Different views of Restorative Justice, great food for Thanksgiving.

Food for thought, it’s almost Thanksgiving!

This video gives deeper explanation of Restorative Justice and it defines some different perspectives and angles.

I myself have always viewed it as a continuum or two – high encounter or high repairation.  I like about 9 minutes in, the discussion highlighted with Dan VanNess, that the discussion being open, is a very positive thing.

EDIT:  Gerry Johnstone, a prof from Hull University in England is doing the interview, he mentions a conversation with Dan VanNess.

Just following that, there is a valuable piece of discussion about the importance of the process to be self-influenced, or shaped by the participants.  That is also very important.

What do you think after viewing this:



To teach empathy, you simply teach listening.

Listening is under – rated.  We take it forgranted as something that we know how to do.  Teaching deep compassionate listening is part of learning how to do restorative justice and certainly how to be in Circle.

Listening without judgement is really hard.  We make split second judgements about what we agree and disagree with about the person speaking.  Our brains index information and to file it, it needs labeled.  Judging is a natural and normal response so we can file away details, opionions and information for further use.

Listening is to witness another while suspending ourselves. When we really give people this, it allows us to access a place within us.  A place the recognizes and connects with the speaker.  This is empathy.

I was asked how to teach empathy.  I put down our booklets, invited others to do the same and I had a storytelling round.  We related stories about restored connections.  The stories were followed by a round of one word responses to the stories.  The comments were: powerful, emotional, wow, enlightening.  I went back to the question.

How do you teach empathy?  You teach listening.

Guiding Circles to provide a place of “freedom of healing”.

I stick to the 4 phases of Circles.  Our Circlespace Room at the Restorative Justice Center even has them on the wall.  I got to chat a bit with someone else who keeps Circle and we found a few places to keep to these phases.

Circlespace at Restorative Justice Center

A few tips to dig deeper into the Circle process.  Try not to do the same types of questions for every phase.  You can even get creative in modifying what you might say to into the Circle, by the participants level of engagement.

For example, you can tell people they can pass.  That is a tool of the talking piece.  But following it up with a little perspective about Circles being by invitation, you are invited to share.  Or that we set it up to be non-judgemental so we can all share openly.  I often cover that this is a confidential, safer than usual space.
My daughter also recently advised me, I should say “speak from the heart” instead of “use your wisest words”.  The wise words one is a way to ask others to speak without insult or offending someone else.  She thought is sounded preachy.  The tips

In a Circle meeting multiple times, we used our values plates from the last Circle.  I instructed people to either the one that appeared on the top or to reach in the stack and late fate decide.  They could also just look and pick one.   We were going to share how that value (the one on the plate) has been experienced in our life.

We set the tone for building relationships by speaking how we were impacted by the last Circle we had, what did we carry with over the week.  This built our relationships by sharing that we are making a difference to each other.  This gave our Circle the opportunity to value each and every person.

I used a question from one of our written surveys, “how would you describe this experience to a friend”.  This built up our understanding of each others perspectives of the process.  It again let us know how much we were doing for each other.  One simple response was “freedom and healing”.

We had our storytelling time, which is the addressing issues stage.  Following stories we always do a reflection on the story.  You have to role model this one, remind people with your direct and indirect words, to share from their own perspectives.  I might mention that using “I” and “me” are more reflective.  People often have the first response to thank the person who shared and then want to offer their own advice, feedback and those things get closer to judgement that a Circle is designed to be.  If you are saying “you” in Circle you might need to shift a little.

I directed people to another Circle on the way, the one that listed our intended outcomes:  Restore Connections – Improve Self-worth – Promote Empathy.  I asked people to share how they have been impacted relative to those 3 or any others.  This was really interesting to hear how many people felt an increase of self-worth.  I was glad to see such expressed shifts as a result of being in Circle.

Our closing to dig a bit deeper was to identify the person 3 people to your left.  The round was going to be saying the person’s name, and then “my wish for you is ____”.  The blank could only be 1 word.  I got to hear “Kris, my wish for you is Love.”  We went around the Circle, and the wishes went around, and people got a moment to soak in the wish they recieved before sharing a wish (with the 2 people in between).  It was wonderful that we wanted peace, confidence, optimism, gratitude and things that really allowed the person sharing and listening to interpret for themselves.

Great Circles inspire me.  People leading and learning and sharing in this process really makes you feel connected to humanity.  If you haven’t had a chance, give it a try.


Being an explorer of inner landscapes, a restorative justice practitioner skill.

I did a small group presentation and allowed all participants to ask a question.  We did a little “reverse” talking piece, meaning they could ask the question, and pass on the piece when they felt they had the answer.  I got a very unexpected question, and some information I didn’t really have a perspective about.  I have been mulling it over and now I have my “ah-ha” about it. 

The ah-ha, teachable piece here is about being with people that helps them find things out about themselves.  The unexplained piece of pre-conferencing or pre-circle-ing has some words now.  When you meet with people to prepare them to do restorative justice, regardless of what angle they approach it from (victim or offender) there is a way to do it.  It is an art, not a science.  Science needs things to measure, the soul (art) needs the experience.  I think being an explorer of inner landscapes is the skill.

Our inner landscape is the way we respond to things on the outside, based on what is going on inside of us.  The unseen responding to a situation, incident, circumstance.  As a restorative justice pracitioner you have to some how get each perspective out in the open in a way that people show their unseen experiences.  The restorative justice questions are designed to do this.  The questions are the science and the facilitator is the art.

Time and time again a victim will relate an earlier crime, similar to the current one we are preparing to address.  I tap into this and explore with the person how they experienced that.  A restorative dialogue then can become empowering to the victim, as they are given a chance to address both the current and the past issues.  This often proves to be a helpful teacher for the offender.

I did a conference where a young man did a hit and run, he was intoxicated and worried about additional consequences so he left the scene of the accident.  The vicitm, although not seriously injured in this crash, had 20 years earlier been in a crash, again a drunk driver.  The victims injuries were still very obvious, it appeared he had a stroke and his left side did not function.  These were injuries from the 1st crash, where the drunk driver died.  When we held the conference it was just a day or two from the anniversary of the first crash, the victim even brought a newspaper clipping.  In addition to getting to explain how he was impacted the victim actually did the offender a favor by sharing a story of a similiar tragedy, that hit home because the offender had done the same behavior.

Opening up and sharing our inner or unseen perspectives requires the practitioner to make safe space for this.  Please set up the Circle or Conference as carefully and with as much intention and preparation as possible.  Reflective questions, compassionate listening and being a compass for people is necessary.  Helping people examine the inside and construct experiences that provide healing and transformation are crucial skills for a restorative justice practitioner.

The question I was mulling over?  The one that brought this understanding?  I was asked about how I write such “intensely personal blogs”.  I didn’t really even think that I did!  (Well that one time a friend said I write in my blog what she writes in her journal!)  What got me thinking about it was the disconnect that I had between my own perception and the perception of others.  I can hear that same friend saying “duhhh” to me about not thinking I was personal in my blogs!  So maybe that disconnect was denial!

At any rate, as I examined myself for my own comforts in sharing my unseen, and inner landscapes, I realized that it’s part of the restorative justice practitioner skill set, FOR ME.  Not everyone needs to be this way.  My way, just gave insight to something for people to think about when they facilitate restorative justice.  If it can help someone be a better practitioner then I am willing to share about.

Restorative Justice Circles provide a feeling of importance.

Do you like to feel like you are important?  Gosh I do and I like to provide that to other people as well.  Not the important as in arrogance, but feeling important like you matter and make a difference.

A recent Circle “newbie” described that the Circle made her feel important.  It was a Circle of many new people to the process, an adult or two and a mixture of high school and middle school students.

One of the teachings I highlight in Circle training is “unexpected enlightenment” meaning being open to others stories, thoughts and experiences as a way to our own personal growing and learning as people.  I am always trying to be open.  If you catch a lesson in your net you can pass it along to others.

I am passing along how valuable Circles are in making people feel important.  Circles give everyone equal value and equal opportunity to share.  Circles give equal contribution options, equal distance from the Center and from each other.  The stage is set for everything the Circle does to be important, as it engages all of us.

Victims and bystanders feel important because they are given a space and platform to speak.  Restorative Justice focuses on the impact.  You are important because how you were impacted is relevant.  Speaking about how you are impacted gives the opportunity to put the experience outside of you and inside a Circle of people listening and witnessing.

Contribution feels important.  If I am not asked for my voice, I don’t even think of it as being important.  Everyone gets asked in Circle.  I also align and inform people at the beginning, speak to the Center, use your wise words (not to insult or put down others) and speak from the heart.  So many times repeating what we think others want to hear or saying the answer that will not cause problems comes to mind.  Just recently I was thinking of what to say, and was going to ask if people wanted the honest response or the one that would keep the meeting going smoothly.

Back to my Circle “newbie” and Circles with middle school students.  Gosh do they ever need to feel important.  Like is in such transition.  I must admit, as it got closer and closer to the presentation of 80 middle school students, I began to worry.  I was shocked at how well-behaved they were in general.  Additionally, I was equally impressed and happy to experience the adultness of their Circle behavior.  They really took to it and respected the values, respected each other and opened up when given the opportunity.

It was one of my spontaneous moves, to be asked for a Circle demonstration and say “YES!”.  We got plates from the kitchen for the values, my coworker and I both got talking pieces from our purses.  One student leader had her Circle training manual from our session 10 months ago, used an opening reading from that!  We did a fish bowl, and 70 students stood around the dozen of us in Circle.  It was a career snapshot moment! 

A simple reflection at the end of Circle from a student involved . . . “the Circle made me feel important”.  Wa-la and that is the power of Circle!

Remembering our roots, gaining perspective.

I have been the non-profit executive director of the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, SCVRJP since 2005.  Prior to that, I was the board vice-chair, I was one of the first board members, I attended the first official board meeting.  I still have the letter, agenda and minutes.

SCVRJP is facing a financial transistion.

What that means is that a 3 year $135,000.00 grant has been fully distributed to us.  We have to wait one year from depositing that last check to ask again.  It was planned that over that 3 year period, SCVRJP would become self-sustaining, that we would develop revenue and income from our programs and services.  The fact we are a non-profit, makes it evident, we reach out and fill a need in our community.  Non-profits don’t operate with huge profits, SCVRJP was no different.

In making a go of it, we secured office space, added staff, added programs, added fundraisers and yet our budget did not balance.  We did more that what we could technically “afford” to do.  Our bank balances supported moving ahead and offering the much needed, much respected and unique service to our community.  Until now.

Now I am looking at how to streamline costs, who we might share occupancy with, how we might bridge a gap and not use up our reserve funds.  I am afraid, worried, concerned.  If I catastrophize I get to the end of the story as unemployed and homeless.

Then I remember a board meeting.  It was 2004, a letter to a foundation had resulted in $20,000.00.  The board was discussing hiring a staff person for the new non-profit, at the time called Pierce County Restorative Justice.  All board members were eager, willing, agreed.  My thought was negative.  Our bank balance way less than half of this new grant.  It occured to me to say “why hire someone, 6 months from now, we won’t have the funds to pay them”.  I didn’t voice that opinion, we hired a part-time coordinator, after 9 months, I took over that position.

SCVRJP started by serving 35 people in 2003.  We are going to serve just over 4,000 in 2010. 

Our annual budget grew from under $40,000 to just over $160,000. 

I thought it was impossible in 2004.  It might seem impossible for 2011.

SCVRJP recieved a 3 year grant for $135,000 and the last distribution was in May.  Our revenues are slightly less than anticipated and fundraising hasn’t brought it as much as expected.  The financial future looks impossible.

I am familiar with impossible because, Restorative Justice is full of things that seem impossible.  Victims seek healing by meeting with offenders, even in loss of life situations.  Offenders pay back their community by sharing their life story, even if it includes driving drunk and killing a friend.  Students who had so much conflict, expulsion was on the horizon, experience a Circle, reconcile and become friends.  I’ve witnessed people change before my very eyes and they are softened by the experience of being heard and listening.  Teens and parents address core issues in a Circle and tell us they will forever remember the experience.  I never would have guessed a middle school in Washington DC would be doing Circles because SCVRJP offers training.

Just like the brief and fleeting negativity I had in 2004, I have to have brief and fleeting fears about 2011.  I know how to make the impossible happen.  My focus is on fundraising and sustainability for SCVRJP, and someday I can look back and remember this negativity and see that the impossible was exactly what happened.

You can donate to SCVRJP at JUSTGIVE.