Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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I Did A Thing...

Or Many Things...

One of the things was getting around to cutting Jet's hair and having it turn out pretty good. Good enough he actually thanked me for the cut, after, which I was very very pleased by, and gives me some hope for when I have to get my hair cut to just get the heaviness out.

Another was signing up to make 50 face masks for, which is shipping packs of materials for masks to sewers, who send them back so that they can be donated to medical facilities around the country. I'm doing about five a day, and finished the first 25 already; but another friend who was in desperate need for something to do has "borrowed" the second pack of 25 until her shipment comes.

The other thing that I did turned out to be bigger than I'd imagined and is tied very tightly with something I've been working on for the last year.

Since the beginning of last year, I've been involved with the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, which is a restorative justice organization here in town. It's actually one of the first in the country and the world, as it was started by Beverly B. Title who wrote the first book on Restorative Justice, and her book was about the program here... so there's a long history of this program here in Longmont.

The basic idea is that regular people can make justice for each other within the community, and that the process can bring about not just the healing needed between the responsible party and the harmed party, but that regular people can help both parties heal themselves and their relationship with and within the community itself. It comes from various native cultures who had community circles figure out what to do when crime happened. And with training, regular people who aren't lawyers or judges, can make this happen. There is a facilitator and co-facilitator who meets with all the parties involves to familiarize them with what's going to happen, there's the officer who redirected the case in the first place from the regular justice system to this one, and one or two community members who represent the community as a whole in addition to all the people involved. The circle as a whole decides what's going to happen and how the responsible parties get to repair the harms that have been done.

Since I started, I've been put on the fast track to get to facilitate conferences as quickly as possible, and it's mostly been due to everyone believing in me, or interacting with me and telling me that that is what I needed to get to. I got the initial training within days of expressing interested, wasn't even done with the minimum three conferences as a community member before I got the co-facilitator/facilitator training, and then got my two co-facilitator sessions with a mentor in as soon as I was available from all the traveling I was doing last year.

After I recovered from Puerto Rico (that's still coming, it's been too bizarre, recently, to write about that trip properly), in early March, I thought I was just going to be doing my first conference as a facilitator, with one of the LCJP staff members, Jessica, as my mentor. Further into the month, most of the conferences were being cancelled outright due to the social distancing needs. When I asked if ours was going to be canceled, I was asked if I was willing to go ahead with my conference, but via Zoom instead of with any of the usual face-to-face contact for the pre-conferences and the conference itself.

It's interesting that in my head there wasn't any real question that I might not do it. I was tremendously anxious about it, and really didn't want to do it at first, but I also knew that my feelings of aversion were simply because the whole thing was overwhelmingly new, that I'd never done it, and that no one really knew how to do it. I also know myself well enough to understand that it is in these completely novel situations that what I do, how I approach the unknown, and how I adapt really shine. It helped, immensely, to know that the LCJP staff fully supported me in doing it, and they would do anything in their power to make it easier on me.

What amuses me now is that I was waaaay more worried about it being my very first conference than I was worried about it being an online video conference. Xilinx, since about 2000, was doing video conferences on a regular basis because of their world-wide organization, and we had dedicated data lines between sites in order to do them well. So I'd learned how to do those well, knew some of the pitfalls, and was really comfortable with being on the screen like that and understood exactly how I come across on the screen given my surroundings.

I bought a good (and inexpensive $30) microphone on Amazon, but still have my video camera from when Jet was 7 and decided, with John, to buy a little soft foam bullet turret gun from Hemmacher Schlemmer that connected via USB and had a camera built into it to aim the turret. He told me that it was so that I could shoot him if he was bothering me, or his friends if they were being too loud in my office. I don't think that I can replace it now. *laughs*

All of their long-time facilitators were used to face-to-face interactions and how they did things was because some of them have been doing it that way for decades, and John pointed out that part of why I was a good candidate for this was actually because I hadn't ever done facilitating before and I'd be approaching it all as if it were new. And in my heart of hearts, I really do believe in the fundamental values of Restorative Justice, that people aren't the worst thing that they've ever done, and people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions should have a second chance and be able to repair their relationships with their own families, themselves, as well as the people that they've harmed by their actions.

So Jess and I did the four pre-conferences, she did a lot of the scheduling and arraigning of the Zoom meetings and information, while I concentrated on getting the structure of the meetings down and helping Jess and the others figure out guidelines and what to pay attention to during the video meetings. One of the biggest things that they teach in all the training is that eye contact is very important when listening to others tell their stories, but it's hard to translate that to the camera and screen. Just staring at someone on your screen can look like you're staring off to the side, depending on where your camera is and where you screen is relative to that. And there's no way for any single person watching you to tell that you're looking at *them*, so you really need to call folks out by name. Another habit is looking "around the circle" for agreement when asking for consent doesn't work, each person needs to be called out.

A lot of habits of body language and how to show that you're paying attention just don't translate well. It's better to just sit closer to the camera and stare at it the whole time than it is to cultivate the usual sounds of "do go on" when those sounds can just make it harder for everyone to hear what's said.

My constant sense of self-awareness and self-critique really helped pinpoint these failings while we were holding the pre-conferences, and I had an easy time analyzing, codifying, and then figure out ways to correct them with Jess' help. Dana jumped in before the conference itself to ask me to go over the whole script with her, and we did, editing it as we went, to make it specific for our conference, and to make it very explicit when I was going to call out names and for consent.  That helped her generalize the guidelines so that she could write it down for other people, and it made it very obvious to me what needed to be done when.

Even with all that preparation, the conference took a full four hours, but in that four hours we did everything that needed to be done. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter wrote a book about forgiveness, and one of the essential stages is to have everyone tell their story and for everyone involved to really listen. This process does that very very well, and lets both the people who were responsible for the incident and those who were harmed by it to tell all of their story where everyone has to listen. More than half the conference was about telling and clarifying the story so that everyone understood not just what happened, as this isn't about establishing guilt, this is about understanding why everyone did what they did, what they regret, and trying to dig into motivations and sometimes the obvious lack of motivation.

We're talking about men in their teens. Mistakes are part of the process of growing up and this gives them a way to learn those lessons without a criminal record to haunt them the rest of their lives.

And that was an obvious motivation from everyone, from the parents of the harmed party, the officer involved, and all of the responsible people and their parents. Our justice system is flawed. And this whole program was created and supported by the fact that our local justice system recognized those flaws and wanted a way to correct those problems. The fact that our chief of police fully supports and endorses the Justice Partnership speaks well of our community's willingness to change what doesn't work.

And it worked, in this case. We came up with three contracts that really satisfied the harmed parties as well as everyone else in the circle, including the parents who wanted to see their kids learn from the experience. And all three responsible people expressed real regret and made an apology to the harmed ones, as well as to each other and their families. Which went a long ways toward the relationship restoration that is at the heart of this process, it's not just restoring the obviously broken relationship between those directly harmed by the incident and those responsible, but also the relationship between the responsible parties and their own families, and with the community as a whole. The recidivism rate of those who have completed their contracts in LCJP is super low because these folks feel like they've been accepted back into their communities and support systems because of the reparations that they've done.

Some of the contract items I've seen in the past included extra chores, cooking for the whole family and sitting down to the meal with an express order to state why they're all grateful for each other.  It's not just a feel-good alternative to shaming, there's plenty of evidence that children who get positive reinforcement do so much better than those who have been shamed or punished, and the punitive mindset is one that the whole organization is doing its best to break.

I know, right? A justice system that isn't punitive. Wrap your brain around that.

And, yeah.  Given my childhood, what I learned from it, how I've tried to choose to live my life, and how I raised Jet, I do get why I'm pouring so much energy and effort into LCJP. As the organization posters put it, "This is what love looks like in community."

Dana, the case coordinator, was the community member of our conference. She helped out at a critical juncture of the conference itself, and she was able to witness the whole thing. The director of the program as well as Dana and David (the other case coordinator) joined Detective High and Jessica and I in on the debrief the day after. I love the debriefs, it's a good chance for constructive feedback and for celebration of what went well. All the folks involved in the conference itself were pretty exhausted, still, but we were recovering. Dana was so happy with how it had all gone, and Kath, the director, was cheerful as well. It turns out that they've been meeting with and talking with RJ organizations around the world, and we were spearheading the idea of doing conferences via Zoom. Ours was the first one in all the known circles of RJ programs, and that the guidelines from that conference were going to be circulated to all the other organizations to help them out as well.


It seems that I have done a Thing that is going to have ripples I would never have expected, and those ripples will continue to spread as the whole world works through this COVID 19 thing and into the future. Video conferencing allows people to participate in these things that couldn't otherwise, and I think that that is going to be looked at more closely as time goes on.

Tags: accomplishments, adventure, colorado, grateful, present, processing, restorative justice

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