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An Introduction to Restorative Circles

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An Introduction to Restorative Circles with Dominic Barter What makes you want to share this work? I think in recent years many countries, many communities have been discovering that the current structures they have for dealing with conflict, whether in the judicial system or in their schools, or in their local communities or in family, are not working for them as well as they'd like to. They're less strengthening of communities than they would like them to be. The human costs are increasing and people are not experiencing more community safety. So everywhere where people are experiencing this, I'm receiving invitations and people are investigating with restorative practices. There is a growing community of people who are searching for non-violent alternatives to the way in which we currently respond to crime and disagreements. How did a man from North London end up working in Restorative Justice in Brazil? I went to Brazil for the first time in 1992 and I was immediately struck by the same things that almost anybody who arrives in Brazil for the first time is struck by. The incredible natural beauty, extraordinary celebration of life that the people and the culture there represent, but also by the very extreme disparity between those who have access to wealth and those who don't, and by the very high levels of social tension and violence that I experienced while I was there. And it was very hard to live there and accept that that simply was the way things are and it couldn't change. So slowly as the months passed I began to search for different ways in which I could teach myself about this situation and perhaps through that, learn about some way in which I could contribute. And over several different visits during the 90s I started making connections with people and began to connect to different projects in the shanty towns and to educate myself about that social reality and follow clues and as people began to invite me to do different things I found that consistently I was involved in listening to them describing their conflicts, or the work we were doing was impacted by the conflicts that they were experiencing. And through talking about them, about these conflicts, we naturally developed a process of dialogue, which later I began to understand more fully when I studied the area of communication and violence and particularly the work of Marshall Rosenberg and what he has called Nonviolent Communication, which is a process of ongoing research that over the last 45 years he has developed together with colleagues in which we train our ability to intervene and dialogue with violence in a particularly transformative way. So with this process of learning about Brazil and beginning to understand communication and dialogue through the work with Nonviolent Communication, I began to become conscious that there was a naturally emerging process in which those parties who were involved in any activity which was causing hurt, came together and sought a resolution of that issue and the next steps, sought to co-create what would happen next. And as I began to learn to support these meetings to come about, and to complete themselves most fully, we began to recognise this as a restorative process and we named it Restorative Circles and it has become the centrepiece for the pilot projects in Restorative Justice happening in Brazil over the last few years. What is most precious to you about the work you do? I think what most touches me about the work that I'm doing and the experiences I've had over the last few years is seeing people both transforming the images that they had about each other from images of a great deal of fear, the idea that the other person is a monster, is some kind of different human being with whom it is impossible for me to live in peace. Transforming these ideas and having the humanity of the other person revealed to them and then from that, starting to discover that they share these basic qualities of humanity that in fact, they share a basic connection to the fundamental values of life. And then from that, that they are able by connecting to that inner source of power and responsibility, that they are able to create extraordinarily imaginative, new, creative responses to the kind of challenges that they as individuals and as a group face. So it's those three qualities and the way in which they build on each other, transforming the images I have about you, until I see you as a human being again. Understanding that you are a human being just as I am, and then beginning to work together in partnership to create a better community. Watching this process emerge is what has been most precious and transformative to me and has taught me a great deal that I needed to learn in my own life. What conditions are necessary for a community to establish Restorative Circles as a sustainable part of community life? The first condition for a community to start benefiting from this process is to identify itself as being a community. So once people recognise, I actually live with you, in some way I share my life with you, maybe it's between the hours in which we are working in the same building, or in the same network, or maybe it's because I recognise I use the same shops as you, I use the same community spaces as you, the same library, the same park, the same kindergarten. In some way I begin to identify, there are a group of people with whom I am regularly interacting, and in some way our lives are interdependent. When things benefit me, they also benefit them. When things diminish my well-being, other people's well-being is also diminished. Once you've identified ourselves as being a community, then we are able to come together and consciously decide that we want to care for ourselves in this, or a related way. So the process begins when we recognise, what affects me, affects you too. Can you give us some examples of where Restorative Circles have been applied? Over the last decade, we've been experimenting with the application of restorative systems within which people gather together in Restorative Circles in a number of different social contexts in Brazil. So we've been working in high schools with roughly between two and four thousand students. We've been working in local communities, many of which are shanty town communities with a great lack of basic resources and often a parallel government, which involves the drug gangs. We've been working with social service agencies who are dealing with young people who are either in conflict with the law, or having difficulty in living in harmony with other people in society. We've been working in youth prisons. We've been working in court systems with young people who have been accused of crimes and arrested, and we've also been working with the police who make those arrests. So these are some of the main context in which we've been applying this work. How does one decide which conflicts warrant a Restorative Circle? Since we're interested in the personal impact that the action had upon all those people involved in carrying it out and processing its consequences then we don't evaluate the seriousness of any particular act only by what the legislation or the disciplinary code says. We're interested as much in the personal significance that it has for all those people present. So sometimes it's easy for us to evaluate whether a particular act will have had a strong significance for people involved. But sometimes it's not so easy. It's only really by talking to these people that we find out what it means for them, and therefore, whether it warrants this level of formal response. So, in every single case, we deal with that individually. Can you give an example of what kind of action plan participants come up with at the end of a Restorative Circle? We had an example of this recently, which I found very enlightening. Two young men had been playing football in their community, and through a series of small events, they had ended up getting into an argument that had turned into a fight. And one of these young men was approached by a group of elder boys who said that they would be willing to contribute to his safety and threaten the other young man in order for him to feel more safe. And they did this. In return, they came back to the first young man and they said, so now we did you a favour, and we want you to do us a favour, so we want you to transport this package and this man began to understand the involvement that this could have in criminal activity, and he began to feel very unsure. So these two young men initiated a Restorative Circle within their community, using the restorative system that the community had already put in place. And when it came to resolving the action plan, they had a dilemma in front of them. They, interpersonally, had no more disagreement. They had been able to resolve that difference quite easily. But they were concerned because other people now had something invested in that fight. It wasn't so easy to say suddenly "It's all over". So they created an action plan which demonstrated not simply that they were now living in peace, but made that very public and evident to other people. And their plan was to organise a football match in the centre of their community on Saturday morning, where everyone would see them involved in an activity that you would only be involved in if you had no more disagreements. So that kind of creativity I found very inspiring. Another example which I enjoyed was to see two neighbours in a shanty town who had got into a fight about an open sewer between their houses getting blocked by the rubbish bag that one of them was leaving outside his hut. And through the process of resolving their interpersonal dispute, they both began to question, why is there an open sewer? And they began to realise that they wanted for their action plan to take, together with their other neighbours, combined action to transform their living conditions. So together, as part of their plan, they engaged local authorities in finding a way to put in better sewage in their community. What kind of impact has this work had on the communities where it's been used? The first results that we see are between the human beings who are participating in a Restorative Circle. So where relationships have become corroded by distrust, by trauma, by dynamics which don't build cohesion, then we immediately see how people are able to recover these bonds between them, and strengthen themselves individually, and strengthen the relationships between them. And then over time we see that that has repercussions on their family members, on their neighbours, perhaps on other people who participate in small, semi-closed communities that they live or learn or work in. And over time, then this starts to spread to whole communities and we start to experience a reduction in the level of tension and fear, and increased confidence in people's abilities to be able to deal with their own issues, both their own interpersonal issues, but also their own social issues. For example, when something happens which impacts a whole community, such as a change in legislation, or a building project, or an economic change. So these changes take longer. Sometimes they take a number of years. But in Brazil where we've had more time to develop these projects, we've begun to notice some of these results. For example in one large city in Sao Paulo State, we've seen a significant reduction in the number of cases that are coming before the youth judge. And what this means is not necessarily that there is less crime being committed initially, but that the response to crime is giving people the tools they need to be able to resolve their issues themselves. And the research shows that over time this diminishes significantly the amount of crime that is being committed at the same time as it increases the community's sense that we are responsible for our own issues, and we are we are able, capable, and successful at responding to them.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 20 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
License: All rights reserved
Genre: None
Views: 225
Posted by: restorativecircles on Mar 4, 2010

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