What is Restorative Justice?
I am a volunteer facilitator for a process called, Restorative Justice.
The roots of this process come from the lineage of tribal cultures and the practice of ‘council meetings’. On the surface, the intent is to provide an alternative to the criminal justice system, however, it’s laced with the profound impact of personal transformation, community building and healing.
In tribal cultures community members did not banish the offender from the society and send them off to a ‘criminal institution’. They used the offense to empower the offender to understand the impact of their actions on the greater whole and to repair harms and take responsibility for their actions. It was also used to help the victim heal and feel heard.
It’s an elegant way of supporting and integrating daily life as collective learning, education, growth and restoration. The intention of the process is to allow all voices to be heard and integrated into the system.
Who Participates in a Restorative Justice Process?
A restorative justice case includes both the ‘offender’ and ‘victim with a support person, community members, police officers and other key players. All parties gather to hear the offense and share the individual and community impact from the crime.
One distinguishing element that a police officer or judge looks for in an offender in order to offer restorative justice as an alternative to the criminal justice system is the willingness to take personal responsibility for the offense. The process is not about punishment it is about restoring harms, expanding one’s awareness of the impact of their actions and to rebuild trust in the community.
In a pre-conference, with the offender, we conduct an asset assessment to learn about their gifts, talents and aspirations. During the case these assets are shared and used to brainstorm suggestions for reparation.
My Experience with Restorative Justice
I’ve only participated in a few cases and what I’ve witnessed has been inspiring and unifying. Upon reflection I was left with the sense that these ‘offenders’ had been offered a new course direction through an expanded view of the impact of their actions. I have also witnessed an emergence of great love, acceptance and encouragement through the whole group.
It was astounding to begin the process with the offender slumped over, minimal eye contact and a sense of shame. Within an hour they began to sit upright, show eye contact and often time’s laughter and jokes. There is a visible and powerful shift that occurs.
Restoring Justice From the Inside-Out: It starts with Each One of Us!
I’ve been contemplating the incredible parallel between these community council meetings and an individual’s journey of mindfulness and spiritual awakening.
How often do we banish parts of ourselves to a self-constructed correction facility?
This banishment serves as a false protection against these parts of us unless they escape or we glimpse at them through the prison’s visiting stations loaded with thick glass and a telephone receiver.
What would it look like, each in our own way, to begin to embrace all these parts of us as our teachers? It would require making the time to welcome and meet these ‘untimely’ or ‘overwhelming’ visits of rage, deep despair, grief, judgment, defensiveness, fear and so on.
What would we discover if we created our own asset assessment and applied that to repair harms when a part of us becomes the ‘offender’?
One of my visitors that I’m welcoming back from exile is the bitch. In the past, I was afraid of her because my identity of being ‘sweet’ would get jarred. (My nickname since the age of 17 has been Sam, Sweet Anne-Marie. The role was ingrained long before that as a survival tactic).
As the illusion of that good girl identity burns away I begin to see that the bitch often is the most poignant expression of love. She is fierce but she speaks what’s needed to wake up from illusion. When she shows up now I take heed and listen because wisdom is being offered.
The journey to wholeness and our return back ‘home’ is through the inclusion of everything.
Finding freedom means that nothing can be locked behind bars and imprisoned.
Everything needs to feel the warmth of the sunlight, compassion of loving eyes, hearts, touch and acceptance. Especially the parts of us we fear and judge the most.
The Guest House Poem by Rumi
I feel inspired to share a poem by Rumi that speaks so eloquently about this kind of welcoming of guests:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes.
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.