Finding your keepers heart, encouraging the heart of others.

It has been an emotional and powerful season of work.  A group of practitioners met to begin a deeper look at healing not only the incident of harm, but deeper wounds and trauma when additional deeper harm is present.  That means looking at differences in race, power, gender, any status differences between people participating.  Not everyone comes with an understanding of history and how past traumas do impact our present engagements.  Some spaces of open-hearted work for me included:

  • I opened up my work for examination, when I might not have had awareness to negotiate “it wasn’t racist” rejection of the emotional harm caused by behaviors.  I was challenged to hold the space for others that wanted to offer advice.  (this advice was RJ 101, and things I had of course done, but did not relate in the brief time I had to offer). The goal in the end was to find ways we might promote increased ‘restoration’ when working to repair harm.
  • I wept at the feet of a Native Elder, I apologized for the ways my ancestors treated hers.  I expressed my shame, apology and feelings for not deserving to be practice Circle wisdom.  She embraced me, hugged me, told me to keep going, that these things live in my heart.
  • I met a group of Veteran advocates and Veterans where they are home.  I rubbed my chin when they showed me the square table they use for Circle.  I could see that was important and significant to them.  We began the Circle Training, with that table, and then I asked them for permission to move it.  It was a powerful and significant training for Veteran work and Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle process.  I feel blessed it includes that story and demonstration of meeting Veterans and their advocates where they are.

I relate these 3 to demonstrate how to express having a Keepers Heart.  Being a Circle Keeper is trying to live and model the values and principles of Restorative Justice.  I have another list (twice as long) where I might have not carried the values and principles.  Being a Keeper is letting go of control, it is not facilitating a Circle, it is bringing a presence that promotes understanding, empathy, compassion, deep listening and healing.

I am so blessed to work with a wonderful and dynamic group of volunteers.  I have come to believe that our Restorative Justice Center success is based on the engagement of all these volunteers.  I have been watching and looking at them to discover as much as I can, to be able to relate and share with others hoping to create space for Restorative Justice in their own communities.

When we gather as volunteers, it is different, we are not working with those in Circle that have been referred for service.  We are able to discuss our intentions, our techniques, our success and our challenges.  I noticed a common theme . . . working on themselves to be better people.  I heard how Restorative Justice volunteering provides a challenge to be non-judgmental, to express caring and compassion.  It struck me . . . restorative humility . . . the understanding that I am not better than anyone else and by helping others, I can help myself. (click to tweetThose are my words to the concepts.  That is what I will continue to model and promote in others . . . the Keepers Heart is honest, courageous, humble and generous.

Living the R’s of Restorative Justice Respect, Relationship, Responsibility.

Recently presented at the Red Road Gathering in Vermillion South Dakota.  I did my first presentation using Prezi, you can view it here.

I highlighted the 3 R’s of Restorative Justice in the presentation.  Respect, Responsibility and Relationship.  Like anything when you prepare to teach it, you understand the material differently.  Additionally when you speak at Red Road, you are speaking to people’s hearts.  It is a different type of presentation.  Usually I am speaking to teach Restorative Justice itself or offering education on how to do RJ.  The Red Road Gathering is deeper than that.  You consider your audience in every presentation.  For the Red Road Gathering I considered people attend for the theme, the meaning and to learn more about the human experience of living on the Red Road (Native American Spiritual path of living in connection, sobriety, harmony, well-being).

Respect, Relationship, Responsibility.

Respect is deeper than just not rolling your eyes, or reacting negatively to someone else.  It is holding, really holding that honor and recognition of equal dignity and worth in another human being.  In Restorative Justice we ask people to hold that deep respect, even for those that have caused us pain and harm.  I try to check myself in these concepts.  “Be the message” and “live the prayer”.  Holding respect that means “honoring the dignity and worth” of each and every person (click to tweet). In my presentation I shared we all have the capacity.  I shared stories of teachers, those teachers to me have been the people who have utilized Restorative Justice to repair harm.  This presentation focused on severe crime and violence, so the experience of meeting someone who murdered your loved one, or drove the car that caused the crash that they died in.  I put out the call to honor others even if they have caused that kind of harm in your pathway.  Honor others even if they caused a lesser harm.

Relationship.  This is recognizing the inter-relatedness, the interconnectedness of each and every person.  It is also deeper and more than that.  Relationships mean doing something for others.  Something for someone else.  Doing for someone who in turn it becomes reciprocal, bilateral.  Some relationships are involuntary, often the case with crime.  Maybe the relationship is by choice, however, having violence or harm in the relationship is not.  In Restorative Justice, we ask for people to try to understand each others relationship to the incident.  To explore their own relationship to it.  We ask “how were you impacted”, “what were you thinking”.  This relationship to the incident can and does change over time.  That is growth and healing, when it doesn’t change people are often stuck, bitter, resentful.

When practicing Restorative Justice, you start people on the journey to a different relationship to the harm.  The Victim-Offender Dialogue is not the end point, but a place along the path.  Severe crime is a life-long journey of living with the incident.  When we do less harmful events, we intend for Restorative Justice to change the person for the better.  Deeper connections and relationships to values to promote safer living for self and others.

Responsibility.  This is the commitment to these relationships.  When victims show ‘restorative grace’, by forgiving, honoring, repairing harm, an obligation emerges in the one that caused the harm (click to tweet).  When you get to this point, Restorative Justice faces the challenge of victims not always wanting to engage in the process.  Responsibility means living your life connected to the voice inside of you that does not use words.  Living from a Center that knows right from wrong, kindness from harm, and can overcome any pain or challenge.  If you live from the wounds and jagged edges of your life, you are not honoring your responsibilities.  Even around others who are living from the jagged edges, your job is to be the example, live in a kind way, knowing no act of kindness is ever wasted.

At the same time, I am thinking long about someone I am working with.  I view things differently than this person.  I want to move them along to a place of deeper accountability and responsibility for causing harm.  The very first step in Restorative Justice accountability.  How do I use Respect, Responsibility, Relationship?  I put a little statement on Facebook, I was wondering if I could harm the other person and create “over-accountability”.  Not sure what that means, I made it up.  I drew some wisdom from someone with lived experience.  Sometimes, the system takes away the responsibility for accountability because the system punishes in a way the person being punished doesn’t feel is just or fair.  I know perceived injustice will create a reaction.  I will be revisiting respect, and really try to understand the other person’s perpective and the benefits of that attitude, and then hopefully we can explore and discover how those beliefs impact the relationship to the offense.  Then perhaps we can move to a place of taking more responsibility for the harm, and isn’t that accountability?

 

Love as a path to accountability. Care and connection as expressions of love.

I’ve been home a few days and I am still in “awe” over my experience at the Idaho Juvenile Justice Association Conference.  It really struck me how hard people are working to engage young people in meaningful, healing relationships.  The fact this is good for community, reduces harms and builds safer, healthier adults was really understood.

Taking ‘restorative’ language to court paperwork, community service and moving to engage victims demonstrated real and intentional creation of healing and accountable process.  True system change was happening and in the process of happening.

I prepared presentations trying to address my audience.  As a former juvenile justice supervisor, I know the day-to-day caseload demands often trump the development of a new program or service.  It was important for me to present the information in a way that demonstrated how SCVRJP does session AND provide workers with some tools for the ongoing models of supervision.

I know some real dynamite, dedicated and awesome juvenile justice workers.  I know they have a spark, a passion and a real LOVE for the work.  I think that is the kind of love for the work, that leads to accountability in individuals.  Restorative Justice accountability begins with acknowledging you’ve caused harm.

If people deny their role in a harmful act, I believe that comes from two places.  1) the fear of punishment or 2) the loss of self-worth to be associated with such a harmful act.  To care about someone means to hold how they feel about themselves in regard.  When offenders deny, minimize or flat-out lie about involvement, some are quick to judge and label the person.  Labels take away humanity.

Working with people to take accountability can be especially hard when the person didn’t mean to cause the harm.  The intentionality for the doer, is how they judge themselves.  Consequences of choices exist, meant to or not.  It is the traffic fatality cases that have taught me so much about holding people accountable with care and connection.  It comes down to that great Gayle King quote:

Kids don’t care what you think, until they think you care.

Holding care and connecting to an individual as a human being, means looking beyond the act/incident of harm.  Restorative Justice is about HEALING and ACCOUNTABILITY.  A caring, non-judgmental adult who is truly interested in the well-being of a teen, especially teens that have broken the law, is a gem of a person if you ask me.  I was in a treasure box of gems in Idaho.

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.

Restorative Justice and the powerful web of interconnectedness.

I just opened a gift from a Restorative Justice volunteer.  SCVRJP has a new wall hanging.  peace-flag-string-mini

It was less than a week ago SCVRJP gifted (gave away) a wall hanging.

Interconnectedness of giving and receiving.

Restorative Justice includes and survives by this web of interconnectedness, where we offer and accept with grace.  The community creates spaces for SCVRJP to share, like last nights invitation to share with a large group of youth and their mentors.  SCVRJP couldn’t exist without the support of our volunteer speakers.  Sharing stories and experiences are crucial to helping others understand.  The wisdom of the lived experience is lost if it is not heard.  Speakers sharing their stories, is empowering and healing.

Seeking a new speaker supported by a seasoned speaker warmed my heart.  It reminded me of our web and interconnections.  Our new speaker was nervous, the audience was going to be larger than she expected.  I noticed our other volunteer had a slight smile.  He’s been speaking for 5 or 6 years.  I think his smile was from connecting to how she felt.  He told her not to worry, the audience didn’t know what she was supposed to say, so they wouldn’t know if she made a mistake.

It has always been there inside of me.  I just think people can get up in front of an audience and speak from the heart.  It created a problem for me in high school.  Our youth group was snowed in on a ski trip.  I took the lead on setting up some activities and assigned my best friend a speaking part.  She got really upset and yelled at me, “not everyone is like you”!  We came to laugh about that as we mended our friendship later.  Thank goodness that didn’t stop me from being convinced that people can share their stories.

Our experienced speaker shared with the audience, that he doesn’t like speaking.  He feels anxious before it happens, but the feeling after is helpful.  Our new speaker was excited and was going out for a celebration pizza after the event.  It isn’t for everyone to take on public speaking and sharing.  I have yet to meet the person totally confident about doing this.

The connectedness comes that speakers take the pain of the experience and the fear of speaking and then they plow right through it.  They reach the other side, by a drive to help just one other person.  They speak of trauma after tragic loss, caused by them or caused by others.  They swallow back tears to keep sharing.  They tell their stories from a place of heart.  The courage, strength and resilience they demonstrate touches the audience.  You can feel it in the room, (even when not in Circle).  Last night a group of 100 teens in quiet listening, respectful space gave our speakers the gift of listening.  Our speakers offered their gifts of sharing.

When if feels right, we close out SCVRJP events with the offer of a handshake, high-five or hug.  The audience came up and passed down our line, offering handshakes, hugs and comments.  Many said thanks, a few offered reflections on hearing the stories.  It felt great to see our speakers supported.  I’m a little overwhelmed typing this blog post!

As we left, our new speaker said the handshakes was something she had never experienced before.  Her smile was 1,000 watts bright.  She shared it reminded her of a sporting event where teams shake hands after the game.  At first I didn’t get that, then I thought of how two sides, previously in competition take on that gesture to make peace after the game.  This morning I opened the gift, prayer flags that say PEACE.

peace-flag-string-mini

 

The work to move life forward when others have passed, the power of healing.

A recent Facebook status:

The journey from survivor to thrivor takes courage.  I followed her into the coffee shop and saw the tattoo with names of the deceased across her back.  Three relatives died in that traffic crash 4 years ago, after 9 months of meetings and prep work, she will soon be meeting the driver of the other vehicle involved.  It is powerful work, what some do to heal.

Restorative Justice is grounded in 3’s – Victim/Offender/Community.  Howard Zehr’s 3 pillars: Harms & Needs, Obligations, Engagement.  (Four Words!).  The SCVRJP logo has 3 swirls, with the 4th the white background, the 4 colors of the Lakota Medicine Wheel.

I believe we have a 4th in those we address and engage in Restorative Justice.  Victim-Offender-Community and Collective.  Four sections of the Circle.  Four stages of Circle process, 4 words in the 3 pillars of Restorative Justice.

“Collective”  is bigger and broader than community.  When I think of engaging “community” in Restorative Justice I am asking my law enforcement officers, school staff, citizens, bystanders and others connected to the specific incident.  When we do preventative work, our audience becomes the community.  For example a Teen Driving Circle in a Drivers education classroom, creates a community listening to an offender or victim.  Collective is those impacted further and beyond the immediate community.  Teens go home and tell parents about the powerful story heard. I remember when my daughter was in high school, she was a football cheerleader so I attended football games. After the Restorative Justice work at the school, several parents came to me with questions because their children talked about the Restorative Justice experience.

The ripple of Restorative Justice work goes far and wide, I believe it has impact on the universal human collective.  By addressing Mental, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual aspects Restorative Justice must reach beyond, and that ‘Spiritual’ aspect would be the collective.  When you do loss of life work, you speak about the survivors views on the after life.  You talk about what the deceased would want the living to be doing.  Deceased are usually viewed as spirits or angels, you accept what that survivor defines – and usually the view from heaven, that higher perspective is a spiritual one.  In a spiritual view of things, values always emerge.  Love, forgiveness, compassion, etc, etc. by creating the energy of these things, Restorative Justice impacts the collective.

The collective impact, when people heal from tragedy can be felt.  The two women that will be doing a Victim-Offender dialogue, are exploring what speaking together might look like.  The offender has been speaking about her experience of distracted driving.  The consequences and the lesson is being shared with others to prevent a similar harm.  If/when these two begin to speak together, they will not only have the story of the crash, they will have the story of their journey of Restorative Justice.

I often say, “when we share accessing our own inner strength and wisdom, we help others do the same”.  To access your inner strength and wisdom.  Restorative Justice is the process and the venue for people to access and put this strength and wisdom to use.  Some people need the connection to the other person most connected to the incident.  That is why some victims request Restorative Justice in loss of life incidents.

Can you imagine the courage it would take to meet with the person driving the car that caused a crash that killed 3 of your relatives?  Most people initially hearing the thought of loved ones killed, think about revenge or retaliation.  Those two “R”‘s are phases people go through and some stay there.  Others move to the “r” of restoration, and that is where healing and moving life forward happens.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to accompany a number of people, seeking Restorative Justice after loss of life.  Each person leaves me changed.  Each case influences the next, because I have a broader, deeper understanding of the pain and suffering from losing a loved one suddenly.  Each person is unique and they are treated as such and with the utmost respect.  It keeps me humble and grounded to recognize and realize this work is not just for the victim, the offender and the community.  This work is for the collective.  Mankind can do better and be better when we seek to heal with each other.

 

Facilitating Restorative Justice loss of life, embraces the essence of the loved one.

Please note, this blog topic, facilitating Restorative Justice in a situation of a fatality, is not intended to promote practitioners stepping beyond their own skill set and training.  Mark Umbriet’s week-long course, a masters in counseling and additional trainings in grief, trauma and restorative justice contributed.  Serious crime and violence cases should be done in pairs, with support and in-depth training.

“I wish he would have been my Dad”

This statement was so powerful because it was spoken by the young man who was driving the car that caused the death of the “Dad”  he mentions.

“She would have done this for any one of us”

The speaker referring to “she” is talking about a relative killed in a traffic crash.  What she would have done, meet with the driver of the car and offer her forgiveness.

There is grief after loss.  When that loss is sudden, preventable and outside of the natural life cycle, that loss has trauma.  People respond individually to loss and trauma.  Crime victims in fatalities also have “crime trauma” – having to internalize that another human being intentionally or not, caused the death.  There are those who have to deal with various levels of intention by the offending party.

Some decide that Restorative Justice should be part of their journey. It is both humbling and an honor to serve on these cases and in these situations.  I say serve because a helper or fixer is a different relationships.  (article by Remen)

The relationship of a Restorative Justice practitioner is delicate in a loss of life case.  You become familiar with the essence of the loved one lost.  I believe our essence is what lingers in others.  If we are loved by another, that means we live forever in their hearts.  (I saw that on Facebook, so it MUST be true).  The circumstances around someone’s death should not be the final definition of who that person was and how they should be remembered.

Two very important things are necessary for healing.  Those are hope and courage.  Courage to face another day and hope it will and can get better.  Those same two values, hope and courage are so alive in a Restorative Justice conference around a fatality and loss of life.  What is amazing to bear witness to is the transformation for each party after the session.

I literally see people shed pounds of emotional weight.  The careful, careful preparation, and the space to let others do their work is a balancing act.  It is not mine to do.  My place is to guide the process, set up safety, find road blocks, share my map, discover the most pressing needs so those can be addressed respectfully.

If you are called to do the work of a serious crime and conflict case, start with good conferencing experience.  I also recommend Circle Training as a way to understand the essence of Restorative Justice.  This is not easy work, and it would require that you feel that call and connect to values for a healing experience.  See this blog post: The will to live is the will to heal for more on that.

Restorative Justice Circles, meeting the social brain needs, developing humanity.

For an example outside of this blog and SCVRJP, check out this presentation:  on DMC, from OJJDP, https://www.nttac.org/index.cfm?event=webinarJuvenileJustice   The slides and information on Circles start on PPT slide 44 (ppt here).

What is described in this program, is very much like the programming used at SCVRJP.  I have several blogs trying to describe it, today I want to recognized something I see as very much like the Circles I associate with being Restorative Justice Circle.  Each element contains certain responsibilities and when these responsibilities are honored and the work done, is by Circle, then great outcomes can happen.

Key Elements of a Circle

  • Circle keeper

  • Ground rules

  • Values

  • Decision by consensus

  • Talking piece

  • Centerpiece

  • Opening/closing

The Restorative Justice outcomes can happen in other styles and “expressions” of Restorative Justice.  From a simple conversation, to a formal Circle.  I really feel like SCVRJP has developed an effective, effective means for not only reaching outcomes, but touching humanity in our Circle participants that really changes for the long-term.  My area is not other types of Restorative Justice process, my area is a Restorative Justice Circle, as learned from many teachers

A power point from the National Association of Social Workers was recently forwarded to me.  A great presentation I didn’t hear directly, by Johnathan Jordan, mindfully change.  Some pieces immediately resonated and I can see how Restorative Justice Circle process promotes and leverages brain based change!

Our brains need social safety – this is established around students learning in schools and offenders making change.  So what do our social brains need most?  A SCARF, scarf stands for (From Slide 14, of the NASW power point):

Status – how we compare to others, competition, avoidance of being “wrong” or responsibility for being at fault
Certainty – clarity, opposite of confusion, risk free
Autonomy – ability to make decisions, sense of control
Relatedness – fitting in safely, belonging to a group
Fairness – how we are treated compared to others

How a Restorative Justice Circle promotes each of these:

Status – Power is equalized in Circle, the set up, the format, the allowing each person equal access to the talking piece and the manner that a true Keeper of Circle brings, promotes equal status.  The non-judgement you promote in Circle, also eliminates a fear of judgement.  I convey in Circle, each person is a student and each person is a teacher.  It feels good to be needed, and it feels validating to know your “lived experience” can be used as wisdom for others.
Certainty – Circles have a clear structure and process.  After explaining how the talking piece will work, I explain the great freedom this will allow us.  This structure and certainty of the process is reinforced when we use a consensus process at the very beginning and agree to use the values in the center, the paper plates as our guidelines.  (This practice is slightly different from the model Gwen/Alice/Kay teach).  You promote certainty by role modeling the process.  Don’t blurt, because as keeper of community rep, you just role modeled that you don’t have to follow the guidelines, and that means you have stepped out of your equality status.
Autonomy – There is complete autonomy for each and every person in Circle.  You decide how you will be in Circle, you have the option to pass.  You promote inclusion and invitation as the keeper.  This allows freedom for people.  The first few stages, where you are doing the “silly before the serious” allows people to express themselves.  They realize they are free to be themselves, and then magically they open up to a place of being someone who wants to learn and even change.
Relatedness – It is amazing and the power of Circle immediately shows us we are all connected, more alike than different.  Using the process lights up the brains and hearts of all participants.  The final stage of Circle, where you reflect on the experience ties this all together.
Fairness – Circles are so fair, because of the equality.  Circle promote the fairness because of the equal opportunity for the talking piece.  You can speak your voice and mind, and maybe you don’t feel it was “fair” that you got arrested, but once that is voiced, we can move on in Circle to the choices made, and what could be made in the future.
I really encourage you to learn Circle by being in Circle, to embrace all the key elements and to leverage your influence on humanity by providing your community with real Restorative Justice Circles.

Full pdf article on SCARF

The Neuroscience of Better Negotiations PPT from NASW (©2012 National Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved)

Restorative Justice, beyond the victim-offender conference.

From an article in the Eau Claire Leader.

HUDSON – Randy Spence admits it would take a miracle for him to ever forgive the drunken driver who killed his daughter.

But Spence also realizes how close he came to possibly taking the lives of four people years later when checking his phone and running a stop sign.

Spence, 55, an attorney who lives in River Falls, is very emotional when discussing the death of his daughter, Alyssa, and is humbled that an accident he caused didn’t have tragic consequences.

Spence regularly makes presentations at schools and other events. He provides a detailed, heart-wrenching account of the devastation he and his family have endured at the hands of a drunken driver.

“If I convince one person not to drink and drive, doing this is worth it,” Spence said last week at the St. Croix County Government Center during a St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program session.

Alyssa Spence, 21, died five days after a near head-on collision April 13, 2003, near River Falls. Ryan C. Foley, now 30, pleaded guilty in Pierce County Court to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

Foley, a UW-River Falls student who had been at taverns and a house party before the crash, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision. He was released from prison in October 2010.

Foley had a blood alcohol level of 0.235 percent, almost three times the legal limit, when he crossed the centerline and hit the car Alyssa was driving. She died on her mother’s birthday.

“When you lose someone it’s hard to let go,” a tearful Spence said. “That’s still how it is, how it always will be. I miss her every day.”

Ready to talk

Spence said he was never interested in taking part in the Restorative Justice Program, which involves school and community-based programs that emphasize repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It allows, in part, for victims and offenders to meet.

“I have no interest to ever be face to face with the murderer of my child,” Spence emphasized.

But his involvement with the program changed about 9:45 p.m. July 29, 2010, when he ran a stop sign after playing golf and having a couple of beers at a rural River Falls course. His car hit a Lexus SUV broadside. Two women in the SUV were injured, with one, 63, receiving three fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and broken rib.

Spence assisted the people at the scene, where he also broke down emotionally and told police about the traffic death of his daughter, according to police accounts. Spence said he looked down to check a message on his phone when he ran the stop sign.

He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of causing bodily harm by reckless driving. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning the charges would be dismissed if he abided by conditions of the agreement, which included community service.

That service has included talks to students and others about the dangers of drunk driving and inattentive driving.

“My son (Adam) was on a cross country trip, and I saw the light flashing on my phone. I went into a panic with the memory of Alyssa, thinking something might have happened to him,” Spence said. “The whole thing was kind of ironic. I could have killed someone.

“I was allowed to enter into the DPA if I engaged in restorative justice,” he added. “I realized that my original hesitation with restorative justice was misplaced, and if my daughter was here, I know she would want me to do this.”

Making an impact

Spence starts his presentation with a video of his daughter that graphically displays her injuries from the crash, a presentation his wife, Bobbi, has never seen.

“My wife is the strongest person I know, but I don’t think she would ever want to see this; she lives the loss every day,” he said.

Deb Ottman, a family consumer science teacher at River Falls High School, has witnessed emotional and varied responses students have after Spence’s presentation, including one last week.

“It’s very hard to listen to. He definitely comes across with quite an impact, and the kids are very emotional and have lots of questions when he leaves,” Ottman said. “I can tell the kids have been affected at some level.”

Ottman’s life skills class is for juniors and seniors, and covers conflict resolution, decision making, grief and relationships, “items they will be dealing with their whole lives.

“Each kid takes away something different,” she said. “The idea is that we get to hear each other’s story and learn from it. In this case, kids might not be so willing to drink and drive or text while they drive. Any gain is a gain.”

Kris Miner, executive director of SCVRJP, said there is great value to victim impact panels, teen driving circles, victim empathy seminars and other programs.

“The key is to change behavior by a change of heart; the idea of choosing a different behavior when faced with a similar situation,” she said. “You make your choice, but you don’t choose your consequences.”

Rupnow can be reached at 715-830-5831, 800-236-7077 orchuck.rupnow@ecpc.com.

Restorative Justice, criminology of self or other, a lesson from the process.

To encourage understanding of our work, and to do what I teach, SCVRJP staff meetings include a reading, a reflection and a check-in.

I teach, that agencies or schools that use Circles or Restorative Justice, should parellel the process within the agency.  That would mean using the restorative concepts as part of agency functioning, elements or, or actual Circles as part of meetings.

At a recent staff meeting, a co-workers shared from a book in the SCVRJP library.  I found it interesting, and appreciated the knowledge and concepts.  It made me appreciate that our agency brings these elements to staff meetings.  You never know when you might just get a new way to consider or understand Restorative Justice.

Book: Restorative justice, self-interest and responsible citizenship. Lode Walgrave

Pages: 192-193

Another spin-off of restorative justice for criminology is that the conceptions of crime, criminals and crime-fighting are stripped of their exceptional character. Mainstream criminology is predominantly what Garland (2001) calls a ‘criminology of the other’. Such criminology considers those who commit offenses as another kind of human, intrinsically different from law-abiding citizens; it focuses on particular risk groups, such as immigrants, drug users or youths in deprived neighborhoods, which it presents as threats to the existing social order. The criminology of the other aims to produce theoretical, empirical and practical knowledge that will allow better control of risk groups or render them less harmful for the average citizen. In doing so, this criminology delivers expertise that further excludes and controls the poor and marginalized; it becomes a technology of social exclusion and thus significantly advances dualisation in society.

‘Criminology of the self’ (Garland 2001), on the contrary, considers those who commit crime as normal people. The person who offends is one of us, someone who, because of circumstances, has ended up in a position that caused him to act illegally and to harm others. It could have happened to any citizen. But criminology of the self can ‘normalise’ the criminal in two different ways. It can bring the level down, by regarding all humans as potential criminals. The consequence of such approach is that we all live in mutual distrust to protect ourselves against one another through, for example, situational prevention strategies based on rational choice theories (Felson 1994). In Putnam’s terms, social capital is then drastically degraded, which, as I have described briefly, is disastrous for the quality of social life and for democracy.

A restorative process offering the offender the opportunity to make up the harm caused may be a major help in the offender’s quest for rehabilitation. Basically restorative justice has this normalising approach to all those involved in the aftermath of crime and looks at both the victim and offender as normal, reasonably responsible persons. It presupposes that, in the right conditions, both victim and offender will be prepared to try and find a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including the interests of the larger community and public safety. As seen in previous chapters, this trust is not naïve, but is sufficiently supported by experience and empirical data to justify it as the starting point in considering what should and can be done once an offense occurs.

Felson, M. (1994) Crime and Everyday Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control. Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press