Restorative Jusitce provides a context to increase empathy.

Empathy.  A crucial emotional response to those around us.  We are hard-wired to connect with others.  From the book Born for Love which is about the:

empathy that allows us to make social connections, and the power of human relationships to both heal and harm.

I had a nice conversation with a man who serves youth.  He was once “at-risk”, and we had a good conversation about Restorative Justice approaches.  This man explained the importance of context for empathy.  This man grew up in poverty, he never knew about home ownership, it was not part of his growing up.  As a man, he now owns a home.  He explained how he understands “foreclosure” now, but as a teen he had no context for that.  I agreed about the context for empathy, but I continued to think about it.

In Restorative Justice Circles, we start with values.  Values are principles, standards of behavior.  According to Kunreuther 2009, “they are deeply felt and difficult to articulate”.  The author goes on to explain, “values articulate aspirations; they sustain us through disagreements, misunderstandings, and differences”.  I appreciate that take on values and I believe using then in Circle lays the foundation to connect with others, to bond.

Once bonded with those around us, even in a short-term setting, that bond increases our empathy.  Feeling that bond is important.  We are born for and designed to be in relationships with others.  One of my training slides, “In Relationships we are broken, in Relationships we are healed”.  The first few stages of Circle set that up.  The Getting Acquainted and uilding Relationship stages prepare people for the heavier discussions ahead in the last two Circle stages (Addressing Issues, Taking Action).

I get to do all different kinds of Circles, some focus on a common topic (underage drinking), others focus on a specific incident, others are community building circles.  The form of all Circles is essentially the same.  The outcomes are often different that people expect going in.  I am no longer shy about letting those who have never been in a Circle know this:  people will behave differently that you would expect.

When people open up and share in a deep and meaningful manner, it opens up others to do the same.  To bear witness to someone being genuine, open, respectful and honest just brings out the same.  When we create space for this or role model this in Circle, we are creating a deeper context for empathy.

My friend recognized he didn’t have empathy for foreclosure, but he also wasn’t out causing foreclosure harms.  In a Circle about the harm you caused, you can have empathy, because you were on the other end of that stick.  Harm, that thing others refer to a crime or conflict, in Restorative Justice, we look at it from our perspectives and increase the context of empathy by understanding how the harm, harms everyone.


Kunreuther, F., Kim, H., & Rodriguez, R. (2009). Working across generations: Defining the future of nonprofit leadership.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fear, nervous energy, anxiety all acceptable before Circle-keeping.

I have a reverance for the Circle process.  Specifically, the Restorative Justice Circle process as I learned it, from Kay Pranis, Linda Wolf, Jamie Williams, Oscar Reed, and many, many, many people who have joined me in Circles over the past 6 years.  By reverance, I mean a deep respect and knowledge that the concept of Circle (intentionally capatilized) is in our DNA.  To provide equal respect, for me, is a way to honor the divine in all of us.  So if you are about to embark on your journey as a Circle-keeper, if you are new to using this technology, then fear, nervous energy and anxiety might all be part of it, and I find that a good thing.

In Kay’s book Peacemaking Circles, she shares the importance of preparing by centering.  I used this guidance,  I was anxious when I started, I would have notes about the questions I prepared, words listed as tips for me to say about opening a Circle.  I feel now, that a focused inhale can prepare me.  Well, I also exhale!  I was talking to someone today, it was an interview that was a good conversation.  I kept wanting to offer, what I wish I might have heard before keeping my first Circle.  I offered support for those feelings of anxiety or fear.  Maybe just nervous energy.  I think these things are good, when we care about doing well we can get nervous not wanting to do harm or to complicate matters.

Circlekeeping shouldn’t feel like the same old, same old kind of faciliatation.  Circlekeeping is keeping the form and funtion of Circle above individual agenda’s – keeper or attendee.  The form and function of Circle is to be grounded in Restorative Justice and specifically the value of respect.  I think it starts with the respect to the process of Circle.

Classroom Circle UWRF

I wish you well as you try this.  I encourage training, training and reading.  Then find a mentor to discuss your plans with.  Engage yourself in learning about, doing and developing your Circlekeeping skills.

I appreciate this model, that takes us from being interested to being.  As it will go with Circle keeping – eventually you will just BE, a keeper!

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program – planned sessions for 2012

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program in River Falls, WI provides a range of Restorative Justice Services for our community.  Click here for look at 2012: SCVRJP 2012 color calendar.

Locally, SCVRJP addresses public health concerns like teen driving, underage consumption, controlled substance use – by offering Circle sessions.  SCVRJP also offers Victim Impact Panels, for those earning driving privlidges after a conviction for drinking and driving.  Trained volunteers offer stories during sessions, community volunteers offer Restorative Justice, by participating in non-judgemental, supportive services where the impact of choices is shared by experience.  The session descriptions: 2011 sessions.

SCVRJP also provides Restorative Response – which is a program that offers support to those impacted by suicide and sudden, traumatic loss.  SCVRJP, is the lead agency working to provide informal support services for survivors and distributes the Grieving Families Guide.

Trainings are available at our River Falls location or on a contracted basis.  Training can be provided on Restorative Justice, Restorative Justice Circles, School-based Restorative Justice, Classroom Circles or topics needed by your agency.  Contact Kris Miner at SCVRJP, email: or 715-425-1100.

SCVRJP relies on donations, service fees and grants.  Your support is appreciated.  There is one annual fundraiser, the WALK for AWARENESS, scheduled for July 28, 2012.

New volunteers are welcome!  Please contact us if you are interested in joining our team!

Making amends feels good, and who doesn’t want to feel better?

Taking responsibility feels good.  Knowing you put in a hard days work, taking care of paying your bills, helping someone who needs it.  Just a few examples of being a responsible citizen and community member.  Responsibility is keeping yourself and others out of harm’s way.  That’s how I define it.  Harm, no matter what form, it just isn’t good.

I think about things in terms of Karma, a simple way of a universal checks and balances.  We can cause unintentional harm.  This doesn’t lessen our responsibility to make things right.

I like men, and especially like when a Circle involves some discussion about being a man is owning up to what you did.  Taking responsibility.  It is a mixture of humility (I did wrong) and I’m strong enough to admit I made a mistake.  It’s not always easy for men to do this (in my experience).  This study, found that men are less likely than women to take responsibility for dating violence and more likely to put blame on their partner.

I listen closely to men when doing prep work for Restorative Justice.  You have to listen in to the types of words they use.  I’ve asked for some words to be substituted, and we talk about why those are important.  One example is when a person says they “caught” charges.  As if these have been thrown off a truck, and accidentally on the lap.  I have asked a man how he wants things to change, he started with “she needs . . .”.   I pushed our conversation to an area of where do we really have control.  I think men like control.  I helped, or tried to help, by identifying the thing we control is our reaction to events.  The way we respond.  I asked for an example of mends-making, and asked about the feelings that followed.

When preparing people for a Restorative Justice experience giving them pathways in the brain, to remember how it felt to make amends, or how it changed a relationship for the better, empowers the individual.  When you empower others to finding their own course to restoration or healing experiences, you can be assured the change might be more lasting.  I love offering a moment that gives another an Ah-HA!  I didn’t do it, they did, they found that making amends, repairing harm and building bridges to belonging is the natural order of being human.

The power of asking questions, which end of the same stick?

The art of asking questions is a skill a Circle-keeper, Restorative Justice Practioner needs to be building.

Imagine this . . . how were you harmed?  People can express their hurts.  Consider an event where many people contributed to the harm, there wasn’t a specific person.  The question might be . . . how were you impacted?  When you talk about impact, community members, supportors and even the offender can share the impacts of the harmful act.

When you pick your questions, you need to be monitoring the emotional climate of the Circle participants.  The higher the safety, the more vulnerable you can make the question.  You start at the stages of getting acquainted and building relationship – you get the values, the commitment to honor the values, some comfort and safety, then you can talk about the difficult things.

I also use a reflective or final stage, check out question.  I ask what people thought it was going to be like, and what it actually was like.  My question tips the scale that something about what they expected and experienced was different.  I could ask a general reflective question, just have people “check out”, however, I know that novel, makes things memorable.  I want young people to remember the story heard, from our volunteer speaker and from others in the Circle.

This TED Talk, the power of if a question asks up to opt-in or opt-out of organ donation.  It’s an interesting perspective, the specifics about the question, starts about 5 minutes in:


The will to live, is the will to heal.

Healing is living.  Our bodies and the planet are in constant cycles of change.  Old cells die off, new one’s take their place.  “Healing is how we maintain our health and wellness” – Angeles Arrien, The Four-Fold Way.  Arrien shares four healing “salves” storytelling is the first.  Storytelling is a key aspect of Restorative Justice process.

I often suggest the Restorative Justice bumper sticker:  Dealing with Healing.  The work of Restorative Justice and it’s aspect to healing can take many forms.  A third grade classroom in a morning community building Circle – to a Circle in prison, with people who have taken a life, and those that have lost a loved one.

Healing encounters with others, include a few things – I was first introduced to Mark Umbriet’s, “elements of a healing experience” captured in the helpful article highlighted.  I also blogged about the key elements here.

A recent Facebook status:

 Radiate an energy of serenity and peace so that you have an uplifting effect on those you come into contact with. Your presence will make others feel calm and assured. – Dr. Wayne Dyer

When people experience pain that is not physical, they are in grief.  Negative emotions result from loss, however I belive they flood a victim of crime.  We try to make “sense” of things, when we are harmed, harmful acts are often “sense-less”.  I remember a man in prison talking about his life on the streets, as a “mad-tality”, a way of life the menatlity, the way you thought was just to be mad.  His environment, his choices placed him in a situation that day – kill or be killed.  He has chosen to continue to work on himself, he was a strong contributor to our Circle.

The will to live.  Aron Ralston, cut off his arm.  The film 127 hours is gripping look at that experience.  The will to heal is when we find other emotions, positive emotions, in the midst of such pain and trauma.  Consider 911, feelings of sadness, anger and fear were also joined by feelings of gratitude for surviving, more love for your own family, commitments to spirituality.  I found this in an article:

What Good are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001.  By Barbara Fredrickson, Michele M. Tugade, Christian E. Waugh, Gregory R. Larkin.  Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 84(2), 365-376.   This article identified the value of positive emotions, along side negative ones.  When I read that positive emotions put people at ease (physically – reduce heart rate, vasoconstriction, blood pressure), I recognized that contributes to Circles becoming an easy place to share and open up.  Circles begin with stories about values.  Circles begin with a keeper doing what Wayne Dyer suggests, radiating peace.

The article by Fredrickson contends that positive emotions help people cope with crisis and find meaning in their experience.  “Positive emotions increase the odds that people will feel good in the future”.

As a Restorative Justice practitioner, remember to keep the elements of healing handy, be ready to radiate and reflect positive emotions.  Affirm all sides of a persons story.  From the negative to the difficult, even positive emotions.  People are designed to heal, and an ever-increasing option is a Restorative process

Be Authentic, it builds relationships and we need relationships.

Every morning at 5 am, I get a  Note to Inspire.

A recent message

You are authentic when everything you say and everything you do you ACTUALLY believe.

I have Simon’s book, Start with Why, I just haven’t got to reading it yet.  The quote today reminded me about going at this Restorative Justice stuff with enthusiasm.  I don’t share anything about it that, I don’t believe.  I am passionate about my first hand experiences.  I share openly about these and I’ve been told I have passion.  It was a gift that people told me this, because, I made a point of remembering that and using that energy again.  So thank you for telling me!

I saw myself quoted in Melinda’s article on Shareable: How to Share in a Dialogue Despite Differences.  I first saw it on Facebook, and knew it would be coming out.  Melinda and I go back a year or so.  We connected over her book, Consequential Strangers.  Which is a great read, and really brings awareness to how people connect.

It was my relationship with Melinda, that evolved into being part of her story.  It was her relationship with me, that helps me with grammar and punctuation.  She authentically shared with me, and it connected us.  We need relationships to evolve, to learn to grow.

I love Maslow’s needs, and I’ve posted a few times regarding the connection to the middle tier – Love and Belonging.  Here is a link with further details.  I was digging around on Maslow, because I was recently told that he used to participate in Native American ceremonies in South Dakota.  I learned that if you extend the lines of his pyramid up, it is actually part of 4 quadrants.  The pyramid is one piece of a symbol, the Lakota way of having “self-actualization” is the center, the first place to go is inside to your self.

Back to the Maslow pyramid, the bottom two deal with self, the next is others.  I see this as a place to get to authentic.

People are wounded when they aren’t provided those two bottom needs.  The history of this can, and often times is carried up to the next tier with others.  Relationships can suffer when we bring our histories.  It’s good to learn from things, to heal, to resolve, to be authentic about your experiences.  To be defensive, unaware, to harm before being harmed, brings issues to our relationships.

We are hard-wired to connect with each other.  I use a quote when I teach Restorative Justice “In relationships we are broken, in relationships we are healed”.  The crack in our heart is where the light is let in.

Be authentic.  Find what that means to you.  For me, it means being real and honest.  It means having the courage to tell the truth, and to believe, really believe what you tell others.  I bet you will find, like I did, it brings relationships and we need relationships.

Eye for an eye.5?

I’ve been embracing my singleness, I am attending things solo and being aware of the benefits.  Going solo forces you to strike up conversations with those around you.  Attending with someone, and your conversation stays within your group.  I’ve been hearing and seeing this quote:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

At a domestic violence awareness/prevetnion event, I chatted with another person attending.  When I told her what I did, (work with victims and offenders to bring them together to repair harm) she looked so shocked, she gave me a scoff, and asked, “THAT must be hard! Do you keep a wall between them?”.  I was caught a little off guard at such a strong response.  I offered that we prepare people ahead of time.  She told me that would not work for her.  She shared she was more of an “eye for . . . an eye and a half” type.  I laughed at “eye for an eye and a half”.  Then I told her I write a blog, and asked for her permission to use that.  I thought it interesting where we met, and this perspective, I tried to figure out that context.

The event included a walk, I had two choices.  Listen to the conversations around me, or spend some time just thinking.  I did a bit of both.  I thought about how open and honest it was say, I’d take another half of an eye.  I thought about another recent conversation, where I was saying I would take a case despite the offender saying he didn’t do it.  I know the power of Circle, I know the acknowledgements I get, when I remind people this is not a place where whatever you say will be held against you.  I wanted a chance to sit down 1:1 with the offender.  The person I was speaking with was talking to me, it appeared, only to be able to say “she said no”.  I was not saying no.  I thought about these two conversations.

I wondered, about the other end of the stick?  If one end is “eye for an eye and a half” am I so far down the other end?  Am I, “thank you for taking my eye, I learned I didn’t need it”.  I think that is as absurd as thinking you get another half of an eye!

Context changes so much.  My daughter was recently the victim of a crime.  Her purse was picked up and the person ran away.  My kid went after her, she stopped a car in the parking lot, asked the 3 individuals “did you steal my purse?”  She asked to use a phone, she was going to call her number and see if rang in the car.  The three in the car all made excuses and no call was made.  They went on to use my daughters debit card, she lost her phone, her favorite wallet and purse.  In our very first conversation about this my kid firmly said, “Mom, I WANT to do a Restorative Justice Circle!”.  Later when she found out they lied to her face, and used her debit card, I asked again about Restorative Justice.  She still said yes.  She wants to offer help, so the offender doesn’t have to steal anymore, she thought in the form of a college application or job resume.

Now, I have to sit back and hope the system does what it does, that they follow-up and somewhere in the process of justice, my kid gets Restorative Justice.  I’m concerned about how the formal justice system is going to respond.  My daughter is ready to tell her story as a surrogate victim, I offered her what I could.  It hurts me to see her hurt by this.  I’ve given her some TLC to help.  It’s already brought us closer, but I’m not ready to thank anybody for this lesson.

I don’t know, eye for an eye, eye for an eye and a half, or thank you for removing my eye.  Life happens and each belief we have gets tested in different contexts.

Life happens at the end of your comfort zone.

Labels hurt. Restorativeness includes kindness to those that bully.

I stay away from the word “bully”.  I put in “bully behavior”.  Labels hurt people.  It’s hard to be called a name, its hard to be you, when a strong label has been applied.  My path to my views was influenced by a few things.

I would not recommend doing this.  I kept a Circle without knowing who the offender and victim were.  I was asked to help a teacher, new to Circlekeeping deal with some issues.  I was happy to show up, and demonstrate the process.  I would teach others to do more preparation, especially if the students had not been doing community building Circles.  Since the teacher was already doing Circles, and was wanting to grow his skills, I agreed to come in around the harm of upper level grade school boys and bully behavior.  This teacher had also taken the two-day training with me, so we had a great rapport and were able to have things set up prior to the Circle.

We met in the corner of the library.  The tall principal joined us on the floor, so did a guidance office staff.  I brought along my deer antler talking piece, the boys thought that one was pretty cool.  The Circle centered around “friendship” being a good friend, times someone wasn’t that good to you.  We used “friend” instead of “bully”, the classroom work was supporting being a good friend.  When a question was framed about being hurt, I was shocked and sad by the stories related.  Mom’s boyfriend throws beer cans at me, the high schoolers make fun of me from their cars.  The kids showed empathy for each other.  You could have heard a pin drop when that tall, authority figure shared a story about being excluded as a kid.  When we left that Circle, I had to check with the teacher.  The kids I thought were the victims, were in fact the ones doing the bully behavior.

That reinforced to me – responses to REAL or PERCEIVED harm include:  revenge, retaliation and restoration.   What is the harm the child is experiencing, that brings our harmful behavior.

Another Circle for 3rd grade boys, the last question asked by the victim to the offender “I just want to know why you did it”.  The answer “because in 1st grade, you got me in trouble on the bus”.  I extended our Circle a little longer to bring that in!

I don’t know anyone that raises kids with the goal “be the biggest, meanest, bully on the playground today!”  In my experience parents are extremely shamed when told their kid did the bullying.

Research shows the effects of bully behavior can be negative for the bully.  This story in Time, tells about a writer who went back to meet his bully.  It’s powerful, showing that the bully went on to continue to hurt people, to the point of murder.  It’s technically not Restorative Justice (not the specific process), it does include victim and offender, and a dialogue.  I want to connect with the author John Guenther, (email me at  He acknowledged at one point or another we have all engaged in bully behavior.  I think it’s key to not forget, we could all work at being better citizens, playground to retirement home.

Programs to address bully behavior must be comprehensive and focus on the culture and climate.  I appreciate all the work at bully-prevention and I continue to work on values-promotion.

Anything to reduce harm, must address the harm that caused it.  The only thing that mends harm is values.  If you’ve been in a training session with me, remember my slides that show the medicine wheel.  Hurt is to our physical selves, and harm is to our mental, emotional, spiritual selves.

Nancy Riestenberg shared this Safe Healthy Learners e-newsletter, some resources are Minnesota based, many are available.

Please note SCVRJP, takes contracts, I am available to train your school on Circles and Restorative Pracitices.  I also provide presentations and workshops on topics related to all things Circle and Restorative Justice.  If you would like to check a reference on my work, you can ask Nancy.