Restorative Justice in Action: PART 2

by Sean Dwyer, Assistant Program Director

So we enter into the next phase of the Restorative Justice process, as much in a given case as in the program’s implementation in general. In the first official RJ case, we have continued to work with the parties, carried out a circle and now are into the follow through phase with the possibility of a second circle in the air. In the program, we are looking to get more volunteers more actively involved and then also needing to get more and more quickly convincing about the process to the clients. In both cases, we need to hold strong, taking to heart our successes as much as we are not shaken by the continuing difficulties.

Even the morning of the day that we were to have our first, official Restorative Justice circle, I was not entirely certain of anything. Would the parties show up? Did we have enough snacks for everyone? Were they happy with the proposed agenda? Were they going to be able to find their way into the building? I put signs up and checked the doors from time to time. Finally, pretty close to the scheduled beginning time, the mom and son arrived, having come together! A good sign!

One of the support people showed up soon afterwards, and my co-facilitator was already there. That was good enough! Another support person and their wife were going to be a little late, and in fact ended up not being able to make it unfortunately. Two community members were able to show up a little later, and that made quite an impact indeed (Jojo Sanchez and Julie Matsumoto from Operation Street Kidz, very important partners to APADRC’s RJ program!) The absence of the other support people, however, and then even the way the seating ended up, meant that the mom actually ended up feeling quite vulnerable, whereas Isaac had support and encouragement. I whispered to my co-facilitator then to work on playing the support for the mom to some degree, and we were able to keep a very good balance throughout.

The circle went through the items on the agenda with only a few squiggles and hiccups, and the mom and son went through emotions from anger to sadness to acceptance and love. There were tears and hopelessness at first, and eventually tears and openness to change and improvement in the middle. This paved the way for working finally with options. A very important aspect of an RJ circle is organizing what gets said such that it can be used as an official reminder afterwards to show what was accomplished and what was agreed upon for going forward. In this case, we had a number of general principles as well as some specific applications within the context of waking up for school and work in the morning. A successful circle that has cemented relationships based on the foundation built by the preparation work accomplished and providing a solid platform to begin following through on long term improvement.

So now that we are convinced entirely that not only Restorative Justice works, but also that we have the means and the capacity to apply it, we want to do it more! And the cases did indeed begin rolling in! So the entire system gets put to the test, and the difficulties become evident: Communications between supervisor and volunteers, volunteer availability and willingness to move cases, but most of all client ability to understand the process and willingness to participate. This last point is in the context of a single phone call in which a volunteer facilitator, new to the process themselves for the moment, makes an attempt to explain the process and sell the person, a person who only knows their case as such as seen through the lens of the police and the charges pressed recently.

This makes for a very difficult mix of vulnerability and weak confidence against which we must tip the balance. So we have further developed this aspect of the system in order to better, and in a more official manner, inform the parties about our process and assure their participation. This means a letter with all useful information and benefits about the program sent out to them as well as limiting the initial phone call to informing them about the letter that is coming and arranging for an in person meeting as we now have been assigned their file by the Sheriffs, Police or probation as the case may be. At the in person meeting we can then more adequately describe the process, clarify our position and the possibility for them to seriously profit from this experience.

In my own case, with that first case that can be called a successful Restorative Justice case, I went to the client in person and was able to make a connection that has now lasted through inspiration, difficult realizations, facilitated communication and hopefully artistic collaboration even. The sky is the limit when building upon restored, or even transformed, relationships.

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