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!