Restorative Justice Talking Circles, addressing suicide.

International Institute of Restorative Practices, recently posted:

by Joshua Wachtel, this article highlights the use of Restorative Justice talking circles as response following a student suicide.
This blog post highlights the start of Restorative Response Circles at St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program.  Restorative Response Circles provide a place of deep listening, sharing and connection.  People who survive suicide are uniquely wounded.  There are unanswered questions, deep grief, confusion and the risk of the harm being layered down in shame.  I can speak to this after keeping the Circle for 9 different Restorative Response Circles, in two different sessions.
The power of hearing from those that lost loved ones, interconnects with those that share experiences of attempting to take their lives.  Circles have a safety built in.  Time is taken in the begining to create the center, to place values on the floor, in the center of Circle.  We commit to honor the values before our stories and sharing.  A story is the 3rd phase of Circle and finally we reflect together on our experience in the Circle.
St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program recieved two grants for this program.  Hudson Daybreak Rotary and Xcel Energy both provided support.  The project is being so well received that we are seeking additional funding to expand the program for the region.  We hope to include a crisis-response piece, being available for families, providing support in the days that follow and access to Restorative Res[onse Circles.
A flyer for the April session:Restorative Response April 2011

Snow-plow guy was a restorative justice practitioner!

I posted earlier about my stuck car, loss of control and tips for healing from a crime.

I was watching for the parking lot plows, and got outside as they began to move the snow in our parking lot.  One guy in the truck, the other with the snowblower.  I asked for help and “snow-blower guy” nodded yes.  The first thing “snow-plow guy” said to me “It’s not your fault.  I’m even havin a hard time gettin around.”

It made me feel better, I smiled.  I thought about the blog I posted, and as I watched this man move snow.  The first thing I try to convey to victims . . . it’s not your fault.  No one deserves to be the victim of crime.  I’ve blogged about this before (and here), we try to assign blame and some victims even blame themselves.

My post earlier, I mentioned that blame doesn’t bring much.  Had “snow-plow guy” blamed me, he probably would have had negative thoughts about me, as a woman driver or something to ‘blame’ it one.  Instead, he was gracious with me.  It made me feel so much better.  His grace also reinforced the lesson I needed to re-learn.  My lesson:  Stay home when the parking lot isn’t plowed and the forecast is for more snow!  It is called a snow emergency for a reason!

It took both guys to push me out.  I went around the block feeling much, much better.  I waited for the parking lot to be clear, and before pulling back into my garage, I gave “snow-plow guy” a twenty and a box of Girl Scout Cookies.

I could tell from the look on his face, he was happy to be acknowledged.  We wished each other a good day and I feel so much better with my car in the right space!

Being at “one” with my day. Considering crime victims helps.

I am a quirky combination.  I prefer equality.  I laugh out loud at people who “demand” respect from others.  I don’t think being an ass will get you far in life.  However, I myself am guilty of being controlling, wanting to be right and expecting perfection from myself and others.  Sometimes I can be the ass.

Today I headed out for work, after feeling cooped up in my apartment for too long.  In total denial,  thought to myself “the snow is not that deep”.  I backed out my car, had a gut feeling I would be stuck.  Got out of the car, shut the garage door and then spent about 15 minutes trying to move my car any further.  Used the rocking method, reverse, drive, reverse, drive.  Got out, used my foot to move snow out from around the tires.   Cursed myself for not having a shovel.

Now I have to let go of control.  (as a side note, I typed that last sentence, went out to get my car unstuck, didn’t work)

I want to control my world so I can avoid any negative feelings.  I don’t want to have to sit with negative feelings for very long.  Despite being on Weight Watchers, I went to the freezer for 2 frozen chocolate chip cookies.  That emotional connection to food is temporary.  I feel frustrated.  Nothing is going to change that my car is stuck.  My day is not what I had planned.

My apartment is lonely today.  No kid, no cat, just me.  I appreciate my peace and quiet, but I typically have my fill by Monday mornings.  I struggle with loneliness, in being alone.  Most days I am pretty content with my life, sometimes even feeling a little guilty it is so carefree. 

I think I have discovered I might like complicated.  I like working on an issue.  I like figuring it out.  To just “be”, that’s not really my cup of tea.  Today is a day I really don’t want to be sitting home alone.  The struggle for me today, is to accept my day, and just “be”.

Sometimes when the going gets tough . . . I think about crime victims.  I find it helps me to consider the life of some of my volunteers and clients.  The innocent who become victims of others harmful acts.

I think about crime victims because they don’t make a choice to be hurt.  I think about how their healing has to involve acceptance that the crime happened.  Not necessarily acceptance of the wrong-doer, but acceptance of the wrong.  Nothing brings back a person killed by a drunk driver.  As one speaker says “dead is dead”.  Now I don’t mean to say that my stuck car is the same as losing a family member or being victim to a crime. What I want to share are the lessons to healing that I think about.  These are the things I think about, these things help when I am feeling frustrated.

  • to get control, “release”.  once you “release” what was, you can move to what is.
  • Don’t blame.  Assigning “fault” provides a lesson for the future, beyond that, not much can come from blame.
  • accept the feelings that come with grief and loss
  • make a decision to move ahead, take action

We will all have to deal with our negative feelings, they make us human.  They bring us a comparison for when we feel joy.  In the unrest we better understand peace.  Ahhh, sigh, so easily written, thankfully, I have Girl Scout cookies.

Restorative Justice promotes healthy relationships, one Circle at a time.

I am working on a letter to a prison inmate.  I am trying to describe and explain what I have been meaning, when I say that SCVRJP provides “support”.  SCVRJP offers our volunteers and clients (victims, offenders & community members) a place to practice positive healthy relationships.

The value of a healthy relationship is invaluable.  Recovery doesn’t happen in isolation.  Change doesn’t happen without connections.  Community doesn’t happen without others.  The experience of knowing you have been generous, kind, supportive, helpful, honest can only happen, in the experience.

We can talk about healthy relationships one-to-one with our therapist, probation officer, physician, spiritual advisor, best friend.  Being new and being better in relationships requires that we have healthy relationships.

Read a book about swimming and you get some tips.  Get in the water and learn to swim.

A Restorative Justice Circle starts with clarifying relationship values.  The getting acquainted stage starts with explaining the process, reading an opening and then having all involved contribute a value.  Speaking about the values and making a committment to them is the easy part.  That’s the part like reading the book on swimming.

When you get to the parts of the Circle that involve building relationships and addressing issues you are having a healthy relationship.  Time and time again people step up and operate from a deep place of respect and understanding.

I have witnessed victims express themselves, offenders take ownership for harm caused.  It is healthy in the depth of a Circle.  It is healthy when young people share of themselves.  It is healthy when we take time to listen to each other.  It is healthy when we come away with a changed attitude because we gave a received our thoughts and experiences.

People leave Circle different from when they arrive. 

There is power that transforms people when you create a community of listeners, taking turns.

Get yourself into a real, Restorative Justice Circle, the values, a talking piece, a open and close are parts of a real Circle.

Restorative Justice Circle-listening, a freedom from contructing a response.

How often do you get to listen, just to listen?

The question above is asking you to think about listening, just for the sheer act of listening.  Usually we are listening to gather information or gain insights, to exchange ideas or to evaluate what the other person is saying.  You might be listening, trying to learn something new (thinking of my college students). 

I spend hours a week in Circle, so alongside others, I get to listen, just to listen.  This unique experience allows me to be able to compare and contrast Circle experience with other types of communication process.  The relationships we can have to each other in Circle, promote acceptance, understanding, respect, compassion.

It might be my ADD, but I have found some meetings can take on many topics.  Ideas are shared, thoughts are contributed, the flow of the agenda bounces around.  People have to ask to get back on task or topic.   Being in Circle, you pass the talking piece hear all the perspectives before moving on to the next question or phase of Circle.  I like that it helps me stay structured.

There is a freedom when you get to listen without constructing a response.   No need to worry about your rebuttal, no need to worry about points you need to summarize or reflect.  The listening in Circle is done to understand.  To understand you must let go of judgements.  You can’t understand and hold judgements at the same time.  Circle-listening can be done quite easily because you are free of thinking about what you will say next.  I recommend you don’t get attached to what you plan to say, because you might change your mind before you get the talking piece!

In a Restorative Justice Circle, the person speaking doesn’t have to worry about being interrupted, which allows for a sharing freedom.  In Circle you also know, you have taken or soon will take a turn.  There is no need to construct a strong influential statement, and then gauge the timing to deliver it!

Recently part of the painful process of strategic planning.  I feel anxious in these kinds of planning meetings.  I actually found myself wanting to keep score of something.  I wanted to keep track/score of the number of times my original suggestion, was actually what the group came to in the end.  We had to discuss, weigh out, share, reflect, digest, opinionate, clarify, word-smith . . . ugh, I have to really watch and regulate my emotions.  If I get angry or frustrated on the inside, it doesn’t take long for me to make a short comment.  I’ve learned to start writing things down, to slow down myself, to honestly slow down so I don’t make a negative reaction or response.

Circles have changed me for the better.  Restorative Justice Circles are a process outside of our ordinary communication structures.  Circles are able to serve anyone and move ahead all of us with the very skills make us human.

Restorative Justice brings the heart and soul to violations of the law.

Yesterday at the River Falls Rotary Club, we were treated to a presention about South Korea.  This included an explanation about the flag.  Our present explained the four elements: heaven, water, fire, earth.  It was so interesting to me, that where “air” usually is stated, “heaven” was used.  I immediately thought of blogging about this piece of the presenation that heaven is an element with water, fire and earth.  Air is breath, without breath we are dead.  When dead, the soul ceases in the physical world.  Is the non-physical world “heaven”?   

Wikipedia, gives different, but very interesting explanations.  Check out the wiki-link.  I love anything with 4, because of the Circle, and the equal division of a Circle is 4.

I believe breath is connected to soul.  As a Circle keeper, focusing on calm breath at the beginning of a Circle, enhances the sacredness or should I say deepens the emotional climate.  I rang my tingsha’s recently, after not using them for awhile.  (all posts where I mention tingsha’s).  The calming and centering effect was very obvious.  I can be nervous starting out a Circle, worried if people will engage, or wanting to make a good impression on a person involved (like a Judge).  I always know, when I become calm, the Circle is calmer.  That is a concept I also teach, when keeping, the influence that one person can have on a Circle.

I got to be a community member in a Circle, with a new Circlekeeper.  I saw and experienced her committment to the process, the committment of her person to the power of the Circle.  It is amazing thing to witness, young people court ordered to attend, transform.  The session was a CSI Circle, (CSI stands for Controlled Substance Intervention) very similiar to the Underage Consumption Panels I developed (combining Restorative Justice Circle process and evidence-based curriculm).  Youth who get in trouble from smoking weed or having paraphernalia have shown up to these classes, really looking the part.  I don’t like to judge people or label, however, they do come in looking like well, sorry “stoners”.  People are not always what they appear like on the outside.  I’m sorry I used the word “stoners” to describe the youth, because what I witnessed in that Circle was young people who made choices to use and were now being open in listening and sharing.

Group facilitation that comes from the heart and soul can really help people.  The Circle group of “stoners” did some really amazing things.  I observed two “hoods up” as we started.  The use of a hood, and slumping body posture only lasts so long in a Circle.  I noticed early on that one hood had already been removed.  It was much longer and I saw the other one was removed.  This group opened up to all of us.  We heard how hard it was to have your Mom arrive at 3 am, seeing you handcuffed and sitting on a curb.  Having to look her in the eye and see how hurt she was.  She/Mom only thought it was a curfew ticket and found out it was posession and paraphernalia.  Another young person explained how using effects his relationships, if using  his date is just a hook-up and that’s it.  A relationship can evolve if he doesn’t use when he has a first date.

We talked about mixing of drugs and witnessing an overdose.  The stories and experiences would alarm you.  They did me.  The truth is not always pretty.  It was obvious that using causes pain.  Using has social, emotional, physical and spiritual consequences.  It hurts your spirit to be labeled as a “pot-head”.  The Circle talked about that label, and how long it takes to be cleaned up before it leaves you.  They all expessed “take aways” from the Circle.  They all identified a change that they would make from experiencing the Circle.  Will they all stay 100% clean and sober from here on out?  Probably not.  However, compare what I described to you to the simple act of paying for their tickets.

Restorative Justice brings the heart and soul to violations of the law.

Restorative Justice Circle training, for keepers and practitioners.

Attached is a 2 page pdf – highlighting some of the training responses and goals.  This also includes an easy to use registration form.

SCVRJP Circle Trainings 2011

Sessions are scheduled for April, July and October in River Falls Wisconsin.  St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice is 40 miles and 50 minutes from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.

You can also contract with SCVRJP, and have me come on-site for trainings.  Training fee’s have not increased since 2009, the revenue generated goes right back to work for Restorative Justice and helps support the mission of SCVRJP to promote a culture of peace and belonging.

Keeper-experience.  It is not uncommon for me to keep 5-7 Circles a week, for a variety of ages and audiences.  From elementary schools to prisons the basics are the same.  The trainings are a great foundation or refresher for Circlekeepers.  I have brought Circles to public health issues and our local community needs.  We (SCVRJP) use Circles (victim empathy seminars) when a formal victim-offender conference is not going to work.  SCVRJP also addressed underage consumption (alcohol kills more teens per year than all other drugs combined), substance use (more teens smoke pot than cigarettes), teen driving (the number one cause of death for people 16-24 is car crashes) and our newest offering Restorative Response Circles address suicide (the number 2 cause of death for teens).

In 2003 SCVRJP reached 35 people.  In 2010 4,908, that is 10% of the population of one of the two counties we serve.  All the services I have created utilize the Restorative Justice Circle process.  I rely heavily on the work of Kay Pranis, author: Peacemaking Circles.

School-based effectiveness.  I have a great resource in a 3rd grade teacher who has been using this technique in her classroom for 3 years now.  She helped coach me on designing the curriculum as “teacher” friendly.  I understand how to work with implementation challenges and share the materials in a manner that teachers can duplicate.

Passion and Energy.  I try to be humble, however this post is turning into post to encourage you to get trained by me!  I LOVE CIRCLES!  I get excited when we all agree to honor the values, even after hundreds of Circles.  I hold close to core values and firmly, wholeheartedly believe in the powerful transformation that listening, empathy and respect can bring to each and every person.   Consistently I get feedback about my passion and energy.  I have bolded this as a value alongside “keeper-experience and school-based effectiveness” because it is the aspect that ties this together.  I know what I am doing (experience) have developed my skills (effectiveness) and bring the contagious factor (passion).  I would love to work with your school or agency, so please give me a call and we can explore promoting Restorative Justice Circles.

ps- I really welcome any comments from anyone who has participated in a training session with me!

Help for grieving parents, restorative justice storytelling, promoting connections.

When someone you love dies, it hurts.  That hurt is unique and it is grief.  The process of this hurt is grieving and that is unique to each person.  There are common symptoms; depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of a sense of purpose, pain.  The list can go on and on.  Trauma is another layer of grief.  Trauma results when the loss of the loved one is sudden, preventable and outside of the life cycle.

The volunteers and storytellers I work with at St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, have and are experiencing traumatic loss.  Fatal car crashes, suicide and death by substance use or impaired driving are sudden and preventable.  Parents are supposed to live longer than children, so often times I see, hear and feel the experience first hand.  To equip myself I do a lot of reading, self-education, training and use compassion and gratitude for myself and those I work with.

A grieving parent recently asked about how I deal with it.  The comparison for my work was drawn “it’s like taking a fork to the face”, I assured this person I did not feel like that.  I feel honored, trusted, respected when people share their story.  The sharing of the story is often times a very therapeutic experience.  The story you can tell people in the context of restorative justice is also very different from other outlets (for example friends or therapy ).

Sharing with your friends, you relate what you can.  I’ve heard from many parents, who have lost a child, that friends get ready for “closure” or for victims to “move on”.  The therapeutic relationship will allow for you to tell your story.  Maybe a few times.  I was a therapist (maybe a bad one), but I would start to wonder about progressing on our therapeutic goals if my client didn’t start focusing more.  My point is, where else can people relate their story, often times “THE” story that completely changed who they are, and how they view the world.

Restorative Justice storytelling volunteers tell that story.  The speakers gain as and get control over this tragic scenario that played out in their lives.  They speak with purpose because what they are trying to do is to save someone else’s life.  Typically they don’t get greedy, they say “if I can reach just one”.  Saving one life would make all the difference to them, because the one life lost . . . meant everything to them.

When someone dies, we are without them physically.  We donate a great deal of their physical belongings, we keep the keepsakes.  Emotionally, we are distraught without our person.  Mentally, I think a brain can be highjacked by all that is going on, our thoughts on how to continue without our loved one are consuming.

Restorative Justice allows people to connect with their lost loved one spiritually.  Restorative Justice views people as physical, emotional, mental and spiritual beings.  Spirituality doesn’t mean what church you attend.  It means how you view your own sense of purpose, how you view how you belong.  Relating to our loved ones on the spiritual aspects, allows us to connect to them in a purpose-driven manner.  I remember someone recalling that his deceased daughter (whose grave had been vandalized) would be the first person nudging him towards forgiveness.  He spoke of this in a restorative justice talking circle, that included the offenders.  He was choking back tears as he shared this, I was also deeply moved, and I saw the young men’s expressions as they realized who they had harmed.

Honoring the spirit of those we love, means honoring the best parts of who they were as a person.  By telling our stories in restorative justice we get to connect to the spirit of our loved ones.  When you grieve a loss, the connection can be very healing.