Doing Restorative Justice with the core concept of WITH.

From IIRP:

people are happier . . . and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them . . .

I have been so fortunate.  To get to do Restorative Justice as a full-time job, provides so many opportunities.  I’m the executive director, and I provide a great deal of direct service.  I’ve been in prisons, classrooms, churches, community centers, people’s homes, coffee shops, parking lots and had thousands of conversations about repairing harm, restoring connections and building community.  If the ask is to do a Circle, my answer is always yes.  I do Restorative Justice Victim-Offender Dialogue, Restorative Justice Circles, offer trainings and workshops.  From the seemingly silly to the most serious of offenses, I’ve been offering and facilitating Restorative Justice full-time for 8 years now.

I over commit stretch myself thin, and work long hours.  That has forced me to grow in areas and at the same time, taught me how to get this work done effectively and efficiently.  I lead with my heart.  You have to, if you’re doing Restorative Justice work, you have to use your heart when connecting with people working WITH them for Restorative Justice.

The quote above uses the phrase “when those in authority” the first thing I do is to erase any authority, I try to approach people human to human, heart to heart.  This means being accepting, understanding, compassionate.  The very language used can contribute greatly to equal dignity and worth. WITH as a human being, is much for effective that WITH as my job.

Imagine you love hot fudge sundae’s, and your hungry at the moment.  What if someone tells you, you will be forced to eat one. Probably doesn’t feel very good, despite the fact you like sundae’s and one would taste good.  I overheard this “the talking piece forces you to listen”.  I would say, Circle provides the opportunity to listen without interruption.  Very few like to be forced to do anything.  The speaker meant well in explaining Circle like this, the mark was missed in explaining how to listen with another.

I try not to use words that imply power over or authority.  I don’t use the word “rules” and I even avoid “guidelines”, I really explain the behavior that works best.  I “invite”, “offer”, “provide”, working to align with the core inner part of individuals.

Staying with curiosity is also a great place to be with, to explore and expand people preparing to come together in Restorative Justice dialogue.  A very angry approach is sometimes the starting point, the victim might want and demand the offender do or be a certain way.  This can be tricky, the facilitator has no control over this.  Some victims see what they have already decided to see, or what they experienced in the court process.  It takes listening and exploring to prepare.  For example when a victim wants a topic in the dialogue that moves more towards blaming, shaming and is less about healing, a facilitators best move is to go with the victim.  This means respectful questions and inquiry to find the need the victim is trying to respond to.  Finding the inner need, and exploring ways it can be met, in the dialogue, by the victim is preparation work WITH a victim.  This exploring and curiosity can also bring pathways in the brain about how it might be when the dialogue happens, what might happen.

A survivor recently realized, that if she saw remorse, she would probably hug the other person and share “this is something we will all have to get through, together”.  I almost choked up hearing this, she almost cried saying it.  That statement was the best “WITH” a facilitator could hope for between and victim and offender.

Restorative Justice with community, how they impact, what they bring.

I firmly believe in the RJ triad, of including victims, offenders and community members in the encounter process of facilitating Restorative Justice.

Community participants in Circle are crucial.  I wouldn’t set up a process without them.  Community participants provide this:

  • reinforce the norms for behavior in a community.
  • A neutral set of eyes on the incident, a perspective from a neutral point of view.
  • Support for victims that they have an important perspective, that victims are crucial to repairing the harm.
  • To offenders, they offer the support the change is possible.
  • To the keeper, they support and role model the Circle process.

Ran across this interesting blog, and it offers that our brains are impacted by learning from mistakes.  Exactly what we want in Restorative Justice.  The “fixed” mindset and the “growth” mindset influence our ability to grow and change.  I am thinking about how shame reinforces that fixed mindset.  Volunteers in Circle, and other Circle members, when asked to tell about a time they learned something, or a time they had to repair harm, demonstrate their “growth” mindset and growth experiences.

I ask these types of questions in Circles, before addressing the harm.  To pave a path to the truth around the incident, you need to build up trust.  To get those that caused harm to really, understand making a change, you need to get to the heart and the brain.

The heart will let you know the impact, will unlock reasons you might have made that choice in the first place.  The brain, will tell you you can make better choices in the future.  Heart led work, produces heart work.  Another example of the art and science of Restorative Justice, is setting up process that makes the most of all three in your process, the victim, the offender and the community participants!

http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/paradigm.pdf
http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/paradigm.pdf

Restorative Justice Circles promotes one voice, as speakers share one at a time.

A recent comment mentioned a struggle when someone in a Circle consistently declines or is not moving at the same pace.  I work really hard at keeping the Circle equally engaged.  Here are some thoughts regarding equal engagement in Circle.

I teach and train keepers of Restorative Justice Circles, to promote equality in dignity and worth.  This means in language and speech about describing the Circle.  Saying phrases that might seem cheesy, yet promote this sense of community and connection.  For example “lets sit equal distance from the Center” , “next to each other, knees and shoulders”, “if we were a tire we would go down the road smooth and round”.  If you request it kindly, gently and from a good heart, people hear it that way.  There are other ways to promote within the space, making sure if you are in the room you are in the Circle.  Not having a different chair, or some people using bean bags.  I co-create with the space I have, moving furniture if needed.

When explaining the talking piece I talk about equal opportunity, because it will be going around the entire Circle.  I speak to sharing, explaining I am looking for a word or phrase.  I also move deeper and explain the second stage, looking for a paragraph or two.  A skilled Circle teacher I know will even address it kindly and inclusively outside of Circle.  She’ll approach the student, state her observation (without judgement) “I noticed we didn’t get to hear any of your stories, maybe next time”  or state that she hopes to hear these.

The next thing I teach and train, is to monitor the emotional climate, making it safe for everyone to share.   I am a firm believer in role modeling and honoring the talking piece as the keeper.  If not, you are not promoting that equality and equity that a Circle provides.  The Circle does the work, not the facilitator, and facilitator is specifically a word I do not use.  If people pass or elect not to share.  In a respectful way, I reframe a bit, “here’s a question we can all answer”.  Don’t move on without engagement of the entire Circle.  Create safe space.  Always create safe space.

I recommend that schools do community building circles first.  This means holding Circles to model and teach the process.  This means taking time to get people close and connected.  Follow the PBIS triangle, and get the skills before addressing a potentially or harmful event.

Treat and encourage each and every person to be the strongest edge of the Circle, teach and know that each person is contributing to the Center of the Circle in their very unique and individual way.  When the Circle works, like spokes to the Center, and the distance between each person and the Center is equal, amazing things happen.

This model held and practices, teaches an individual responsibility.  It strengthens each students relationship with themselves by the bolstering the skills of speaking and listening.  In turn each student engages, every voice is heard.  When there is equality in participation, there is equality in engagement and community is built.

It seems like a lot of effort, or these Circle take a long time.  It can be done quickly and effective when this (equality/connection) is the context of who you are and what you represent.  Circlekeeping is a more than just a skill-set you turn off and on, Circlekeeping is how you relate to others.

Restorative Justice: holding people accountable, holding them with heart, 3 steps.

St Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program (scvrjp), has specialized in Restorative Justice Circles.  Link here to see session descriptions.  Each Circle is attended by 4-5 volunteers, a keeper, a storyteller and few community mentors to help support the process.  We spend time training our volunteers in the philosophy and approach of Restorative Justice, we offer two-day Circle Trainings twice a year at no charge to volunteers.  If you haven’t volunteered for 6 months, we require a refresher “orientation”.  We offer volunteer in-service sessions with hopes our new and experienced volunteers can build relationships and deepen skills.

These strategies are built-in to ensure we are consistently reminding people of the skills of heart.  We work with deep consideration of the heart and brain.  People will be in one of two brain modes “approach” or “avoid” as a program supervisor, my job is to make sure our staff, our volunteers, our clients area all feeling in a place of engaging.  Since I can’t be everywhere and with everyone (we average a dozen sessions a month) it is crucial our climate and culture is shared and duplicated by everyone.  I recognize this is asking a great deal of people, and these 3 steps are useful in holding others in your heart.

1) Judge None.  You never know someone’s story.  Our brain makes categories of information, to quickly file things.  These categories help and hurt us.  It hurts when we judge others.  You never know the rest of the story about someone else’s life. For victims or offenders, the depth of who people are before and beyond the incident is endless. For RJ to be effective, the willingness to be open must emerge.  That means creating safety.  A non-judgemental atmosphere increases safety.

2)Be Open.  Being open, allows for volunteers to share their own experiences as they arise.  The boundary we use, is your sharing being access to inner strength and wisdom.  If you know your ‘lesson’ learned, then you are likely ready to share in Circle.  If you are still in curiosity or strain about the story, likely not one to share in Circle.  Being open takes courage.  A new volunteer recently experienced this challenge.  We were sharing our awareness of people who don’t use, and sharing why they might decide to do this (talking about use, non-use, abuse and addiction as relationship to substances).  She shared about a friend who lost a loved one due to substance addiction.  Later in the Circle, after reflecting on the story, she found incredible hope in the story, related it back to her friend, and was moved to tears as she shared.  She was open, she shared, and it was an incredible lesson for the rest of us in Circle witnessing.  Tears are often found in Circle, and they show the emotions difficult to express or the power of having our hearts touched.

3)Self-care.  Being a volunteer and holding others in your heart, means caring for your own heart.  Self-care is intentional acts or gestures towards honoring yourself.  Stories can be heavy in Circle, the awareness of larger social harms or complex relationships can leave you feeling you can’t make a difference.  Our program, our volunteers make a difference.  Some Circles you see the fruit and in some Circles you aren’t sure if you planted a seed.  What you can do, is (as we ask in Circle) govern your own experience.  Taking care of yourself, in  a good way, is a way to be connected to others.  Refresh, renew, revive if that means working in your garden, taking a bubble bath, attending church, yoga or a call to walk in the woods.  Your fresh presence brings hope to others!

Thank you SCVRJP volunteers!  We couldn’t deliver our mission without you!  Thank you to all the participants who join us in delivering this mission.  Our partners that refer cases, support the program and help us continue to build peace and belonging with Restorative Justice, THANK YOU!

Restorative Justice work as art and being. Three experiences one blog post.

An artist in the show, invited me to the reception.  Twice, so I knew it was important, and relationships are built by going out of our way.  Since I like art, it wasn’t THAT out of the way, so I attended.  Since I know the artist in a totally different context, I didn’t really connect “drawing from life” or the postcard, to what I was going to see.

Voila_Capture1018The gallery was set up with the center space showing the chair the model might sit in.  It became clear from the drawings, the models were nude.  Wow.  I took in the art, appreciated reading the artist statements.  I had just been to a deep meeting and discussion with someone preparing to meet with a surviving family member, in a multiple death traffic fatality incident.  The nakedness of the art, the beauty, reminded me of how we have to get emotionally bare when it comes to Restorative Justice dialogue.  As a facilitator when emotions are high, and grief over the death of a loved is present, you also become bare.  Your own heart is present and you (facilitator) are in it alongside those requesting and agreeing to dialogue.

Later I posted on Facebook, the echoes of this earlier conversation.  It really stayed with me, mostly the bravery of the young person, dealing with very adult issues.  The pre-session preparation was more intense, as we are getting closer to the actual face to face meeting.  The compliment shared was really great to hear as well.  The voiced confidence in SCVRJP and me, confirmed and supported the energy I was feeling about readiness for the dialogue to happen.

photo    This morning a comment on the Facebook post, struck a strong note with me.  Cameron Communicationz, “everything worth doing is an art”.  YES!  I always taught my daughter to know that art was never finished, if you “messed up” just keep coloring or drawing to work that in.  She might not remember that.  I was trying to counter my perfectionism rubbing off on her, but that’s another blog post.  In facilitating a severe crime case, such tender care is needed in exploring the needs of the victims.  Preparing parties to sit face to face after damage and harm, especially when a loved one has died, requires zero attention to your own perfectionism.  All ego of the facilitator needs to be removed, and working towards emotional safety and preparation is the art.

Restorative Justice as art.  That means co-creating with those around you.  That fits well, I teach that a Circle keepers job is to engage everyone as keepers in the Circle.  As I viewed the art in the gallery, there was no way the drawings could have emerged without the live figure (nude model).  Imagine the vulnerability to disrobe and be drawn . . . to me that feels incredibly powerful, a risk taken and completed.  As I looked at the art gallery drawings, I could see myself in some of the drawings.  We connect to art, and I believe we connect to each other in Restorative Justice.  Reflections of ourselves in others.

The link between art and Restorative Justice got me thinking about the similarities.  Using different methods, improving over time, finding yourself in the art you create.  Learning what others interpret or see in your creations.

I got emotionally overwhelmed at the art gallery.  I felt like crying.  I was moved by the courage I felt in the drawings and the honesty expressed.  I enjoyed visiting with the person that invited me.  It was a real lesson, on people being more that you might know.  The restorative justice meeting, the gallery reception, the Facebook comment. Three randomly disconnected things, all now connected in this blog post.  And isn’t that what life and Restorative Justice is all about . . . connections.

Creating learning “containers” with Restorative Justice Circles, two techniques.

I don’t teach spontaneous Circle Keeping.  I teach getting grounded, connected and comfortable with the core values and principles in Circles.  After working to have these with me, I have developed a few activities that lend to utilizing the container, the center of the Circle, to enhance the process.  These also provide participants a chance to experience what Circle is like.  Here are two techniques I might add to a Circle, an old favorite and new one.

Technique 1:  Passing the talking piece, holding it until you feel your silence is heard.  In your non-directive, supportive Keeper role, ask participants to pass the talking piece, staying silent, and only passing it when they feel their silence has been “heard”.  Sometimes I frame this as a group listening exercise, promoting “collective-ness”.  At other times, I might not offer much except the instructions, it depends on the desired outcome of the activity.  I will use it to calm or slow down the emotional climate.   It can be used to promote an awareness of silence.  It also teaches a pathway to feeling “heard”.  You can reinforce that a bit more, by asking a follow up question: how did you know you were heard, or how did you know you were ready to pass the talking piece?  This technique can be used to teach the power of listening.  The focus is on the person holding the talking piece (as when we speak) however, people are learning to focus/listen non-verbally, and we know non-verbal communication is important.  This is a good one to start, to go first and model actually holding the piece and tune in to the feeling of being heard.  This also builds trust in the group, this round gives the keeper opportunity to reinforce a key aspect of Circle, to listen.  It is a good one to do a reflection on the experience, having people share, many times they relate the uncomfortable feeling of it.  The keeper can then remind people, we don’t usually stretch or grow in our comfort zones, so feeling uncomfortable is ok.  It’s even a time for curiosity.

This has proved itself time and time again, I’d say 99% of the time it goes really well.  The 1%, I had a very challenging student group, they didn’t like it.  So I used my chimes and gave them a moment to make all the noises they wanted.  Then we tried the exercise again.  Silence wasn’t safe for this group, we made a step however.

Silence is a good tool to use when keeping Restorative Justice Circles.  Silence is a good prep tool for a keeper and if you are going to use a tool, it is good to get very comfortable with it.

Technique 2: stand up and mime your favorite outdoor activity.  This was invented with the 1% listed above.  I use 4 stages (link to 74 other posts), and when going a bit deeper (into the building relationship stage) if people disengage, I back up to safer questions.  I could see the group getting restless, someone passed.  I know if the brain and the bottom are connected, when the bottom falls asleep so does the brain.  I needed an ‘energizer’ and I needed to build connection.  A bit of “safe-vulnerability” was needed.  Safe-vulnerability in Circle, means a chance to reveal something about your self, yet it is collectively connected and connecting.  The stand up and mime question, allowed us to show we aren’t professional mimes, we got to laugh a bit at ourselves and each other.  Laughter builds connection.  Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

The technique worked with the challenging group of students.  No one passed, I felt the energy and saw the student eyes appreciate the aides and teachers doing the activity.  It was a “safe-vulnerability” because staff and students got to know each other without an overly personal disclosure by the adults.  Building connections that are safe is important to strengthen the Circle.  Vulnerability in a Circle, in an organic and natural way also builds meaningful connections.  Sometimes a deep question or storytelling round brings that out.  Sometimes being vulnerable is just a small risk, and ‘outside the box’ way of being.  Vulnerability is best told by Brene Brown, her site, and TED talk, titled the The Power of Vulnerability.

Do you have “go-to” techniques you use?  If you try one of these let me know how it goes!