Books are deceiving in a way. A small compact package made of paper – it’s almost hard to believe that what’s inside has the potential to change not only a person’s life, but the world! I love to read and usually am in the middle of at least two books – as you can probably tell by the way that I write, I am not a fiction person. I used to be and may be again at some point, but right now I love reading about spirituality and science, and especially books that combine the two. I love books about how life works and amazing new research that shows why it works that way.
Sometimes I’ll start a book and, for various reasons, just can’t read it. Maybe it doesn’t resonate with me or actually insults my intelligence or my soul. Perhaps I’m just not ready to hear what it has to say. There are other books that mesmerize me and give me a good reason to get up in the morning. I’ve read a lot of books like that, and I can actually say they have changed my life.
Right now this is one of the books I am reading. I’ve read a lot of books about restorative justice, and I’m not far enough into this one to know how it compares to the others. The subtitle of this book is “How we can revolutionize our response to wrongdoing”, and I believe that any book, article, or workshop that truly shows us how to do this can revolutionize our world. This particular book is full of stories of a new response to wrongdoing, so it shows how it has already been done in many areas.
Restorative justice starts with the premise that crime is a violation of people and relationships, not just of the law and the state, and creates obligations on the part of the offender. The focus is not on offenders getting what they deserve, but on the needs of the victim and the offender’s responsibility for repairing harm. According to Howard Zehr, criminal justice asks the questions: What laws have been broken? Who did it? What do they deserve? and restorative justice asks the questions: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these? When the victim actually takes part in the process, they receive much more satisfaction, and offenders are often seriously moved by hearing who was affected by their actions and how.
I work with our county’s restorative justice program dealing with juvenile offenders. I take part in two Circles, one as a co-facilitator and one as a community volunteer. I have seen first hand the effect this process has on young people, their families, and the community. The process can be frustrating, involves hard work, doesn’t always seem to work but is almost always beneficial, and is sometimes life-altering. As the offender and his/her support person/persons sit in Circle time after time with community members, they learn about the ripple effect their actions had and, because they learn to identify the thoughts, feelings, and patterns that led to their actions, they gain skills to keep actions like these from happening again. They also learn to speak in a group and listen to people with different viewpoints. Sometimes they just learn that their parents aren’t some weird people that are trying to ruin their lives, but really care about them and are often right.
Most of the Circle is made up of volunteers – volunteers who keep coming back month after month and year after year, mostly because they feel they are strengthening their community, giving kids a second chance, and supporting parents and other family members who may be struggling. Sometimes the issues are just too big, and the Circle may agree to seek additional help and support. If the young person completes a social compact made up of goals agreed upon by everyone in the Circle, they will return to court and the charges will be dropped. If the Circle agrees that the young person isn’t doing what they agreed to do or repeatedly fails to come to Circle or if the young person finds it too difficult to go through this process, they will return to the traditional justice system.
It’s a new way of looking at wrong-doing and a new, more respectful way of being with each other. Restorative justice strives to restore connection as much as possible and isn’t afraid to move toward conflict to see what it is trying to say. It’s a hard concept for a lot of people to swallow, but I believe if they read books like Real Justice, they could see the principles in action and gain a better understanding. Our traditional ways of doing justice often aren’t working, and it’s time to look for a better way.
This might seem to be a strange post to put under the title “Heavenly Days”, but the book was the thing that stood out for me this morning, and, after attending an application Circle last night with a new young person, the ideas of “grace” and “restoration” are fresh on my mind. It seems totally appropriate to me. . .