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.


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.


Lesson plan for drivers, Restorative Justice and texting while driving.

A quick teaching tool that has two lessons, the importance of not texting while driving, and the philosophies of Restorative Justice.

I showed this video to a group of students, and below the video is a discussion outline you can use.  A 30 minute lesson plan to prevent traffic deaths and share Restorative Justice philosophy.

The video:


After watching the video, ask for a show of hands, “How many of  you felt the power in the story?”.

Explain how storytelling works in Restorative Justice, how face to face interactions, how learning about the beginning, the middle and the end of an incident is what Restorative Justice focuses on.  Point out the criminal justice system focuses on the incident, and the sanction of the incident.

Survey the youth to brainstorm and list of all the people impacted.  Then ask about the different harm that happened.  Explain how Restorative Justice focuses on the harms, the needs, the obligations created.

Ask about what happened to make it right, (make sure you watch the ending, that shows the outcomes).  Share how taking a tragic incident and using it for prevention creates a circle, helps people heal.

Ask students if the video had them re-evaluate their own texting behavior.  Focus on the CHOICE they have to text, and how they have NO CHOICE over the conseqences that might happen.  Are they ready to live with the potential consequences.  Their brains might not get this part, pre-frontal cortex still needs developed.  However, the emotion in the story, will touch their reptile brain, and the emotion will help them remember.

Teach the core philosophy and if you have a group of drivers, try using this as an example.  I plan to do this with my next college class.

Final reflections in Circle, the juicy fruit! Relationships juicy fruit, not the gum.

I don’t mean juicy fruit gum, I mean the fruit that you get, because you planted some seeds.  A Circle is an amazing event.  I LOVE the process.  I start it the moment people enter the Restorative Justice Center, “Hi, I’m Kris” with a handshake and a smile.  I get people introduced to any volunteers around me.  We have a plan for name tags, pre-session survey, sitting in Circle and a video playing while we gather.

I am usually monitoring the seating, getting the community volunteer name tags on seats between the participants, offering a bottle of water.  This is how all Circles at St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice get started, this is the planting of the seeds.

We use the four stages of Circle (frequent posts here), always, always, always use values to center our conversation, commit to how we will relate to one another.  We have questions to speak about ourselves as people, then we move to the Circle topic or have a speaker share.  Reflections and contributions by everyone.  Imagine a plant growing on a time delay camera, or a film fast forwarding.  Lots happens here-zipppppppp, time goes.

Here we are at the end of the Circle, a powerful story has been shared, people have made public commitments about a change of behavior.  It’s the last pass of the talking piece, it’s a final chance to say anything else you need to say to leave in peace.

This is my juicy fruit moment.  This is when I feel the Love, created in Circle.  This is when the transition from who people were, when they walked in, to who they are now, preparing to leave.  Community volunteers reflect that they came to help and feel helped.  A young participant thanks the community volunteers, because they “didn’t HAVE to be here”.  The storyteller is often acknowledged again.  People know deep work has been done.  Sometimes, very little is said in this pass because it has all been said before.  That’s okay too, because then I know what we needed to speak was said.

What makes that fruit so tasty? For me, it’s having people be more, than they expected they would be.  When a person reflects on how much they opened up, and confessed they hadn’t planned to say anything, I smile, and look to the center.  The center is the same in all of us.  We want to belong, we want to connect.  Shaping people around a center and asking them to center themselves to the values creates a pathway to the heart.

These heart connections, connect up and in that strength we find ways to make changes in ourselves.  Our attitudes about whatever brought us to Circle (teen driving, underage drinking, property crime, disorderly conduct) changes.  It changes because we can see that we have changed and others have changed as a result of the Circle.  Change creates change.  Once you have awareness, you can’t become “unaware”.  That’s the part of the experience that holds that juicy fruit!  As a Circle keeper and practitioner, your job is to take that fruit, and hand it off to others, so they plant seeds somewhere else.

Have yourself a piece of Juicy Fruit for the next Circle.  According to this blog, Juicy Fruit was the first package to have a Bar Code!


Personal, professional, private, public why it should all be one.

I have always supported the notion that as people we should be congruent between work and home.  We should hold values that reflect how we are with family and with coworkers.  We should consistently treat people well regardless of the relationship being blood or paycheck.  I need to remember that it extends to all my relationships within SCVRJP!  Clients, volunteers, co-workers and board members, I need to live my relationship values and the ones I have selected for myself and kindness, generosity and spirit.

Some blog posts emerge from my frustrations in life.  This blog is sometimes a problem solving place.  When I struggle with issues, its internal and dark.  Putting something out there in my blog, makes it very much in the light.  No matter how long you sit in the dark, when you turn on the light, the dark is gone.

Lucky for me, this blog is about Restorative Justice, and I when I lean on it for problem-solving it brings forward the philosophies and practices of Restorative Justice.

I am not perfect.  One of my character situations is taking things personally when it comes to SCVRJP.  I use situations to describe it because I will not label it positive or negative, because it is actually both, depending on how I use it.  My character situation is that I take things personally when it comes to SCVRJP.

I would like people to know the relationship I have to SCVRJP, and specifically some of the programs.  I took Restorative Justice Circle process and married it to public health issues like underage consumption, and teen driving.  I inherited Victim Impact Panels, but developed a story telling method.  I searched the internet for resources, evidence-based practices and spent considerable time, energy and used my judgement and logic.  These programs ARE a reflection of me, I created them.  I have sat with I am sure over a 1,000 people in the various Circles and processed with clients, volunteers, community members and others involved.  Spending my time, energy, talents to improve these programs.  Along the way my personality has been shaped by Restorative Justice philosophy and Circle approach, making it personal because of how it changed me for the good.  Believe me it makes you a better person, but it doesn’t make your situations go away.

I get an enewsletter to help me with my public speaking, specifically humor.  John Kinde, humor specialist recent recieved a negative “zinger” and in this post, he reflects on that.  His suggestions hit home, and when he reflected that he was being personally attached because jokes are a reflection of “logic and judgement”, “time and effort in design”, I got that. 

I’ve expressed feeling personally attacked and I’ve heard “don’t take it personally”.

I think that’s a little like telling a crime victim, “stop crying”.  You would never do that.  Victims feel victimized and they didn’t deserve it and it hurts.  Many victims have told me that before restorative justice they just didn’t feel understood.   Because of the manner we do our work, (restoratively) we deeply listen to people and give them the room to express themselves.  Regardless of the degree of severity of the crime (recognized by the legal label of the crime or our personal assessment) we don’t just state to people to “stop that”, when they are feeling mis-understood or not understood at all.

Thank you to John Kinde, because you went on to show you live your last name!  Kind with an E!  Your post shared that when we are in control of our attitude positive and negative.  Your post showed me that I can be kind to the people that tell me “don’t take it personal” and just be positive about it.  Just remind myself they only say that because they don’t understand.  Then I can smile, move on and enjoy my day.  I just leaned back in my chair, sipped my coffee, imagined the next person to say “don’t take it personally” and I smiled and whispered “ok”.  I feel great!

So if you’ve read this post recognize that we should take things personal, we should invest ourselves completely with our mind, body and soul.  We should also as John reminded us, personally focus on a positive attitude as well.

It takes courage to participate in Restorative Justice Circles.

What is your character?

It’s the only thing you really own.  It can’t be taken from you.  Things that test it, only make you stronger.  People that push you, hurt you, challenge you can be a gift when you allow your character to grow.  The human experience is that journey through our challenges.

Your character is your values.  Your character is your view of your experiences.

We start Circles with the courage to sit and face each other.  We extend an invitation to be community.  The deepest community experience, I believe, is a Circle.  To take time to face each other, no tables, no pre-written agenda or prescribed outcomes.

In Circles we talk about our values, specifically our relationship values.  When I train and teach on restorative justice I make sure to explain a few things about values.  Our values are standards and principles that we use to guide our actions.  Its listening to the voice inside about what you “should” do, rather than what you want or have to do.

Our values are the shared concept of society, we assume others have the same values as we do, and that is not always true.  Our value development, can get stunted by early neglect, weak role models or bonds that demonstrate these values.  We are quick to judge others about their values and we give little time to consider where they developed.

I believe talking about values in Circles really helps people understand them.  Values are kind of abstract.  What does ‘justice’, ‘peace’, ‘respect’ look like, feel like, sound like.  Instead of trying to create our own understanding we speak to each other in Circles and that multiplies our understanding.  I call that cross-pollination, my understanding about values are shared with stories.  My stories teach you and your stories teach me.  I can quickly identify my own fathers protection after you share a story about your Dad providing and protecting you.

It takes courage to sit and share these things.  It also takes courage to hold the Circle values, after the Circle has disbanded.  The people who have been most dis-satisfied or critical of Restorative Justice are the people I observed to leave the process.  By “leave” the process, I mean restort to being judgmental, critical and generally feeling like they had unmet needs.  The claim then is that the Circle “didn’t work”.  I can take that it doesn’t work for everyone.  In the many, many circles and people I have seen, there are very FEW and I mean few it doesn’t work well for.

Circles are a chance to be in community with others.  Where else do we get this opportunity, this invitation to share our character?  If you bring the courage of who you are, and bring your character to a circle, I’m sure you will be one of the many helped.

Walk for Awareness, July 31st River Falls, Wisconsin

Did you know in the US, 11 teens die a DAY in traffic crashes.

  • 87% of teens admit to speeding.
  • 67% of teens in crashes were NOT buckled up.
  • 60% of fatal crashes in WI, involved alcohol.
  • 88% of teen cell phone users text.

In half of the fatal crashes involving teens, another teen was driving.

The average cost for a funeral $12,000.00.

The cost of a Safe Teen Driving Circle $20.00, where 96% of teens report the story made a great deal of impact and 98% of teens report making a public committment to a safer driving habit.

SCVRJP brings the Mom whose daughter died from poor choices to young people who have choices left to make.  Breanna Remer will forever be 19.  She made choices to drink, drive fast and unbuckled while using her phone.  Breanna’s choices are being used as an example of what not to choose.  Young people respond to hearing Breanna’s story, directly from her Mom.

Young people who attend the SCVRJP Safe Teen Driving Circles are deeply impacted.  One young man shared “I think by hearing that story it just saved my life.”

Safe Teen Driving Circles began with the generous support of the Allstate Foundation, now SCVRJP is turning to the community for support.  On July 31st a fundraising and awareness event is happening in River Falls, WI.

Help us reach other teen drivers by providing a donation, gathering pledges and attending the Walk For Awareness.

Our 2010 theme:  Be Aware.  We Care!

  Be Aware We Care Pledge brochure

Our Walk for Awareness will recognize loved ones, we have something For_survivors, that are interested in having your loved one remembered on our walk.

There are many opportunities to help support the On the Road Together Safe Teen Driving program, the Sponsorship Opportunities range from $20 for one student to attend to $500 for your business.

Together we can save lives.

Used as guidelines, relationships values promote Restorative Circle connections.

I started saving the paper plates in 2007.  Someday, I was going to summarize all the values, written on them.  I’ve been trying to let go of my plate stack for over a year and a half. 

I even started a different stack for 2010.

 At each Restorative Justice Circle, I ask people to think of someone special.  I pause let the brains in the room soak in the released ‘happy hormones’ as we think about those we love, and love us.  Then I ask we write down on that plate the one most important value or characteristic.  These plates shape the Center of the Circle, we put them on the floor in front of us.

We use consensus to have these as our circle guidelines.  Men in half-way houses, they often write love.  Jr high/middle school students, they often write respect or trust.  I’ve seen values across time and place, from drivers ed class to prisons.  From confirmation or college class people have an idea of how relationships work.  Victimized, offender, Judge, teacher or prosecutor people have relationships and people know what is important.

I love the plates.  I am manically optimistic about people.  Its because one of the first things I get to know about a person, is a relationship value.  It sets the tone for our time together, its crucial to doing deep work in a simple process.

SCVRJP responded to an increase in local suicides.  We created a Restorative Justice response to suicide, after someone told me she had a dream about it.  I just fired up my computer, created the flyer and emailed it to our Chief of Police.  My phone rang within 30 seconds, he was calling to make sure copies would be available at the upcoming community awareness forum, on the same topic.  It turns out this was a VERY important project for our community.

Space was made for people to share, to talk about the suicidal behavior of  loved ones including parent, child, sibling, neighbor, co-worker, classmate and sometimes themselves.  The depth of sharing, the depth of pain was enormous.  The hope the strength the resilency of the human spirit was equally deep.  These restorative response circles have also been attended by people wanting to be there, needing to storytell.  The stories often had many of us in tears.

It took an emotional drain on me.  After the first one, I worked at home the next day.  I didn’t even shower, I was drained.  The second one I had to take a long bubble bath, decompress myself.  People in theses Circles will forever hold a special place in my heart.

In Circle we keep the confidence of the person, but we can talk about the experience.  To try to describe that a group of strangers did what we did in these Circles, would seem absurd.  I was there, I witnessed it.  It’s the power of the ‘paper-plates’  and connecting using relationship values then using consensus to adopt those as our circle guidelines.  This context creates a strong container.  It’s really amazing what can be done in Circle.  Its no wonder I have a hard time tossing out the plates, they create the connections.

Teacher: “I didn’t know half those stories”!

The power of a restorative justice circle is amazing.  Simply amazing.

In a Safe Teen Driving Circle, students are facing each other, they contribute values to the center, they share who they thought of to pick their value.  Each voice is heard a few times before our storyteller.

The storyteller is moving, gripping, and often makes us cry.

I look around at the people in Circle with me.  I see a sweatshirt pulled up under both eyes, as a place to catch tears.  I see concerned faces, I see lowered eyes.  The silence of only one person speaking, and the emotional weight in the room is serious.

The Circle participants are given a chance after hearing the story, to ‘reflect’, ‘respond’, ‘react’ to the story.  The space created by the focus on values, and the story makes our circle strong.  So strong students share their own pain.  A family member in a near fatal crash, the death of a parent, the car crash that killed three peers.  Those that don’t have a story, tear up when classmates are tearfully sharing.  Some choke up at the mere mention of how the story made them think about losing a sibling, or inflicting that kind of pain on a family member.  Young people now understand why Mom, is concerned.  The bond in the Circle is strong.

The Circle members are now asked for a public committment.  Every single student offers a specific behavior they will do or not do.  Wear my seatbelt, not drink and drive, not text, follow speed limits.  The specific countermeasures to traffic deaths of our young people are voiced again and again.

The Circle members offer feedback on the Circle itself.  One young man simply stated:  The Circle was the BEST thing EVER.

We close the Circle with a reading, and encouragement to speak to your loved ones, noting that a change of behavior by a change of heart means we “feel” it.  The students leave class quietly, thanking the storyteller as they file past.  The storyteller offers hugs and support to the young people that shared deeply with the Circle.

The teacher, a very connected to her students teacher, approaches me, amazed “I didn’t know half those stories”.  I smile.  Its the power of the Circle.  How lucky we are to know the stories now. 

The storyteller and I read over the evaluations, the young people write out so much.  They express such thanks, gratitude and reinforce that the experience really changed their perspectives.  We have 97% of those that participate saying the speaker made a “great deal” of impact.  Student that made a public committment 98%, the public committment came from the Allstate Foundation research that youth are more likely to do a behavior they tell their peers they will do (vs what they tell parents).

This program saves lives, I don’t doubt it for a minute.  The relationships we create between students, and the value we show students regarding their relationships to family, is worth every second of effort we put into it.

I’ve got to get this book written.

Gripping story of teen drinking and driving . . . another lesson.

The Door County Wisconsin Sheriff’s Department and local coalition produced this video, the story of Karen and Amanda.  It’s real and it hits me because I work with situations like this at SCVRJP.  I help speakers like the ones in this video, share their story.

As you watch this, you will be drawn in, get a tissue.  Also consider the powerful impact if you heard this in person.  In Circle with the very people.  At the end you would get a talking piece, and be offered the chance to make a committment to your peers and the storyteller.

Thank you Door County for producing this, it motivates me to work on finishing the On the Road Together Safe Teen Driving Circles book.


Part 2