Restorative Justice Circles address suffering by promoting story-sharing.

Transformation is always an opportunity in front of us.  Even with the best of intentions in the other person, our feelings are going to get hurt, there will be miscommunications, conflicts, disagreements.  As I ended a phone call, with someone disheartened by a conflict, I said “soon, we will be looking back on this and laughing about what we learned”  she sighed “I hope so”.  As a facilitator and Restorative Justice being, helping support and promote transformation take overt and covert statements and gestures!

I think have a post it note here, I think it was Brene Brown:

The Work of the soul . . . to transform suffering into something . . . LIFE GIVING . . . from a great loss to a great opening.

I believe we can do part of this kind of soul work, as we participate in Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles.  The kinds of Circles that create an intentional container, use values, talking piece, stories, ceremony to bring people together to transform.

Transformation can happen for each and every person that fully engages in a RJ Peacemaking Circle.  I work very hard to help support all of our volunteers 3-5 per Circle in understanding, role modeling and sharing in ways that promote transformation.

When the Community Mentors in Circle open up and share inner strength and wisdom it helps others access their own.  We suggest our volunteers don’t tell others what to think, say or do . . . they relate a story to the Center of the Circle.  Those stories shared with openness, not directed, are more accepted by others.

For all in Circle, the harmed, the harmer the community mentor, in a togetherness created by Circle, we can address suffering.  Everyone speaks to the Center, everyone connects to the topic or question on the talking pieced.  This creates the oneness.  The individual opportunity is what you share about.  Opportunity exists to talk about life events in ways that demonstrate how   they opened us up to be more alive, to be more towards love and to find out how it made us, shaped us or changed us.

For example, in an underage consumption Circle, a community mentor shared the following story.  As a probation agent of 35 years (retired several years now), he had a case where two high school boys, good friends, good kids, athletes . . . had been out drinking, and the driver went off the road, hit a tree and the passenger was killed.  He talked about how hard these cases were, because the victim side would want punishment at a level that it was a very intentional act, and the side around the offender, felt the offender was suffering enough.  The story share, went on to reveal that when the time came, the probation officer was nervous, going in front of a Judge who used to give long prison sentences for this type of offense.  When he testified the probation agent got tears in his eyes for the situation and recommended a long probation time and a shorter jail time.  The Judge went with the probation officers recommendation.  The story went on . . . the retired probation agent, went to the Judges 90 year birthday party in the nursing home.  The Judge brought up the the case, the probation agent getting teary eyed and the power that had on the Judge going with the sentence recommended by probation.

That story combined with our curriculum, powerfully related how choices have a ripple effect.  Clearly the probation agent suffered a bit in that situation, and similar ones like it and he had many with 35 years of being an agent.  We later talked and he called them “capsulated stories”.  I got the visual of these floating around inside of him, waiting to come to the surface like bubbles.  Restorative Justice Circles, help community support community by transforming the suffering of the victim, the offender and the community.

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Restorative Justice listening . . . to bare witness.

That is an intentional typo.  I’m going to try to explain the kind of listening that works best in Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles.  Not listening to respond, not active listening so you can reframe and respond.  The kind of listening that is free of judgement.  Listening that could be called ‘bearing witness’ to another person.  What does to bear witness mean?

I got to explore this with a small group of volunteers we were working on their skills to become Cirlcekeepers at SCVRJP.  I used a volunteer behavior to make my point.  A great listener, yet and responder in a verbal Mmmm, when he hears something he really understands.  Great in any other setting.  In the context of listening in Circle, we ask that all judgement be removed from Circle.  Judgements that are positive and also those that are negative.  Even when we toss in an affirmation of Mmmm, we aren’t honoring the talking piece.

The role of the person without the talking piece is to understand the other talking.  That includes refrain from judgement.  That includes hearing the whole share of a person.  I believe (informed by many, many experiences) that when we listen without those judgements, the speaker finds a way to their deep, inner truth, and beings to speak to their solutions.  I was doing a presentation and a few in the audience had been in Circle.  A young man stood up and offered that when you share in Circle, you learn about yourself, you find out who you are in what you say.

Our training group really explored this topic.  Someone realized that a head nod, means “I heard you, now move on”.  Someone else shared frustration when speaking to someone who is agreeing with you, but knowing that they don’t really understand what they say they are agreeing to.

In my head, I’, running what ‘nay-sayers’ might think of this post.  That is not judgement free.  What I need to share, is that we do more in Circle, once people are listened to in this very deep, personal way, an openness to understanding, new ideas, deeper empathy and compassion can emerge.  To get to a deep place, a deep connection, this type of listening is necessary.

In training sessions, I work hard to give the deep connected experience of Circle.  If you are going to be Keeping effective and powerful Circles, it is important to really understand the fundamental things, like the power of the talking piece, and the role of it being much, much deeper than to simply dictate who is speaking.

The bare over bear.  Metaphorically bare of your own need to comment, bare of your own judgement, bare of anything to fully receive and understand another human being.  I do think we see the actions of others through the lens of our own experiences.  We need to understand others (different that see others).  The empathy we create in Circle by being bare listeners, creates a new level and energy of empathy that others can receive.  I hope you will give this kind of energy a try.

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Memory tool for explaining Restorative Justice Circles.

Anytime we can think of an image we are familiar with, (an existing neuro pathway) we are more able to remember things we associate to that image.

For teaching storytellers Restorative Justice Storytelling process, I ask people to associate the stages of storytelling to a baseball diamond.

For people learning Circles a Railroad Crossing sign.  I just typed up a handout (Memory Tool for explaining Circle) for tomorrows Keeper Meeting.


I have a few changes, the L on the left changes, but this Memory Tool can be a quick and easy way to learn how to ‘Circle-speak’ . . . Circle-speak is developing the language that opens hearts.

Circle-speak is . . .

. . . inviting over authoritative

. . . suggestive over directive

. . . about opportunities over rules

. . . supportive over assumptive

. . . from the heart, open, honest and genuine

You say things not always heard in everyday conversations . . .

. . . listening with the ears of your heart

. . . speaking your wisest words

To bring people to a deeper space of connection . . . connect with the deepest parts of yourself.  Be congruent about your most positive beliefs in people.  Be open to your own heart being changed by Circle.

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From offender to storyteller, part 1.

For the last 9 years I have had the wonderful blessing and opportunities of Restorative Justice work.  From victim-offender dialogue from the simple to the most serious, to 1,000’s of Restorative Justice Circles.  Training others, blogging and teaching a college course has served me well in having to stay connected to science, theory and evidence-based information.  The most crucial and influential skills I have developed combine research and the personal experience of helping offenders and survivors become effective storytellers in Restorative Justice settings.

SCVRJP utilizes storytellers as part of the majority of Circles, and at our Victim Impact Panels.  Over the years I have developed a simple format for our storytellers.  I ask them to memorize, using a mental visual of a baseball diamond, Intro, Incident, Impact, Reflection.  You can even tap thumb to fingertip, saying I, I, I, R to help.  Speakers/storytellers have LIVED through the experience, so they know the ‘story’.  Many bring in the perceived expectations of others and try to be professional speakers.  What works well, is to be themselves and speak from the heart.  Some speakers spend just a few visits with me, as we prepare the context of the story (Restorative).  We also expose the speakers to our process (having them attend a Victim Impact Panel or Circle).

We recently held a Circle for a new speaker.  The speaker had driven impaired, survived the crash, and someone died as a result of the injuries from the crash.  We use CRASH over ACCIDENT, choices were made.  Like everyone I’ve met in this situation the person didn’t intend that kind of harm to result.  Intended or not, people’s lives were tragically impacted by the death.  The criminal justice system responds to these kinds of harms, restorative justice responds with support and expectations of accountability, acknowledged the responsibility of causing the harm.

Different people have different ways of handling incidents when they didn’t intend on the harm.  Some quickly go to a deep remorse and responsibility.  Others have a ‘dance’ and need support in working through the need to rationalize, justify, minimize and blame.  When you believe deep down you are a good decent person, how do you hold that you are now a murder?  Your actions ended a life.  This creates a deep moral and psychological dilemma.  For increased public safety and the future functioning of the individual – we MUST move people to the good decent person.

Something a decent person who killed someone in a traffic crash (impaired or not) can do . . . tell the story in hopes that others will avoid a similar incident.  SOOOO important is to work through and eliminate the rationalizations, justifications, minimization and blaming aspects.  You have to work with storytellers to find the deep core, value and center of who they are.  You have got to provide the support to let them know that they are still a worthwhile person, despite the incident.  Storytelling is a step to making amends and changing for the better.

Link here for the tips in using, and here for additional blog posts on storytelling.  Neuroscience research has validated that stories a brain-based tools for change.  Stories sync our brains, allow new ideas to be planted (article). From Forbes :

When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works.