Restorative Justice Circles – the real deal can be done at all health levels.

Public Health levels include promotion, prevention and treatment – primary, secondary, tertiary levels. Restorative Justice Circles work at these levels as well, re-affirm (primary) relationships, rebuild (secondary) relationships and repair (tertiary) relationships, an outcome for every level.

Restorative Justice Circles, can be used at each level and when promoting a culture change, as in a school, they need to be used at all levels.

Once the skills of keeping a “real deal”, Restorative Justice Circle are gained, exploring and finding ways to utilize Circles will be easily obtained and those Circles will be successful.

Each training I do, builds upon earlier training sessions. After 6 years of training,in our community, SCVRJP has successfully implemented Circles. We used to talk as a board of wanting to “embed the philosophy”. The University of Wisconsin, River Falls, has a student position – where the PEACE – PEER EMPOWERMENT & COMMUNITY EDUCATION program, has a Circle-keeper!

This is a monumental and awesome thing! I am feeling proud of the work of SCVRJP and the partnership with the UWRF campus. So I want to promote using Circles effectively!

I mention the “real deal” in my blog title.

Simply using a talking piece, is not a Restorative Justice Circle. Link here for Covey’s definition of a Talking Piece. Restorative Justice Circles, as brought from the Yukon, to the US, based in first nations/indigenous work include: Ceremony (Open/Close), Guidelines (Values), Talking Piece, Consensus, Storytelling, Keeper and the 4 stages of Circle.

There are other Circles – great stuff from the West Coast, Christina Baldwin, PeerSpirit Circles. That style returns the talking piece to the Center, and includes a monitor that would ring a chime or bell to keep on topic. Those two elements are different than a Restorative Justice Circle.

Restorative Circle – work has 3 stages, Restorative Justice Circles, 4 stages. I am not sure if a talking piece is used in the Restorative Circle format. From what I have read the emphasis is on the process, and with Restorative Jusitce Circles, the values and stages are key.

Restorative Justice Circles, the Circles at SCVRJP always include diverse participants, meaning people with different perspectives. Some label needed, a person harmed, a person who caused harm and community perspective. The diversity allows for the exploration and perspectives to come from different places. Solutions to repair the harm can then come from different perspectives.

Keepers in Restorative Justice Circles have to become skilled at neutral language, engaging audiences from different perspectives. I think a way to not being judged is to not be judgemental. I was co-presenting and sharing the stage with another Circle keeper. My co-presenter said “I’m not touchy-feely”, I was smiling because just before that she had been explaining how you move back to easier questions if people start to pass. I call that monitoring the emotional climate of the Circle. It doesn’t matter, if you are touchy-feely or not, what matters is that you have a skill in keeping. Keeping is about safety, and making it safe for people to trust, open up and share. Keeping is also getting people to be safe in silence, in the silence to listen.

Circle keeping from the depths of your humanity.

Thank you Webster dictionary on-line.  Humanity:  The totality of human beings.  Human Beings are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.  I believe that Circle keeping is most effective when the keeper is working towards a balance and wellness.  I say working towards – cause we grow and learn every single day.

Circle keeping is the manner and method of guiding the process of a Restorative Justice Circle.  Anyone can tell other people what to do.  Facilitation techniques separate you from the group.  The elements of power are important in Circle keeping.  Using the power of love rather than the power of authority.  It takes practice in this.  What you are doing is using a strength, often initially perceived as weakness.  Being vulnerable and creating space for others to do the same is really intentional behavior.

I write about this because of a recent experience.  I was able to get feedback from Kay Pranis and Jennifer Ball.  Kay, author of Peacemaking Circles and the Little Book of Circle process.  Jennifer Ball, co-authored Doing Democracy with Circles (with Kay and Wayne Caldwell).  Links take you to Living Justice Press, where these are also available as E-books!

I was excited to meet Jennifer, and knew she would bring gifts to being part of the Circle.  I love Kay, she has been a teacher, guide, mentor, inspiration for years.  I managed to stay calm about conducting the Circle, by just remembering how I know Circle.  By remembering this is about the Circle, Kay will be a wonderful community participant.  There really is no control of a Circle or the outcomes.  You REALLY do need to trust the process.

It was a good Circle.  One young man, after hearing the story, got up and shook the storytellers hand.  That was so significant because a change of heart (which I always say leads to a change of behavior) happened right there in front of us.  I could go on about what I saw that went well, I will go on about Keeping Circle.

Humanity is the realization we are all the same.  Humanity is a gracious space of connectedness, and connectedness means inclusion.  I’ve been asked about the words I used that night.  The feedback has been that my keeping was smooth and flowed.  I’m thankful, relieved and proud of the work that SCVRJP has evolved into doing.  I’ve been intentional about keeping our Circles very close to core values and the core elements of the process.  I believe that we have created a community of practice – Circles that are invitational, non-judgemental and transformative.  The feedback on the keeping was reflective of this collective.

If you connect to the collective, the core values and elements of Circle, your keeping will come from the depths of your humanity.  Keeping from that place, produces the magic and mystery that is Circle.

To argue is to be heard. Find the arguement and facilitate Restorative Justice.

One of my all time favorite bloggers is Penelope Trunk.  I like her because I emailed her a career question and she answered me.  In addition, she’s a great blogger role model.  In reading her post today, I followed a link about “social skydiving” .  I checked that out, Trunk consistently provides interesting links.  I found myself in “blog-trance”, reading post after post, clicking on the “most popular” or “others you might like”.  Blog-trance is like story-trance, you are glued to the topic, interested, time doesn’t matter.  Some may call it “flow“.  Then I found this gem, on the new blog: 

People argue to make themselves heard.

That’s a good quote.  In the middle of a discussion about energy vampires, the truth of an argument is that seldom do people go “oh, ya, your right”.  Of course the backdrop of my mind is Restorative Justice.  I thought about the teacher that shared student behavior has improved because the kids are “heard” in Circle.  They don’t need to act out for attention.

This You Tube is a TERRIBLE example of a Circle.  There is SOOOOOO much wrong with it.  However, if you watch it you will see that at the end, the “reason” for the bully behavior.  The student shares in the end, outside of Circle, why she behaves as she does.  PLEASE NOTE – what is portrayed in the video is NOT a Restorative Justice Circle!

The reason I link to this example is that – listening did not happen first.  When you do a Restorative Justice Circle – you start with setting the stage.  You bring in values, you establish some communication before the incident.  I believe doing this sets us up to be listened to.  By speaking about other items before the critical conversation – trust and safety emerge.

It is amazing what emotional hot topics can be placed into Circle.  When people listen to each other a transformation happens.  I’ve heard many victims, acknowledge that the Circle itself is “repair” enough.  By finding what the argument is, before going into the Circle – you can uncover what people need to be “listened” about.  Pre-conference meetings are important.  If you are doing this in schools, make SURE your students are familiar with the process BEFORE trying it on a conflict or argument.  Be very skilled yourself as a keeper – if you move in to help in these kinds of Circles.

I turned a controlled substance class around using this.  Those attending began to speak to justifications about their substance use, and the negative “misconceptions” about pot use.  So I picked up the talking piece and gave space for people to speak to the stereotypes of pot smokers.  I let the participants be “heard” and they stopped arguing.  They turned to listening, and when our speaker (during the addressing issue stage) shared his story, the relationship to pot was seen in a different light.  We went on to talk about the cycle from non-use, to use, abuse, addiction and back to non-use.  I asked the Circle about their experiences and sure enough, they all had examples that made the case that pot can destroy lives and have negative impact.  The participants themselves taught the topic to each other.  That’s the amazing thing about Restorative Justice, engage those most impacted and they can impact each other.  Just listen enough to stop the argument.

Guiding Circles to provide a place of “freedom of healing”.

I stick to the 4 phases of Circles.  Our Circlespace Room at the Restorative Justice Center even has them on the wall.  I got to chat a bit with someone else who keeps Circle and we found a few places to keep to these phases.

Circlespace at Restorative Justice Center

A few tips to dig deeper into the Circle process.  Try not to do the same types of questions for every phase.  You can even get creative in modifying what you might say to into the Circle, by the participants level of engagement.

For example, you can tell people they can pass.  That is a tool of the talking piece.  But following it up with a little perspective about Circles being by invitation, you are invited to share.  Or that we set it up to be non-judgemental so we can all share openly.  I often cover that this is a confidential, safer than usual space.
My daughter also recently advised me, I should say “speak from the heart” instead of “use your wisest words”.  The wise words one is a way to ask others to speak without insult or offending someone else.  She thought is sounded preachy.  The tips

In a Circle meeting multiple times, we used our values plates from the last Circle.  I instructed people to either the one that appeared on the top or to reach in the stack and late fate decide.  They could also just look and pick one.   We were going to share how that value (the one on the plate) has been experienced in our life.

We set the tone for building relationships by speaking how we were impacted by the last Circle we had, what did we carry with over the week.  This built our relationships by sharing that we are making a difference to each other.  This gave our Circle the opportunity to value each and every person.

I used a question from one of our written surveys, “how would you describe this experience to a friend”.  This built up our understanding of each others perspectives of the process.  It again let us know how much we were doing for each other.  One simple response was “freedom and healing”.

We had our storytelling time, which is the addressing issues stage.  Following stories we always do a reflection on the story.  You have to role model this one, remind people with your direct and indirect words, to share from their own perspectives.  I might mention that using “I” and “me” are more reflective.  People often have the first response to thank the person who shared and then want to offer their own advice, feedback and those things get closer to judgement that a Circle is designed to be.  If you are saying “you” in Circle you might need to shift a little.

I directed people to another Circle on the way, the one that listed our intended outcomes:  Restore Connections – Improve Self-worth – Promote Empathy.  I asked people to share how they have been impacted relative to those 3 or any others.  This was really interesting to hear how many people felt an increase of self-worth.  I was glad to see such expressed shifts as a result of being in Circle.

Our closing to dig a bit deeper was to identify the person 3 people to your left.  The round was going to be saying the person’s name, and then “my wish for you is ____”.  The blank could only be 1 word.  I got to hear “Kris, my wish for you is Love.”  We went around the Circle, and the wishes went around, and people got a moment to soak in the wish they recieved before sharing a wish (with the 2 people in between).  It was wonderful that we wanted peace, confidence, optimism, gratitude and things that really allowed the person sharing and listening to interpret for themselves.

Great Circles inspire me.  People leading and learning and sharing in this process really makes you feel connected to humanity.  If you haven’t had a chance, give it a try.


Restorative Justice Circles provide a feeling of importance.

Do you like to feel like you are important?  Gosh I do and I like to provide that to other people as well.  Not the important as in arrogance, but feeling important like you matter and make a difference.

A recent Circle “newbie” described that the Circle made her feel important.  It was a Circle of many new people to the process, an adult or two and a mixture of high school and middle school students.

One of the teachings I highlight in Circle training is “unexpected enlightenment” meaning being open to others stories, thoughts and experiences as a way to our own personal growing and learning as people.  I am always trying to be open.  If you catch a lesson in your net you can pass it along to others.

I am passing along how valuable Circles are in making people feel important.  Circles give everyone equal value and equal opportunity to share.  Circles give equal contribution options, equal distance from the Center and from each other.  The stage is set for everything the Circle does to be important, as it engages all of us.

Victims and bystanders feel important because they are given a space and platform to speak.  Restorative Justice focuses on the impact.  You are important because how you were impacted is relevant.  Speaking about how you are impacted gives the opportunity to put the experience outside of you and inside a Circle of people listening and witnessing.

Contribution feels important.  If I am not asked for my voice, I don’t even think of it as being important.  Everyone gets asked in Circle.  I also align and inform people at the beginning, speak to the Center, use your wise words (not to insult or put down others) and speak from the heart.  So many times repeating what we think others want to hear or saying the answer that will not cause problems comes to mind.  Just recently I was thinking of what to say, and was going to ask if people wanted the honest response or the one that would keep the meeting going smoothly.

Back to my Circle “newbie” and Circles with middle school students.  Gosh do they ever need to feel important.  Like is in such transition.  I must admit, as it got closer and closer to the presentation of 80 middle school students, I began to worry.  I was shocked at how well-behaved they were in general.  Additionally, I was equally impressed and happy to experience the adultness of their Circle behavior.  They really took to it and respected the values, respected each other and opened up when given the opportunity.

It was one of my spontaneous moves, to be asked for a Circle demonstration and say “YES!”.  We got plates from the kitchen for the values, my coworker and I both got talking pieces from our purses.  One student leader had her Circle training manual from our session 10 months ago, used an opening reading from that!  We did a fish bowl, and 70 students stood around the dozen of us in Circle.  It was a career snapshot moment! 

A simple reflection at the end of Circle from a student involved . . . “the Circle made me feel important”.  Wa-la and that is the power of Circle!