Not asking “why”. Another restorative justice practice fitting for suicide response.

Original post 4/3/2011

Updated on September 13, 2018

One of the methods I stick to when it comes to restorative justice, is steering clear from the question “why?”.  The best way to do that is to support the Restorative Questions (cards from IIRP).

When we ask an offender “why”.  You get the response “I don’t know”.  Hearing “I don’t know” when someone hurt you is aggravating.  I relate this to experiences as a parent or girlfriend.  My emotions got hot, hearing “I don’t know”.  Hot emotions reduce the ability to listen, have empathy and be solution focused.

The Restorative Justice Questions approach it differently.  The story about what happened is shared, and “what were you thinking at the time” is shared.  When I prepare people I remind them, that they can’t offer “I wasn’t thinking” because we are all thinking, while we are doing other things.  By the way did you know it only takes 25% ofour brain to listen?  We get busy with the other 75% and then aren’t listening as well.  (Article here, see the paragraph We Are Not Good Listeners).

So I am comfortable with a process that doesn’t ask “why”.  Now my work with suicide survivors is growing.  My work at understanding the act of suicide itself, is being informed by hearing the struggles of those that experienced a loved ones death by suicide and those that survived suicidal thoughts and actions.  All this began by offering 3 Circles, following a suicide prevention forum.  Those 3 Circle unfolded into an entire program focus and a guide for grieving families.

Why is very hard when a suicide happens.  There is no one to ask, the person completed.  The loss of hope, the overwhelming need to end the pain cannot be understood by those that aren’t suicidal.  I believe we have all considered it.  In some form or another – imagine along a continuum.  Maybe the far left is a thought that, “someday I will die”, and over to the right “I am going to kill myself right now”.  Maybe the person crosses over into a relief about how being dead will end the pain.  I’ve learned suicidal people feel no other option and that to intervene we must present options.

The amount of survivor guilt in suicide is enormous.  The “if only”, and the “what if’s”.  I’ve learned survivor guilt will block your healing.  I’ve worked with enough grieving parents to know this, the pain NEVER ends, when you lose a child.  The “surviving guilt” is something different.  I am seeing this the same for survivors and loved ones of suicide.

One trainer suggested we let suicidal people know they would be transferring their pain to others.  To me that is encouraging empathy.  Empathy is another familiar practice of the restorative justice practitioner.  I have learned that if you teach listening you teach empathy.

The other piece of teaching and training I can’t wait to get to is working with students in schools.  I learn so much from going to the source.  Youth will text other youth suicidal threats.  They go to their peer group, the peers doesn’t always go to adults.  A challenge facing us, but enough information to know how to intervene with the at-risk.

Restorative Justice is about accountability and healing.

Dang it, remembering that “normal” is just a setting on the dryer.

I can already hear my friend laughing when I ask her this question.  I want to know what she thinks about when she wakes up in the morning.  She is going to laugh and then ask me “why”?  Then I am going to have to explain that I need to know what “normal” people think about.  Me, I’m not normal.  So not normal.  Which should be good right?  Except that I want to be.  Well, maybe.  I think.  I guess not.
I need to work on accepting myself for exactly who I am.  Warts and all.  I “think” normal people must accept themselves.
My work is my life.  I sat in a training with law enforcement officers.  The speaker leaned on the group, more than encouraging them, in a sense to get over themselves and realize it is just a job.  The agency should not be your life.  At first I was like, oh those cops, being overly invested in their jobs.  Then I realized, with an “oh shit” of an “ah-ha” moment, I’m just like that.  I’ve blogged about my work-a-holic tendancies.  I’ve blogged I need a divorce from my work.
So now I am working at having roles outside of SCVRJP.  I am attending a church on a regular basis, well somewhat regular.  I have joined a local service club, I am a Rotarian.  I like being at Church and Rotary because I am not leading anything.  I am just showing up and being.
I am also at a crossroads of figuring out how to live alone.  At first I was filling space with trying to find someone.  Months of e-harmony and okcupid, resulted in a few dates.  Men my age don’t seem to want to pursue the work of a relationship.  I am a lot of work.  Relationships are a lot of work.  The two together, a relationship with me?  So I nicknamed it “ok-stupid” and said for weeks I would close my account.  I finally did.  I don’t miss weeding through the email messages, or negotiating introductions.  I am really working on being okay in being alone.
So I want to ask my friend, who also lives alone, what she thinks of in the morning.  I think about work.  I think about an upcoming Circle, what I need to tell my coworkers.  How I will handle this or that scenario.  I think I want to wake up to visions of fields of lavendar and lilacs.  WHAT, really?  How normal is that?
I want to be at peace knowing I have done enough.  I want to know that SCVRJP will be okay financially.  I want to know that grants will get funded, my to-do list will get done.  I want to know that it is okay I facilitated that circle or spoke at that class, instead of writing that grant.  I want a huge dynamic fundraiser and have everyone else do the work!  Then I think about how I don’t want to be thinking about work.
So I work on the task of figuring out how not to work.  When in reality, I love my work.  I wouldn’t pick doing anything else.  I love my life, I love what I bring to the community.  So why worry about being normal? 
My friend probably wakes up and wonders if she’ll have to talk her friend Kris down today.
Sometimes the most important relationship we have is the one with ourselves

A “do not miss” training opportunity! Restorative Justice addressing bully behavior.

My friend Nancy has been hosting week-long sessions in school-based Restorative Justice/Restorative Measures.  I have helped her out the last few years.  The finale of the week is the Circle Networking Day, she fwd’d me this information today:

The Circle Networking Day
Bullying: Preparation for the Restorative Response
June 17, 2011, Webster School in Minneapolis. The Circle Networking Day is open to all June Seminar alumni and restorative justice practitioners interested in restorative applications in schools and youth settings. Circle Keepers: Kay Pranis and Mel Buckholtz.
Please register at this link: The registration fee is $25.
Bullying and cyber bullying is in the news and in legislative committees. Some districts are responding to bullying with zero tolerance policies, however, the US Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control recommend a more comprehensive approach:  formative discipline and school, family and community strategies. 
Well prepared restorative practices can help to ensure family engagement, community involvement and offender, victim and bystander contribution in a process that is formative and non-punitive. The question for the Circle Networking Day is “What is ‘well prepared’?”  
Mary Thissen-Milder, State HIV Prevention Coordinator, Hassan Samantar from PACER, Mary Ticiu, Assistant Principal at Stillwater High School,  and Olaseeni Soewu, Mediation Center International (Logos, Nigeria)  will offer their perspectives on bullying interventions in schools. Nancy Riestenberg will present an overview of Bullying in Minnesota Schools: An analysis of the Minnesota Student Survey, 2010.  Everyone who attends will also provide insight. Except for the brief overview of the MSS study, the discussions will be held in Circle. 
The Minnesota Department of Education will summarize the discussion in a written brief. Join us June 17!
Contact Nancy Riestenberg, 651-582-8433, for more information.
The Circle Networking Day is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minnesota Restorative Services Coalition.

Working with relationships, be mindful of your own sense of justice.

As a practitioner of restorative justice – I work to uncover the “justification” for the behavior.  You can’t go directly at this, people won’t share it unless they trust you.  You also have to be very, very careful of your own internal judgements.  You may hear the person’s justification as the “excuse” for why they did it.  You might here it as shifting blame to the victim.

That is why it is sooooo very, very important to (in cooperation with, in discovery with, as part of the restorative process) make sure the victimizer, offender, party who harmed acknowledges they caused the harm.  If you do this part without judging, you can empower the person who caused harm.  Because it is empowering to take responsiblity for your actions.

Not always easy.  People will lie about what they did to avoid getting in trouble.  The fear of punishment will often out weigh the adherence to our values.  Especially if we are under 25 years old (pre-frontal cortex/brain development).

I believe the way to do this work, is heart-centered.  It is SOO about being present with the person you are with.  It is being able to let go of your own judgements.  You have to understand the difference between disagreeing with someone and judging them.

When it comes to disagreemtn, I can be fine on  a few topics, and  just decide not to talk about it.  It is fine to agree to disagree.  These are usually bigger hot topics like the death penalty.  Some disagreements, I really wanted to change the other persons thinking.  I feel justified in continuing the debate, if the stakes seem higher.  For example, if I reach a conclusion that the issue might impact how I can be treated, or if a program issue is relevant to SCVRJP.  However, these are my judgements – I don’t really know if the impact will be on me or SCVRJP.

Judging will impact your behavior, because you feel “justified”.  If you disagree, you accept that persons place.  You accept your place and you move on.  Judgement leaves us tangled up in “right” and “wrong”.

An example of justification in a case:

Both parties charged with disorderly conduct.  Two young women fought.  One threw something at the other, and that “started” it.  Further back in time, they were friends, friend A & B.  Friend A’s boyfriend cheated on her with Friend B.  The friendship ended, the judgements did not, the disagreement escalated, the fight, the court, then restorative justice.  When processing the situation restoratively: 1)acknowledge you caused the harm 2)understand from someone elses point of view 3)recognize where you had a choice 4)make amends and 5)take action to change.

Each party was able to determine what could have been done differently – from the cheating, to the throwing of the trash, to the throwing of a punch.  Picking different friends and boyfriends were articulated as an action to change.  Walking away from conflict instead of fighting, was another realization.

Honestly, I felt like being angry at a friend who cheated with your boyfriend was justified.  I don’t think the physical violence was necessary.  I had to withhold judgement when I met friend B.  I had to remember that I disagreed with the behavior she picked, as much as I disagreed with the behavior to throw garbage at another person or to respond to that in violence.

People can feel when you are judging them.  To promote restorative justice, as practitioners you have to be very mindful of being neutral.  You can’t get to the heart of the matter, if you don’t do your work heart centered.

Circles include earned and learned wisdom, formal and informal support.

There are two ways we get smart about things – we experience it or we take someone else’s story and decide to do it, or not do it.

When we are seating in Restorative Justice Circles, we take time to listen.  We listen like sponges.  It just happens that way.  The values have been determined and used as our “way” of relating to each other.  We speak one at a time, we share perspective by perspective.  Just as each second on a clock happens from a different place, so do the stories shared in Circle.  Just as the commonality of time passing happens with each second that clicks off a clock, the stories have a commonality of being human.

Teaching people to listen without judgement is crucial to a Circle.  Giving people the permission, to not have to react to what is being said helps.  The communication loop is person-to-center, instead of person-to-person.  We observe the loop or relationship a person is sharing.  Without judgement we “hear” that person’s earned experience.

Once you “earn” your paycheck you have it.  You “earn” your experience.  Just like you can blow that paycheck, have it be gone with no investment in the future, you can blow your experience and not invest it in the future.

Talking about our “earned” experiences in front of each other allows others to learn from them.

One of our volunteers relates his life that includes going in and out of prison.  Being high a week after being out.  How crime was needed to fuel the need for more drugs.  This story is shared as part of a larger program addressing controlled substance use.  It works.

It works, because we care.  We listen first and teach second.  We let the person in the session be heard and participate in Circle.  We all add a value to the Center.  We all hold the potential to add value to our communities.  Restorative Justice does this like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Formal support comes from people paid to do what they do.  Informal support is people who act because they care.  Think about that from your pizza delivery and the friend that made you soup.  The airport shuttle ride or the friend that gives you a lift.  Formal support is a therapist, informal support is a great conversation with a close friend.

We all know someone who can be a great therapist, hair stylist or store clerk, because they care.  It’s kind of like that with SCVRJP, and I hope all restorative justice programs.  The use of volunteers, bring in people just cause they care.  As a non-profit, we are less funded (more like a friend, not getting paid for that ride to the airport).  We address the areas that the community needs, vs what the government decides we need.

I’ve read that you need both good formal support and strong informal support to reduce symptoms of PTSD.  I always to apply what I read in academic research to my life.  Makes sense to me, fits for the times in my life I struggled.

We are relationship creatures.  I so appreciate that restorative justice can bring our relationship to our experiences to others.  Restorative Justice also brings relationships to people formally or informally, and that just helps us all grow.

Blog commenter asks “What exactly is Restorative Justice?”

I logged on WordPress to blog about coping with your own sense of injustice, when you are a restorative justice practitioner.

I found a comment, someone found this blog by a google search for “stairs” or “tumbleweeds”.  The comment asked what exactly is Restorative Justice?  I actually chuckled outloud.  I realized that I have gotten so deep into here in the blog, I have failed to make sure some basic information is available!

I would like to direct readers to the Values & Principles page.  These were adopted bySt Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program –  SCVRJP, and based on information from Mark Umbriet and the University of MN Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.

Another great explaination is a powerpoint provided by Restorative Justice On-line.

I explain it other blog posts:

Restorative Justice 911, are you really doing Restorative Justice

This posts highlights another great resource introducing you to restorative justice: Building Blocks, Ted Wachtel from IIRP.

A few of my favorite phrases, the one’s I use to explain what exactly restorative justice is:

engages victims, offenders and the community is repairing harm, viewing crime and conflict as harm to relationships

a change of behavior, by a change of heart

a process that brings those most impacted by harm, together, in a good way, to determine what needs to make it right

addressing the social and emotional aspects of crime and conflict – social is with others, emotional is the impact

Working with your Circle members, engage the age and interests.

Keeping Circle requires an awareness of the emotional state of the members in the Circle.  When we are talking about what people have done in violation of the law, I carefully explain all stages of the Circle.  I let people know exactly what will happen, how to respond at all stages in the Circle. 

This structure helps, where people have little experience with the process or approach the Circle anxious about participating.

I was in a Circle and trying to move from the building relationship to addressing issues phase.  Getting acquainted questions are typically a few words about a preference.  The building relationship stage is about sharing a story, more of who you are as a person.

I went for the first building relationship question and I have a few people pass.  That tells me people aren’t feeling safe.  Without pointing that out, I simply shared I had another question I was pretty sure everyone could answer.

I asked about tattoos.  Reason, I could see 4 of them.  I asked what people would get and why.  I was amazed.  One person who had been passing, stood up, removed his jacket and shared the most recent addition to his arm.

Some shared a fear of needles, so they had no answer.  Our Circle still learned about each other.  One person shared wanting to get tattoo stitches over the open heart surgery scars.  He was 17. 

I knew we were ready to talk about what people had done in the addressing issues stage.

Another way to engage people is to let them define things for themselves.  For example if you are working with young people about playground behaviors, ask them what is something positive that happened on the playground, that involved someone else.  What is something they have done that they aren’t very proud of.

You may have to translate the stories the youth share into values.  You can use any school culture  themes, my nieces school has the Winona Way – identifying respect as a basis for all behavior.  Some schools are using Responsive Classroom techniques and that identifies student CARES.

Circlekeeping is a process, you learn skills and develop habits after each Circle you facilitate.  There is lots to be gained by the experience and it takes practice.  Paying careful attention to the collective emotional climate can focusing on your Circle members while holding to the process can produce transformative results.

The process of Circle  is helpful to all involved and taking the time to listen and tune in to others is a technique that keepers can role model and bring to the process.  Besides you never know when you might start thinking about that next tattoo!

TWO WEEKS! I went two weeks without blogging! Postvention!

This maybe the longest time between Circlespace posts, ever!  In the two and half years I have been blogging anyway, September of 2008-March 2011.

I’ve started a few posts, I even talked about blogging in a Blog Talk Radio interview that aired on March 8.

I love blogging.  I love expressing my passion for restorative justice and Circles.  I don’t know why I haven’t posted, when my intention is to do this daily.

Did you know there is a new word, associated with suicide trauma . . . “postvention“.  I saw it on a training flyer, attended the training and now I have seen it in other space.  All related to suicide.

I am using the word in my title and here in the blog, to pick up some internet traffic!  That’s part of the fun for blogging for me.  I like to watch the stats and numbers.  I love getting the email that someone new has subscribed to my blog.  I get a little frustrated with the guessing and lack of control here sometimes.  I don’t blog and yet I still have traffic, so what is being picked up on searches that brings people here?  I like answers.

I knew my blogging needed some “love” so I assigned my college students to make a comment as part of an assignment.  I had them pick a date sometime between September 2008 and March 7 2011 . . . then go find the post for that date.  I was happy when I logged on to see that I have several comments to approve.

I only posted twice in March.  An all time low.  I can’t quite figure out this gap.  I started this post in March and I am finishing it now on April 1.  April Fools Day.  I think I’ve been the fool for taking a break from something I love to do.

Should I try to “Idolize” Restorative Justice?

I am a consumer of information.  I love learning.  I have this appetite for new knowledge.  My passion is in Restorative Justice.  The work of healing, accountability and swimming up stream like a mad salmon in a world that that only wants to flush away offenders. Whew, that analogy might be a little strong.  Oh, heck I haven’t blogging in awhile, I’m not gonna edit out that  little bit of free flow.

The point of the blog.  How many of you know what American Idol is?

The television series has become a household name.  Idol uses TV engagement, by having you text in your vote, which now also appears on Facebook.

What I learned new today . . . using the concept of online engagement to further a nonprofit cause.  A museum in Brooklyn, (story here) engaged people with an online art vote.   A future exhibit will feature some of the voting outcomes.  Sounded like a great idea.  My frame of reference is usually, ok, always Restorative Justice.
I started to think how I could engage people.  Flash pictures and have them “vote” what they thought was happening.  We could see how many people interpreted the picture as a teen mugging granny or how many saw an off-duty cub scout helping the nice lady across the street.  That might not work.
I am looking for “pre-engagement” before people want or need restorative justice.  I need to get people interested in supporting the cause and concept of Restorative Justice.  For several reasons.
The most urgent and almost selfish or superficial, is needing donation dollars.  I am a proud person.  I went on welfare when I unexpectedly became pregnant in college.  My moral compass, my internal “that’s not right” led me to volunteer at the local domestic abuse shelter to pay it back.  I have been paying in back ever since actually.    I got off of welfare as soon as I could.  I work hard to help others, so hard sometimes it is at the expense of me having hobbies or a social life.  I have a hard time seeing SCVRJP as a “Charity”.  We are, we can’t do it on volunteer hours alone.  This means I am forced to figure out engaging others.
The second aspect of pre-engagement is to promote a change in the way we see crime.  This is a much broader approach.  Not a small task.  I feel non-profits are here to support a community need, answer that need and take steps to work itself out of existence!  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need domestic violence shelters because there was no domestic violence.
What if our first response to was to see crime as a mistake.  Now I’m not talking the kidnap and torture of children here, that is obviously very sick stuff.  Although “technically” you can’t argue that is also a mistake.  I’m talking about the majority of issues, mostly smaller stuff.
We help each other when we make mistakes.  Someone spills or drops something and we help, even if the store lost a few jars of jelly in the process.  We ask “are you okay?”.
What about conflict in schools?  Can we see that as an invitation to offer further support rather than promote discipine that creates further isolation?
 With restorative justice the transformation comes in the dialogue.  The social and emotional aspects of crime, when deeply and completely discussed, leave victims, offenders and community members changed.  Can I “idolize” restorative justice and really have it work?
Well at least you are reading, so I know you are engaged!