Blame or Harm? How a surrogate community is helping heal harm.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program has been serving two counties since 2001.  The area of expertise includes Restorative Justice Circles and working with severe crime.  This stems from a history of Restorative Justice that began in 1998, when I was initially trained in the process.  I facilitate Restorative Justice for serious cases (where there have been fatalities) both locally and for 3 neighboring Counties.  This has brought intersection between the SCVRJP community and those that impacted and those responsible for harm, living in neighboring Counties or outside or specific service area.

Youth from other communities (not those directly served by SCVRJP), often with parents, their own restorative justice provider or juvenile justice professional attend local SCVRJP sessions.  This structure sets up our local community to be the surrogate community for these guests.  Restorative Justice operates from the principles that those harmed (victims), those that caused the harm (offenders) and community are important and necessary to determine how to repair harm.  The power of Restorative Justice Circle process is grounded in the inner good of each person, the focus on relationship values and the respect demonstrated by facing each and taking turns telling our truths.

Most generally we agree we should help young people learn from mistakes.  This can take place as accountability and consequences (juvenile justice system).  Our communities include support systems for behaviors that break the law and put others at risk.  Restorative Justice also operates from a premise that community has a responsibility to teach young people.  One of my mentors says “wisdom that is not shared is lost”.  Circles provide us space to share wisdom.

In my experience, we can be proud of how SCVRJP/Restorative Justice has treated young people that made poor choices.  Young people need recovery as well as accountability after poor choices.  They need affirmed the difference between being a bad person and making a bad decision.  Young people need help off their stomachs and on to their feet.  When you fall down, it’s easier to brush yourself off and move on in a good way, when you have support.  There are opportunities to share wisdom, and wisdom is best heard when it is offered without judgement.

Community Mentors are the volunteers at SCVRJP that participate in Circle to address harm, offer experiences, support and wisdom.  A guest participant experienced the support and immediately wanted to share her story.  The support changed her perspective; the response has helped her and has been powerful to witness by her professional support and family.  It is a powerful transformation from a hometown that denied her job applications, continued to blame her and has left her and her feeling shame and isolation.

Restorative Justice Circles can be shaped around any harm.  My harm is your harm, and your harm is our harm.  That’s a cheesy sentence, but I know when we join together we can heal.  Blame separates and hurts, leaving us isolated in pain.  Sharing harm is not easy, however it is a step in the process of healing.