The field of Restorative Justice has really grown. Thank goodness for the communication tools of documentaries, articles, mainstream media. I can’t wait for a participant to become the next Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey and lend support to the movement! Recently we’ve seen New York Times Magazine (Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice), Huffington Post (Restorative Justice is NOT Forgiveness), Today Show, and then further webinar discussion with Howard Zehr, to discuss and refine our skills sets.
There is not 1 standard agreed upon, definition of Restorative Justice, which can make it confusing. There is not one single specific process. Many of my older blogs try to offer resources and parameters for Restorative Justice, much specific to Restorative Justice Circles. In case you’ve missed them, or you are new to the blog, here are the posts that help clarify what RJ looks like: typology posts, real restorative justice.
My work has been “informed” since 1998, when I was first training in Real Justice, from IIRP (International Institute of Restorative Practices). In 2002, I was in Circle Training with Kay Pranis, followed by training with Jamie and Oscar, Linda Wolf. For more of this time of “informed” work, my resume.
The type of “informed” work that influences practitioners, the topic of this blog, comes down to the way we carry our own sorrow. I think this impacts the manner and approach with we use with victims, offenders, and community members. From the range of simple to extremely complex cases, our own sorrows (and the grace of which we carry sorrow) comes along to our facilitation experiences. The experiences we have a facilitator also inform our ability to carry sorrow with grace.
At a meeting of severe crime and violence victim-offender dialogue facilitator, after staffing a facilitator briefly reflected “it is like holding two spirits in your hands”. I later affirmed her approach, and respect the deep grace she does her work. Severe crime cases transform you as an individual, you walk along side people, hear deep suffering. This article about Healing Burnout, focused on Mindfulness Communication, which includes discussing “being with suffering”. This way of being with suffering, when you facilitate a process of severe crime, can cause to you need deep self-care, in order to avoid or address burnout. How we handle these as practitioners informs how we facilitate and handle further cases.
After seeing two young women embrace, one grieving 3 families members, the others grieving the remorse of driving the car that caused the crash that took those three lives. After the dialogue, before leaving the room, these two hugged. They embraced in tears and what filled the room was beyond words. I could feel it, I can hardly speak of it without choking up. That informed by work, and I saw a forgiveness path chosen by participants. This experience led me to realize a greater depth of forgiveness.
I recently heard a tape recording of my Mothers voice. She died in 1988, and the recording was from a family Christmas in the 70’s. That gift touched my grief and sorrow for my Mother. I realized the grace needed for people who have lost loved ones, especially due to a criminal act, must learn to carry the sorrow. Carrying our sorrow, in a way that is compassionate, allows us to hold that kind of compassion for others. When we take our suffering and move that to compassion for our selves and others, we are carrying the energy and potential that Restorative Justice brings.
It is deep work, to help an offender through minimizing, blaming, justifying to get to the heart of behavior. To do this in a way that maintains the self-worth, and the capacity to be a loving human being, is a skill set. I believe the skills comes from a spacious heart. To help victims, with voice, needs, decisions, preparation also takes a grace and a space in our hearts. Some times the space we use in our hearts is the space carved from our own suffering.