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

Restorative Justice accountibility means understanding the context.

Context, it is understanding things in perspective to other things.  I think we underestimate the importance of context.  For example, it is 2:20am and I have to be leading a Circle in 7 hours.  I should be sleeping.  This blog is burning in my brain and I need to be typing it out.  Right now.  Context for you.  You now have a little more perspective on something around this blog post.

Social emotional context.  Social emotional skills involve walking into a room and picking up if the individuals were just at a funeral or a birthday party.  I’ve had great waitresses, they pick up what is going on at the table and respond with the level of engagement and tone, reflective of our tone at the table.

It bugs me when apology letters are dished out early and expected immediately.  Obviously my first choice is to explore a restorative option.  Plan A, direct victim, plan B surrogate victim or community members.  How can you write a letter of apology without really knowing and understanding the harm you caused.  How, immediately after you have been sanctioned, judged, found guilty, can you focus on the other, when you feel the direct target?

In my work with loss of life cases, traffic fatality mostly, I see different levels of “acknowledging you caused the harm”.  This “acknowledging you caused the harm” is the first step to restorative justice.  Two environments – anything you say will be held against you, the other, confession is good for the soul.  Traffic fatality situations, contain little intentional behavior.  We could debate about the decision to drink, which is intentional, and the decision to drive, or does the decision to drink, take away the decision you make to drink and drive, cause the decisions we make impaired are seldom the decisions we would make stone cold sober.

Real accountability, starts with acknowledging you caused the harm, and people leave behind the debate: “I didn’t mean to do it”.  Full accountability is void of “ya, buts” or “if only”.  Full accountability is difficult.  Taking full responsibility, “I’m wrong”, “I made a mistake”, “I own this 1,000%”, is not common everyday behavior.  However, it can be come the expected standard in criminal justice interventions and occasionally in restorative justice expectations.

When you really mean something you don’t have to say it.  You just live it.  You live it in your values.  You don’t need to go around telling people because you know actions speak louder than words.  Your character is so much inside of you, you don’t need the language of explaining it.  Real, deep down, restorative justice accountability is like that.  I believe it comes from understanding context.  You can’t understand the harm you caused until you understand the context.

Context from crime, means hearing about the impact.  Context means understanding, deeply and directly understanding the others perspective.  The most accountable to fatalities, have been those who have attended the funeral service of their victims.  That probably seems odd to understand.  Not all crime is between strangers, random individuals.  Most people drink with their friends or coworkers, it stands to reason, they can be impacted in traffic fatalities caused by impaired driving.

The context is the story around the story.  Understanding context allows you to mental map where you are.  The map of the heart, the social and emotional aspects of context can be gained in Restorative Justice.  Once you know where you are, what you have caused, then and only then, can you start the path to making it right for others and for yourself.

Restorative Justice, 3 C’s for increasing belonging.

Belonging.  Right there in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs, Restorative Justice helps people recognize where it is, rebuild it where it was torn or repair it where it was damaged.  Restorative Justice, experienced from the perspective of victim, offender, community member holds potential to increase belonging.  From bystander, family member, professional Restorative Justice gives us reasons to belong, because we all belong to humanity.

The smallest and the largest harms can be addressed in Restorative Justice, you simply expand the Circle as needed.  More training, mentoring, preparation time for the more serious the offense.  I feel so blessed to work in a range of environments from prevention (after school program circle) to a loss of life (mostly traffic fatalities).  This range of work causes me to clearly identify the core values, principles and tactics of facilitating, implementing and providing Restorative Justice.  I’m going to link you the principles for some elements of those tactics.  Beyond knowing the tactics (principles, philosophies), Restorative Justice requires you to know the art.  The artful skill of working with people hearts.

The art can be summarized with 3 C’s.  Compassion, Connection, Caring.  Bring your most balanced self to a restorative process.  It could be a pre-conference meeting, and Circle preparation meeting, the Restorative Justice conference or Circle itself.  The compassion you bring needs to be from a place of a balanced heart.  In order to reach another’s heart, be familiar with your own.

Connect to others.  Consider connection as a feeling.  I recently read that a sign of a highly empathetic person, is a familiar face.  People assume they met you before because the feeling of connection.  Compassion and empathy are different.  I believe compassion comes first, compassionate people care, compassionate people are strong enough to withhold judgements and empathize with others, versus judgements about another’s behavior, that prevents you from feeling what they might be feeling.

The notion of caring, is another heart skill.  These touchy feely, esoteric concepts are sometimes best described by others.  So clearly put, I have to use what someone said about a police officer.  I was asking someone I trusted for an opinion about working with another.  The feedback I got:  “His ‘give a shit’, ain’t broke”.  I understood what this meant.  People know if you care.  If you stay mindful of others, you genuinely have compassion, connection and caring, I believe your restorative work will be of benefit and provide even more belonging.


Doing justice for Restorative Justice is not what to think, but how.

This article in Harvard Business Review, the author shares some success in sharing HOW to think, not WHAT to think.  Boom, in my brain, that is why I blog, to help people with Restorative Justice and Circles, and to provide insight in how we might advance ourselves, our services and our collective passion about Restorative Justice and Circles.  How to think about it,  here is an example:

The hot new social media trend is pinterest.  Pinterest is an online pinboard.   Whoever heard of that?  Basically, a pinboard is a place to post pictures that are links to sites, and you can look at what has been pinned, someone elses board of pinned items.  Make sure you have time when you go there, it is addicting.

My first visit to pinterest, I, of course, search the term Restorative Justice.  Results, about restorative yoga, restorative dentistry and lots of photos with comments on how the photo “doesn’t do it justice”.  After reading again and again, “doesn’t do it justice” or “does not do justice”, I put my meaning on the word justice, and began to think about criminal justice, restorative justice and why and how the word was being used in all these photo comments.

I came to this.  In the context of beauty, when a photo “does not do it justice”, it means something about it wasn’t captured, that in real life, there was something much more.  I think it has to do with capturing a spiritual essence, that a photo can not do and real life can.  I think, Restorative Jusitce brings different “justice”.  The kind of justice that includes a spiritual essence, that formal process can not do.  Recently hearing “there are as many definitions of justice as their are victims”.  I am in tune to the individuality of justice and the need to be individually aware of each persons experience and need for justice.

Crime is ugly, there is no way to say that it isn’t.  People are hurt, people are punished, resources and capacity are diminished in the presence of crime.  Humans are not acting on their own greater good when they commit crimes.  Generally here, it was a crime when Rosa Parks didn’t get out of her seat, but that’s another blog post.

Use of the phrase, “doesn’t do it justice” on pinterest, really had me thinking about harvesting the justice (beauty and spiritual essence) in Restorative Justice.  It was actually best said by a teen in Circle.  She looked at the speaker, who had shared the pain of surviving his daughters death, caused by an intoxicated driver, and she told him she was sorry for his loss.  She said it was terrible that it happened and she wished it hadn’t.  She said it was cool that he was telling the story like this.  I saw the expression on the storytellers face.  It appeared he was acknowledged and comforted.  I felt the beauty in that moment of connection between Circle members.  I saw an element of Restorative Justice, as the tragic and fatal car crash created a lesson and touched lives.  This storyteller was harvesting the justice (the beauty and spiritual essence) of what happened.  So much so, that a teen referred to as cool.  You do realize most teens don’t recognize people that are old enough to be their parents as cool?  And that word “cool”, in that moment, it really did do justice.


Living the mission, why a Restorative Justice nonprofit exists. When people do the right thing, it takes care of the future.

Email subject line: I really need some help

Email:  I attended a class at the Restorative justice center about 4 years ago for underage drinking. I am 23 years old now and have been trying to enlist in the military but my non-wise adolescent decisions are holding me back. I have jumped through many hoops to clear up my name and prove myself for the military. I need proof for my recruiter that I have completed an alcohol class otherwise I will not be able to enlist in the Army National Guard. I do not have any paperwork showing that I successfully completed a class with your program. I realize that it is my fault for not holding on to my documentation and I apologise for the inconvenience sincerely, but I am hoping that someone will be able to get back to me as soon as they can and help me get the proper documentation to accomplish a life goal. I am looking forward to hearing back from someone. This is very important to me. I just need to know how to find the proper paperwork. I am almost always available by phone but email is ok too.

I believe in the good of people, and I saw the responsibility in this email.  Mistakes should not permanently close doors for people.  This young man references a life goal and how important getting into the military is for him.  I know the benefits of the National Guard, I am aware of our military culture and climate right now.  This young man wants to serve his Country and our program has paperwork to help him.  I got to my garage and started to go through the dented file cabinet and the storage boxes.  My only lead was that he thought he attended on November 6, but was unsure of what year.  I found the documentation.

He was so happy, to hear the news.  He knew I was going to a box in my garage, he thought it would take a few weeks, not a few days.  He noted that the day he attended was his 19th birthday.  I told him he made a wise decision to spend his birthday at the Underage Consumption Panel.  He said it was a good class, he thanked me, told me this allows him to enlist. I asked his permission to write a blog post, and asked for more of his story.

He said at the time, he just thought it was a “stupid class” and now because he went he can enlist.  He’s a college student now, he comes from a family of military men, he found out that “screwing off was not working”.  He explained that when you are young, you don’t think your tickets are going to follow you.  He thought by the time you want a career or to go into the military it will just be forgotten.  He had positive things to say about our program, he mentioned seeing on our website that we take volunteers.  That opened the door, and I told him he was especially qualified to come to a Circle and share his perspectives.  I enclosed a volunteer application when I mailed him a copy of his verification.

He told me I made his day.  I told him he made mine.  He came to the class.  He confirms that people find the path, all the work of our volunteers, our staff, the agencies that refer youth to us, the victims who share stories and those that help in order to make amends.  They help SCVRJP live the mission.  You might make a lot of mistakes, but if you do the right thing, it can help you in the future.

Restorative Jusitce provides a context to increase empathy.

Empathy.  A crucial emotional response to those around us.  We are hard-wired to connect with others.  From the book Born for Love which is about the:

empathy that allows us to make social connections, and the power of human relationships to both heal and harm.

I had a nice conversation with a man who serves youth.  He was once “at-risk”, and we had a good conversation about Restorative Justice approaches.  This man explained the importance of context for empathy.  This man grew up in poverty, he never knew about home ownership, it was not part of his growing up.  As a man, he now owns a home.  He explained how he understands “foreclosure” now, but as a teen he had no context for that.  I agreed about the context for empathy, but I continued to think about it.

In Restorative Justice Circles, we start with values.  Values are principles, standards of behavior.  According to Kunreuther 2009, “they are deeply felt and difficult to articulate”.  The author goes on to explain, “values articulate aspirations; they sustain us through disagreements, misunderstandings, and differences”.  I appreciate that take on values and I believe using then in Circle lays the foundation to connect with others, to bond.

Once bonded with those around us, even in a short-term setting, that bond increases our empathy.  Feeling that bond is important.  We are born for and designed to be in relationships with others.  One of my training slides, “In Relationships we are broken, in Relationships we are healed”.  The first few stages of Circle set that up.  The Getting Acquainted and uilding Relationship stages prepare people for the heavier discussions ahead in the last two Circle stages (Addressing Issues, Taking Action).

I get to do all different kinds of Circles, some focus on a common topic (underage drinking), others focus on a specific incident, others are community building circles.  The form of all Circles is essentially the same.  The outcomes are often different that people expect going in.  I am no longer shy about letting those who have never been in a Circle know this:  people will behave differently that you would expect.

When people open up and share in a deep and meaningful manner, it opens up others to do the same.  To bear witness to someone being genuine, open, respectful and honest just brings out the same.  When we create space for this or role model this in Circle, we are creating a deeper context for empathy.

My friend recognized he didn’t have empathy for foreclosure, but he also wasn’t out causing foreclosure harms.  In a Circle about the harm you caused, you can have empathy, because you were on the other end of that stick.  Harm, that thing others refer to a crime or conflict, in Restorative Justice, we look at it from our perspectives and increase the context of empathy by understanding how the harm, harms everyone.


Kunreuther, F., Kim, H., & Rodriguez, R. (2009). Working across generations: Defining the future of nonprofit leadership.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fear, nervous energy, anxiety all acceptable before Circle-keeping.

I have a reverance for the Circle process.  Specifically, the Restorative Justice Circle process as I learned it, from Kay Pranis, Linda Wolf, Jamie Williams, Oscar Reed, and many, many, many people who have joined me in Circles over the past 6 years.  By reverance, I mean a deep respect and knowledge that the concept of Circle (intentionally capatilized) is in our DNA.  To provide equal respect, for me, is a way to honor the divine in all of us.  So if you are about to embark on your journey as a Circle-keeper, if you are new to using this technology, then fear, nervous energy and anxiety might all be part of it, and I find that a good thing.

In Kay’s book Peacemaking Circles, she shares the importance of preparing by centering.  I used this guidance,  I was anxious when I started, I would have notes about the questions I prepared, words listed as tips for me to say about opening a Circle.  I feel now, that a focused inhale can prepare me.  Well, I also exhale!  I was talking to someone today, it was an interview that was a good conversation.  I kept wanting to offer, what I wish I might have heard before keeping my first Circle.  I offered support for those feelings of anxiety or fear.  Maybe just nervous energy.  I think these things are good, when we care about doing well we can get nervous not wanting to do harm or to complicate matters.

Circlekeeping shouldn’t feel like the same old, same old kind of faciliatation.  Circlekeeping is keeping the form and funtion of Circle above individual agenda’s – keeper or attendee.  The form and function of Circle is to be grounded in Restorative Justice and specifically the value of respect.  I think it starts with the respect to the process of Circle.

Classroom Circle UWRF

I wish you well as you try this.  I encourage training, training and reading.  Then find a mentor to discuss your plans with.  Engage yourself in learning about, doing and developing your Circlekeeping skills.

I appreciate this model, that takes us from being interested to being.  As it will go with Circle keeping – eventually you will just BE, a keeper!

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program – planned sessions for 2012

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program in River Falls, WI provides a range of Restorative Justice Services for our community.  Click here for look at 2012: SCVRJP 2012 color calendar.

Locally, SCVRJP addresses public health concerns like teen driving, underage consumption, controlled substance use – by offering Circle sessions.  SCVRJP also offers Victim Impact Panels, for those earning driving privlidges after a conviction for drinking and driving.  Trained volunteers offer stories during sessions, community volunteers offer Restorative Justice, by participating in non-judgemental, supportive services where the impact of choices is shared by experience.  The session descriptions: 2011 sessions.

SCVRJP also provides Restorative Response – which is a program that offers support to those impacted by suicide and sudden, traumatic loss.  SCVRJP, is the lead agency working to provide informal support services for survivors and distributes the Grieving Families Guide.

Trainings are available at our River Falls location or on a contracted basis.  Training can be provided on Restorative Justice, Restorative Justice Circles, School-based Restorative Justice, Classroom Circles or topics needed by your agency.  Contact Kris Miner at SCVRJP, email: or 715-425-1100.

SCVRJP relies on donations, service fees and grants.  Your support is appreciated.  There is one annual fundraiser, the WALK for AWARENESS, scheduled for July 28, 2012.

New volunteers are welcome!  Please contact us if you are interested in joining our team!

Making amends feels good, and who doesn’t want to feel better?

Taking responsibility feels good.  Knowing you put in a hard days work, taking care of paying your bills, helping someone who needs it.  Just a few examples of being a responsible citizen and community member.  Responsibility is keeping yourself and others out of harm’s way.  That’s how I define it.  Harm, no matter what form, it just isn’t good.

I think about things in terms of Karma, a simple way of a universal checks and balances.  We can cause unintentional harm.  This doesn’t lessen our responsibility to make things right.

I like men, and especially like when a Circle involves some discussion about being a man is owning up to what you did.  Taking responsibility.  It is a mixture of humility (I did wrong) and I’m strong enough to admit I made a mistake.  It’s not always easy for men to do this (in my experience).  This study, found that men are less likely than women to take responsibility for dating violence and more likely to put blame on their partner.

I listen closely to men when doing prep work for Restorative Justice.  You have to listen in to the types of words they use.  I’ve asked for some words to be substituted, and we talk about why those are important.  One example is when a person says they “caught” charges.  As if these have been thrown off a truck, and accidentally on the lap.  I have asked a man how he wants things to change, he started with “she needs . . .”.   I pushed our conversation to an area of where do we really have control.  I think men like control.  I helped, or tried to help, by identifying the thing we control is our reaction to events.  The way we respond.  I asked for an example of mends-making, and asked about the feelings that followed.

When preparing people for a Restorative Justice experience giving them pathways in the brain, to remember how it felt to make amends, or how it changed a relationship for the better, empowers the individual.  When you empower others to finding their own course to restoration or healing experiences, you can be assured the change might be more lasting.  I love offering a moment that gives another an Ah-HA!  I didn’t do it, they did, they found that making amends, repairing harm and building bridges to belonging is the natural order of being human.

The power of asking questions, which end of the same stick?

The art of asking questions is a skill a Circle-keeper, Restorative Justice Practioner needs to be building.

Imagine this . . . how were you harmed?  People can express their hurts.  Consider an event where many people contributed to the harm, there wasn’t a specific person.  The question might be . . . how were you impacted?  When you talk about impact, community members, supportors and even the offender can share the impacts of the harmful act.

When you pick your questions, you need to be monitoring the emotional climate of the Circle participants.  The higher the safety, the more vulnerable you can make the question.  You start at the stages of getting acquainted and building relationship – you get the values, the commitment to honor the values, some comfort and safety, then you can talk about the difficult things.

I also use a reflective or final stage, check out question.  I ask what people thought it was going to be like, and what it actually was like.  My question tips the scale that something about what they expected and experienced was different.  I could ask a general reflective question, just have people “check out”, however, I know that novel, makes things memorable.  I want young people to remember the story heard, from our volunteer speaker and from others in the Circle.

This TED Talk, the power of if a question asks up to opt-in or opt-out of organ donation.  It’s an interesting perspective, the specifics about the question, starts about 5 minutes in: