Stronger the bond and relationship, deeper the truth told.

My Mom died when I was 20, she had a battle with cancer that began when I was 13.  That single circumstance has influenced my parenting in many, many ways.  Other circumstances have flowed into parenting, it’s a complex human experience to be part of a Mother-Daughter bond.

Now that my daughter is 20, and she lives on her own, our relationship is free from the conflict around house rules.  Our bond and connection has grown.  I recently ran into a few pieces of paper that we were able to look at much differently.

I found a detention note from 2008.  My daughter got 2 hours of detention and was required to write a letter of apology.  For “exposing her underwear, on purpose to another student”.  I found this and really laughed.  It flies in the face of everything I train schools in regarding restorative practices.  The forced letter of apology to someone we don’t even know if they feel harmed.  I am sure in 2008, I wasn’t laughing!  I was more connected to her actions as a reflection of me.  I was connected to what people at the school might be thinking about me!  I was shamed by her behavior, that all I got was a copy of the detention paper.  I didn’t speak my truth to the school staff, I probably wasn’t restorative with my kid!  We laughed about it now.  I’m really glad I saved that paper.

I found another note from her.  She was requesting I give her more space, in the letter she promised “I won’t have sex and do drugs until I am ready”.  I didn’t see if for that at the time, I saw she wouldn’t do drugs.  I don’t know if that was a Freudian slip, or what.  When we were talking about this recently found treasure, daughter disclosed how she did not have sex with a particular boyfriend I didn’t like.  She rushed out the info, a rushed honest disclosure.  I wasn’t ready for this kind of conversation, my reaction “eewww, I assumed NOT!”

Things change from 16-20 and for me 40-44, as my Mother-Daughter bond gets stronger, the truth becomes more and more.  I see this with Restorative Justice.  I recently did a fishbowl Circle, showing teachers the process with students from their campus.  The students responded openly and honestly, they related that creating a “path” to open up was helpful.  Building connections in Circle, with the values, the early rounds, the emotional safety builds bonds and relationships.

Bond and relationship changes the climate between people.  That bond allows for more truth to be told.  Truth has layers and layers.  In addition, my side, your side, the other side all have layers.  When placed with values and safety an open container IS the climate and has the space for more and more truth.

Path to Justice – blogtalk radio – Herb Blake

Here is a link, to a collection of interviews.  Herb left us in January, and many of us who knew him, were shocked by the sudden loss.  He had so much work left to do, he was a very alive man.  We connected through social media, Twitter initially.  After some emails and phone calls, our interview on his show was recorded.  Herb and I stayed in touch and I offered him a scholorship to attend Circle Training.  He was in River Falls, Wisconsin in July of 2011, and offered these comments:

“I was fortunate enough to be part of this week’s Circle Training (July 14 & 15).  To say that it was “Amazing” would be an understatement.   First, In order for it to be more meaningful, I left behind all experiences I have had with groups, roundtables, breakout sessions and the like, so that I could have a blank slate upon which to record my Circle Training.  I’m glad I did because the training was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  Even after the training was over I was still processing what had transpired and putting it into perspective.  I have to say, I had to create new spaces in my awareness to accommodate what I learned during my two days in Circle Training.  It was a fantastic experience that I look forward to passing on.”

The talking piece Herb made at Circle Training, is kept next to the Urn of his ashes.  I think representing his committment and passion for Restorative Justice.  He captured some great interviews, he was committed to have people be his friends.  He is missed by many and his blog interviews continue to be a gift.

More on the meme, Restorative Justice and social media.

MemeMemes are contagious patterns of cultural information that are passed from mind to mind and that directly shape and generate key actions and mindsets of a social group. Memes include popular tunes, catch-phrases, clothing fashions, architectural styles, ways of doing things, and so on.

More on  meme, here.  I find social media fascinating, I loved the opportunity to start blogging as a way to distinguish myself in the field.  The opportunity and benefit of being involved in social media have help Restorative Justice in general, our non-profit and me professionally and personally.

As soon as I saw some of these different meme’s going around, I wanted to make one for Restorative Justice.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, than six photos is 6,000 words at once.  Like Restorative Justice, the UthinkIdo Meme, views things from different angles.

Another aspect I like of the “meme” and “restorative justice” is that I had to go figure out the word, MEME.  I saw it in a NPR link I my Facebook wall, thank goodness for Wiki and Google, I got a better grasp of what a MEME is.  I thought it really cool the word was is a book from 1976.  Like the term Restorative Justice, it has taken some time to become understood or relevant in culture.

I believe Restorative Justice is on the rise, see a blog post on megatrend thoughts. (I can’t believe I titled a post IDK, and I wonder why I’m not taken more seriously!)  It’s important to me to represent my self professionally, and I really want to be a leader in the field, by doing the best I can as a facilitator, advocate, practitioner, director, blogger.  To keep ahead of my work, I enrolled in a course.

I am taking a course through Eastern Mennonite University, with Howard Zehr.  At first I was resistant to the notion of tensions, and critical issues in Restorative Justice.  I have come to see that things can change over time, and the original intention is sometimes not what evolves.  I have come to admire this viewpoint, and this dedication to continue to keep a grasp on the key principles, values, process that make Restorative Justice.

I see how it get diluted.  It raises my blood pressure every time I see the term “Restorative Justice” near terms like Teen Court.  I’m on the fence about people who change their language to “restorative principles” when they are doing the same old same old, and add that in.  At least they have stopped calling the same old, same old, RJ.

The Restorative Justice Meme, was a chance to look at the different view points through the lens of humor.  By trying to over exaggerate – which is a form of humor.  To amplify what is true, and nobody really says you can be funny.  I hope by creating the RJ Meme, it actually creates a little more discussion and understanding of RJ.  It was difficult to pick the different angles, the different photos.  If you have further thoughts I’d like to hear them!

Thanks for reading!  I appreciate the opportunity to have a community right here on this blog!



Sharing for repairing. Restorative Justice, volunteering as a storyteller.

At SCVRJP we provide a variety of different talking circle sessions and victim impact panels.  We utilize volunteers that are willing to tell their story.  Here is a flyer with details: Speakers Information.

There are two types of speaking sessions, impact panels and circles.  The impact panels are focused specifically on impaired driving.  Restorative Justice Talking Circles are held on a variety of topics, underage consumption, controlled substance, property crimes, conflict, suicide.  The storytellers are volunteers that offer their personal experience around a specific incident.

Some speakers are victims, some are community members.  Some of our speakers are former offenders.  The tragic consequences hit everyday people, from all walks of life.  At SCVRJP we support our storytellers with providing training, support, feedback.

Additional speaking tips.  We have found that people respond to hearing stories.  Research has found our brains sync up with story.  By telling your story, you can repair harm, take steps towards healing.  Find meaning in the most tragic of loss.

Restorative Justice Circles also add an extra dimension for our volunteer storytellers.  Volunteers get to hear how the story was absorbed by others.  The sharing of the story allows others to relate impacts of a similiar situation or incident.  In Circle each is student and teacher.  When you hear a story and are given opportunity to reflect on it, it becomes even more meaningful.

If you are interested in learning more about storytelling for Restorative Justice Circles or Impact Panels, please see the flyer above.  SCVRJP is hosting a storytelling orientation on May 2, from 6-8pm.  Call 715-425-1100 to register, see our website for more details or email










Restorative Justice, beyond the victim-offender conference.

From an article in the Eau Claire Leader.

HUDSON – Randy Spence admits it would take a miracle for him to ever forgive the drunken driver who killed his daughter.

But Spence also realizes how close he came to possibly taking the lives of four people years later when checking his phone and running a stop sign.

Spence, 55, an attorney who lives in River Falls, is very emotional when discussing the death of his daughter, Alyssa, and is humbled that an accident he caused didn’t have tragic consequences.

Spence regularly makes presentations at schools and other events. He provides a detailed, heart-wrenching account of the devastation he and his family have endured at the hands of a drunken driver.

“If I convince one person not to drink and drive, doing this is worth it,” Spence said last week at the St. Croix County Government Center during a St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program session.

Alyssa Spence, 21, died five days after a near head-on collision April 13, 2003, near River Falls. Ryan C. Foley, now 30, pleaded guilty in Pierce County Court to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

Foley, a UW-River Falls student who had been at taverns and a house party before the crash, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision. He was released from prison in October 2010.

Foley had a blood alcohol level of 0.235 percent, almost three times the legal limit, when he crossed the centerline and hit the car Alyssa was driving. She died on her mother’s birthday.

“When you lose someone it’s hard to let go,” a tearful Spence said. “That’s still how it is, how it always will be. I miss her every day.”

Ready to talk

Spence said he was never interested in taking part in the Restorative Justice Program, which involves school and community-based programs that emphasize repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It allows, in part, for victims and offenders to meet.

“I have no interest to ever be face to face with the murderer of my child,” Spence emphasized.

But his involvement with the program changed about 9:45 p.m. July 29, 2010, when he ran a stop sign after playing golf and having a couple of beers at a rural River Falls course. His car hit a Lexus SUV broadside. Two women in the SUV were injured, with one, 63, receiving three fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and broken rib.

Spence assisted the people at the scene, where he also broke down emotionally and told police about the traffic death of his daughter, according to police accounts. Spence said he looked down to check a message on his phone when he ran the stop sign.

He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of causing bodily harm by reckless driving. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning the charges would be dismissed if he abided by conditions of the agreement, which included community service.

That service has included talks to students and others about the dangers of drunk driving and inattentive driving.

“My son (Adam) was on a cross country trip, and I saw the light flashing on my phone. I went into a panic with the memory of Alyssa, thinking something might have happened to him,” Spence said. “The whole thing was kind of ironic. I could have killed someone.

“I was allowed to enter into the DPA if I engaged in restorative justice,” he added. “I realized that my original hesitation with restorative justice was misplaced, and if my daughter was here, I know she would want me to do this.”

Making an impact

Spence starts his presentation with a video of his daughter that graphically displays her injuries from the crash, a presentation his wife, Bobbi, has never seen.

“My wife is the strongest person I know, but I don’t think she would ever want to see this; she lives the loss every day,” he said.

Deb Ottman, a family consumer science teacher at River Falls High School, has witnessed emotional and varied responses students have after Spence’s presentation, including one last week.

“It’s very hard to listen to. He definitely comes across with quite an impact, and the kids are very emotional and have lots of questions when he leaves,” Ottman said. “I can tell the kids have been affected at some level.”

Ottman’s life skills class is for juniors and seniors, and covers conflict resolution, decision making, grief and relationships, “items they will be dealing with their whole lives.

“Each kid takes away something different,” she said. “The idea is that we get to hear each other’s story and learn from it. In this case, kids might not be so willing to drink and drive or text while they drive. Any gain is a gain.”

Kris Miner, executive director of SCVRJP, said there is great value to victim impact panels, teen driving circles, victim empathy seminars and other programs.

“The key is to change behavior by a change of heart; the idea of choosing a different behavior when faced with a similar situation,” she said. “You make your choice, but you don’t choose your consequences.”

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Restorative Justice opening the heart opens the brain.

Restorative Justice (from RJ Online):

a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.       

Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:

  1. identifying and taking steps to repair harm, 
  2. involving all  stakeholders, and
  3. transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.

What do you think about that?

If you are reading this blog, I bet you think that’s a pretty good idea!  What we THINK, usually involves our brain and our judgements about people.  What we feel, what we get intuitively, is usually a matter of the heart.

Restorative Justice accountibility means understanding the context.

Context, it is understanding things in perspective to other things.  I think we underestimate the importance of context.  For example, it is 2:20am and I have to be leading a Circle in 7 hours.  I should be sleeping.  This blog is burning in my brain and I need to be typing it out.  Right now.  Context for you.  You now have a little more perspective on something around this blog post.

Social emotional context.  Social emotional skills involve walking into a room and picking up if the individuals were just at a funeral or a birthday party.  I’ve had great waitresses, they pick up what is going on at the table and respond with the level of engagement and tone, reflective of our tone at the table.

It bugs me when apology letters are dished out early and expected immediately.  Obviously my first choice is to explore a restorative option.  Plan A, direct victim, plan B surrogate victim or community members.  How can you write a letter of apology without really knowing and understanding the harm you caused.  How, immediately after you have been sanctioned, judged, found guilty, can you focus on the other, when you feel the direct target?

In my work with loss of life cases, traffic fatality mostly, I see different levels of “acknowledging you caused the harm”.  This “acknowledging you caused the harm” is the first step to restorative justice.  Two environments – anything you say will be held against you, the other, confession is good for the soul.  Traffic fatality situations, contain little intentional behavior.  We could debate about the decision to drink, which is intentional, and the decision to drive, or does the decision to drink, take away the decision you make to drink and drive, cause the decisions we make impaired are seldom the decisions we would make stone cold sober.

Real accountability, starts with acknowledging you caused the harm, and people leave behind the debate: “I didn’t mean to do it”.  Full accountability is void of “ya, buts” or “if only”.  Full accountability is difficult.  Taking full responsibility, “I’m wrong”, “I made a mistake”, “I own this 1,000%”, is not common everyday behavior.  However, it can be come the expected standard in criminal justice interventions and occasionally in restorative justice expectations.

When you really mean something you don’t have to say it.  You just live it.  You live it in your values.  You don’t need to go around telling people because you know actions speak louder than words.  Your character is so much inside of you, you don’t need the language of explaining it.  Real, deep down, restorative justice accountability is like that.  I believe it comes from understanding context.  You can’t understand the harm you caused until you understand the context.

Context from crime, means hearing about the impact.  Context means understanding, deeply and directly understanding the others perspective.  The most accountable to fatalities, have been those who have attended the funeral service of their victims.  That probably seems odd to understand.  Not all crime is between strangers, random individuals.  Most people drink with their friends or coworkers, it stands to reason, they can be impacted in traffic fatalities caused by impaired driving.

The context is the story around the story.  Understanding context allows you to mental map where you are.  The map of the heart, the social and emotional aspects of context can be gained in Restorative Justice.  Once you know where you are, what you have caused, then and only then, can you start the path to making it right for others and for yourself.

Restorative Justice stakeholders discuss program experience.

 Valentine’s Day 2012 was a good one!  Judges, court clerks, law enforcement, social workers, fellow nonprofit providers, clergy, attorney’s and victim advocates attended a stakeholder meeting hosted by SCVRJP.  (New website launched today – check it out!)

The panel speakers came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences with Restorative Justice.

Randy shared the experience of losing his daughter, after a drunk driver, only a month older, caused a crash that took her life.  We reached out to Randy, and only after his own reckless driving, and deferred prosecution, did he engage with SCVRJP.  He now continues to volunteer, continues to share the gut wrenching and painful story of life without Alyssa.

Mark, a probation agent, explained his interaction with Restorative Justice.  He provided a case example, where the former “all american-kid” with no record caused a traffic fatality.  The young man, the former all-american, still volunteers telling his story.  The agent verified the work and outcomes of Restorative Justice.

Local prosecutor shared how he uses the program, offers “carrots”, which I explained to others can look like a stick!

A community volunteer shared her experiences with SCVRJP and Restorative Justice.  She explained the connections between prevention, intervention and treatment of health issues.  She had examples at every level, Circles that provided successful outcomes with each.

A middle school counselor shared using Circles in school, to develop emotional connections for students.  A college student shared his experience, relating how a blackout resulted in frightening a community member.  He shared how meeting with the victim helped the victim, helped him.  He shared the meeting started a little tense, yet was helpful to both parties.  He also shared getting two hugs on arrival, one from the RJ facilitator and the other from the victim.

SCVRJP collected surveys on what works, what’s needed and other helpful comments.  The power in the meeting was some brainstorming about potential sessions.  We showed people what we do, when Randy shared part of his story.  Each speaker provided a different perspective, building on the evidence that Restorative Justice works.

I feel so blessed to get to work in a community program providing Restorative Justice.  SCVRJP has specialized in Restorative Justice Circles.  We are starting year 11 of serving our community and today, was a perfect celebration of a community coming together and finding healing, connection and prevention!



“Justice, as many definitions as victims”. – PBS Elusive Justice

Ran across this photo on Facebook, and the story below.  Before posting in my blog, a quick google search and I discovered Ms. Cathey, the widow pictured, was also pregnant.  I’m sharing the story, will explain below.
The night before the burial of her husband 2nd Lt. James Cathey of the United States Marine Corps, killed in Iraq, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her, tucking in the sheets below the flag. Before she fell asleep, she opened her laptop computer and played songs that reminded her of him, and one of the Marines asked if she wanted them to continue standing watch as she slept. “I think it would be kind of nice if you kept doing it” she said. “I think that’s what he would have wanted”.
Having buried my Mother at 20, grandparents and other relatives, I know the pain of being near the casket.  The photo and story moved me to tears.  I started to read the comments on Facebook, and I was so shocked to see one mentioning this was a waste of taxpayers money.  I assumed we was meaning the Marine guarding the casket, I hope he meant the war.  We all see the world through our own lens of experience.  We all have the context that nature and nuture (biology and experience) provide us.
When working with victims, it is important to know that each person is a unique individual with a life experience and context that you’ll need to understand.  Restorative Justice is based on specific values and specific process.  Crafting the art and science in a way that promotes healing is so important.  It is such simple advice to offer that you should not make assumptions when working with victims.  It is also important to remember and work with offenders and their families for how they feel victimized.  Even in the worst of wrongs, some people might find ways that they were harmed.
The PBS program Elusive Justice, hear Candace Bergman say the statement on the video clip.  This program focuses on harms well beyond the average Restorative Justice practitioner.  But each individual person has the capacity to grow and heal in the process and values of Restorative Justice.
My comment on the Facebook photo, was that everyone grieves differently.  Ms Cathey felt the need to sleep near her husbands casket.  Its not for me to judge, and anytime we can offer, support or extend support that helps people feel a little bit more “just,” then we should.