed someone in a drunk driving crash, being afraid their own family member would be harmed.  I understand the feelings associated with harm, and that when you get harmed in a way that stops your day, it can be a little traumatic.

I’m okay, now, I just had to make a little meaning of the incident and put the restorative justice spin on it.

Using Talking Circles to promote social justice.


Talking-CircleAt UWRF Restorative Justice is being used to address Social Justice issues.  Specifically talking circles, to promote discussion and inspire action.  The four phases of the Circle will work well for this.

circlestagesOur final phase of Circle is ‘Taking Action’ and action promotes social justice.

This began back when I connected with campus activities and student services staff working on the River Falls Diversity Committee.  Key staff attended a restorative justice circle training, and immediately used the process with student leaders.  Immediately meaning they reported back on day two of training!

The student group had a training on Circle themselves, using the Restorative Justice Center. 

The next step was to hold ‘Talking Circle Tuesday’ as part of the Social Justice series.  I am excited the poster looks so cool.  I am teaming with the social justice program to develop talking circle topic relevant to each months theme.

Our first Circle was small in numbers and strong in content.  We did a few introduction round, including our ‘relationship values’ and then watched the You Tube, Did You Know.  We spoke about the aspects of the video that spoke to each of us.  It was really interesting to hear what impacted each of us.  It broadened my mind about a few perspectives.  I really enjoyed it as a Circle, since I do so many where we are responding to harm, this one was a great way to dialogue with people that I might not have gotten the opportunity to know.  I really appreciate the campus for engaging a local resource in the Social Justice Series.  I am sure they would be happy to connect with anyone who is interested in duplicating a similiar program.  If you are in the River Falls Community I hope you’ll consider attending a Circle.

It never hurts to treat yourself restoratively. Restorative Justice requires introspection.

nightstandI recently cleaned out my nightstand drawer.  I thought the mix of items were really interesting, can I explain a few.

-The Mini Bottle of Sky vodka, upper right corner.  Demonstrates my protective parenting skills.  I found the vodka outside of our apartment building, right by the door.  Just laying in the grass, unopened.  It’s mine now. 

-The handcreams, cuticle clippers and Rx cream, represent healing.  Thank goodness the hives are gone!  I got past whatever was stressing me out.  No medical explanation, no cause or reason determined.  I am just thankful they are gone.  I keep the cream, just in case!

-Earplugs – those show my skills for others.  Boyfriend snores like a chainsaw.  Daughter and friends watch tv late.  I use the ear plugs to take care of myself, while letting others be themselves.

-paperwork – torn out journal pages, notes of blog ideas, lists of books I want to read.  All together I noticed these things really show who I am, and what I think, dream and want to learn about.

The most restorative part, was the journal pages I found about my relationship with my Dad.  Popular psychology has told us for years, the quality of the father-daughter bond impacts the daughter relationship to boyfriends.

During the last break-up with boyfriend I took a good look at my relationship with my Dad.  Some where I found the outline to work on, and as I look over the journal pages I realize the significant shift that happened.  What I restored on my own, I believe has lent to the current success of boyfriend and I.

The journaling (I am really sorry to not to have what book/website had these categories or ideas).

These pages were torn out of a journal.  I did them sometime in the last year.

I listed all the GOOD about my Dad/our relationship.  I listed what was CHALLENGING about my Dad relationship.  I listed what I felt I needed and did not get.  I then listed out what I needed in a relationship.  I listed out what the challenges & unmet needs caused me to be looking for in a man.  Some theories claim we work out this unfinished buisness with mates.  The next section was to ask myself if I still hold anything against him.  I listed 7 men, major relationships, 20 years of dating and significant relationships, and looked for a common theme.  I used all the previous work, to show what my ‘unconsious match maker’ was working on.  I listed what scares my about a relationship.  This was real, I wrote: “I’ll screw it up, he’ll leave me and I won’t be good enough”.  Then I wrote out an opposite relationship (than the ones I was having) would require me to:  -date slowly, -select carefully, -be who I want, and -love myself, accept that I am way more than ‘good enough’.

As I looked over this journaling, I got a feeling of doing my “life’s” homework.  I recalled stepping out of the shower one day, about 8 months ago and realizing, I can keep having “issues” and get thru it when my Dad dies, or I can heal my stuff now.  I bet it was around the same time I did this journaling.  It was like, a light switch, and I just ‘decided’ in that moment that I was going to be okay.  I was going to love and be loved.

Judge Ed Wilson said this at a Restorative Justice Conference:  In relationships we are broken and in relationships we are healed.

It never hurst to have a restorative relationship with yourself.

Restorative Justice allows us to speak with wisdom and real-ness.

One of the phrases I typically say in trainings:  “Nothing new under the sun”.  My point is two-fold.  First Restorative Justice isn’t all that orginal,  its more of the orginal kindness people needed to survive.  It’s as old as the sun itself.  I believe Restorative Justice reconnects us to the past way of relating.

I make this statement, it hopes of leveling the space between audience, kris miner and topic.  See, my time and your time is valuable.  When my role with you is trainer – there are two really important relationships.  You and Me, and You to the Subject I’m teaching.

I want you to buy-in if you will, to me and to what I am teaching.  I teach Restorative Justice, School-based Restorative Justice and Circle process.  The relationship concern I put forth, to your relationship to me, and the relationship with what I am teaching – I believe, is part of my success and the success of SCVRJP.

We know from sales numbers to parenting successs – relationships matter.

It appears so simple, it really does.  It’s common sense that really isn’t all that common these days.

What I appreciate and love about Circle, is giving people the space to speak to each other.  To really express wisdom in a real way.

We all need to hear the truth, and some times the truth is raw.  Sometimes to get the point across people use real phrases.  I’ve heard admissions about “having a few”, meaning a drink after work.  Then it was shared that a beer is fine, a bottle is not.  Pretty sound advice for a drinker of legal age.

There is discussion in Restorative justice, that told some young people, “keep your head out of your a**”.  Now that might not sound restorative in this blog, but because we had created a ‘safe space’, done our work to have a ‘strong container’, these genuine messages were embraced not rejected.  I’m telling you the truth.

I’ve tried to lead a conversation with my teenager, starting with where I think her head is, doesn’t get me very far!  It seems to go better when the relationship connection is made and the reasons for my concern.

Something about the talking piece brings out wisdom in people.  I’ve seen it again and again.  Victims are really empowered and get to stand face to face and be a bigger better person by offering support.  It’s as REAL as it gets to see that.

Speak your truth, to those in close relationship.  You’ll find your wisdom in being real.

Developing belonging as a life skill and a restorative justice skill.

Lets put value on ‘belonging’.

Look at all the books on LOVE.  The efforts at PEACE.  Not to minimize the importance of either of these but what if we learned to make people feel like they BELONG.

What about embracing our own selves, and our own place in our community.

How do we nuture our own belonging.  How do we cultivate the belogning of those around us?

I’ve had my mind occupied with a number of things recently.  Our upcoming fundraiser and several cases.  I’ve found a solace in “spacing out”.  I noticed that driving into work I would stay right behind a car.  Usually I speed past those driving the speed limit.  The third time I found myself doing this, I decided this was a “blogg-able” moment.  I started to self-analyze.  What was the comfort here?  Why was I willing to be car two, instead of speeding ahead to get to my destination?

I decided it was belonging.  Letting someone else be first held safety for me.  I just had to follow.  My task was to keep from tailgaiting.  This slight focus led me to use other parts of my brain for mulling over my life.  I reflected on the protected feeling, and I realized that as well, is an aspect of belonging.

By focusing on belonging – who we are connected to, how we are connected to them, we remember our responsibilities.  I love the Mother Theresa quote about ‘belonging’, and I didn’t like the person who was distant from that concept, I posted on that here.

East Side Arts Council Program
East Side Arts Council Program

A recent discussion included the question of “boundaries” in Restorative Justice.  How do we hold victims close to our hearts and then go work with offenders.  My feedback was that this is a particular skill, and requires focus and being fully present for the person you are with.

It also requires viewing crime/conflict by placing the issue in the center, and detaching the behavior from the person.  I think it also requires us to ‘BELONG” to the problem.  To take some ownership in the crime/conflict and lend our skills to helping with restoration.

As our class watched “Meeting a Killer“, I was thinking about the volunteer facilitator I had in our class as a guest.  We don’t go unchanged as facilitators, and I saw Ellen Halbert, acknowledge the personal impact in the film.  If you haven’t viewed this powerful story that shows the impact of RJ Conferencing you should watch it.

Think about ‘belonging’ and the wonderful concepts of attachment parenting.   I find those concepts consistent with restorative justice.  Taking care of each other increases our sense of committment, our sense of belonging.

I think that belonging is part of community.






Circlespace – Restorative Justice Classroom Circle training

Upcoming Trainings available.

CESA 7 in Green Bay – Nov 18 & 19, Course description and more courses on the CESA webpage.

Trainings for 2010 that will be held at the Restorative Justice Center – January 21 & 22 and April 15 & 16.  Limited seating, and the workshop investment is $200.00, which includes lunch, snacks, handouts and a certificate of completion.

Contact the Restorative Justice Center at 715-425-1100 to register.  You can also email me at

I am also available for on-site training.  These trainings can be specialized to meet the needs of your school, agency or community.  For training rates and packages, please see the Training Fee Schedule 2009.  The packages are listed on the left and the investment on the right.

I also do workshops, keynotes and conference presentations.  Please contact me if you are interested.  References are available upon request.

In April 2009, I presented on Restorative Jusitce in Schools for CESA 11, in Turtle Lake, photo below:

Kris Miner
Kris Miner