Why this restorative justice practioner crafts and cooks.

I just responded to an email, fighting back tears.  I sent out love and support to someone I haven’t met yet.  Haven’t met physically.  I’ve already met her on her life  journey, she and I connected over the dynamic of a parent who lost a child.  She is meeting her child’s friends and scattering her child’s ashes.  I began to choke up, composing a message back.  It is not just this loss that takes me to a place of pain, it is knowing so many stories.

I know a number of parents who have lost a child.  I talk with them in-depth about their stories, their pain, their experience.  I am speechless at the depth of grief.  I cannot hold back tears if I consider myself, for a moment, in their shoes.  I sit with each one and try to provide the best restorative justice I can.  I listen, I care, I try to help and be supportive, I try to understand, I hold them in my heart.  I think about that, I think about how much love they must need, just to keep breathing.  I give presence and witness and really all that I can give.

Volunteers that storytell about the loss of a child are miraculous.  They give the wisdom of their lived experience and they live something no parent should ever have to.  I love these people and yet I wish for each and every one that I didn’t know them (because that would mean their child was alive).   I know I need to stay strong for them, I run the program that is trying to help with healing.

I was listening to a Mom tell her story, and she was not one of the SCVRJP speakers.  Her son was killed in a traffic crash.  She spoke and I recognized some of the experiences, her pain was familiar to me, it was the “child-loss grief”.  I vicariously know “child-loss grief” and it is deep.  I began to cry for her pain, and I was overwhelmed with emotions during her presentation.  I couldn’t wipe away my stream of tears fast enough, I had to get up, get my purse and a tissue.  I think I got overwhelmed,  since the person sharing was not part of the SCVRJP Circle of parents, I was not in my service mode, and it was just time for me to do so grieving for them.

So I process grief by cooking and crafting.  After a series of Restorative Response Circles (talking about suicide) I made quiche, cheesecake and something else with cheese, I’m lactose intolerant, so that cost me a sick day at the end!  I have to keep my hands busy and my head slightly distracted.  Busy, busy, busy . . . find meaning, find meaning, find meaning.

Finding meaning is part of the journey to finding healing.  To “make” something of the loss by sharing the story is what some parents do.  I find them and they find me.  I find them Circles to tell the stories.  I bring back to them the stories of how their story impacted others.  But some days, when my tears are near the surface I know it is my turn to grieve.  It is time for me to cook or craft.

For Schools: Reduce bully behavior, increase diversity management, by use of Circles.

I like to write about the practices and success that I have had, so you can try the practices and see if they work.  The evaluation forms and feedback from 1,000’s, literally 1,000’s of Circles have been documented by SCVRJP evaluation forms.  I am more “concrete” than “gray” when it comes to using Restorative Justice philosophy and practices, and I really, really believe in the power of Circle.

“This would be really good for bullying in Schools.”  I could help but smile at the person with the talking piece.  The person speaking had only experience a few Circles, and the experience was around “compassion”.  It was not a training or a restorative justice conference.  It was simply the observation from the heart of a former teacher.

To address bully behavior, you have to address the percieved differences that students have of each other.  There are some very REAL differences in students (race, gender, economic background, sexual orientation, etc, etc).  Do you believe that we all have humanity in common?  Can you work from a perspective that each student deserves to be treated equally, with dignity and respect?  To provide each student with the equal opportunity for personal growth and development.  Even as I write this I am thinking about how to do that with the Johnnies’ that misbehave or the Susie that has trauma going on at home, both around her and to her.  That is where school discipline meets equal opportunity and how we deal with the rule-breakers and wrong-doers.

When you work with cattle, on horseback, you need to read the animals around you.  You have to be in sync with your horse, you need to get down the leadership of the animal.  Tight reins, loose reins, knees or feet for directions.  You can give verbal directions if that fits.  You need to watch the critter you are moving.  Are they going to dodge left or right, try the corner, bolt from the pack . . .  you cut them off at the pass.  Find where they are trying to break and cut them off.

Circles “cut-off” the wrong-doing, the harm.  You build Circles into your classroom, you school community and your discipline policy.  Use Circles at all levels, (PBIS and http://www.circle-space.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/why_restorative_justice_works_for_bully_behavior1.pdf).  Consider the Circle process and school-based restorative justice as both the prevention, the diversion and the response.

Each type of Circle is unique and different.  Don’t cut the corners on getting staff trained to do the process well and effectively.  Mis-implementation is more harmful and can set the process back further.  You need time to practice new skills and to develop your own shifting mindset.  Reacting, punishing, punitive responses are so far ingrained in our institutions and structures, sometimes it is hard to realize what is subconciously happening because of those long set beliefs that punishment works.

Part II: Diversity management skills and Restorative Justice Circles.

Right now I need to run, a Diversity Circle is calling!


The shape of a Restorative Justice Circles, taps our intuition and engages us in the process.

While exploring Circle images on the World Wide Web, I found this webpage.  “Our initial exposure to an idea shapes our intuition”.  The article goes on to explain that our intuition impacts how much we enjoy a subject.  I think that the shape of being in Circle, is the shape of humane productivity.

Geese benefit from the shape of V.  People benefit from the shape of O.

The article, mentions that a Circle is the “max area for the least perimeter”.  That explains to me why we can accomplish so much in Circle process.

Bucking up and being restorative, avoiding cynicism and anger.

Vandals Trash Closed State Park


I couldn’t believe the headline as I walked past a newspaper stand.  I was hoping the damage done was not to my favorite MN State Park.  Sadly, it was.

I was mad.  Started thinking of swear words in my head.  Realized I was not being very restorative.  Then realized I was being human.  Revenge.  Retaliation. Eventually Restoration.  I have been meaning to write a thank you letter to the Washington County Law Enforcement that responded and scooped up the individuals.  I also thought about a Restorative Justice request, and participating in the process as a victim.  I thought that over again, I doubt I would make a very good consumer.  I would want the restorative justice provider to be doing it the way I think it should be done.  So I sit with my anger for vandals.

I thought “what’s the point” and dismissed my work to build culture of peace and belonging (the SCVRJP mission).   Man it’s hard not to let someone “get your goat” as my father says.

Lonely over the 4th of July, and in an impulse signed up for Match.com.  Met a great guy right away, in the Army, serving in Afganistan.  His parents both died in a plane crash when he was young, his Mother 3 months pregnant at the time.  He married his high school sweetheart.  Seven years ago she died of Cancer, he is just starting to date again, retirement is in October, he is ready to settle down.  Master Sgt, serving in a remote area, night watch, if he had his own laptop, he could msg me more often.  He REALLLY liked me, hadn’t felt this way in years, I was the answer to his prayers.  We could really make a relationship work, October would come so quickly.  I fell for it.  With his birthday quickly approaching I decided to mail him a cheap Wal-Mart laptop.  Let than 24 hours later, I realized this was a SCAM!  I had been taken to the cleaners by a con!  My package left the country before I could stop it.  How STUPID of me.  How absolutely stupid, and what a fool for love!

Another chance to get cynical and angry.  Another chance to test my restorative-resolve.  Near the end of a 2 day Circle training, when we had deeply experienced a connection to one another and the values.  I shared this experience, I briefly related the story.  I was happy to have it “off my chest”.  I was relieved to find it landed without judgement.  I actually found that my vulnerability in sharing it, brought people closer to me.  I realized I had (again) learned a hard lesson about trusting and jumping into relationships.  You can’t be blind, you need to be responsible to avoid harm.  I was irresponsible with my trust and my resources.

A part of me wants to edit away the scam story.  A part of me is still ashamed.  I know that shame hurts us.  I am choosing to heal and leave this blog post just as it is.

If you want to heal you can, no matter who you are, no matter what happened.

However, I do NOT recommend Match.com!

4 “inner” tools to do effective Restorative Justice Circle work.

We only know what we know and we can only do what we can do.  What we know and do translates to how we think and act (our behavior).

In a culture of safety, built by the values and structure of the talking piece, we can have new experiences of relating to one another.  A story told in this container, is transformative.  Psychology Today post, on how storytelling brings us together, our brains literally “sync up”.  To get people to a new way on “knowing” and “doing”.

How do you create these kinds of experiences?

I beleive it has a great deal to do with the work BEFORE the Circle, as much as the beginning of the Circle.

Tool 1 – Yourself.  Spend time thinking and learning about how you feel about power.  What do you need to leave behind to embrace, really, really embrace equality and sit in Circle with people.  A “hey we are all equal” mindset removes performance anxiety, equality with different roles, the keeper is guiding the process.  Guiding people to all be Keepers in the Circle, keeper means you care about the outcome for all above the outcome for one.

Self examine your actions in relation to power.  Sitting at the head of the table, is a power position.  Sitting in a chair that is higher up in elevation, standing outside the Circle or standing up when not necessary is a power position.  How do you hold your personal energy when Circle-keeping, it can influence the process.

Tool 2 – Preparation.  Take a moment to center yourself before you keep a Circle.  Kay Pranis and the book Peacemaking Circles, recommends this.  Even one deep sigh, to let go of you, clear the space in you, and remember it is the Circle.

The opening introduction you do is very important.  Find your paragraph, your elevator speech, the comfort of your words to explain restorative justice and Circles.  Consider your audience.  Ask a friend or partner to listen, practice it alone in the car.  Gedi master this part!

The way you set it up is a big responsibility, it sets the tone.  Think of setting a table, you put out the tablecloth, the lines, the silverware, the center piece.  Lay the foundation for the philosophy, explain the ideas and concepts.  Explain the structure and tools.

Tool 3 – Values.  We don’t talk a great deal about values, introducing the concept can be tricky.  I teach a back door method of thinking about a person you are close with, then identifying the value.  (I know I have more detailed blog posts on this).  Going straight at it, I think we get “social mask” answers.  By going at it by a relationship, you get real life examples.  It can be hard to explain this, practice is needed here.

Tool 4 – Growth.  Ask for feedback and input.  Circle keeping, done well, leaves everyone in the Circle, including you different.  Practice this by bringing your whole heart to the Circles you sit in on.  Get in Circle by creating them, or attending them.  Find space to practice your habits and the gifts of the Circle will be in your hands and heart.

The collective issue and the individual experience, promoting healing and tranformation.

Our communities are faced with a variety of issues.  Our local non-profit St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice (www.scvrjp.org) works to address teen driving, underage drinking, impaired driving, crime and conflict in the community and schools. SCVRJP recently began services to help with issues around suicide, providing prevention, intervention, and postvention services.

The unique aspect of how Restorative Justice works is the involvement of stories.  An individual impacted deeply by the collective concerns is brought in to storytell with those at the cusp of a risky behavior.

A recent presentation (LTC Cynthia Rasmussen) on trauma provided this valuable insight:

The burned hand teaches best.  After that, advice about fire goes straight to the heart.

Burned hand: your experience.  Advice about fire: someone else’s story.

Storytelling is healing.  Storylistening is transformative.

Restorative Justice Circles set people up to be in a safe place.  Structure is safe, values are safe, taking turns is safe. 

I know Circles work.  I enjoy finding places that validate that our brains are involved as much as our heart.  This slideshare by Share Bowman, is a great learning tool.  If you haven’t viewed that slideshare please do! (http://www.slideshare.net/sharonbowman/different-trumps-same-getting-the-brain-to-pay-attention-8558251)

I think Restorative Justice Circles are all the things, that make us remember!

Circles are a novelty, a new experience.  No two Circles are EVER alike, so that also makes the experience different, even if the process is the same.  Where else do you sit in Circle no tables, face people and get to talk about things like values, experiences and in an non-judgemental environment?

The contrast Sharon defines as “things that are in contrast to what came before”.  The reflection round in Circle often includes “i thought this was going to be us getting yelled at”, “I thought we were just going to watch video’s”, “I didn’t know you were going to listen to me”.

Meaningful and emotional are the last two elements Bowman identified as attention grabbers for our brains.  Circles are meaningful because the way they engage people.  Stories evoke our emotions because we “feel” what the person storytelling is feeling.  Our brains have mirror neurons, and in Circle we are facing each other, sharing our experiences and making meaning of our lives.

I have a two day Circle Training this week.  I love hosting the two-day Circle and helping people learn this process.  The Bowman resources will be a nice addition to our curriculum and further reason why Circles WORK!