by Sean Dwyer
Assistant Program Director
What a day I had on Thursday July 24, 2014! As a reasonable addition to my bike and my bus pass, I got a Zip Car account, so I could zip, as they say, to Restorative Justice meetings both downtown and in the San Gabriel Valley. And I had a few!
It started off with a presentation in a Community Center in South El Monte. I gave away free sticky pads with the APADRC logo as well as some of our brochures, and I spoke in Spanish and English about our Community Program, Restorative Justice Program and Divorce Mediation Program. It was really fun interacting with the people, relaying my excitement about our programs and seeing how interested they all were! Everyone wanted a copy of the brochures and, indeed, wanted as much information as they could get! Talking with a Director of that Center, I realized that there is a lot of need particularly for our Mediation services not only with the people who frequent the Center, but even with the people who run it! I am ready to do many more presentations of this kind.
As soon as I had shaken hands with everyone and had a chat with anyone who wanted one, I was off in my Zip Car to the next important meeting! This one was for a School Attendance Task Force (SATF), headed by Judge Michael Nash and held at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park. It was attended by a wide variety of people not only crucial to the Restorative Justice process, in terms of its connection to the Criminal system as well as to community organizations, but also very enthusiastic about it! Dr. Hellen Carter, Director at Forensic Solutions Institute and CEO at National Corrections Solutions Institute, promises to be an invaluable partner with APADRC in Restorative Justice, and after a brief, most interesting discussion with her before the actual meeting, we exchanged cards and decided to meet later on. I found out upon returning to the Office after the meeting, that she had emailed me to schedule an appointment during the SATF Meeting itself!
In addition, there were representatives from schools interested in our Peer Mediation Program and Training. There were also community organizations who were interested in partnering with us as a conduit for Youth coming out of the Criminal process towards their programs. And then of course there was Judge Nash himself who became aware of the program and expressed his own enthusiasm. In the days following this meeting I have set up and realized numerous meetings and the network is beginning to form in an efficient and realistic manner.
My final meeting was with the Narcotics Consultant and Assistant to the Director of Probation for LA County, Michael Esparza. Mr. Esparza had worked hard with me to find a moment that would work for this meeting, and the Director was not able to attend finally due to an overcharged schedule, despite his earnest desire to find out more about the program and get involved. Nevertheless, the meeting that we had, accompanied by Jamie Romano, one of our expert facilitators within the Restorative Justice Program, was very positive and very efficient. We went over the entirety of our program, discussed in detail various possible integrations of it within the Probation system and specified what our next steps would have to be. This meeting will be in my mind as I meet in the next few weeks with people from the District Attorney’s Office, Police Departments, LA Superior Court and, indeed, Dr. Hellen Carter as well.
The most important thing, nevertheless, that I took out of these meetings is that the problem is not as simple as a big, rusty, old system that needs to be scrapped in favor of our new, shining program. There is a socio-legal context in which hundreds of people are working hard every day, and have been for years if not decades, to modify the dominant paradigm, to integrate innovative programs and to improve communities through concerted and interested efforts. It can be hoped that APADRC’s Restorative Justice Program will be able to find its place within this colorful and humbling array. We have something unique to offer. We also have a positive place in which to integrate ourselves: receiving participants from the criminal system as it currently exists, and connecting them, strengthened by the benefits of our process, to the numerous community organizations that are already out there doing amazing work. We are ready to begin any time.