In Life and in Restorative Justice, shame is a gift; feeling and friendship lead to healing.

A good night’s rest really helps me out.  I’ve got one of those monkey minds.  A “monkey mind” is a Buddist term, rather than staying in the present moment, my thoughts leap from one to another as a monkey leaps from tree to tree.  When I first wake up, I get a moment before the monkey jumping begins!  This morning, things merged and I realized the gift of shame.  Three things merged for me, concepts of shame, a book of stories and a lesson in friend-ing.

From Brene Brown, I learned shame, is the fear of disconnection.  I also learned that the less you talk about it the more you have it.  I love Brene Brown,  here is her TED TALK, “The power of vulernability”, I highly recommend viewing it.  I wrote a blog post and shared her work, earlier this year.

In that context and understanding of shame, I am reading “Wounded Warriors A Time For Healing” by Doyle Arbogast.   From the back cover:

14 personal stories of Native Americans whose pathway to healing has been found
within the beauty and spirituality of their own cultural heritage.  Their lives today reflect responsibility, honor,
and dignity.

I experience life deeply and I have to read these stories
slowly.  The trauma related is real, severe and very directly related to the reader. I get overwhelmed with emotion when the story gets to the ‘watershed
moment’, the decision to pursue healing, sobriety and the embracing of cultural values and spiritual practice.  I believe those individual decisions, those moments of change are miracles.

Similar to the miracles that can happen in Restorative Justice, a moment of deciding that healing is the path.  I blog about this further in the post: The will to live is the will to heal.  We marvel at the miracle a caterpillar makes to a butterfly and we as humans can make those transformations at any time! (Took that from a recent Facebook update).

The third thing that helped me realize that shame is a gift, was a gift in itself.  I’ve been told about a Native American tradition, belief or practice, not exactly sure what you would call it, it is connected to the book above.  Our basic responses, fight, flight, freeze, you read about those responses all the time.  There is a fourth, to friend.  To friend that thing, to reach out your hand, to shake hands, to get to know it, to find out as much as you can, to treat it kindly.  This concept made sense and resonates with me.  The individuals in the stories shared in Wounded Warriors, have gone on to help others as counselors, mentors, educators.   The sharing of their stories, was part of their healing process.  They experienced the feelings to get to healing.   I believe the friend-ing process was part of the feeling.

The gift of shame, is that it points us to what we need to friend.  The gift of shame is that it lets us know
where our disconnection is felt.  Shame lets us know where our healing can be found.

This is a personal and professional intersection.  As Restorative Justice practitioners we can help others and help ourselves with this knowledge.  To help ourselves and others, we need to become comfortable with shame, our own and others. Restorative Justice is about healing.  Healing is fascinating, simple and complex.  Healing is individual and universal.

This monkey just sat on a branch with shame, and neither of us left the same.


Remembering what is important, science vs storytelling OR consilience.

I recently forgot what was important.  Values are important to me.  I take advisement from research (or as Capella would have it, I am a critical thinker).  I try to live my life in balance, in positive relationships.  I get lessons once in awhile.  The lesson today – science and storytelling.

Here is a post about a book Deep Brain Learning, where I learned the term Consilience.

Most nonprofit work and especially Restorative Justice depends on the social value created.  We know the fabric of community changes when we do things that promote the good of people.

Check out this great story on a celebration in Yellow Medicine County.  The story, explains the program beyond dollars and numbers.

In my reading for school, Integrating Mission and Strategy for Nonprofit Organizations, social value was defined as things that are: spiritual, moral, societal, aethetic, intellectual and enviornmental.  Nonprofits promote mission for the social value created.  The author adds that social value TRANSCENDS economic value.  Our mission statements are the fuel providing psychological energy (Phills, 2005).  You can’t measure that kind of energy and for each person it can change over time.  My relationships to those social values has gotten deeper with more and more Restorative Justice expereinces.  I have gotten to know, to really know how these things work.  Stats are great, the power of the story is even better.

So I know this.  In my head and in my heart.  There is science (outcomes, stats, concrete things) and there is story (values, feelings, knowing).   This knowing doesn’t prevent me from being overly attached to a number.  The number is just over 115,000.  That’s the number of site visits to my blog, Circlespace.  I have recently moved from a long web address that includes wordpress, to a nice short web address of

Right now, the site stats have not transfered.  Last I checked, only 232 site visits on the new site.  I am not taking this well.  I found myself urgently explaining to my web contractor how I want to be blogging for Time and Newsweek and 200,000 is so much better than 200.  I caught myself, because I felt anxiety as I was telling her this.  I never started this blog to be blogging for Time or Newsweek.  I started this blog to help people with Restorative Justice, especially Circles.  I recognized my anxiety as a drift from my priorities.

The wonderful calm, technology person, pointed out my content transfered.  I realized things could be worse.  All 607 posts are available at  We are working on the subscriptions moving and potentially the statistic rank.  My lesson, for me, the one I am sharing here, is to remember there are many influences.  We need to remember our original intentions, not to get caught up in a number.

Consilience – the merging of knowings.  Using research, practice and values, overlap those Circles, and in the middle is truth.

The truth is, I get to think outloud emotionally and intelectually with the blog.  One of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, pointed this out in a recent blog bootcamp.  The ranking being 1 million or 10 doesn’t matter, if the benefit is my sense of helping, my social value OR the social value for one person, then this blog has purpose.  The story of this blog, as I have experienced it, is that it helps.  The story of this blog, is that it gets shared. I’ve been told it does provide value.

I value social value.  I found myself getting an attachment to a numeric value.  Blogging is a great way to clarify your values, I just literally told everyone about my journey.  I took a trip, I tripped up what I know, I attached to something different a number vs a value.

I’m telling you, to help you remember consilience – the merging of your knowing.  Find your truth in the center of research, practice and values.


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:


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.

Restorative Justice Circles create connections, effortlessly.

The feeling at the end of the Circle was explained as having a sense of “did I meet you before”?  I loved that, and I got it right away.  When you meet someone and realize you have shared values, common perspectives and a sense of safety, you feel a bond, a kinship.

Someone I think a lot of, and we think alike, offered “maybe we were Sisters, in a past life”.  I like that explanation as well, it really sums up that maybe our connection is something bigger and beyond the reality we can see, hear and feel right now.

I have to carefully navigate confidentiality here.  Something is in the news lately, and a few years ago, someone in Circle talked about being impacted by that situation.  Everyt ime I hear the news, I think back to this person, because of the shared Circle experience.  I feel more connected to the situation because I heard it from someone directly.  When you see eye ball to eye ball, and you hear right from someone’s mouth, you connect to it, because you witness it.

I believe Circles impact us biologically.  Our brains fire off good chemicals, we relax, our breathing slows down because we feel safe.  Our compassion and caring DNA gets to activate, depending on how much nurturing we had as a child.  The activity of connection, sharing and growing together leaves us different from when we start the process.  The creation of connections are effortless with Circle.

As a keeper of the process, lay the foundation, set the table, be in tune to the overall philosophy and hold it closely.  I planned an agenda, prepared a powerpoint and had a day-long training session ready to go.  A comment about my Circle center “mat” which is a crocheted doily, just came of out.

Image from:

I shared how a neighborhood Circle used a similar item, and someone in the Circle shared that if just one yarn breaks the whole piece will come unraveled.  Our communities should be the same and if we lose just one child, our community is unraveling.  I explained that a placemat for the talking pieces also creates something that shows the reverence for them, demonstrating they are special items.  I went on to add how a Circle Center reminds us to stay centered.

It wasn’t part of the agenda, the only part I had really planned was to do a Circle with the group.  In setting up the Circle I told a story, and stories help us connect to each other.  It was a brief offered opportunity, I didn’t get long winded (well from my perspective anyway), I stuck to the relevant and important facts.  That’s the effortless part.

When you can learn to speak, as if you are in Circle – picking the wise-est words, speaking from the heart, with positive intentions for others, how can people not connect.  Practice Restorative Justice principles and the connections to each other will be effortless.  Effortlessly building connections means people can learn more from each other and open themselves up to the places that need healing.  Someone you never met, can suddenly feel like someone you know.

Upcoming Conference on Kids, Courts and Schools – presenting a session: Kris Miner

The link will provide you the conference brochure and registration forms.

Kids, Courts & Schools September 29

I’m really excited about the pre-conference workshop for Judges, that will be promoting the use of Restorative Justice Circles!  I get to promote using community members as storytellers!  I will be writing a workbook to accompany the training and I plan to offer it on this site, so check back in October!

Why this restorative justice practioner crafts and cooks.

I just responded to an email, fighting back tears.  I sent out love and support to someone I haven’t met yet.  Haven’t met physically.  I’ve already met her on her life  journey, she and I connected over the dynamic of a parent who lost a child.  She is meeting her child’s friends and scattering her child’s ashes.  I began to choke up, composing a message back.  It is not just this loss that takes me to a place of pain, it is knowing so many stories.

I know a number of parents who have lost a child.  I talk with them in-depth about their stories, their pain, their experience.  I am speechless at the depth of grief.  I cannot hold back tears if I consider myself, for a moment, in their shoes.  I sit with each one and try to provide the best restorative justice I can.  I listen, I care, I try to help and be supportive, I try to understand, I hold them in my heart.  I think about that, I think about how much love they must need, just to keep breathing.  I give presence and witness and really all that I can give.

Volunteers that storytell about the loss of a child are miraculous.  They give the wisdom of their lived experience and they live something no parent should ever have to.  I love these people and yet I wish for each and every one that I didn’t know them (because that would mean their child was alive).   I know I need to stay strong for them, I run the program that is trying to help with healing.

I was listening to a Mom tell her story, and she was not one of the SCVRJP speakers.  Her son was killed in a traffic crash.  She spoke and I recognized some of the experiences, her pain was familiar to me, it was the “child-loss grief”.  I vicariously know “child-loss grief” and it is deep.  I began to cry for her pain, and I was overwhelmed with emotions during her presentation.  I couldn’t wipe away my stream of tears fast enough, I had to get up, get my purse and a tissue.  I think I got overwhelmed,  since the person sharing was not part of the SCVRJP Circle of parents, I was not in my service mode, and it was just time for me to do so grieving for them.

So I process grief by cooking and crafting.  After a series of Restorative Response Circles (talking about suicide) I made quiche, cheesecake and something else with cheese, I’m lactose intolerant, so that cost me a sick day at the end!  I have to keep my hands busy and my head slightly distracted.  Busy, busy, busy . . . find meaning, find meaning, find meaning.

Finding meaning is part of the journey to finding healing.  To “make” something of the loss by sharing the story is what some parents do.  I find them and they find me.  I find them Circles to tell the stories.  I bring back to them the stories of how their story impacted others.  But some days, when my tears are near the surface I know it is my turn to grieve.  It is time for me to cook or craft.

4 “inner” tools to do effective Restorative Justice Circle work.

We only know what we know and we can only do what we can do.  What we know and do translates to how we think and act (our behavior).

In a culture of safety, built by the values and structure of the talking piece, we can have new experiences of relating to one another.  A story told in this container, is transformative.  Psychology Today post, on how storytelling brings us together, our brains literally “sync up”.  To get people to a new way on “knowing” and “doing”.

How do you create these kinds of experiences?

I beleive it has a great deal to do with the work BEFORE the Circle, as much as the beginning of the Circle.

Tool 1 – Yourself.  Spend time thinking and learning about how you feel about power.  What do you need to leave behind to embrace, really, really embrace equality and sit in Circle with people.  A “hey we are all equal” mindset removes performance anxiety, equality with different roles, the keeper is guiding the process.  Guiding people to all be Keepers in the Circle, keeper means you care about the outcome for all above the outcome for one.

Self examine your actions in relation to power.  Sitting at the head of the table, is a power position.  Sitting in a chair that is higher up in elevation, standing outside the Circle or standing up when not necessary is a power position.  How do you hold your personal energy when Circle-keeping, it can influence the process.

Tool 2 – Preparation.  Take a moment to center yourself before you keep a Circle.  Kay Pranis and the book Peacemaking Circles, recommends this.  Even one deep sigh, to let go of you, clear the space in you, and remember it is the Circle.

The opening introduction you do is very important.  Find your paragraph, your elevator speech, the comfort of your words to explain restorative justice and Circles.  Consider your audience.  Ask a friend or partner to listen, practice it alone in the car.  Gedi master this part!

The way you set it up is a big responsibility, it sets the tone.  Think of setting a table, you put out the tablecloth, the lines, the silverware, the center piece.  Lay the foundation for the philosophy, explain the ideas and concepts.  Explain the structure and tools.

Tool 3 – Values.  We don’t talk a great deal about values, introducing the concept can be tricky.  I teach a back door method of thinking about a person you are close with, then identifying the value.  (I know I have more detailed blog posts on this).  Going straight at it, I think we get “social mask” answers.  By going at it by a relationship, you get real life examples.  It can be hard to explain this, practice is needed here.

Tool 4 – Growth.  Ask for feedback and input.  Circle keeping, done well, leaves everyone in the Circle, including you different.  Practice this by bringing your whole heart to the Circles you sit in on.  Get in Circle by creating them, or attending them.  Find space to practice your habits and the gifts of the Circle will be in your hands and heart.

The collective issue and the individual experience, promoting healing and tranformation.

Our communities are faced with a variety of issues.  Our local non-profit St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice ( works to address teen driving, underage drinking, impaired driving, crime and conflict in the community and schools. SCVRJP recently began services to help with issues around suicide, providing prevention, intervention, and postvention services.

The unique aspect of how Restorative Justice works is the involvement of stories.  An individual impacted deeply by the collective concerns is brought in to storytell with those at the cusp of a risky behavior.

A recent presentation (LTC Cynthia Rasmussen) on trauma provided this valuable insight:

The burned hand teaches best.  After that, advice about fire goes straight to the heart.

Burned hand: your experience.  Advice about fire: someone else’s story.

Storytelling is healing.  Storylistening is transformative.

Restorative Justice Circles set people up to be in a safe place.  Structure is safe, values are safe, taking turns is safe. 

I know Circles work.  I enjoy finding places that validate that our brains are involved as much as our heart.  This slideshare by Share Bowman, is a great learning tool.  If you haven’t viewed that slideshare please do! (

I think Restorative Justice Circles are all the things, that make us remember!

Circles are a novelty, a new experience.  No two Circles are EVER alike, so that also makes the experience different, even if the process is the same.  Where else do you sit in Circle no tables, face people and get to talk about things like values, experiences and in an non-judgemental environment?

The contrast Sharon defines as “things that are in contrast to what came before”.  The reflection round in Circle often includes “i thought this was going to be us getting yelled at”, “I thought we were just going to watch video’s”, “I didn’t know you were going to listen to me”.

Meaningful and emotional are the last two elements Bowman identified as attention grabbers for our brains.  Circles are meaningful because the way they engage people.  Stories evoke our emotions because we “feel” what the person storytelling is feeling.  Our brains have mirror neurons, and in Circle we are facing each other, sharing our experiences and making meaning of our lives.

I have a two day Circle Training this week.  I love hosting the two-day Circle and helping people learn this process.  The Bowman resources will be a nice addition to our curriculum and further reason why Circles WORK!

Restorative Justice Circles, congruent with evidence-based trauma support treatments.

The training title:

Understanding and Treating Traumatized Youth: An Integrated, Evidence-Based Approach

 The training was provided by Cross Country Education (

We learned that trauma treatment has 3 phases (originated by Judith Herman).  The first phase is Safety & Stabilization.  One technique was to use the senses to calm and ground, touch, for example was giving the young person something to hold, squishy, cold, prickly.

I immediately thought of the safety established in Circle, and how some students gravitate to the squishy, playful talking pieces.  Safety is when the enviroment is free from threats.  Circles ground us with an opening, and predictability.  We know how this works, it is structured with a talking piece, and the guidelines/values for how we will relate.  Everyone makes a committment to those values.  We know people will be trying to do their best.

I realized that the squishy ball, the playful talking pieces work as well as any.  Sometimes we have fun, stretching and shaking the green fringe ball other times, you forget the person is even holding a toy.  You forget because you are so drawn into the sharing.  Youth consistently out share, what adults would have expected.  If that adult is unfamiliar with Circle.  Even in all the Circles I have been part of, sometimes I am amazed at the disclosure.

This ties into the 2nd evidence based strategy congruent with Restorative Justice, storytelling.  We learned how storytelling helps move the trauma in your brain.  From non-language reptilian center, to the cortex area that includes language. 

I have an ego and I was enjoying the training because it was reinforcing.  The day before I was telling a speaker about his amygdala, being the shape of almonds!  He said mine might be almonds, but his are peas!  We shared a laugh, but he understood my explanation of sharing his story. 

In 2009 trainer Frida Rundell, Ph.D. gave us almonds, and explained our amygdala and I STILL have those very almonds!  I was at the IIRP conference and the session was sharing how restorative justice changes the brain!  I thought about “change of behavior, by a change of brain“!  I’ve stuck with change of heart!

Did you know trauma can make our DNA express itself differently?  It is called epigenetic changes.  Scientists stressed a pregnant rat enough that her pups were born with gray fur (instead of white).  I think about the trauma of domestic violence.  I am motivated to try to bring the healing components of restorative justice to survivors.

I am also a bit skeptical about all this pressure and emphasis on “evidence-based”.  Common sense should prevail.  We don’t have “evidence” of a higher power – however we know that can have a huge impact on people.  Can we create studies that help us?  I think yes.  Can we generalize that what evidence worked in New York City will work in Africa, just because it is “evidence-based”?  It frustrates me.

We put all this stock in the evidence.  The DSM (diagnostic Statistical Manual) is THE book, that gives you the criteria for mental health.  The book has a V -code for Bereavement – apparently if it lasts more than 2 months, you have a problem.  Really?  I mean really?  It seems to me we all know, it takes more than 2 months.  I get that people develop symptoms that become issues.  My point is that we all KNOW it takes more than 2 months.  If we rely exclusively on evidence based, we dismiss our common sense, our hard-earned professional wisdom and we aren’t helping each other as humans.  I prefer the model blogged on here.