"All paths converge in the healing ocean of justice"                    Photo: River road summer by Howard Zehr

Article About Restorative Justice

This article was written for and published on Delaware Pacem in Terris

On occasion of the 2010 First Annual Restorative Justice in Delaware Conference organized by the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice, Inc.

A healing ocean of justice

By Charito Calvachi-Mateyko

Restorative justice is a philosophy with supporting processes on how to live fruitfully with one another.  It is becoming increasingly helpful as societies move towards the persistent desire to live in peace. Peace communities such as Pacem in Terris connect with restorative justice principles because a life lived in a restorative way represents a response from within —that is, from our not always easy but relentless yearning for peace.

However, restorative justice doesn’t come as a package prescription easy to put into practice.  Howard Zehr, the “grandfather” of restorative justice makes clear “restorative justice is not a map but a compass.”  That is to say, restorative justice is a set of principles.  It is a view of the world in which justice heals. Peacemakers, including members of Pacem in Terris, those who examine their conscious and listen to the call to the point of civil disobedience, know well the feeling of having to act in the compass direction of justice and having to make the path for themselves.

From that worldview, restorative justice sees crime as a violation of people and their relationships.  Stan Carnarius says: “We live in one another; we are necessarily social beings; what matters is what we do with each other.”  When people, dear ones, neighbors or relatives are hurting they should not be left alone in their pain.  How would they know that we care if we don’t connect with them in some form of sharing?  Inflicted harm generates obligations, mainly towards the victim who needs to regain a sense of empowerment and vindication in truth.  Therefore, the obligation to amend the wrongdoing becomes the primary focus in restorative justice and is the space where—together if possible— offenders, the community and victims support one another to heal.

On April 15 in Dover, Delawareans will have the opportunity to attend the Restorative Justice in Delaware Conference, where Zehr and six other of the nation’s leading authorities will discuss how restorative concepts and practices could be applied in education, the judiciary, correctional facilities, social services, domestic violence and land-use planning.

Listening to this dialogue on the diverse applications of restorative justice will help us envision a more peaceful world that encompasses the complexity of our relationships and strengthens the capacity of individuals, families, and groups or larger systems to improve, restore and heal personal and social functioning in almost all aspects of life.  How would a restorative community look?

Schools would promote not only academic achievement but also our ability to relate to one another in a civil and respectful way.  Conflict and wrongdoing would be taken as an opportunity to learn. Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy. H. Mullet in their book Restorative Discipline for Schools share the story of one of the students who vandalized their school’s hall with some killed turkeys.  Flushed and shaking, he described to teachers, classmates and administrators his difficulty in looking people in the eye while walking on the streets after what he did.  The janitor, who had come very apprehensively to that meeting, addressed the student and asked that he look the janitor in the eye if he were to meet him on the street “because I will remember you for who you are here tonight and not for what you did.”

Offenders would be held accountable to their victims, and the community of interest would help the offender to make amendments, while victims would have a voice to express their needs.  At the Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program, a woman whose windshield was impacted with a raw egg for three consecutive winter days by her 12-year-old neighbor, requested during the restorative process that as an amendment the teenager would mow her lawn every other week for four months.  He was apologetic and accepted the task. At the signing of the agreement, the woman added: “I will pay you $25.00 each time.” The teenager was surprised. He was going to do it for free.“  I would never use slave labor, you and I owe that to our African-American ancestors,” explained the lady.

Prisons and correctional facilities would promote real accountability.  Father David Kelly of Chicago holds Circle processes, a profound way to connect among people, in and outside the juvenile detention facilities.  Once, he invited the mothers whose children had been killed by gang members to speak with the possible killers.  They talked loud and clear about their pain and how much they loved their children.  But they also asked: “Who are you?  How was your childhood?  Where are your parents?”  Stories of impoverishment, sexual abuse, neglect and parents exposing them to drugs at an early age were shared even with running tears by the gang adolescents.  In a next meeting with Father Kelly, the mothers asked to come again to visit the juvenile delinquents, but first, … they were going to prepare food to bring to them.

Townspeople would have a say in how the street landscape and surrounding areas are preserved and the use of their natural and social resources.  Kay Pranis tells in her book Doing democracy with Circles: Engaging Communities in Public Planning how a Native American community convinced the administrators of a women's prison to use the Circle process for planning of improvements of the facility.  They got to express their desire to create a sweat lodge for the inmates.  While the meetings were longer than the traditional planning meetings that other prisons were using at the same time to renovate their facilities, at the end, the prison with the Native people completed their project first.  The Circle allowed them to engage in more detailed conversation, and resolutions once taken were firm.

In matters of domestic violence, what would you do if 80% of abused victims wished to remain with the abuser?  A community in Santa Cruz, Arizona, has adopted the Circle of Peace model to gather significant members of families to support a couple towards transformation of the violence.  These Circles are the place where-- finally-- spouses, children, employers and neighbors develop weekly plans for 26 weeks to understand and address the roots of violence.  A daughter expresses her fear of leaving Mom alone, a husband remembers the violence of his original family, and a wife acknowledges that she could avoid saying certain words and use others to move towards assertiveness.

For families caught in the social service system, restorative process allows them to be part of the decision-making instead of being told what to do, even by well-intended professionals.  In Dauphin County Pennsylvania, Patti Noss implements what is called Family Group Decision Making.  Welfare agents, trainers, educators, health providers get together along with the members and significant others of a family.  The professionals are there to inform the family about what they offer. Then, the family alone, with a facilitator, creates a plan of action in which all can have a part to make it happen.  Availability of human, social and professional resources are at hand to be used efficiently and realistically.

Each of us is a stream of possibilities, many of them unexpected.  To be touched in the different aspects of life by acts of kindness, to be held accountable to do your very best after you have made a mistake is one of the best ways to make all paths converge in the ocean of this healing kind of justice.  A community of peace can make that happen.

Dr. Charito Calvachi-Mateyko is a restorative justice practitioner based in Lewes, Delaware and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  She holds a Masters Degree in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University and a Doctorate in Law from the Pontifical University in Quito, Ecuador.  She is an award-winning NPR investigative journalist and producer of the longest running Spanish-language NPR program on restorative justice in America.  She is the founder of the Latino Initiative on Restorative Justice, Inc., in Delaware