How to use Peacemaking Circle assumptions for Restorative Justice facilitation.

The Peacemaking Circle assumptions, published in Circle Forward and Heart of Hope:

  1. The True Self in Everyone Is Good, Wise, and Powerful
  2. The World is profoundly Interconnected
  3. All Human Beings have a Deep Desire to be in a Good Relationship
  4. All Humans Have Gifts & Everyone Is Needed for What They Bring
  5. Everything We Need to Make Positive Change Is Already Here
  6. Human Beings are Holistic
  7. We Need Practices to Build Habits of Living from the Core Self

Podcast on school-based Restorative Justice, authors of Circle Forward, from Restorative Justice on the Rise: CLICK HERE.

These assumptions are “ideas” and we can connect to these by how we feel about them.  Once these concepts are learned, we can move them into concrete practice.  One of the concrete practices I’ve developed is to validate the experience of those that have been harmed and those that have caused harm.  A concrete practice is how you talk with others the language you use.

Restorative Justice practitioners are called to advocate for repairing the harm.  Around that harm is the victim, offender and community.  Engaging those 3 parties fully, means honoring their wisdom about the harm.

The relationship between the restorative justice coordinator and these beliefs is important.  I talk about “wisdom of the lived experience” when I first meet people.  I validate the growth mindset, and work from a framework of post-traumatic growth instead of PTSD.

One of the first things you ever told me back in 2012 was that I survived much, and survival created wisdom. Thanks so much for lifting me up in that way, It meant the world and still does.  It took courage beyond imagination to contact you, no regrets. Never in a million years could I have ever imagined we’d be going on prison visits over the years to come.

Restorative Justice professionals are no different than any other, we get caught up in our knowledge and expertise.  It takes skill and practice to have the humility to honor others wisdom.  The quote above is from an email I recently received, it is a reminder that when starting a relationship (especially one that is for severe crime), what you say has lasting impact.


Your grace with sorrow informs your Restorative Justice approach.

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.


Knowing our own skills and boundaries

A fellow Restorative Justice practitioner emailed today.  She had recieved a referral dealing with a loss of life.  She was looking for some help, support and guidance.  I coached her to the best of my skill and ability.

The referral was well intented, but did not seem to generate from the victims, and that is always of primary interest.  So that was my first piece of advisement.

She was complimented that the case was referred to her, but she was wise enough to see it was out of her range of experience and training.  I really have to compliment her on seeing that.  I’ve experienced people taking cases just because they were referred. 

Considering your own training, bias, experiences is VERY important.  I completed the “advance” or severe crime and violence training offered by Dr. Mark Umbriet at the U of M.  It was two years later that I finally completed the MN Dept of Corrections procedures training.  I needed that two years to feel I was in a place of being able to facilitate loss of life cases.

I had a deep wound from leaving one job very quickly.  That needed to heal, I also needed to gather my sense of spirituality, after life and my own belief system about Restorative Justice.  During that time, I also helped our Victim Impact Panels Speakers, this meant supporting them in storytelling about having a loved on killed by drunk driving.  I helped offenders, vicitms, survivors and grew in my comfort over grief, loss and loss of life.  Once I completed the required DOC training, I was a community member in a VOCARE’ program.  The process uses Circles, and stories of those that lost loved ones, and those that took lives from drinking & driving decisions.  I then went on to co-facilitate a Vocare’ session.

The point I really want to make, it to please – don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’ to taking a case.  Especially around severe crime and violence.  Don’t be self centered about wanting to do such a case, that you miss where you might cause harm.  RJ is about REPAIRING Harm, not causing further harm.

Another thing I have seen and want to advise against – – PLEASE do not take loss of life cases on as an individual, you should always CO-facilitate.

We have an obligation to this field and those that seek our services.  There is a careful boundary to seek support, mentorship and deep evaluation before heading into severe crime and violence cases.  Always do your best!