What a fortunate place I have, having kept 1,000’s of Circles in a range of contexts. I’ve also been fortunate to train a few hundred in the process, allowing me to hear stories back on what worked well, and what was a lesson.
It is soo important that Circles have a diverse mix of perspectives. This takes time, in training youth or community volunteers about the dynamics of participating in Circle. However, by training others, you yourself will be learning more about the fundamental belief systems that make Circles work.
I believe that Circles are more effective that a victim-offender conference. For one they include others, this allows for additional perspectives to the harm, and for more perspectives on how to repair it. Circles that include victim, offender and community are more aligned with core restorative philosophies.
The diversity in a Circle makes is rich in perspectives. Once we hear other perspectives are minds stretched and a stretched mind never fully returns to the original. I could also insert heart here.
I was observing a young person across from me. It was a “disorderly conduct” referral. She was listening to a story about a domestic violence. The storyteller remembered a moment in a hospital bed, her brothers wanted to go beat the abuser, and she just wanted it all to stop. A life changing moment was being shared. The storyteller spoke of the dedication to not raising her daughters around violence. I observed a very, very engaged listener across from me. As she rubbed her very pregnant stomach, I had hope for the unborn child.
Circles without trained participants to hold the values, to role model the process, aren’t spaces for strong personal growth. As a plant grows strong against a breeze, the community stories lean into the reality of the listener. If your Circle only contains those that broke rules and an authority, you haven’t moved your paradigm quite far enough. That model might be a start, however, it is repeating the framework that only addressing the wrongdoing will help. It might, but if you really want to get to change beyond the incident, and get to change connected to values, use diversity in your Circles.
If you are local or near River Falls, Wisconsin, please come volunteer to learn more. Monthly volunteer orientation sessions are held and Circle Keeper Training is free to volunteers.