Community, using consensus and majority rules.

Originally written for the River Falls Journal Blog – Community Justice, Resotrative Justice

In restorative justice we use consensus.  This means we make space for everyone else and come to agreements that work for everyone.  It is really hard to imagine that this works.  I myself have been surprised by how the process is successful.

Majority rules means that a few people are left unhappy.

To compromise means each side wins a little and each side loses a little.

How do we build healthy community relationships when people are unhappy or have lost a little, despite winning a little?  Is it even possible?

I have had experiences in community building.  A classroom community of children is able to come together and maintain priorities of respect, responsibility and fair-mindness.  My nieces school has signs posted about the Wildcat Way and lists these 3 values.  Then in the classroom the teacher would ask students “Sam, are you thinking?”.  This question allowed student to find and experience their own redirection of behavior.  When we self-govern, at any age we are stronger in community.

The Constitution of the Unites States gives us great freedom and great responsibility.  I believe we have the tools and space needed to use consensus in our daily lives.  Using consensus in community is not easy.  Consensus calls on us to really examine ourselves.  Can we make room for the needs of others?  Can we meet our own needs without violating the needs of others?  These are the things you ask yourself, while you self-govern and be a good community member.

I was taught a technique/group exercise, by Kay Pranis, Circle keeper and author of Doing Democracy with Circles.  The exercise has left people feeling like they wanted to bolt from the room.  Some groups simple put the manipulative’s away, frustrated, the group agrees not to create anything.  A fellow Circle training was going to make a t-shirt “I survived the driftwood experience”.  Kay uses driftwood.  My point here is that consensus is not easy.  Consensus takes time and we live in a fast society.

Restorative Justice uses consensus where people prepare and come together over crime or conflict.  I have been amazed how once we take turns speaking, people find a common ground, a place of agreement.  We all have many, many experiences and perhaps yours are very different from mine.  I have room for your experiences, I use consensus on a regular basis.  I have been on both the giving and receiving end of other people making room for my views and values.  It makes you feel good and part of a bigger picture.  The picture of community where everyone is respected and everyone is important.

Restorative Justice and lessons from Bikram Yoga, skill practice for both.

I have taken two Bikram Yoga classes in Fort Collins, Colorado.  As I have gotten back into this process, I have a few comparisons to restorative justice.  Change, 100% effort and working on the edge.

Change.  When you are in the steaming heat holding one of the 26 postures, stretching your body as you can, then you hear the teacher say “change”, it is such a relief.  I did another post here on it.  As a split second response to change occurs, I thought of how quickly people’s hearts change in restorative justice.  The hearing of another’s story really does change a person.

100%.  In Bikram, in between floor poses, we do a pose called savasana, or dead man’s pose.  You lay on the floor and relax.  It is a posture, and as last nights teacher said, when your mind has left the room, your body has left the posture.  The teacher before would remind us, 100% relaxation.  In these times of focus on not focusing, I associated it with other life experiences.  Circle listening, or “story-listening” happens like this.  In 100%.

The edge.  Some of the savasana happens on your stomach, head to the side.  I always try to find a focal point.  Then I try to find a tiny edge of the focal point.  A spot on the ceiling, then the edge of the spot.  Or the corner of my neighbors yoga mat, the very, very corner.  Then, while usually fighting the response to pass out or puke, I start to have a mind wander.  Most recently as I was considering why I love to look at the very edge between two things, it reminded me of (what else, shocker here) Restorative Justice.

There is a huge difference between the victim and the offender.  Yet the edge between the two is often closer than it might appear.  Victims have said of the offender, he was a regular guy, just like me.  This was of the offender who drove drunk, ran over the probation officer, who had stopped to help another car along the highway.  The victim, now left without a left arm spoke at a conference and advocates for other amputee’s.

The crime “trauma” bond should not be ignored.  Often it is an involuntary relationship between two people, formed because of the incident of harm.  Responding and working with trauma is its own speciality, walking the edge, for both victim and offender to repair harm or heal trauma take a special skill set.

Are you a restorative justice specialist or practitioner?  Are you working on skill-sets needed for Restorative Justice in real life?

Life is a series of beginnings, middles, ends and experiences.

I was sitting in a quiet house, two boys napping.  I was sewing a new fleece hat for my sister-in-law.  When you make things for people you get to infuse them with love.  I know it sounds a little “kooky“, but it’s true.  At that moment I was also waiting for my brother to bring her home.  I kept thinking they were there because a neighbor tied a balloons and a welcome home sign on the front porch.  It was a time in life where I had a moment to be pondering the greater scheme of things.  This coming home was a beginning of her being home.  She left her home ill just 4 weeks ago, not knowing that she would end up with a seriouse disease and spend a month in the hospital.  She left her home so differently than how she would be returning today.  I am proud to be her sister-in-law and regretful that we have to deal with leukemia.  We are nearing some middle time with the disease and coming home was the beginning of the middle.

My time had a beginning, where I was stressed out, trying to do my best.  The middle where I had the routine down and now the end.  In my end phase I am trying to figure out how to not miss my niece & nephews so much.  I am trying to figure out how to get back to my life and keep bonds here for this family.  I wanted to leave a random food in the fridge to be remembered.  I am leaving my niece a favorite t-shirt for pj’s.  I am doing all I can to finish up strong, and leave everyone including myself a better person because of this visit.  When more time passes all of us will have the experience of this time.

When I work with trauma survivors (be it a victim or offender) and we are talking about the aspect of volunteering or storytelling I explain how our brains slow down and take in the moments the incident starts.  For some people it is the call from the hospital, for others waking up in the hospital.  People know the events and moments that surround our beginnings that change our life.

Where were you when 911 happened.  That was a beginning.  Our brains equip us with bookmarking, a survival instinct to note what we should avoid in the future.  Restorative Justice questions help us with beginnings, by asking “what did you think when you realized what happened”.

After we get our wits back, we are in the middle.  We cope and we deal with what happened.  Depending on where a situation is in the criminal justice process, or if there was even a formal response to the crime, people start to find the middle and then decide what they need for their own end.

Restorative Justice helps people tie up the end before they move to the final part which is an experience.  I am reminded of Kubler-Ross and stages of grief.

I like using the milestone question in Circle, at the building relationships stage.  I ask for people to share something that is coming up for them, or something that they have just gone through.  Everything happens in cycles.  I appreciate that when someone shares a sobriety date, or a birthday we can all easily relate to the anticipation of a birthday or the celebration of sticking with something for a certain amount of time.

I think we could help ourselves, restorative justice involved or not, by remembering to just be in our experience.  Deal with the beginning, the middle and the end, by doing the best in our relationships, we can all have one life experience after another that leaves us more complete and more human.

Restorative Justice Circles increase L-factor, likeability.

It was just a quick 2 and a half hour training session, introducing the middle school staff to concepts of Restorative Justice and Circles.  The format was in Circle.  The experience was very deep during the story telling round.  As the teachers were leaving the classroom, I was picking up the Circle Center items.  I was stopped by two people who both complimented the training session.  It was nice to hear “good job” and “great session”  I said thank you to accept the compliment.  I did feel guilty because it was really the power of the Circle that made the training so good.

Circles work at increasing your L- factor as in LIKEABILITY.  When people like you they can open up to you and learn from you.  I’ve read in other places that if you get people talking about themselves they will like you more.  Using Circles in training sessions is a way to give an experiential learning and have people connect to each other.  Another Likeability Factor article details components for growing your L.

These include being relatable, compassionate, listen & engage people,  don’t gossip & give freely.

This fits right into circle.

As you facilitate a process that is about equality and respect you become someone people want to relate with.  Explaining a talking piece helps break the ice.  People have to know something about you, a little story of your life and then they can see themselves in you.

Circles evoke compassion in the way the bring out discussion regarding values and listening.  The “WE ahead of ME” phrase that I use summarizes this, because in Circle we take turns and compassion comes from listening and listening is a component of Circle.  Everyone is given equal opportunity to engage in Circle.  Just the shape of facing each other, engages people differently.  A teacher recently shared how he was forced to behave in Circle.  He said usually he is the class clown in trainings.  Another teacher offered that she usually texts under the table during trainings and could do that with the Circle format.

The final two things that promote likeability are don’t gossip & give freely.  When I start and introduce the talking piece, I share that we speak from the heart.  Speaking from the heart is not what you “think” about someone else, it’s about your own truth and experiences.  I think that just guides people to a no gossip zone.  When sharing that the talking piece is for you to speak until understood, it also limits what you would say that could be gossip.  When I speak to the confidentiality of Circle, I start by giving  people permission to speak about the experience in general, but not about what people specifically said.  That is explaining a boundary and crossing it is gossip.  I also introduce the Circle, by sharing that we speak to the Center in Circle, rather than  respond to what someone else said.  Avoiding weigh in, advice giving, and other feedback loops is part of Circle. Giving each voice its own turn is the Circle way.

I really like the last suggestion in the increasing your” L” article, give freely.  When someone shares a deeply personal story, or gives a life experience to the Circle, it shifts.  It shifts the Circle to a deeper place of perspective and realness.  Groups are their own best climate creators, and when you have one person willing to open up, it helps others give freely as well.  Sometimes I can feel a Circle energy tighten around the person who is near tears.  I always feel glad I have taught the process when we simply hold space for that person to share.  No one jumps in to rescue, recommend or even support and encourage.  To give freely in Circle means to give without condition.  Free is free and that means that you are giving your perspective and much as giving your understanding.  So give both freely (perspective and understanding), it can increase your own L factor and it’s a good Circle practice to take with you all the time.

Dear Mom, thanks for the ceramic lessons. A full Circle experience.


There is nothing like family.  In dark times families get closer.  I have been at my brothers home 8 days.  I am so sad that my sister-in-law is sick, but we are rallying around her.  I decided to contribute to her health and recovery by providing love and care for the kids.  I came to stay with every intention of helping them.  It turns out in many ways my life is getting richer and deeper.

I am a do-er.  I do things.  I get things done.  I run a non-profit in real life.  In my recent “sister life” I have been doing things like changing diapers, running kids to preschool, going to parks, reading bed time stories.  My need to do had me organizing and rearranging cupboards at the Miner house in Colorado.  I even got to the junk drawer.

That’s where I found a long forgotten childhood relic.  A ceramic cracker holder dog.  Just that concept strung together, cracker holder dog should have rung a bell.  For some reason when I saw it, it didn’t quite click.  I asked my brother where he got it.  He said “oh one of the kids made it”.  Something told me different.  I turned it over.  Initials on the bottom “KM” and then “80′ “. 

Thirty years ago I made that dog.  I was 12 in 1980.   How often do you get to find something like this?  I thought about my life back then.  I remember that Mom wanted us to do something special just the two of us.  I remember that we went on Tuesdays.  I remember that we didn’t always say much.  The lady that ran the ceramic shop was really into her work.  It was an artistic and creative atmosphere.  I wonder how many other people from Gregory painted things there.  I don’t know then if I really “got” it.  But as I thought about it the other night, looking at that dog.  i realized how much that special time really did mean to me.  I remembered we would leave things one week, come back the next for the next layer of glaze or to see how items turned out after being fired.   It was probably good I learned SOME patience as a child.  It made me feel really good to think about my Mother and I doing ceramics together.  It  filled a little place in my heart to remember the girl at 12 who painted this silly dog, cracker holder.  My Mom has been gone for 22 years.  I was holding a treasure from a time we did something together.  I was holding onto something that was in the time and space of time and space that my Mother and I shared. 

Not only is it amazing that cracker dog, Mom and I were together, but this happened before my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was diagnosed on February 14 when I was 13.  She died when I was 20, I am now 42.

That dog made me realize how important my job here is.  It made me realize that I can help my brothers kids with their Mom’s illness.  I am sooo thankful that the evolution of cancer treatment has come so far in 20 years.  I am so grateful that my sister-in-law is going to beat this leukemia thing.

I’m so grateful that my Mom took me to ceramics. 

What are you doing today, that you will be thanked for 30 years later and 22 years after you have passed away?

If you live in good relationship values, and that is the theory of restorative justice, you just might find something as odd as a cracker holder dog having lots of lessons for life.

Restorative Justice lessons from a 4 year old.

My nephew is a doll.  He’s 4 years old with a full vocabulary.  However, he has a bit of a speech impairment.  He was evaluated and his parents were informed he would grow out of it.  When he talks to you he is very confident of what he is saying.  He’s outgoing and strong-willed.  I have come to love him to pieces.

We have had tons of fun.  At the moment his most prized possession is a little felt brown bear.  We made it together from a little sewing kit.  He calls it his “son”.  When the glue didn’t hold on one eye, he quickly modified to an acceptable “glass eye”.   We’ve bonded and I’ve been reminded of a few Restorative Justice lessons from the little fellow.

Reminders about listening, sharing and kindness.

We were having a little before bedtime conversation.  His Mom’s routine is a few questions, best part of your day, worse part of your day.  I couldn’t quite catching what he was asking me to tell him.  I asked him to repeat himself several times.  He finally felt beside my head, touched both ears and exclaimed: “why can’t you hear me, you have two ears!”

Adorable.  A reminder of how important it is to listen to each other.  We all want to be “heard” 4 or 40 and I so appreciate about Restorative Justice that we allow people to be heard.  We set up a special kind of listening as we create safe space for dialogue about our stories.

Nephew had a soccer ball, the family dog took it over.  The partially deflated thing is a fetch toy.  The dog loves it, if you toss it once you are in for the game as long as you are in the yard.  Nephew was tired of the dog playing with his ball.  He would toss it over the neighbors fence.  The dog acted as if she lost a friend.  The dog loves the old soccer ball.  As the ball went back and forth over the fence, I finally negotiated a deal with nephew.  I asked him to just “give” his ball to the dog.  I saw that sharing was just too darn hard for these two.  Both nephew and the dog wanted to own the ball.

Sometimes sharing is just too darn hard.  Nephew let it go, I asked him not to share but to give it away.  Which he did.  I have been using positive reinforcements like crazy and so now, I can remind him of how kind he is that he gave the dog his ball.  The neighbors can also quit wondering why the ratty soccer ball keeps ending up in their yard!

It hurts to be the victim of any crime.  Eventually people come to a letting go, of sorts.  I have seen people come to realize that hurting, resenting and being angry about being victimized is only a page in the chapter or maybe just a chapter in the book.  As I’ve said many times, every situation is unique.  Nephew found that giving is receiving when he gave his dog his ball.  He got to know how good kindness feels.

We were holding hands crossing a street.  He randomly asked me how many more days I would be staying.  I answered him, “14 bedtimes”.  I thought to myself that must seem like a lifetime to a four-year-old. 

His response “I’m dunna miss you”.

Restorative Justice with stranger or acquaintance victims, different angles apply.

With a masters in counseling and experience as an in-home family therapist I don’t mind taking on acquaintance situations of harm.  I have always believed in systems, and that a larger context of relationships influences all of us.

I am going to highlight 3 major angles to consider when pre-conferencing victims in stranger or acquaintance situations of restorative justice.  The focus of this blog post is specific to victims since restorative justice is victim initiated.  The three considerations are outcomes, relationship context and flexibility.

Outcomes – it is so important to understand what victims want out of the process.  In incidents of strangers I see people shift.  For example the victim that thought the juvenile was just an unsupervised tart.  When the victim meets the family and learns more about the child, the victim actually has offender empathy!  So clarify and clarify again why the victim is seeking restorative justice.

In acquaintance incidents you need to be very clear with victims.  Family matters can run very deep.  Situations between acquaintances can be parent child, where a teen stole something from parents or community.  Sometimes generational incidents come into play as well.  A victim shared with me that in a restorative session over her stolen car, the grandmother of the offenders said she wasn’t responsible and wasn’t paying.  (This was not an SCVRJP case.)

It is really important to help people with what outcomes they want, and steer them to be outcomes that the person themselves has control over.  I make sure people don’t have unrealistic expectations, and stay focused on self-needs.  It is a fine line to do this with grace, but by asking questions you can help guide people in their own journey.

Relationship Context – School settings are places where people who know each other are harmed.  Sometimes the harm happens between students that don’t know each other very well.  When focusing on restorative justice it is good to explore the nature of future relationship.  I screened out a case once because the offender said she would do it again.  She also told me that the victim deserved it and other people felt she was justified and supported her behavior.  I always say Restorative Justice is about repairing the harm, not causing further harm.  Sometimes people with a long history of conflict want just another place to have that conflict.  This is where being VERY, VERY cautious in situations of domestic violence or partner issues is needed.

I have also seen and heard of cases when the stranger gives a place for the offender to make things right.  For examples the juveniles do community service at the victims place of work or volunteer agency.  RJ facilitator should use caution in setting up these kinds of agreements with people who are acquainted.  These agreements are hard to be understood as part of specific incidents.  Relationships change as our conversations in them change.

Flexibility – each case is different.  Victims experience crime differently.  So often harm from the past is triggered when dealing with incidents.  Allow people to express that these older hurts & wounds are opened again, but ask how to focus on healing now, with this person at this time.  Keep true to the primary focus of RJ (harms, needs, obligations & engagements).  Be aware that victims and offenders may have had history and that the criminal justice process it to look at only the crime.  Consider how that process impacts te relationship, be flexible in addressing the harm caused by a trial or “not-guilty” plea as much as addressing the incident itself.

When it comes down to pre-conference or preparing people for restorative justice sessions, never go at it unprepared.  Make sure people are given all explanation about outcomes, and that the dialogue is to help.  Make sure you have explored how they intend or expect to feel after.  Prepare them to speak to the harm, as well as listen to another perspective (the offenders).  It never hurts and I recommend making sure you yourself understand the dynamics at play for the individuals you are bringing together.

Be careful of what you do, it becomes who you are.

Read here and here please.

I’m not weaving in this post, example of how restorative justice works, or how the title of this post can be explained with Restorative Justice.  But doing restorative justice helps you be a better person.  Todays example is just about me.

I woke up from a vivid dream last night.  Dreams don’t make sense sometimes and at other times you get a very strong message.  I was on crutches, and a line of school buses was in front of me.  I had no idea which one to get on.  I crossed between buses, I thought of asking all the  bus drivers.  I was looking for the person in charge.  It was the employee I left in charge of SCVRJP.  She was leaning in a car window at the very front of the caravan of cars and buses.  I knew she was talking to her family.  I couldn’t get her attention.  The next car in line also had someone speaking to the passengers.  It was best friend of the person I left in charge of SCVRJP.  I couldn’t get his attention either.

Very likely the stress of being out of my element and routine is causing funky dreams.  The fact I know nothing about parenting young kids these days has me doing something very different than usual.  Well, I take that back, I’ve had a hell of a crash course the last 4 days.  I’m sitting here pretty sure I smell like urine and sour milk, I could care less.  I’m too tired to care.

Last night was my first entire evening alone with the crew and they were GREAT.  Really good, well-behaved, an excellent bedtime.  Something happened to me, as I slept alongside my little one-year-old nephew.  He’s a little needy right now, he likes to sleep next to a warm body.  He was nursing one day, life was normal.  The next his primary caregiver is in the hospital.  He was thrown off by a drastic haircut and Mom’s changed body chemistry (from chemo) changed her smell.  He won’t really go to his Mom like he did 15 days ago.  He slept glued to my side.  I protected him.  I held his tiny little hand in the night.  I felt him breathe.  His little baby noises out the nose when he sucked his bottle just melted my heart.

I woke up alot last night, every whimper was met with me grabbing the bottle, often he was just tossing.  I woke up in between dreams, and light sleep. 

After I woke from the dream where I couldn’t find the right bus.  I realized I had changed profoundly in the 3 nights and 4 days here.  I realized that my life cannot JUST be SCVRJP.  I thought of how well-behaved the kids were (they did act their ages), I attributed the good behavior to all the love I shared with them.  I redirected kindly, I gave positive reinforcement, I stayed calm, I took an extra minute, or 10 for bedtime.

As I laid there in an unfamiliar place, reflecting on my dream, my last four days my eyes started to sting and I lost a few tears.  I realized I am giving so much love that a piece of my heart will be with this family forever.

It made perfect sense why when packing I just “knew” I would be out here again.  That knowing paired with the fact the chemo is a 5 month process and we have 4 more 30 day hospital stays to go.  I did this.  I jumped in to help my brother, and now it is impacting who I am.  I am here for a reason and it seems to have as much to do with me as it does them.

A generous spirit promotes inclusiveness.

I am a strong believer in the values of belonging and inclusion.  I think these two things promoted in people would make the world a wonderful place.

At a church service, I felt like the entire experience was about me.  It was a refreshing message, conveyed with kindness and free of judgement.  Instead of pushing that we shouldn’t work on the sabbath, we were offered insights and wisdom about the beauty and benefits of taking a breath, a break, observing sabbath.

During the service the congregation was treated to a song on the guitar.  I believe the pastor said it kindly, “I have this for you”.  It reminded me of being generous and sharing.  I believe when the words generous and spirit are placed together, you have a human being that is a good example.

I believe these are core values in the Lakota, generosity and spirituality.  I am not quite sure where but I read it somewhere.  I picked those to be values I wanted to promote here on earth.

I am finding some experience in being that right now.  I am in my brothers home, his 7 year old is at school, he is napping with his son’s 4 & 1.  His wife Megan is in the hospital working towards her health.  I can’t even type the word right now.

I guess it was generosity that led me to take a 3 week leave from work.  It was easy, within 24 hours of the news I booked a flight.   I knew I had resources that could help, I could bring myself and give time helping out.

When you encounter generous spirits in restorative justice, they are volunteers.  Some of the SCVRJP volunteers give by facilitating services, some by telling their tragic stories.  Time and time again we get feedback that the stories and the volunteers led to insight, understanding and promises of change.

I think it is the inclusiveness of generosity.  Because truly generous people give without conditions or expectations.  It is a judgement free offering.  I’ve been seeing these blessings and generous acts while I have been here.

Food from neighbors, gift cards to playlands, a gift of jumpercables, lots of love and concern.  Given just because.

For all of you who have ever dropped of a donation after a funeral, illness or crisis, bless you.  If you have an opportunity to do a bit more and help a friend or community member, I believe you will find yourself appreciated for your generosity.  Like a random act of kindness, include people by giving to them.

Leadership is building what stays beyond you.

I read it somewhere and saved it in my brain.

Real leaders build things that are around after the leader is gone.

The idea is that YOU, aren’t the program.  What you build, create, lead, develop, implement needs to continue going if you are really going to be a leader that makes a difference. 

SCVRJP has been a one woman show for the majority of its existence.  I can’t thank or appreciate the past and current board members enough.  The leadership of people willing to make referrals or volunteer to be in the process or be volunteers for our program.  So no one REALLY does anything alone, and I didn’t do it all alone, I just had something to do with all the others involved in this thing called St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice.

At this very moment in time, I am getting ready to leave my baby home alone for the first time.  I am actually being a little pathetic about letting go, but after 4 hours of work on a holiday, and packing for a trip ahead of me.  I need to leave the office.  I thought doing a blog post was a fitting exit.

I need to get out of my own way.  I need to realize I’m not that big of a deal.  A dear friend passed away a few years ago.  I vividly remember her giving me some advice as I was concerned about leaving a job and my clients behind.  She told me that you can pull your fist out of a bucket of water.  There is a splash and some ripples, but eventually the water goes back to just being in the bucket.  I’m thinking of Mary today and that advice.

I am leaving work for 3 weeks to go stay with my brother.  His wife is in the hospital with Leukemia.  She’s been there 11 days and she will be in for a few more weeks, then in and out again for 5 months of chemo and treatment.  Less than 24 hours after knowing this, I booked my flight.  Posted here about dealing with this.

I have taken people that know me back a little by leaving work for 3 weeks.  Its been a shock to me I am able to do this!  I just knew what I needed to do, and I need to go help my brother.  Instead of focusing on what I am leaving behind here in River Falls, I need to focus on what I will leave behind me in Colorado.

I need to help my brother by helping him cope.  I think I will pack along some restorative skills like listening, compassion, empathy and understanding.  I want to leave him with love, knowing his big sis steps up and will be there.  I want to be a supporter and repairer of harm.  The kids, 7, 4 & 1 will get some special Aunt Kris time we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

So I guess what I didn’t know when I started this post, that I know now, is I am not leaving much behind, I am taking it with me.  Restorative Justice goes where I go.  From family to family and heart to heart, I can help bring what I know and do to my life as a person as well as a professional.  What I get to leave behind, is what I have built with others here, in their hearts and it will be just fine when I return.