Restorative Justice Circles help people practice being their best.

I was a little worried about how the Underage Consumption Panel was going to go.  One of our community members in the Circle was a local Judge.  A supporter of Restorative Justice, but this was going to be his first bonafide Circle experience.  Of course I wanted it to go very well.  Each Circle is unique to the participants, to the topic and to the level of intimacy of which things are expressed.

For me to feel like I have done a good job keeping a circle, I look for people to be opening up, deeper than they expected.  I hope the stories exchanged help people address their own behaviors.  When we decide for ourselves to make a change, it tends to stay around.  We are all motivated by different factors.  However, I think our own level of self-determination sets the stage for sustained change.

I look for expressions in my Circles, that people are being insightful, honest, open.  Because the Circles wade you into relationships with others, (the four stages: getting acquainted, building relationships, addressing issues, taking action) you can test being your best.  Listening teaches empathy.  When you are listened to and cared for it brings out your compassion.  When we are in a place of empathy and compassion, it helps you be your best.  You can hardly hold two emotions at the same time (those darned emotions are complicated).  Defenses are down when empathy and compassion are up.  Judgement is down, when you are feeling empathy and compassion.  You learn more about others in a way that lends to perspective about yourself, when . . . empathy and compassion are present, you can just be a better person than you were 20 seconds ago.  I love that sense in Circle, that we are relating to each other in this manner.  Circle makes it so easy to be a better person, because we talk one at a time.

I remind people when I set up my Circles, when you don’t have the talking piece is as equally as important as when you do.  I ask for listening for understanding.

Like every Circle, we focused on values.  Relationship values identified by the participants including the Judge (who to the Circle was a community member).  The college age students who had recieved drinking tickets or sanctions to attend were the primary focus of the Circle.  Our discussion was guided by restorative justice principles,  restorative justice stories and a booklet called CHOICES, from the Change Companies (

Before the session started, I had prepared the Judge like any community member.  We provide a powerpoint outline, that explains the philosophy or Restorative Justice and Circles.  I sent him the Mission, Vision and Values sheet we use.  He arrived early so I could brief him on other elements of volunteering and participating in Circle.  He was the volunteer who helped register people.  He followed my lead, by making quick introductions, being welcoming, collecting the session fee and guiding participants to the next area of making a name tag and getting seated in Circle.

The Judge commented to me how organized the process was.  I explained that it was for him.  Volunteers, feel more relaxed knowing what to expect.  Our agency model is to help everyone be their best.  He smiled and I could tell felt confident that at SCVRJP we know what we are doing.

The Circle was great.  The stories emerged from the participants, they all indicated the class was much better than expected, before the round about a ‘public committment’ they were expressing statements about changing future behavior.  I was happy that it went well, and that the Judge saw a good process.  He commented to me that experiencing it really is the only way to understand it.  I smiled.

However, I found another great indicator from that class.  I think each participant felt good about themselves and the process.  The evaluation form has a open question, “what did you like least?”  we typically hear about the cost in this section.  After this class, not one single mention about how much the class cost.  That really made me feel good.  Of course having a Judge appreciate your service, that’s a priceless sigh relief as well!

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.

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.

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


Really, a “beer summit”, please! Underage drinking is a international health care issue! Besides Restorative Justice would have been better!

I recently returned from the Northwest Alcohol Conference.  Law enforcement, coalition members, educators and prevention specialist came together to address underage drinking and impaired driving.  I was re-energized about this issue.

Underage drinking kills more young people than all other drugs combined!  From MADD to the Distillers themselves: Century Council, community changes are being called for.  The Surgeon General issued a call to action about this PUBLIC Health issue.

There are so many things being done – – educating parents, reducing advertising, restricting access.  From signs that say “Serve Kids, Serve Time” to garbage trucks covered in a logo:  Underage Drinking Trashes the Teen Brain.

For friends here in Wisconsin – we are a mess leading the nation in pregnant women that drink, binge drinking amoung high school students and drunk driving!  Check out this flyer for details and the source:  AWARE.

Know this . . . I love our President.

Know this . . . I am aware of messages to youth about drinking!  A ‘beer-summit’ to deal with the ‘brew-haha’ . . . PLEASE!?

The brew-ha ha, is the white cop arresting a black man.  The black guy was “breaking in” to his own house, and a neighbor called the cops.  Two different versions from the cop and the black guy – both saying the other made racial remarks.  Bad enough, then the President said the cops were “stupid” (I think – something similiar anyway).  The resolution – a beer summit.

Now the American beer makers are upset – no American beer represented.  I am disappointed my counter parts in prevention aren’t sending up fireworks.  So I will!

What the hell?  The St. Paul Pioneer Press print version featured a photo of the 4 glasses of beer, identifying who had what.  The men were not even in the picture!  They just had the table with the 4 mugs of beer. 

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The Pioneer Press article went on to say that only Obama would have thought to bring them together.  Another, angry sigh from me, “oh please, the thousands of Restorative Justice practitioners thought of that!  I know I’m not the only one”.

The getting together is just fine.  The beer is not.  It would have been even better if they would have used a dialogue or a format.  To reduce it down to a few guys having a beer at the end of the day . . .  well I don’t what that really did for race relations over all.  What about moving ahead?

To me, the way I handle situations were we have 2 offenders and 2 victims (which does happen – you can have both in one incident) – explain what you were thinking at the time, what have you thought about since and who was impacted.

Do Crowley and Gates even know or understand this?  Their lives are FOREVER changed – neither one will get to fade back to life before the “incident”.  You can’t put back a cut down tree!  Whenever the ‘White House’ is involved, you just don’t go back to who you were before.  Monica Lewinsky.  (that was just an example of White House involvement, not going back to before)

So my point is this . . . Restorative Justice would have been a nicer route.  To actually have had a ‘purpose’ for the meeting.  The hype over the beer – that was a poor choice.  I know, they are all over 21 . . . but come on . . .  nice role modeling.

Small acts of kindness go a long way – and Restorative Justice is effective for being personal.

I am in beautiful Boise Idaho.  The 2nd Annual Northwest Alcohol Conference – it’s already seeming like it will be a good conference.  Last night in our hotel room, my daughter and I were starteled by a knock at the door.  Surely, they must have the wrong room, “I have a delivery for you”.  What!?  I spent a little time with an ex boyfriend, would he send something?

It was a basket of goodies from conference director!  Welcoming me, thanking me for presenting and the basket was full of Idaho produced items.  We had a water bottle, teas, chocolates, cinnamon flavor popcorn.  I got an example postcard and bookmark, reminding people underage that even one drink is impairment.  The sentiment was the most fun!  My daughter and I camped out on her bed, looked all the items over.  Before we left the airport, we heard about the Idaho candy potato.  Potato shaped marshmallow covered in chocolate, rolled in coconut, we examined it but didn’t taste.

So I am here to present on using Restorative Justice to address Underage Drinking and Drunk Driving.  My source is going to be the success of the SCVRJP underage consumption panels and victim impact panels.  I’ll use the data that we collect at these panels, the evaluation forms, which shows that people feel strongly immediately after the class.  The make strong public statements of behaving differently.  I believe they work.  I strongly and firmly believe in Restorative Justice.

I am trying to work out another diversion program.  I’ve been negotiating with our local district  attorney/prosecutor, I was more of the case and sooner.  I’d like the diversion program to mean a few less court appearance.  I’d like the community conference outcomes to be ahead not behind what is finally “ordered”, so that our conference ‘work’ is endorsed by the court.  See I am working on making waves and not rocking the boat.  For me, ideally, there would not be one court hearing – you would go to Restorative Justice and if that didn’t work – the traditional system.  PLEASE NOTE – I am not talking about violent crimes.  I am talking about ‘car shopping’, smoking pot, fighting at school, drunken destruction of property.  Things that I think a good session of Restorative Justice and those in attendance (community members) could monitor any obligations (community service, restitution). 

See when Restorative Justice and the formal system address crime – similar outcomes can be listed, like community service.  That makes sense you right a wrong.  The formal system does it to punish, and Restorative Justice does it to repair.  We give the lesson with the support of other people, personally.

I was on the phone with a young person who had called the Center to sign up for an underage class.  I said, “who sent you here”, he said “the courts”.  I laughed a little (we work with 7 different courts).  His view is of “authoritative agency” – not a person.  After last nights Underage class . . . you can bet every single kid there knows that Catherine, Kyle, Gerry and Max care.  If you asked who was at Restorative Justice – they say a name, a person.  Okay, sometimes they forget the name, but they don’t forget the story.  “the guy that talked about killing his friend, man that was heavy, he’s really strong”.

So why does Restorative Justice work so well . . . because it’s personal!  Personal makes all the difference.  That gift basket – worth its weight in GOLD – because it was a small, random, unnecessary act of kindness.  The added touch gave me a sense of “belonging” and being part of the conference.  Sitting with volunteer community members because they “care” is also a small and random act of kindness.  Yet, very necessary because it is really makes a difference in helping people turn things around!

St Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program – innovative and outstanding!

I’ve got to explain something about  St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice.

We are cutting edge, awesome.  We have taken the Restorative Justice Circle process and applied to two key public health issues – underage drinking and safe teen driving.

We are now offering copies of our MN Public Television Program – the documentary On the Road Together: Safe Teen Driving.  The DVD can be purchased for $15 plus S & H.  If requested a Circle keeping guide to be used after viewing the DVD is available for an additional $10.

This post includes more on the Safe Teen Driving Circles and a link to short video.  This blog contains a specific category for posts on Safe Teen Driving Circles.

If you are looking for a new program to fund, evaluate or research – let’s talk!

SCVRJP is having some positive, positive feedback.  Using Restorative Justice and community members – these programs are creating change.

Both Underage Consumption Panels and Safe Teen Driving Circles are low-cost to implement – for great return.  Please contact us if your agency would be interested in hosting a training session.  Train-the-trainer programming is being developed!

The really Restorative Mantra . . . Judge None.

Judge None.

Two very simple words.  I like to play around and develop catch phrases for Restorative Jusitce.  I try to keep my “elevator speech” fresh and I try to keep a good batch of Restorative Jusitce “bumper stickers” handy.  About 6 months ago I came up with Judge None as a concept point.  I was doing a volunteer/speaker training.  I knew in the room I would have victims and offenders, willing to speak for SCVRJP.  I started the session with this concept.  It came to mean even more by the end of that Circle and even more today.

The discussion point I was working on, was encouraging speakers not to judge listeners by their body language.  I explained that for some people, what is going on in the inside, is not always apparent on the outside.  Some people lack skill in aligning what they are feeling with what they are projecting.

Another example is the person who is having their defenses broken down.  Whose heart is being touched.  They may defensively respond with negative behavior.  Maybe they have no idea how to act when they feel shame, or overwhelmed.  The point is you cannot judge someone.  Think how sad you are when you cry, or emotionally touched, yet our faces contort like we swallowed a lemon and we never want anyone to see us.

In the training that day, after I talked about not making judgements on listeners, the talking piece was passed.  A story emerged.  The speaker talked about how he was one of those people that sat slumped in his chair.  He didn’t want to be hearing the speakers, he was court ordered to attend.  He came he did it and he left.  He explained how then he couldn’t stop thinking about it.  How his awareness grew, his cousin died from drinking and driving, another family member committed suicide while under the influence.  He was so moved by the Restorative Justice experience, he came to volunteer.  He was now in the training to become a storyteller.  (this person has been a consistent volunteer for 8 months).  In this same Circle, when an experienced speaker heard this, she was completely moved by knowing her storytelling had that powerful of an impact.  All relationships are bilateral.

You can see people blossom in Circle.  Kids will start out, hood down, body language shut down.  Some start with one word answers, and you wonder if they will come around.  At the end they had the most profound change.  You just can’t judge what is happening on the inside by what you see on the outside.

One of our volunteers said something to me, about a particular person in a Circle.  It wasn’t very kind.  I felt bad for a few things.  One the volunteer let that person dictate the Circle experience he had.  When you measure something by what you percieve that someone else did or didn’t get out of it – – your making judgements.  In restorative justice ‘judge none’.  What this volunteer did not know, was that the person he spoke of – – stayed later than everyone else and continued to write out his evaluation comments.  And the feedback was all positive, insightful and appreciative.  From what the volunteer said, this didn’t match up.

The volunteer didn’t stay for the typical volunteer debriefing session.  When you help out as a community member, we have to stay and share in reading evalutions.  Our community members are part of the program, they get to review these.  It increases their investment in the outcome.  The debriefing after this Circle, was like many . . . you have amazing written feedback from someone who didn’t know how to give it verbally and socially in the Circle.

Someone that was acting like he didn’t care – wrote how much he appreciated the community members – and what he didn’t like was that he thought some other people weren’t taking the community members serious.

Supportive, kind, loving, caring enviornments they help people change.  The best way to support is to let go of judgements.  Judge None.  Because just like a seed in the ground, you can’t see when change is taking root.

I shared the written feedback with the volunteer, and clarified staying around after a session to debrief.  As it turns out, the volunteer was feeling like time might have been wasted on someone who didn’t get it.  The feedback really helped the community member feel better.  Lessons learned in supporting community member in understanding others.

Judge None.

RJ to law enforcement and prevention.

Here at SCVRJP, we have a few really awesome cutting edge initiatives.  Of course I maybe a little biased – I had a lot to do with each of these programs.

The first is our Underage Consumption Panels, search this site for posts that mention underage.  Anyone who is issued an underage age consumption ticket from Law Enforcement will be referred to this program.  We have our Circuit Court and local Municipal Courts feeling confident in our program.  I work hard to maintain being a good partner.  It’s all about relationships.

So now . . . with all the issues around Underage Drinking, which really is a crisis.  FACE resources are recommended.  SCVRJP has been doing Underage and Restorative Justice since the fall of 2006.  So we have seen what works.  Our local courts and Judges find in helpful.  One Judge said this to me in the coffee shop:  “I don’t know what you’re doing, it must be working, because we aren’t seeing them back again”. 

So now I get to present this program at a Conference in Idaho.  The focus is on bringing Law Enforcement ant Prevention workers together.  Northwest Alcohol Conference.  I find this really exciting.  I am looking forward to having our program duplicated around the country.  I was on the phone last week with a worker New York, she was moving in the direction of Restorative Justice for Alcohol programming and then found our program.

I have also found that when police officers are exposed to Restorative Justice, it helps them.  It helps them understand offenders.  It helps them see what happens after their role is done.  I have a few cop friends.  I like them to be a bit synical and go after the “bad guys”.  To be punitive for punitive sake, that doesn’t fit so well.  I also don’t believe that “bad guys” are as many as we think.  (different post).

Back to our programs.  The second one to mention that brings Restorative Justice to Prevention and Law Enforcement is Safe Teen Driving Circles.  The link is the search from today, you may want to search the blog, if you are reading this after 3-20-09. 

The Safe Teen Driving Circles as of today have 100% of the participants reported that the speaker had a “great deal” of impact.  We are focusing on the number one cause of death for young people 16-24, car crashes.

Recently our local Police Department turned over a Driver Improvement Class to SCVRJP.  Now an officer will be part of our Circle, able to answer any questions.  This is a collaboration and collaborations are what transform communities.  It’s not individuals it collective groups of people.

A brief overview of Circle Stages – notes from ’07

I’m cleaning out the office.  I am moving my book writing area from home to the office.  My office space is packed to capacity.  So it’s time to rearrange, and clean things out.  I found a page of  notes I made for a training.  These notes are my ideas on explaining what happens at each of the 4 Restorative Justice Circle Stages.

Getting Acquainted– Setting Intention and Tone.  Bringing a transition in from Individual to Community.  Practice Listening.

Building Relationships – The unfolding of stories, connecting to others, realizing we are more alike than different.

Addressing Issues– Problem Solving and Conflict Resolution

Taking Action– Transformation, leaving with new perspectives, reflection time on the the Circle.  Identifying of the tasks or change to take place.

My notes also identify the components of Service LearningPlan, Implement, Reflect.  SCVRJP helps students at UWRF in completing Service Learning Requirements, and we do this with Circle Process.

Are you a Circlekeeper?  Do you use these stages?