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.