Restorative justice focuses on healing

At the beginning of November, a restorative justice workshop was held in Stearns Performance Space, presenting an alternative to the traditional crime and punishment system that defines American justice.

It was presented by the non-profit Lamoille Restorative Center and led by Executive Director Heather Hobert, Youth Programs Director Mark Scott, and Executive Director of Laraway Youth and Family Services, Greg Stefanski.

Restorative justice is an alternative path of dealing with wrong doing and problems in a community. The workshop focused on giving participants ideas of how to incorporate restorative measures into their life.

The seating was arranged into four large circles, with around 20 people in each circle although a few chairs had to be added as the room filled up. The circles served as a way for participants to get comfortable with one another so that they could practice the questions that are one part of restorative justice.

Participants were asked to speak only if they had the talking piece for that circle to encourage listening to others. The talking pieces could be any small object, from a tin of beard cream to a bouncy ball. Once the ground rules were established, the talking piece went around the circle so participants could introduce themselves and answer some unintrusive questions like “what color are you today” and “who is your hero?”

Stefanski notes that these questions are important in groups where people don’t know each other well, because it gives them the chance to form the base of a relationship with questions that are easy to access.

Restorative justice focuses on how people involved in a situation feel. It seeks to bring together people who have been harmed and the people who have harmed them in a conversation to figure out what went wrong, why people were hurt and how they can move on.

“It focuses on who was involved and what are their needs,” said Hobert. “It might turn out a friend or relative was also affected and that’s really important that they can get involved in the conversation.”

Stefanski explained that the process aims to go much deeper than just holding the guilty accountable. “This isn’t just a different way of getting people who have done something wrong, this is a way of unpacking something that’s happened and there’s probably going to be a few layers to that and it’s going to take some conversations,” said Stefanski.

After the circle got to learn a little bit about each other, participants paired off and were given a packet of questions to answer about an event that was harmful in their life, one that someone is comfortable sharing with others and can be unpacked and processed in the time limit.

The four questions were specific: What did you think when you realized what had happened? What impact has this incident had on you and others? What has been the hardest thing for you? What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

According to Scott, the conversations involved in restorative justice are just one step towards making things right for someone who has been harmed. The process of healing a relationship that has been harmed is one that isn’t linear and whose path is different for each circumstance.

“We talk about restorative justice being a compass and not a map. I think that’s really important. It’s a philosophy of how to interact with other people more than a program to fix things.” Scott said.