Restorative Justice operates by engagement of Victims-Offenders-Community. The magic is in the mix of these stakeholders. I believe the more congruent your program and work with these stakeholders is, the more you are modeling, teaching, coaching and living restoratively. Using community volunteers beyond facilitators is very important. The community voice is important to help both the victims and offenders feel supported and to increase their knowledge of how crime impacts the community. Storytellers in Restorative Justice can be the survivor of crime, the support person of someone harmed, or someone directly impacted. I have other posts on Restorative Justice Storytelling, here. This blog post will provide some direct actions you can take to restoratively engage individuals in the work of Restorative Justice services and programs.
1. Live Circle Wisdom. Value all your relationships, and maintain a place where you yourself are in a good way for your relationship with others. This might mean self-care or spiritual practices that keep you centered to your best self. As someone recently said to me, “walk the hot coals of our own lives”. People decide if their relationship with you is ‘just’, they want to be treated fairly and with respect. The standard is even higher for those in Restorative Justice, you want to show people how it works, by being that example.
2. Apply the approach constantly. Utilize the power that Circles create, by applying the outcomes in this image, as the potential for each engagement with someone else.
I was provided some feedback that I didn’t necessarily want to hear, but I needed to hear it and I’m glad that I did. I see it now, that I could have lived the bullet points in this image. I try to be mindful of these and do them consistently.
I messed up at a community forum, small groups brainstormed ideas on work of SCVRJP. One group had identified the importance of people knowing about “forgiveness”. I reacted, I sighed, whispered to a neighbor, saying “that’s not what restorative justice is really about”. It wasn’t that I was wrong, but what I did was not necessary, it did not represent the ‘positive way of being’. I didn’t include space for that person perspective or understanding. It would have been just fine to let that pass without showing my feelings about it. I didn’t realize people were watching me like that, until that feedback. I realized the standard for those promoting this work is important to model.
3. Be an invisible gate-keeper. All people have gifts and contributions, not all are ready for the intermingle and mix in Circle. Find ways to include people and give them a role appropriate to their current level of restorative justice. We once had someone in a volunteer orientation Circle, refuse to share anything about herself since she didn’t yet know everyone else. A few rounds later, after people had opened up about why they were volunteering, she learned some were giving back after being given a 2nd chance drug court program. When the talking piece came to her she scolded us saying “I didn’t know I would be with criminals!” We assigned her data entry, so she could see evaluation form comments. She also helped with a fundraising event. I went back and checked in with the “criminals”, a word I avoid, using x-offender or the persons name. Thankfully, it opened up a discussion about expecting that from community, and that is “a price paid when you break the law”. I got to affirm the accountability of the person referenced and labeled.
4. Silently Mentor. Prepare people for the anticipated and unanticipated possibilities in Circle. We have a reflection round after storytellers. Sometimes the emotions leave people wanting to escape or avoid those, so they themselves rationalize or minimize harmful behavior. For example, after hearing from someone who killed someone after driving impaired, a reflection was offered “it’s not your fault, he got in the car with you”. Coach people to listen with an understanding they don’t have to take everything to heart. Have your radar on and your listening engaged to make sure everyone, from every angle of the Circle can feel supported. You can check-in politely with people, offer ways they can reframe their sharing. One volunteer told those at the Underage Consumption Circle, that “you drank to get drunk, your an alcoholic”, I later checked in, she really believed that. Her life expereinces were limited and she thought that was the way things were. I suggested that perhaps she not label others behavior, but speak from an experience of her own. Strong feelings are welcome, they belong in Circle, people need to be able have healing through feeling, once labeled or judged, the opportunity gets smaller. She understood the value of not labeling, given the opportunity to expresss and explain herself.
5. Honor preferences. Listening to what is important and helpful and do things to show volunteers you care. One volunteer is a smoker, and he has anxiety before sharing his story. The storytelling isn’t until an hour or more into the Circle. His pre-speech jitters would usually be to rest with a cigarette, that outlet is not possible, we always start and complete our Circles together. He likes to chew on small suckers, Dum-Dums to stay calm. Our candy jar hasn’t been without the little candy, since we learned this. One of our welcoming office behaviors is to immediately offer a bottle of water or cup of coffee. A new volunteer says they like tea, so we stock tea. Another loved a new coffee flavor, so we have that coffee on hand. The little things make a big difference. Show people they are respected, that they belong and that they are important to your program and work.
In what ways to you honor volunteers or support survivors?