All relationships are bilateral

I use this statement about restorative justice, since RJ is so much about the relationships.  All relationships flow both ways.  I believe what we put into the flow comes back to us.

I learned a great deal from someone lately.  I didn’t expect to be so educated or enlightened by this person.  I felt like I was making more of a “courtesy visit”.  The experience reinforced and validated the core truth I have:  All relationships are bilateral.

I met with a prison inmate, he’s served 14 years and he has 19 to go.  He was part of a violent and brutal crime, far beyond what any family should experience.  His father died when he was young, his family abandoned him when he went to prison.  His mother died in 2003.  He’s got no visitors, no support system.  It seemed to me he had every reason to be bitter, hopeless, mean.  Instead . . . he is still impacted by a restorative justice circle that he attended in 2002.  There is a DVD by Newist called Repairing Harm.  Review or purchase on this video you can see the program run by Janine Geske, Marquette Restorative Justice.

When talking about the Restorative Justice Circle that involved storytelling by victim/survivors, the inmate described hearing about the victims trauma and realizing, victim or offender trauma is trauma.  He talked about a lack of emotional connection to his crime, until he heard the victims speak.  He had read Howard Zehrs book, Changing Lenses.  He wanted to know why I was doing Restorative Justice.  It was a moving conversation.  When I talked about story telling, and how trauma causes our brains to slow down and take snapshots or a slide show, and it is these slides that we talk about in telling the story.  He quicky identified with that.  He remembered, the victim/survivor telling a small detail that had a huge impact.  He shared some of the snapshots from his own crime.  When stories contain snapshots, people can talk about things 14 years old, like they happened this morning.

Whenever I go into prisons, I can’t help but impacted by the security process.  Going thru a metal detector, locking up my keys, leaving everything in my car.  Getting my hand stamped and having to prove I didn’t change identies on the way back out.  It’s a process that does leave me concerned about my own safety, when I had to remove my bra, and go thru the metal detector AGAIN, I was really wondering what I got myself into.  The clang of metal doors, the institutional smell.  The staff saying “Are you okay alone in here” as I was in a large room with the inmate, I had only just shook hands and exchanged names.  Honestly I said “yes” more of wanting to be a humanitarian to the person I was meeting with.  The staff might have picked up my pause, she said a guard could be outside the door.  I said “no”.

The PERSON I met with was well groomed, genuine, conversational.  He was so deeply moved by that Restorative Justice Circle, it completely grounded me in what I know and believe about Circles.  Not to mention that 6 years have gone by.  He was still looking to move forward with what he learned.  He wrote a letter to a former social worker, expressing an interest in helping others and RJ.  The social worker then provided him my name and address.  He wants to be involved in Restorative Justice and understands the process is victim centered and we can only do so much right now, the victims come first.  He has agreed to work on his own healing and learning more about Restorative Justice.  I am going to write him one time a month, the first letter with reading list.

I left the prison with a shocked feeling, but also a calm and somewhat confused sense of what just happened.  It was good to interact with a person seeking greater good for himself and others.  It was sad and scary to have the crime details explained.  It enhanced my professional and personal skills, it added to me as a person.  Who would have ever guessed that from 14 year vetran of the WI Correctional System.

Why I love training, teaching and facilitating workshops

The great people at CESA 7, Chris and Amy recently hosted another Restorative Justice training.  A one-day overview of Restorative Justice in schools was held in Green Bay.  Together 18 of us took a good look into the philosophy and background of Restorative Justice in Schools.  We did a demonstration Circle, my favorite part of learning about people.

I got to be amazed, (and I love being amazed) by the power of the first few stages in a Circle.  I could feel it in the air when I started introducing the concepts, and we started writing values on paper plates.  There is an uneasy or apprehensive sense.  I wait until we’ve had the round of committing to the values, then I talk about how we might be feeling uncomfortable, but that’s okay, because to learn something new, or change, we are out of our comfort zone.  Or something very similar, it depends on the group.

At the end of the Circle, when people were reflecting on the process, three people were very open that they didn’t know what to think at first, but found they really liked it.  One valuable comment was that it was easy to see how the students might feel, after sitting in a Circle.

We did a simple round on “Tell me about your name, who were you named after, what do you know about your name, what do you think of your name?”  We heard some terrific stories.  We heard about native names, changed names, stories about being named and even how one name was purchased.  Long names cost more and Irish people dropped “O’s”.  This is when I feel Circle slow down, I start to cherish the time we are taking to listen to each person.  Lewis Mehl-Madrona  author of several books on healing and story telling, emphasized in a workshop that I attended that when we know someone’s story, they are a part of us forever.  We remember the story, our brains, chunk information togheter.

Training and teaching brings me in Circle with people I might not otherwise meet.  I really like what others bring to my life.  It builds those connections.  When I was at the Bruce Springsteen Concert at the X-cel energy center in St. Paul.  I looked at the crowd, and wondered if by the time I die, could I meet this many people in Circle.  What a crazy, odd thought.  Being in Circle is aligned with who I am and how I make a difference in this world.

 

I LOVE . . . 1. Being in Circle     2. Networking     3. “aha” moments     4. change and transformation

Training for SCVRJP became a program in 2007, before that I would present at conferences and offer volunteer trainings locally.  The local trainings started bringing in people from across the state.  It’s really fun for me to know Carol, Paul and Evelyn from seperate Circle trainings and they all know each other.  I love training for the networking.  At the most recent training I got a “Kristin, says Hi”, and we chatted about the people at the Manitowac school I trained at (and several staff attended an earlier CESA training). 

At the MADD Awards Banquet, two different officers remembered me from speaking at two different workshops.  The first one that said hello to me, also said that when he saw “Restorative Justice” in the program, he thought it must be me.  I then remembered his face and where he was at in the room.  He seemed kinda shocked at that, and complimented my good memory.  I liked his reaction to me remembering him, I bet that made him feel good.  I thought another officer looked familiar, and he mentioned hearing me at the Traffic and Impaired Driving Law Conference.  I said “yes, you were in the middle of the room”.  Having them feel good about me remembering, made me feel good.

I need to work more on my networking.  I called my mentor Jermaine Davis, he’s always full of ideas, suggestions, care and concern for me and my public speaking dreams.  I told Jermaine how I get people asking me to come and speak at their conference, or come train at their schools and I don’t hear back.  I kind of new the answer after I heard it.  He told me to get their cards!  To follow up with them, like I couldn’t have figured that out!  So now I will be working on my TOMA, so bring your business card to the next training, I’m going to ask you for it!  By the way TOMA – Top Of Mind Awareness.  I want you to think about me for your next training or workshop!

“Aha” moments– this is when I see a face light up, or a strong nod in agreement.  On of my favorites is explaining Thich Nhat Hanh’s definition of violence (anything that violates the integrity of another person).  I then team that with James Garbino’s statement “Exclusion is a form of violence”.  I also make statements “There is nothing new under the sun”, and “Be yourself only better”.  The “aha” moments are like awakening people to the innate wisdom or core truths.  The things we already know are true.  I love doing that.

The final item I love about training and teaching is the reward that comes later.  I’ve gotten feedback about parents giving staff talking pieces.  Wow, that school sought out doing Circles, and I helped them.  Now a Mom out there feels greatful enough to give a gift.  Another school has eliminated the “naughty room” a place to send misbehaving students.  One teacher did a quick hallway circle, she forgot community members, but positively said “I’ll never do that again”.  I’ve had emails about family Circles improving communication.  Connections and training techniques duplicated and producing powerful results.

Right now I have to thank my favorite Circle teachers, for helping me bring this to others.

Circles in my week

Here is a review of Circles that I held this week and a few of the outcomes.   I hope that you can pick up some tips or see the power of using this process.  Post an example of your own Circle!

College Class Circle – I have 19 students in my UWRF Class – Introduction to Restorative Justice Class.  This was our 2nd class meeting.  The students had the desks arranged when I arrived.  I unpacked my talking pieces for the Center and brought the plates with values written on them (from the week before).  These plates will be brought out at the start of every class.  We started the class by handing around the plates, and then stating the value and placing the plate in the center.  One of the class assigments is to bring a reading for an opening and closing.  A student selected the MN Public Radio Story “Finding Justice in a Tragic End”.  http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/200202/18_stawickie_arbitration/index.shtml  The story set a really great tone for the Circle, especially with todays topic on the history of restorative justice.  We did a round on how you saw the value you placed in action this week.  Most students were able to formulate a story and I could tell our circle was still “getting acquainted”.  I mentioned some general class related housekeeping items.  I have a “Memory” game that I made.  I put either a date, a person or a place on a set of two paper plates.  So two plates with the same word or date.  I mix them all up and place them in the middle face down and we go around the Circle, taking turns and matching pairs.  It gets the students used to getting up and going to the middle of the Circle, and once you have your “pair” you can sit out of the game.  It is a good ice breaker.  Once all the pairs are picked up (and I keep my pairs to the number of students), we pass the talking piece around and reflect on playing the game.  It’s a safe topic and gets the students used to a self reflection.  There is typically some humor as people share the anxieties.  I then reviewed a photo laden powerpoint, highlighting the dates, the places and the names on the plates.  Our last round of the Circle (for that day) was on what students took from today’s class. 

2nd Grade Circle – I visited a 2nd grade, end of the day Circle.  My co-worker Catherine teaches and utilizes Responsive Classroom and Restorative Justice Circles as part of classroom management and teaching tools.  The children gathered and made a Circle shape easily and quickly (given it was the 3rd week of school).  The Circle guidelines were posted nearby and students started the Circle by responding which guideline they were going work on.  The guidelines included: listening with quite hands and feet, looking at the speaker, etc.  Catherine might do a post for us.  Catherine introduced her guests and then did a round on what students thought was important for guests to know.  I learned who liked to play outside, or with X-box.  We did another round on what the students favorits subject were.  Catherine then closed down the Circle asking students what they were wondering about.  This allowed students to express something they were curious or worried about.  Catherine was able to address these at the end of the Circle.  You could sense relief or a calm, as the students were prepared for the next day at school. 

Victim Offender Conferencing Training – Circle – SCVRJP hosted a volunteer training this week, we held the first session classroom style, and the second session in Circle.  The volunteers wanted to see me role model and holding a Circle was a good way for me to do that.  I briefly explained the process and read an opening, we did values on plates, committed to the values and answered the question: “if you were a flavor of ice cream what would you be?”.  The participants were really open and had explanations to why they selected a particular ice cream.  The first speaker was one of our most experienced volunteers and someone who really respects Circle.  That helped the new college students, in their first Circle see how sharing and listening work for everyone.  We really enjoyed that round because the answers had so much explanation.  We heard from our experienced volunteer, as he reviewed cases and answered questions.  We reviewed more information on handouts.  At the end of the Circle, volunteers wanted to meet again for another training session so we scheduled that.  I was really touched that people were willing to give more time.  We had one member tell us she was holding her first circle the very next day.  When we closed the Circle some of the college students shared how much they enjoyed the time being able to share.  The students were really excited to be part of RJ.  One young person said that the two hours already transformed how she viewed herself in relation to others.  It was a very positive experience, for all of us.

Victim Empathy Seminar – In situations where a victim offender conference is not possible we have an alternative program to teach empathy.  We use the Circle process and a surrogate victim.  Storytelling, accountability and healing are part of this process.  The Circle today had 3 male offenders, a mom and daughter (daughter was referred), and two community members/volunteers.  We did not have a speaker today so I showed a video tape of our local “Recovery Month” panel discussion.  This was taped at our local Public Access Channel.  Due to confidentiality I can’t go into identifying details.  It was a really nice Circle with positive comments at the end.  I felt really good about taking my Saturday to work (I didn’t go into it with such a postive attitude).

Another Circle training was lined up this week – having a group of students from our local alternative school be trained in the process.  This will be the third year in a row of doing this.  The students grow so much and it’s really rewarding.  I then have this group help me lead other circles in our community.  We have 2 or 3 church groups/confirmation classes already scheduling a visit from us. 

It was a good week!  Next week starts with two Circles on Monday, a drivers ed Circle in the morning and UWRF Class Monday afternoon!

Teaching In Circle

I teach one class a semester at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.  The first class I taught was the Spring semester 2008 and the class that started on September 8 is the second group of students.  Next semester I will teach an advanced class in Restorative Justice.

I love teaching this because we hold the class in Circle.  I have really come to enjoy the look on students faces as I ask them to round up the desks and sit all facing each other.  I like to watch the non-verbal reactions as I talk about speaking and listening from the heart.  I feel really blessed to have been in so many circles that my confidence about the process is so strong.  Maybe faith in the process is a better word than confidence.  My faith in the process is very strong.

We made introductions, identified our values, made a committment to honor the values while we were together.  We assigned opening and closing readings right around the Circle.  I was more relaxed with this being the second class I’ve taught.  I really took the time to appreciate each individual and to know we’ll become quite connected.  I can still picture each person from last years class.  One thing that really stands out is how much I feel I know the essence of their personalities. 

I am going into this semester feeling positive about the process, based on the final papers that last semesters students did.  They had some really super things to say about how they learned in the process.  I think the structure from rows to circle really engaged and encouraged each of them.

The interactive format made the information relevant to each person, since each individual weighed in on our topic.  The students quickly learned that storytelling was alot of fun and they wanted to do that assignment a second time.  I still do powerpoint lectures, and we watch videos, but with Circle we offer a talking round and a reflection round.  When one of my guest speakers didn’t offer as much time for this the students didn’t care for that.  They became empowered in our classroom.

One of the students has informed me that he is friends and does things with one of his classmates.  Apparently a friendship developed in class and he is quite certain that wouldn’t have happened without the circle process.

One thing for sure, the student share this experience together and that creates the common bond.  It’s similiar to when victims/offenders/community members have a process together.  There is a bond at the end because they have completed the journey together.