Summer reading

As is obvious from the gap in my posts, I’ve been taking a break from my blog this sumer.  However, I will come out of hiding long enough to post a few recent resources. They aren’t the usual summer beach reading but maybe they will be of interest anyway.

Our friends at Community Justice Initiatives British Columbia have just posted a free on-line publication, Walking the Talk:  Developing Ethics Frameworks for the Practice of Restorative Justice, by Susan Sharpe. This resource is intended to help organizations sort out the values that they wish to live by. Given the difficulties of living by the principles we espouse in our organizations, this will be an important publication for those of involved in restorative justice programs.

Susan L. Miller’s After the Crime: The power of restorative justice – dialogues between victims and offenders (New York University Press, 2011) is a careful and readable examination of severe violence dialogue approaches.

In the forward to The Jesus Factor in Justice & Peacemaking by C. Norman Kraus (Cascadia, 2011), I said this:  “If you are a Christian interested in peace, if you are a Christian justice or peace practitioner, if you are Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish and interested in understanding connections between your own faith and Christian approaches to peace – then this book is for you.”

I am currently reading The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, 2010). This is an absolute must for anyone involved with justice issues in the United States. Those of us involved in restorative justice especially need to think through its implications for our work and thought.

For those who would rather listen than read at the beach, two great interviews about restorative justice involving my friend Sujatha Baliga. One is from NPR’s Talk of the Nation, “Victims Confront Offenders.”  The other, perhaps more interesting, interview is in a podcast from “Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek.”

Finally, you may want to consider two upcoming international restorative justice conferences.  One is coming up quickly, in November, in New Zealand.  The other will be held by the European Forum for Restorative Justice in Finland in June, 2012.

 

August 3rd, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Forget restorative justice

Guest Blog by Aaron Lyons

“True justice emerges through conversation” – Howard Zehr

“So, what are your thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden?,” a woman inquires almost casually at a spring dinner party. Admittedly, the US military operation in Pakistan occupies the minds of many at this time – but surely this is not the usual pre-dinner small-talk. Realizing I’ve probably invited the challenge by my mention of my work in restorative justice, I engage with her in the hopes that we might unearth some of the topic’s complexity.

Quickly the more fundamental questions rise to the surface: How do we make sense of injustice? What is the true meaning of accountability? How do we attempt to restore order in the face of irreparable harm? Can people change? What does healing require? What are our own needs within all of this? Caught in this rich quagmire, and with no easy answers, we are the last to sit down to dinner.

Our work in restorative justice demands a skill that both transcends and includes direct engagement with participants. Beyond facilitating dialogue in the aftermath of harm, restorative justice practitioners have the implicit role of facilitating a gradual, collective re-visioning of justice in society. As we look up from our immediate work to the larger conversations that form our social and political environment, we observe that to practice restorative justice is to engage with the retributive and adversarial frames of justice that constitute the status quo.

Whether we wish it or not, our work brings us into dialogue with the people who by their views uphold an apparently different conception of justice. The stance we take in engaging with the deep-seated impulse towards punishment is of vital importance. It will be paramount to the success of our attempts at re-visioning justice in accordance with restorative values.

We as restorative justice advocates are often lured by our own passion into a kind of philosophical zealousness. It goes something like this: we know a way that is more holistic, effective and morally satisfying to deal with crime and its impacts; thus in order to achieve a more truly just world, we must educate and convert the public and decision-makers on the merit of this approach. Sound vaguely familiar?

There is a dissonance in the notion of restorative justice approaching its aims through adversarial means.  Restorative justice is not about denying or silencing the voices of anyone, including its opposition. Its spirit is just the opposite. When we’re most clear-headed, we understand that our prerogative is to listen to dissent as though our survival depends on it – which indeed, as a movement, it might. We cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to the sentiments underlying the impulse to punish. There is too much richness there, too much of importance.

This very conversation is the realm in which we humans negotiate our feelings of hurt and fear and grief, our rage, our needs for safety and dignity and felt accountability. We will never succeed as a partner in that negotiation if we cling to our positions and blindly impose our preferred outcomes.

The search for justice should be an act of deepening, not hardening. Let’s be clear – engaging openly with the punitive impulse does not mean accepting the thirst for vengeance at face value, or standing by mutely while destructive emotions chart the course of action. A restorative mindset suggests a spirit of both curiosity and companionship – of working together to excavate ever deeper through the layers of constructed meaning about justice. It is about inquiring deeply into an individual’s perceptions of justice, and then when their apparent conclusion has been presented, asking “what for” once more.

Our work invites us to seek the bedrock of a person’s sense of justice, trusting that beneath the strata of fear, pain and reaction there are some clear gems of truth. We cannot predict what we will find there. It may appear messy, falling nowhere within our own neat conceptions of “restorative.” But maybe this unknown and even feral quality is part of the inherent richness of our work.

Being a catalyst for exploratory justice conversations does not require that we adopt a facade of neutrality with regard to our own sense of justice. Such conversations rightly hold all of us in dialogue with our own most deeply held values. But if our concern is with meaningful justice, then our primary task is that of holding space for others as they navigate their way through emotional, substantive and spiritual questions.

Our commitment to justice is expressed as an invitation to dialogue. More than advocating for a certain type of justice, we are invited to stand for a certain type of conversation about justice.

[Aaron Lyons (MA '08) is a restorative justice practitioner and trainer with the British Columbia based Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives Association. His journey with restorative justice began 10 years ago and has brought him into dialogue about justice issues with people throughout many parts of the world. Aaron blogs at Restoring Justice.]

June 16th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Relationships matter

A recent conference on our campus entitled Conversations on Attachment included two prominent scholars working in neuroscience:  Dr. James Coan, a psychologist, and Dr. Daniel Siegel, a psychiatrist.  A few points from their presentations help explain why relationships are so important:

Coan:

  • “Our brains are designed to be with other people.”  The “baseline brain” is not alone; it is in relationship.  The brain expects social relationships; the “weird situation” is when we are alone.
  • We aren’t designed to solve problems by ourselves; we are designed to be interdependent.  When we are isolated from others, we perceive that we have more problems and it takes more energy to solve them.  “Relationships matter.”
  • When we are familiar with someone, they become parts  of us; we extend ourselves to them.  “I am you and you are we.”  If you are under threat, then part of me is under threat.  Human altruism is partially explained by this.
  • Read more from Coan’s presentation

Siegel:

  • It is an optical illusion that the self is confined by the skin, separate from others. Happiness, wisdom and health all come from a sense of self that is connected to a much larger entity than the individual body.
  • Both genes and experience shape our brains.  Since the brain is designed to connect with others, and because much of its development occurs after birth, attachment experiences and cultural messages affect how the brain is wired.
  • 1500 years of cultural messages that our self is limited to our skin, separate from others, has impacted our brains in a way that is unreal, unhealthy and destructive to ourselves and the planet.
  • Scaring people about the future of the planet hasn’t worked.  Informing hasn’t worked.  We have to expand the self from “me” to “we” or we are dead. The health of the planet is a moral issue.
  • A key to health and recovery is in relationship.  That is why it is so important to feel heard.  As one counseling client said to him, the breakthrough was “when I felt felt.”
  • Trauma and neglect destroy integrated brain functioning. Both chaos and rigidity result from impaired regulation and integration.
  • When threatened, people amplify who they think is the “in-group” and who is the “out-group.”  They treat the in-group with more tenderness and affection and the out-group with more hostility and disrespect.  If you identify someone as different from you, the circuitry of compassion and empathy shuts down.
  • Read more from Siegel’s presentation

This basic relational orientation of the brain, I would suggest, explains why restorative justice is so important and why restorative processes are often successful.  This also helps explain the often-negative consequences of a criminal justice approach that encourages us to divide the world into “us” and “them.”  And it goes far to explain our nation’s responses to the tragedy of 9/11.

Relationships matter. Restorative justice reminds us of this web of relationships and suggests principles and practices to create and restore healthy relationships.

As Christian Early, a Bible and Religion professor at EMU, noted in his response to Coan, “it is good for us to live in community.”  Yet human connection can also be a source of great stress.  That is why it is so important that we develop practices of restoration and reconciliation.

Ultimately restorative justice is not about crime or about specific programs or practice models.  It is a reminder that we are fundamentally interconnected; it is a call to practice the arts of relationship. As Siegel said, we have to expand the self from “me” to “we” or we are dead.

 

Addendum:

In a 2009 blog entry I discussed the contribution of restorative justice to the overall effort of building a peaceful world.  Since that entry is buried in the blog archives, perhaps it is worth repeating some of it here.

Peacebuilding is about relationships; it is about building, mending and maintaining healthy relationships.  To this effort restorative justice makes these specific contributions:

  1. A recognition that questions of justice and injustice are central to conflict and must be addressed if we are to manage conflict and build peaceful communities.
  2. A relational understanding of wrongdoing that focuses on the impact on people and relationships rather than rules.
  3. A set of principles to guide us when a harm or wrong has occurred. Put simply, these might be called reparation, accountability and engagement.
  4. A group of specific practices that, although they use some skill sets similar to those for conflict resolution, allow us to name and address the harms involved and the resulting obligations. These include victim offender conferencing, family or restorative group conferencing and – perhaps most powerful and widely applicable – circle processes.
  5. An explicit grounding in core values that not only guide the processes but are fundamental for healthy relationships. While a number of values are often named, I often identify these core values as three “R’s” – respect, responsibility and relationships.

 

April 12th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Restorative or transformative justice?

Is restorative justice sufficiently transformative?  Should the term be “transformative” rather than “restorative” justice?  Are they different phenomena or are they one and the same?

This debate has been ongoing since the origin of the field.  When trying to decide on a term in the 1980s, I considered the word transformative but rejected it as too ephemeral to communicate with real-world practitioners. But the term restorative, with its backward-looking connotations, has certainly had its limits.

Ruth Morris raised this issue frequently.  She argued that both in concept and practice, restorative justice has been too limited.  Bonnie Price Lofton, in her contribution to Critical  Issues in Restorative Justice, made this argument as well.  Restorative justice may be too backward-looking, seeking to restore something that is unattainable, undesirable or never existed. Like the criminal justice system itself, it may focus too narrowly on putting a band-aid on interpersonal relationships while neglecting underlying causes such as structural injustices.

Others have argued that restorative justice does indeed seek to transform unhealthy relationships and does pave the way for a larger social transformation.

The best piece I’ve seen that explores the relationship between these two terms is by M. Kay Harris in her chapter entitled “Transformative Justice:  the transformation of restorative justice” in The Handbook of Restorative Justice edited by Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tift.  Harris outlines four different perspectives that have been advocated in this debate:

  1. Restorative justice and transformative are two quite different perspectives.
  2. Restorative  process aims at personal and and interpersonal transformation and can open spaces for social transformation.
  3. Restorative justice falls on a continuum between retributive and transformative justice.
  4. RJ and TJ are really the same things, properly understood.  Restorative and transformative justice both aim at interpersonal as well as larger social transformation.

Personally, I would hope that #4 is true – that they really are the same thing – but I also know that in practice, this often is not the case.  Thus positions 2-3 have validity. My own interest is not in staking out a position but rather in urging the field to be as transformative as possible.  I am encouraged by the numerous examples people have shared with me of personal and interpersonal transformation through restorative justice.  And, while restorative justice often seems to create awareness of larger social issues, unfortunately I hear fewer stories of true social transformation.

While I am least comfortable with position No. 1 – that they are quite different – I do find it useful to use this perspective for pedagogical purposes.  As a class or training exercise, it is often enlightening to provide a case study, then divide participants into three groups.  Each group is assigned to approach the case using one of the following three perspectives:

I. Retributive Approach

The incident is a violation of the policies, defined by rule breaking.  Resolution involves looking at the incident, determining blame, and administering the consequences.

  • What rule has been broken?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What punishment do they deserve?

II. Restorative Approach

The incident is a violation of people and relationships.  It creates obligations to make things right.  Resolution involves looking at the harm caused by the incident:  harm to the person(s) who were victimized, harm to the instigator/aggressor(s), and harm to the larger community and asks “How can this harm be repaired?”

  • Who has been hurt & what are their needs?
  • Who is obligated to address these needs?
  • Who has a “stake” in this situation & what is the process to involve them in making things right and preventing future occurrences?

III. Transformative Approach

The incident may have occurred as a result, in part, of unhealthy relationships and social systems.  It creates obligations to build new or better relationships. This must happen not only at an individual level but at the level of social structures and institutional policies.  Resolution involves changing wider social systems in ways that help to prevent the occurrence and re-occurrence of harmful incidents.

  • What social circumstances promoted the harmful behavior?
  • What structural similarities exist between this incident and others like it?
  • What measures could prevent future occurrences?

Usually the first group, “retributive justice,” gets done first.  The transformative group is often last.  This in itself leads to interesting discussions.

This exercise, which is adapted from a series of exercises designed by CJP graduate Dave Dyck, somewhat arbitrarily differentiates between the three perspectives but it can lead to interesting conversations about the relationships between them.

March 10th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

Justice as restoration of trust

“Restorative justice is a bold and thought-provoking innovation that has engaged the energies and excited the hopes of criminal justice reformers throughout the world over the last several decades.  And yet, while it has achieved outstanding results in thousands of programs, it has remained a marginal development because it has failed to articulate a theory and set of practice applicable to serious crimes and adult offenders.  Unless it can do so, it may very well remain on the sidelines, ‘doomed to irrelevance and marginality.’”

In this paragraph, which opens the last chapter of his new book, Crime, Punishment and Restorative Justice:  From the Margins to the Mainstream, Ross London – a former judge, prosecutor and public defender turned professor – accurately summarizes the state of the field.  Fortunately, he argues, it need not and should not remain in this state.

What restorative justice offers, he says, is not so much new justice practices but a different view of crime and a new goal for justice: crime is seen as a source of harm that must be repaired.  Moreover, the essential harm of crime is the loss of trust, on both interpersonal and social levels.  What victims and communities need is to have their trust restored.  The essential obligation of offenders is to show that they are trustworthy.  The purpose of justice should be to encourage this process.

The overriding goal of justice, then, ought to be the restoration of trust.  The attempt to achieve this on both personal and social levels, he argues, can provide a unifying umbrella for our response to crime. Rather than replacing other, more traditional goals, it would become the overriding consideration in sentencing, providing rationales for and limits to the application of goals such as incapacitation and punishment.

London provides a comprehensive analysis and application of his argument, exploring its socio-biological basis and how it addresses the needs of victims, offenders and society as a whole.   He discusses the role of apology, forgiveness, restitution, rehabilitation, victim-offender dialogues and punishment within this framework.

Punishment alone, he argues, “is an extraordinarily poor way of restoring trust, either in an offender or in society.”  However, it has an important restorative role for individuals and society if it is limited, accepted as deserved, and part of a larger strategy aimed at the restoration of trust and relationships.

Having himself played key roles in criminal justice, he recognizes justice’s ritual elements.  Criminal justice is, by and large, a ritual of exclusion, “a form of symbolic degradation that strips the offender of his membership in the moral community….”  But justice also has the potential to become a ritual of inclusion and restoration.

London’s argument is much too complex to summarize here.   Instead, let me emphasize two major points.  First, loss of trust is the fundamental harm of crime, and restoration of trust is a basic need.  In my experience, this rings true in the lives of victims, offenders and communities.

Second, by identifying restoration of trust as the overarching goal of justice, we might be able to provide a realistic and comprehensive theory of sentencing, for all levels of crime.    With restoration of trust as the primary goal, we might be able to refocus and incorporate the other widely-embraced and more usual goals of justice.

“The restoration of trust approach integrates conventional sentencing theories under the new goal of repairing the harm of crime that applies to all cases,” not just so-called “minor” crimes and cooperative offenders.  In this way, restorative justice might move from the margins to the mainstream and realize the potential that it offers.

This is a book worth reading. My primary disappointment is the price; at a list price of $75, it will not get the audience it deserves.   Now that the book is out, I restate a suggestion that I made to Ross when I read an earlier draft:  that he make his essential argument available in shorter, more accessible form so that it can stimulate the kind of dialogue that it needs.

Crime, Punishment, and Restorative Justice is published by FirstForum Press, a division of Lynne Rienner Publishers (2011).

February 8th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Restorative Justice)

Death of a mentor

Milton Rogovin died this month at the age of 101.  Although I only met him once, through his photographs and writing he has been one of my mentors.

1998 photo by Howard Zehr

As NPR noted in his obituary, Rogovin’s life was about seeing, though the methods changed.  He began his professional life helping others to see, as an optometrist in Buffalo, New York.  Because of his activist involvements for the poor, he was more or less forced out of his occupation by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.  As his patient base shrank, he began making photographs in the hopes of helping us to see the injustices around us and the people impacted by them.

Rogovin’s photographs were always about people, always about the rural and urban underclass.  One of his most important projects was close to home, in the economically depressed areas of Buffalo, though he also photographed in Chile, Yemeni and other countries.   “All my life, I’ve focused on the poor,” he said in a Washington Post quote.  “The rich ones have their own photographers.” He allowed people to pose themselves, always portraying them with dignity and individuality, not as victims.  His subjects were photographed straightforwardly, in their own environments.

Two of his books have had an especially significant influence on me.  The Forgotten Ones contains a variety of series of working people from around the world. My favorite, though, is “Working People, 1977-80.”  This photo essay is made of a series of diptychs.  On one page is a portrait of  individual workers in heavy industry, often mining, posed in their work environments.  On the facing page is a portrait of the same person at home.  The contrast is often dramatic; sometimes it takes a second look to realize they are the same people.  The pairing of these photos creates a much richer portrait than a single image.

Rogovin took the concept of paired images further in his book Triptychs:  Buffalo’s Lower West Side Revisited, expanding each grouping to three images made over several decades plus years.  After initially doing portraits in the 1970s, he returned to the community in the 1980s and again in the 1990’s, locating the same people and re-photographing them.  It is fascinating to see how people change, and don’t change, over the years.  This inspired my own small series of portraits over time, some of which can be seen on my photo website www.howardzehr.com.

In my interview with him, Rogovin said something that I identified with:  “Going from one series to another is a very difficult thing for me, and especially my wife.  I get kind of grumpy and worried that I’ll find another series that’s important.”  I too feel at lose ends when I don’t have a focus for my photography.

After finding that fancy equipment generated too much attention in his working environments, Rogovin adopted a simple, non-intrusive approach:  a Rolliflex medium format camera, often on a tripod, and a bare-bulb flash.

Do photographs change the world?  In The Forgotten Ones Rogovin says, “…I used to think that photography would do everything, but now I don’t think so.  It takes photography, it takes sociology, it takes working people, it takes teachers – and a lot of different people to help make the change. See, it isn’t just the photographs.”

He cites the early documentary photographer Jacob Riis: “Jacob Riis, when he was very despondent at the results he was getting, said he would go to a friend of his who was a stonecutter and he would watch him work.  The stonecutter would hammer that stone once, twice, ten times and nothing happened.  Fifty, a hundred times and nothing happened.  Then, after the hundred and first blow, the stone would split, and Riis said it was obvious that it wasn’t’ the last blow that did it.  It was all the blows together.  That’s my feeling.  It wasn’t the photographer – his or her photographs – that’s going to do it, but all the hundred and one different blows added together to make a change.”

This image has inspired my work in justice as well as photography.

January 25th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Photography)

The story is true

“Stories are the way we domesticate the world’s disorder.”

(Bruce Jackson, The Story is True)

My last entry emphasized the importance of story.  Since stories are essential to the experience of victims and offenders – and to all of us – I want to explore this topic a bit further here.

Our histories, our identities, our meanings for our lives are understood in and conveyed through our stories.  We often experience trauma when those stories are disrupted.  The process of transcending trauma requires us to “re-story” our lives.  This is true for those who are victimized but it is often true for those who offend as well.  As Shadd Maruna and Hans Toch’s suggest in Making Good, those who “desist” from offending behavior do so by re-storying their own lives in ways that preserve their self-respect and provide meaning for their new lives.

Judicial trials are also about story.  Jackson notes in The Story is True that trials are a competition between different ways to frame ambiguous material.  They are often more about winning more than about truth; the instrument is the development of a plausible story (p. 123).

Journalism – and especially television – presents events as stories; it utilizes stereotypical templates to impose a sense of order and completeness on information and the result is often incomplete and even misleading.

Jackson is an ethnographer who has done extensive work in prison and on death row.  He has used both still photography and film in this context.  Because of these interests, I have followed his work for years. (For researchers, and especially those working in prison, I also recommend his 1987 book, Fieldwork.)

Our lives, and most events, do not unfold in an orderly sequence. To make sense of them, to manage the disorder of the world, we create stories.   To quote one of Jackson’s students, “Our stories are the dots we use to connect the parts of our lives.”

Stories have to make sense, even when life often doesn’t. Like a photograph, stories are a way of framing things.  As with photographs, if we change the frame, a different story may emerge.

Our stories may or may not be true in a factual sense.  But unless we are involved in a forensic inquiry, what matters more in most cases are the meanings and perceptions they portray.

Jackson reminds us that our stories are created, then revised and fine-tuned over time, to serve various purposes:

  • Stories make sense and order of the world and of our identities. After significant events, including traumatic experiences, these stories may need to be revised.
  • Stories are told to fit the needs of the storyteller at a given time, needs that vary with the context: for example, we may want to court favor, present ourselves in a favorable light, bond with others, or help define who is “inside” and who is “outside.”
  • Stories are told to meet the needs of the listener or audience, so the listener is often part of the creative act.

Another factor shaping our stories is the nature of memory.  As I pointed out in an earlier entry (see Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Tavris & Aronson), our minds don’t like dissonance, so they tend to fill the gaps and create an order to things.  Some quotes from Jackson:  “Memory doesn’t like clutter.  It economizes….”  Memory is a process rather than a condition – “an artist, not a computer.”

Stories are important.  Are they “true?”  Jackson concludes that what is true is the fact that they are told, and that  they carry meaning for the teller.  I will end with a longer quotation:

“In time, how we tell our story depends not so much on what happened then, but on what we know of the world now.  And that is why the story of that time told in this moment means at least as much, and perhaps more, about this world now than that time then.  And that is why these stories we tell again and again remain forever new.” (p. 43)

January 6th, 2011 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)

Crossing the divide

In a recent blog entry, a conservative blogger in the United Kingdom calls for more attention to restorative justice.

Citing a speech by conservative MP Alan Duncan, the blogger suggests that restorative justice may be more than a way to reduce the revolving door or “carousel” of prison; indeed, it could have substantial benefits for both victims and offenders.  The blogger concludes that “It makes intuitive sense that many victims would benefit from Restorative Justice, but Duncan is making the interesting and important observation that offenders can also benefit.”

In his speech, MP Duncan embraced the idea that facing the victim has the potential to help the offender realize the impact of his or her offending:  “The hardened ex-offender who for the first time looks his elderly victim in the eye and sees her distress often finds it a challenge to remain hardened for long.”  “It’s very simple,” says Duncan:  “if I become the Prisons Minister, I will be a strong advocate and supporter of RJ.”

Duncan does not call for more punishment, more prisons.  In fact, he argues that “…the idea that on its own ‘prison works’ is unsophisticated and simplistic….  I want busy prisons, and I want a much more streamlined system to harness all efforts to assist the offender community.  RJ works – when it comes to victims, offenders, the community, and reducing reoffending, it works.”

It has often been my experience that restorative justice can span the conservative-liberal divide.  Concerns for victims and for reducing the costs of imprisonment are often common to both.  The concept of offenders facing up to what they have done makes intuitive sense to many.  Values such as responsibility, respect and relationship are often shared along the spectrum.  What we mean by these values and ideas, however, and what motivates us to embrace them, are crucial issues.

The lessons to be gleaned from the movement against indeterminate sentencing in the U.S. are instructive.  Eventually both progressives and conservatives came together to replace indeterminate sentences with determinate sentences motivated by a just deserts philosophy.  The resulting lengthened mandatory sentences dramatically increased the prison population.   While there was some confluence of policy positions, the underlying values and motivations of the various parties were quite different.  The results have been in many ways catastrophic.

Can a similar outcome be avoided with the restorative justice movement?  I don’t know the answer, but I do think the likelihood of such unintended consequences might be reduced if restorative justice can encourage a dialogue about our needs, obligations, values and goals.

One way to pursue this discussion might be by sharing our stories with one another. Rather than sharing our positions and beliefs, we might share the stories that have shaped our lives and thinking.  Stories can be a powerful way to understand and connect with one another that moves us beyond the assumptions that we often make about the other.

A friend of mine has been participating in a long-running dialogue in which those in favor and those opposed to abortion share their stories with one another.  Through this process, participants have found understanding and ongoing relationships across this great divide.

Similarly, a group of biblical scholars found understanding and formed relationships in spite of their theological differences by sharing with one another the stories that shaped their understanding of the Bible.  (See Ray Gingerich and Earl Zimmerman, Telling Our Stories:  Personal Accounts of Engagement with Scripture.)

Dialogue is essential and sharing stories is one important way to dialogue.

Stories make sense of our lives.  Stories communicate who we are and what made us.  In her opening chapter entitled “Stories Matter” (Telling True Stories by Mark Kramer & Wendy Call), Jacqui Banaszynski puts it like this:  “Stories are our prayers…. Stories are parables…. Stores are history…. Stories are music…. Stories are our soul….”

December 22nd, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Restorative Justice)

Justice for children whose parents are in prison

Three million children in the United States are estimated to have one or both parents in prison.   Here is some information about these children:

  • 1 in 15 African American children has a parent in prison.  For white children the figure is 1 in 110.
  • About half of parents in prison have never had a personal visit from their children.
  • Half of children with an incarcerated mother live with their grandmother.
  • Children of prisoners are 5 times more likely to go to prison themselves than other children.
  • Common reactions include feelings of guilt, shame and loss; fear of abandonment and loss of support; anxiety; attention disorders; traumatic stress and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Longer-term results can include maturation regression as well as reduced ability to cope with stress and trauma.
  • The associated stress and trauma often results in both short and long term mental health, behavioral and educational issues.

The impact of prisons on families has been called the collateral damage of crime and of our justice policies.  Nell Bernstein, in her important book, All Alone in the World, states it eloquently:

“These children have committed no crime, but the price they are forced to pay is steep. They forfeit, too, much of what matters to them:  their homes, their safety, their public status and private self-image, their primary source of comfort and affection.  Their lives are profoundly affected….”

What Will Happen to Me? is intended to bring attention to these children.  Rather than speak for them, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to present themselves through their portraits and words.

The book is also designed for those who care for these children:  grandparents, teachers, social workers.  Using a restorative justice framework, it concludes with an essay on the justice needs of these children.  The appendix includes suggested resources and the Bill of Rights for Children of the Incarcerated.

For a preview of some of these photos and stories, see my photo story at visualpeacemakers.org.

While not “officially” released until January, the book is now available at stores such as Amazon.com.

Also just off the press and to be released shortly is a new edition of Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences that has been out of print for several years. The new edition contains a number of updates on people and statistics.

(For more information on families of prisoners, see The National Reentry Resource Center.

NEW January 26, 2011:

Story in Ebony online.

Interview on Michael Eric Dyson Show.

December 10th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Photography, Restorative Justice)

Decolonizing research and photography

“From the vantage point of the colonized, a position from which I write, and choose to privilege, the term “research” is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.  The word itself, ‘research,’ is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.  When mentioned in many indigenous contexts, it stirs up silence, it conjures up bad memories, it raises a smile that is knowing and distrustful….  The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonized peoples.

So begins Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book, Decolonizing Methodologies:  Research and Indigenous Peoples (New Zealand: University of Otago Press 1999).  Smith, who is Maori,  could just as well be talking about journalism and photography.

I was reminded of this recently while reading Trading Gazes:  Euro-American Women Photographers and Native North Americans, 1880-1940 by Susan Bernardin, Melody Graulich, Lisa MacFarlane and Nicole Tonkovich.  Trading Gazes examines the life and work of four women photographers who courageously left behind their prescribed gender roles as well as the safety and comfort of their privileged communities to frequent, and sometimes live in, Native American communities. In many ways their motives were admirable. Some sought adventure, to be sure, but they also hoped to bring attention to and humanize “the other” in an era of much misinformation and stereotyping.  Their photographs often focused on human interactions and activities that male photographers neglected.  They “traded gazes” and often artifacts with the people they interviewed and photographed.

Yet the exchanges were often unequal.  In Trading Gazes the authors “explore the asymmetries of power that made these images possible in their own moment and that have preserved (or obscured) them for our own age.”  By reinforcing stereotypes their work contributed to the colonizing policies of the era.

Just how this works is described by American journalist Amy Wilentz in “A Place Called Haiti” (Aperture, Issue 126, 1992).  She begins her article by describing behavior that American observers often find bizarre – but which is entirely logical once you’ve “learned something of the grammar of Haiti’s reality.”  Even when we are socially aware, we bring with us certain expectations and assumptions and those affect what and how we photograph.  “Obviously, a photographer makes pictures of subjects that strike her, and those subjects may often be ones that, for some reason – often, the wrong reason – resonate in her mind.”  Likewise, she notes, a “good photograph is one that can be understood by its intended viewer because it reflects received wisdom and stereotype.”  In doing so, it confirms our assumptions and justifies our actions.

There is a often great contrast between the photographs of Haiti made by foreign and by Haitian photographers. Haitian photographs show a place they know as home and their photos tend to be truly documentary.  White photographers, Wilentz argues, are showing a place full of mystery, that they don’t fully understand.  “This makes their pictures mysterious, dense and attractive, but also keeps intact that wall of incomprehension that has long existed between Haitian subject and non-Haitian viewer.”

Dianne Haagaman explores this in her book, How I Learned Not to be a Photojournalist. Working as a newspaper photographer, she soon learned that there were templates that governed what editors wanted and how photographers photographed.  Faced with the need to organize messy reality in ways that get attention and communicate simple ideas, “Photographers…as a matter of efficiency, shoot from an implicit script, using standard forms to say standard things about standard topics.”   These powerful but simplified images often confirm stereotypes and assumptions.  They also ignore and obscure power dynamics.  Haagaman left conventional journalism and experimented with ways to use photography that would reveal and help analyze underlying power relationships.

How do we address these pitfalls?  One step, of course, is to be as aware of the hidden biases and the power dynamics in our  approaches.  Another is to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the context.  But none of this is likely to avoid the trap.  As I have discussed in earlier entries, what is required is that we change the relationship from researcher/photographer and subject to a reciprocal relationship of mutual collaboration. We must give as well as receive.  Above all, we must commit ourselves to deliberate accountability to those whose stories we tell and whose images we use.

November 4th, 2010 – by Howard Zehr Zehr (category: Peacebuilding, Photography, Restorative Justice)