Restorative Justice Circles help people practice being their best.
I was a little worried about how the Underage Consumption Panel was going to go. One of our community members in the Circle was a local Judge. A supporter of Restorative Justice, but this was going to be his first bonafide Circle experience. Of course I wanted it to go very well. Each Circle is unique to the participants, to the topic and to the level of intimacy of which things are expressed.
For me to feel like I have done a good job keeping a circle, I look for people to be opening up, deeper than they expected. I hope the stories exchanged help people address their own behaviors. When we decide for ourselves to make a change, it tends to stay around. We are all motivated by different factors. However, I think our own level of self-determination sets the stage for sustained change.
I look for expressions in my Circles, that people are being insightful, honest, open. Because the Circles wade you into relationships with others, (the four stages: getting acquainted, building relationships, addressing issues, taking action) you can test being your best. Listening teaches empathy. When you are listened to and cared for it brings out your compassion. When we are in a place of empathy and compassion, it helps you be your best. You can hardly hold two emotions at the same time (those darned emotions are complicated). Defenses are down when empathy and compassion are up. Judgement is down, when you are feeling empathy and compassion. You learn more about others in a way that lends to perspective about yourself, when . . . empathy and compassion are present, you can just be a better person than you were 20 seconds ago. I love that sense in Circle, that we are relating to each other in this manner. Circle makes it so easy to be a better person, because we talk one at a time.
I remind people when I set up my Circles, when you don’t have the talking piece is as equally as important as when you do. I ask for listening for understanding.
Like every Circle, we focused on values. Relationship values identified by the participants including the Judge (who to the Circle was a community member). The college age students who had recieved drinking tickets or sanctions to attend were the primary focus of the Circle. Our discussion was guided by restorative justice principles, restorative justice stories and a booklet called CHOICES, from the Change Companies (http://www.changecompanies.net/).
Before the session started, I had prepared the Judge like any community member. We provide a powerpoint outline, that explains the philosophy or Restorative Justice and Circles. I sent him the Mission, Vision and Values sheet we use. He arrived early so I could brief him on other elements of volunteering and participating in Circle. He was the volunteer who helped register people. He followed my lead, by making quick introductions, being welcoming, collecting the session fee and guiding participants to the next area of making a name tag and getting seated in Circle.
The Judge commented to me how organized the process was. I explained that it was for him. Volunteers, feel more relaxed knowing what to expect. Our agency model is to help everyone be their best. He smiled and I could tell felt confident that at SCVRJP we know what we are doing.
The Circle was great. The stories emerged from the participants, they all indicated the class was much better than expected, before the round about a ‘public committment’ they were expressing statements about changing future behavior. I was happy that it went well, and that the Judge saw a good process. He commented to me that experiencing it really is the only way to understand it. I smiled.
However, I found another great indicator from that class. I think each participant felt good about themselves and the process. The evaluation form has a open question, “what did you like least?” we typically hear about the cost in this section. After this class, not one single mention about how much the class cost. That really made me feel good. Of course having a Judge appreciate your service, that’s a priceless sigh relief as well!