9. Journalist of Justice

Dr. Howard Zehr is director emeritus of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and a distinguished professor of restorative justice at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In this ninth episode, he talks about his path to victim-offender conferencing as a young practitioner, the early days of restorative justice, and where he sees the field going from here.

One of Zehr’s formative experiences as a young adult was attending Morehouse College, a historically black men’s college in Atlanta. He was confronted with being part of a “minority” as one of the few white students in attendance.

“People just didn’t read me the way I was used to being read. My body language, what I said was interpreted totally different[ly],” Zehr recalls. “It was a profound experience and not an easy one.”

It was in the 1970s, while teaching at another historically black institution, Talladega College in Alabama, when Zehr started working with the criminal justice system. He provided support to prisoners and trained student research teams “to help defense attorneys pick juries in really highly politicized cases: death penalty, prison riots, police brutality.”

In 1985, Zehr published the booklet Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice, followed by Changing Lenses in 1990, a seminal work in Zehr’s own career and the field at large. He joined CJP in 1996, at the urging of Professor Ray Gingerich and Director Vernon Jantzi.

“My self concept is basically a journalist of justice,” Zehr says – communication and networking are foundational to his work. The whole reason he launched the Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding series was to make the core concepts of CJP accessible to a wider audience.

Zehr pitched the first title, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, to his publisher saying, “I want it to cost about the same as a Big Mac dinner.” Over 100,000 copies of the book have now been sold in a variety of languages.

What does he celebrate most about CJP? “We’re still, as far as I know, the only academic program with a practice, a reflective practitioner value-based kind of approach. Which is what we set out to be.”

Looking forward another 25 years, Zehr says he likes where he sees the next generation going.

“That’s partly why I’m staying out of it,” he says. “A lot of them have a much wider vision about applications – to historical harms, to social injustices – but I don’t want us to lose also some of our focus on things like bringing those who are harmed and those who caused harm in the context of a criminal system together as well … I hope we can hold those things together.”


Guest

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Dr. Howard Zehr

Widely known as “the grandfather of restorative justice,” Zehr began as a practitioner and theorist in restorative justice in the late 1970s at the foundational stage of the field. He has led hundreds of events and lectured in more than 25 countries and 35 states. A prolific writer and editor, speaker, educator, and photographer, Zehr actively mentors other leaders in the field.
His books include Changing Lenses and The Little Book of Restorative Justice, both highly influential in the field, as well as photo/interview books such as Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences and Transcending, Reflections of Crime Victims. He was the initiator of The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding series.
Zehr joined CJP in 1996 and in 2013 stepped away from active classroom teaching. He remains involved with the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice. Before coming to EMU, he directed the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Office of Criminal Justice.


Transcript

Howard Zehr:
That was…my goal was to get us to take a fresh look at some of our assumptions. So it’s to bring a fresh lens of…a fresh, fresh, look at things we take for granted. So the “Changing Lenses” seemed like an apt metaphor for it.

[Theme music plays and fades into background]

patience kamau:
Hey-hey -hey everybody! Happy Wednesday to you, and welcome back to peacebuilder, a Conflict Transformation podcast by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. My name is patience kamau and with us this ninth episode:

Howard Zehr:
Howard Zehr, I’m distinguished professor of restorative justice and the emeritus co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice here at CJP.

patience kamau:
Widely known as the grandfather of restorative justice, Zehr began as practitioner and theorist in restorative justice in the late 1970s at the foundational stages of the field. He has led hundreds of events and lectured in more than 25 countries and 35 States. A prolific writer and editor, speaker, educator and photographer, Zehr actively mentors other leaders in the field. His books include “Changing Lenses” and “The Little Book of Restorative Justice,” both highly influential in the field, as well as photo-interview books such as “Doing Life: reflections of men and women serving life sentences” and “Transcending: reflections of crime victims.” He was the initiator of “The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding” series. Zehr joined CJP in 1996 and in 2013 stepped away from active classroom teaching. He remains involved with the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. Before coming to EMU, he directed the Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Office of Criminal Justice.

[Theme music fades back in and ends]

patience kamau:
Hi Howard–

Howard Zehr:
Hello.

patience kamau:
All right, so let’s talk about how you ended up here at EMU, CTP/CJP. What was your journey here?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I had been working from the late 1970s, uh, I had been working as a director of the office of crime and justice for a Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. and in that role I’d worked on a number of issues. I had developed restorative justice concept during that time and I had been working, done a lot of writing and interpreting things for practitioners and I was helping communities start restorative justice programs around the country who were interested in that, um, that kind of thing. And in 1990 I had been doing it from Elkhart, Indiana, and then I moved to Akron, Pennsylvania in 1990. But by mid-1990s I was feeling like I was kind of done there –I was feeling that “maybe I’ve done what I can do for this field” and Ray Gingerich was a professor here and he was doing some things on a regular basis at MCC and he would show up at my desk and he would make me promise that I would not take any other job before they had a chance to have me here and I didn’t know how seriously to take him. They had asked me here to give a talk one time before that –I didn’t know until much later when I had been hired, that actually was my test lecture [Laughs].

patience kamau:
Oh wow [laughter].

Howard Zehr:
[Laughter continues] I didn’t know they were even considering me at that point, but they had me here and do that, do a lecture…

patience kamau:
…they were clearly impressed!

Howard Zehr:
I, well, whatever, anyway. I ended up here in ’96 I came, I taught here before that I taught, uh, I drove down in a weekend format during the winter and taught a restorative justice class. That’s where people like Bonnie Lofton first made contact with CJP, she took that class.

patience kamau:
Where would you drive from?

Howard Zehr:
From Akron.

patience kamau:
…from Akron, Pa., and you are from, from Indiana originally?

Howard Zehr:
Well, Illinois, Indiana. Born in Illinois and grew up a lot in Indiana, in the Elkhart area in Elkhart, and then had left there when I went to college or toward after my first year of college, but then in ’78 I moved back there. My father had just died, my mother was there and I’d kind of burned out and was ready to do something different. So, I was directing a halfway house for ex-offenders that burnt down, I was taking classes at the Seminary, at Notre Dame law school.

patience kamau:
Where’d you go to undergraduate college?

Howard Zehr:
I started at Goshen in Indiana, but then I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, my second and fourth year. In between there, I went to Bethel college in Kansas where I met my wife, but I graduated then from Morehouse in 1966.

patience kamau:
Why the second and fourth year –what was with the in between year?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I went…my sophomore year I went to Morehouse, which is a historically black college and I pretty much intentionally, I mean there weren’t very many white students there and most of them were short term…um, what do you call it?

patience kamau:
Visiting scholars? Exchange students?

Howard Zehr:
Yes, they were exchange/visiting…some kind of program. It was unfortunate because they came from a rather elite school in New England and they came down really, they were seen as voyeurs because of the civil rights movement. And so a lot of my fellow students felt really disrespected by them and so it was actually a disadvantage…

patience kamau:
…for you?

Howard Zehr:
For me, I had to prove I wasn’t one of them, but I was there one year and I was pretty much totally immersed in an African American world, I had no experience with that prior to that really, and a couple of things happened –one of them, my parents had moved to Kansas and when I went home for spring break, the Dean took me for a whirlwind tour and convinced me, I oughta come to Bethel and I had, I kind of…was trying to figure out who I was. I mean, I was so immersed in this world that was new to me and so it was kind of a chance to take stock of who I was. I really wanted to go back and Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse, liked me, he was, and he arranged for the NAACP legal defense fund to pay my way the year as a minority student. So, and then I graduated in ’66.

patience kamau:
Yeah, wow! How was your experience in those two years there? How, how would you describe them?

Howard Zehr:
Well I’d say it’s one of the more, it was absolutely pivotal for my life, it was transformative — I mean it just changed my whole world, and really the reason I do what I do today is because of that. It wasn’t easy. I mean, it was lots of…I knew there was going to be culture shock…I had tried to prepare, I was 18 I mean, what can you do? But I had read all kinds of stuff. I had read African American authors, I had read sociologists –I tried to prepare for it, but even then it was…for one thing, people just didn’t read me the way I was used to being read, my body language. What I said was interpreted totally differently, I mean this was, this was less than a decade after Brown vs. Education, so I mean, none of us had a lot of experience of the other. So it was a, it was a profound experience and not an easy one, but really important one for me. When I hear people today, we hear this from our students saying, “I don’t feel safe in this environment,” how do you ever learn if you, I mean, if you don’t get out there, …

patience kamau:
…you have to be challenged.

Howard Zehr:
You have to be places that feel emotionally unsafe and, and that was just really important for me.

patience kamau:
It was formative to you.

Howard Zehr:
Absolutely!

patience kamau:
Do any specific examples come to mind that you can think of? Emotionally — what was challenging? So you said you were prepared, you were reading, but you couldn’t prepare fully –does anything come to mind that…

Howard Zehr:
Well, as I said, people viewed me completely differently, I had to learn to understand. I had to realize that how do you adapt to, to be able to communicate and communicate what I thought I was communicating. Things that I might think were reaching out in a friendly way might not be interpreted that way. I learned a lot about “white privilege” and I mean we didn’t call it that in those days, but I very soon learned all the privileges I had and sometimes my peers asked me to use those privileges…when I could do things they couldn’t do. But that was a, that was a really important experience. There were a few cases where I was confronted with physically, to prove myself, uh, but yeah, I mean it was some point I..my, one of my room, my roommates and others got together and they awarded me a certificate, “Honorary Negro” was the term in the ’60s, so I still have it in my stuff somewhere, this, this certificate.

patience kamau:
Did you find, being a minority in a majority black, uh, environment, did you find that what was considered as white privilege elsewhere was stripped away in that environment?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, the things that I would have assumed I…the privileged, I had, I wouldn’t have in that. And just, uh, yeah, just, uh, it was just an important experience to learn to be what it’s like to be a minority in a majority group, that that’s really important. And I realized, when some of my colleagues now and so forth don’t quite, don’t get it, I realize well you really have to have that experience to understand it.

patience kamau:
Mm, you have to live it, to actually know it.

Howard Zehr:
You have to live it, you have to live it to understand what it, um, what it’s like.

patience kamau:
At what point did you begin theorizing about restorative justice? At what point in your life, would you say?

Howard Zehr:
After I graduated and was finishing my Ph.D., I took a job at Talladega College in Alabama and um, that’s a Historically Black College and I taught there during the seventies, and during that time I, that’s when I got involved in justice issues in a practical way. I began to work with defending some prisoners, uh, in a variety of…supporting prisoners, but also I, and a colleague began to train students. We began to put together teams, research teams to help defense attorneys pick juries in really highly politicized cases, death penalty, prison riots, police brutality. And so I had, I had a lot of on the ground experience with justice and injustice and I, I realized pretty quickly how racist it was, how inaccurate it was, you know, and I actually wrote an article during those years for national magazine, Sojourners Magazine about all of these things. Of course, looking back, I didn’t really understand how, how fundamentally flawed the system was. Like many people who are advocates for one side or the other, I didn’t know anything about victims –I didn’t want to know anything about victims, and no, I didn’t know, it just wasn’t part of the picture. I was a defendant…I was an offender advocate. And then I kind of burnt out at teaching and we need…my father had just died and we moved to Indiana not quite knowing what we’re going to do. But as I said, I was working part-time directing this transitional house for people coming out of prisons and the other part I was going to school and within a very short time that the building burned down.

patience kamau:
Was that, was that an accident?

Howard Zehr:
[Chuckles] Well, I think it was by here, but the funny part was I had had the fire inspector out that same day –we had gone through it, I pointed out, so I used to be an electrician, so I pointed out some electrical problems that he hadn’t seen, he marked them down. He got back to the station and within two hours the fire trucks were rolling out to our place. He said, the guys at the fire station just him for months, you know, he goes to inspect it and when he got back it burns. Actually, we never approved it, but I think what happened is there were some bees that had made a nest where the electrical service went into the house and I think some of the guys thought they could smoke them out, and I think they started the fire that way [Laughter].

patience kamau:
Oh dear!

Howard Zehr:
So then there was this new idea of bringing victims and offenders together…

patience kamau:
Is that what’s “victim-offender conferencing”?

Howard Zehr:
It was called “victim-offender reconciliation” in those days. It appears that a Mennonite probation officer and a couple others, a juvenile probation officer had gotten an idea like this and started doing it and then heard about the one in Kitchener and they had tried to do it and it wasn’t going very well, i was kind of floundering. And my board chair, uh, Marlin Jeschke from, a seminary professor, no…Goshen College professor, Bible professor, uh, he just thought I had to go see, check this out…and I was really skeptical. I mean, you know, I didn’t want to work with the system. I, you know, the prosecutors, the judges, we were the guys with “the white hats.” But I went down there and, and they dumped it all on me. I mean, they weren’t, it wasn’t going very well and it didn’t belong –cause I realized– in probation anyway, so they immediately dumped it on me, and…

patience kamau:
What does that mean — that you were basically to run it?

Howard Zehr:
I was it! Um, and so a couple of things that happened. I began to, people around the country had been hearing about this idea, but knew…nobody knew quite what it is or how to do it. So I immediately began to write manuals and booklets about it — I wrote a handbook for facilitators. So we used volunteers so I built..made a handbook. Eventually that became something called the VORP book that had a sections on how to organize a program and so forth. Um, and I immediately moved it out of probation and found a nonprofit base for it. But one of the things, funny things happened while I was in probation, yet we had a head judge of the County who was a real loose cannon and we heard he was coming to visit our office and everybody thought they did not want him to know about this new program. So I moved the whole program into the trunk of my car for the afternoon, packed it up, took it out –it wasn’t that much obviously. Took all the files and we put them in the car until he left and then we put them back.

patience kamau:
Did it turn out to be the right decision or was he not that much of a threat?

Howard Zehr:
I think so. No. I think he could have been a threat. We didn’t want him messing with it. And then within a short time as I began to try to, I mean I’m, my self-concept is basically “a journalist of justice.”

patience kamau:
A Journalist of Justice.

Howard Zehr:
I’m a comm…my interest has been communication ever since I started college as a speech major right, but when I moved to Morehouse I dropped that. Um, so I wanted to learn how to communicate and part of the reason I left teaching in the seventies, I wanted to learn to communicate to a larger audience, not to an academic audience. So communication had been a part of my goal on self-image all along, and so immediately I was trying to communicate what we’re doing and as I did that, and as I began to research, I began to hear these pieces out there, this idea of “restitution,” of involving the community, a mediated process. And I began to synthesize that to try to explain what we were doing. And I couldn’t remember until a number of years ago where I got the term “restorative justice,” but, Ann Skelton is a human rights attorney in South Africa who was working on her Ph.D., and she came to visit here and I was in that office over there in the corner…

patience kamau:
Where Jayne is now?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, where Jayne is now –when I was either co-director or filling in for Vernon as director, I can’t remember which, and I turned her loose on my files in the shelves, then she found this book on the shelf –iIt had an essay by a fellow named Albert Eglash, who had an idea of “restitutive justice.” He didn’t want the victims involved at all, but he had this article and he had this one paragraph where there was a series of terms of justice and one of them was “restorative justice,” and it was underlined, and I realized, “Oh, that’s where I got it.” She then traced it back to a German theologian in the fifties but anyway.

patience kamau:
Wow!

Howard Zehr:
But I was trying to figure out how to communicate –I was looking for words that you could remember, and so at that time I was using the language of “retributive justice.” So “restorative justice,” “retributive justice” in alliterated, you know, something one could remember, but basically I was trying to; I’m a synthesizer basically. I said that in beginning of “Changing Lenses.” I said, “this isn’t a book of invention, it’s a book of synthesis.” So I was trying to pull these things together and communicate it, and then I first presented this material…I was a facilitator for a weekend retreat for National Conference of Priests and Nuns, Catholic clergy who were involved in prison ministry –and that’s the first time I remember rolling out this whole concept of…

patience kamau:
…of “restorative justice” in that phrase…

Howard Zehr:
…of “restorative justice” and the arguments for it, in that phrase, and the arguments from a historical perspective and the biblical perspective and the experiential.

patience kamau:
How was it received? I guess that was a receptive audience?

Howard Zehr:
That was a receptive audience. But then I presented it, there was a group of victim-offender, again, we used the term “reconciliation,” practitioners from around the country and I presented it to them –they didn’t pay much attention to that.

patience kamau:
They didn’t?

Howard Zehr:
They didn’t, didn’t seem to catch on to anything. But then I published that in 1985 as a little booklet called “retributive justice, restorative justice,” that that got picked up quite a bit, and then changing…I began working on “Changing Lenses” that came out in 1990.

patience kamau:
Ah, yeah, we just celebrated its 25th…

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, that was a couple of years…2015, I think.

patience kamau:
Right. They have a new edition of it that was released…

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, yes.

patience kamau:
What was different about it?

Howard Zehr:
We re-ordered it a little bit, different introduction, sujathat baliga wrote the foreword for it. Uh, some new exercises in the back and things like that.

patience kamau:
So I’m curious when it became “victim-offender conferencing”?

Howard Zehr:
I think Lorraine, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, and I gave it that term and maybe I’d learned that term “conferencing” from New Zealand, for instance and so forth. But the word “reconciliation” is very problematic, –uh, it’s a real hot button issue for victim groups cause they feel like they’re going to be pressured into it. And it’s the kind of terms that…”forgiveness and reconciliation” are terms that the news media keeps using, even though we tell them not to. What I say is that these kinds of programs, these kinds of encounters, they’re about trying to meet victims needs, they’re about trying to hold those who offended accountable for…they’re a way to involve people and identifying those needs and the solutions. If people choose to reconcile, that is totally up to them, but it’s not mandated. We’re not going to bring it up; it’s up to them! Now if they move, and usually they do, from a less …to a less hostile position, that’s a form of reconciliation I suppose, and some do reconcile, but that’s not our goal…

patience kamau:
…but it’s completely up to them?

Howard Zehr:
It’s really up to them. And so the term “reconciliation” is, is really misleading, but the media keeps using it. I mean they love happy stories, you know, so they’re always, yeah, I know that story, the New York Times magazine — sujatha’s case that I had, I had linked her to, we told the reporter over and over again, it’s not about forgiveness, not about reconciliation, …

patience kamau:
…but nonetheless…

Howard Zehr:
…then of course somebody else writes, the title…

patience kamau:
…it becomes that…

Howard Zehr:
…well then, we have to do all this cleanup work with people, you know…

patience kamau:
Yeah, well, I suppose that’s the lazy work of using easy phrases that just catch people’s attention and what, I don’t know, clicks, I guess these days is what we’re going to.
Um, yeah. That’s fascinating that’s, that’s good to know the provenance of how all these things came to be.

Howard Zehr:
The interesting thing was it wasn’t very long until people came from all over the world –I mean the early ’80s already, we’d only been operating since about seven…well, the folks in Elkhart had done some cases as early as ’70, mid-’70s I think, but I came on the scene in ’77, ’78 –and we had people coming from Germany, England, all over; within a couple of years, there was so much interest in it.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
Um, the title “Changing Lenses” also comes from your interest…you’re a photographer; you’re a really good photographer. Um, so how did you choose that title? And I imagine that it had to do with you being a photographer?

Howard Zehr:
I was sitting around with a couple of friends who were involved in…with me and we were trying to figure out a metaphor and yeah, it was the photography and I –that was, my goal was to get us to take a fresh look at some of our assumptions. So, it’s to bring a fresh lens, a fresh look at things we take for granted. So the “Changing “Lenses” seemed like an apt metaphor for it.

patience kamau:
Did you get any push back? Um, as “restorative justice” became something you were writing about, were there hostile…have there been hostile groups that have pushed back against it, that you’ve been aware of?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah. Well, the interesting thing, I always say that when you introduce something new, the first thing people do is they ignore it and then they try to fight it and then they co-opt it. And so yeah, it goes through all those stages. My surprise initially was it didn’t get as hostile reactions as I thought, for instance, I was asked to be a part of a big conference in Multnomah County, Portland, Oregon, and the respondents to my talk were a judge, the head of the department of corrections and a prosecutor, Multnomah County, so I thought they’re going to say, this is totally stupid. This is, I just thought this…instead they, they acknowledged that…they tried to say we’re doing some of these things and so forth, but they didn’t and that has been part of my surprise all along, is that people didn’t… I try…actually though I tried to write this in a way that would bring people along. My boss at Mennonite Central Committee, when I had finished the text, I showed it to him, he was the head of the U.S. part of it where I worked and I gave him the manuscript and he came back laughing. He said, “you know, this is a totally radical book, but I didn’t catch on until the end.” [Both laugh] One time I was in a conference in Washington, D.C., in a seminar and I was being, I was attacked by a fellow from a conservative think-tank, and he says, “I know what you’re about, you’re trying to change the whole society, you’re just trying to revolutionize society.” I just chuckled because the other piece, the other criticism I was getting is that this isn’t radical enough, but he was reading the biblical chapter, particularly where I talked about the justice in the old Testament, uh, isn’t just, it’s about, not having right relationships, it is just as bad as to have poor among you and not doing something about it, as to be committing so called “crimes.”

patience kamau:
Why was he so threatened by that? Did he, was he able to articulate that?

Howard Zehr:
Well, he was a conservative, you know, and so he saw this book as trying to upset the status quo.

patience kamau:
Okay. Um, what are the overlaps in indigenous practices and uh, restorative justice?

Howard Zehr:
Well, when I started out, I was pretty ignorant, ignorant of that. I mean, “Changing Lenses,” and the way I articulated “restorative justice” was really as, sujatha and others said, it was from my indigenous perspective; I was drawing on my experience, my background, my religious background, my theological background, and my background as a European historian, which was my, my roots, you know, my German family, German background. Uh, I had heard anecdotes about indigenous justice, but I had no knowledge of it at all. When I got to traveling internationally and began speaking, and then when I got here and had so many students from indigenous traditions, I began to, they kept saying, “this is what our elders did” and “this is what our elders did before the colonists came along and repressed it.” Some would say “that’s what my elders do today, they have do it in secret,” and I began to realize that this is really…restorative justice really in many ways, is the best of indigenous traditions combined with modern human rights sensibilities. It’s a way of bringing…legitimizing indigenous practices that have been repressed by the legal system and bringing them into the modern context. And so it’s been exciting when some of my former students take it back to their traditions and use that to have dialogues among their elders…

patience kamau:
…in ways that feel familiar to them.

Howard Zehr:
Very familiar!

patience kamau:
Right! Yeah, but also incorporating, what’s recent about the criminal legal system…I suppose…

Howard Zehr:
One of my favorite stories, memories is in my class that I used to teach –one of the exercises at some point was you had to go and explain “restorative justice” to somebody who didn’t know about it and see what happened.

patience kamau:
Mm, how would that go?

Howard Zehr:
Oh, some of them were just a hoot, I mean some people would go to a bar and tap somebody on the shoulder. And one fellow from, uh, Nigeria called and tried to explain it to his mother and she wasn’t having it. But, but we had a fellow here from Rwanda whose family had died in the genocide. Uh, he had come here to catch his breath and regroup and he just married a Rwandan woman, a new wife, and he decided he’d explained it to his wife. So he goes home and he starts to explain it and she just starts laughing. And he’s like, “why are you laughing?” She says “you came all the way over here and you’re paying all this money to learn what every African already knows?” I thought, yep, “there you are.” [Laughter]

patience kamau:
[Laughter continues] “You had this all along in Rwanda, but you had to do to America to get the legitimacy of it.”

Howard Zehr:
Which is kind of a remnant of the colonial world where some white guy has to articulate it before people will believe it.

patience kamau:
…will pay attention.

Howard Zehr:
Yeah.

patience kamau:
Yeah, that’s the imbalance of “knowledge” I suppose –but maybe that’s being corrected over time.
Um, so then you came to CJP, which was the Conflict Transformation Program at the time because of, uh, professor Gingerich?

Howard Zehr:
I actually, when it first started, it was, it was “Conflict Analysis and Transformation Program (CAT-P),” which didn’t work very well, so it was changed to have “conflict transformation.” [Laughter]

patience kamau:
That would not work. [Laughter continues]

Howard Zehr:
Nah, it didn’t work. [More laughter]

patience kamau:
Yeah, it is just there to be made fun of! [Laughter]

Howard Zehr:
And then when Ruth and I were co-directors, we moved to change it, because it didn’t, we needed to include the “justice” and the other fields that we were now incorporating. We changed it to “Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.”

patience kamau:
Yeah, and that was at the 10th anniversary?

Howard Zehr:
Yes, that’s right. Yeah. Um, so how did Ray Gingerich convince you to come here and Vernon Jentzi? No, you said Ray was the one that…

Howard Zehr:
Well, Ray kept telling me that, but Vernon was the one that really made it work. I mean, Vernon was the one that negotiated with the university. So he was the maverick behind…Vernon has had a much larger role in this program than is recognized by most people. I mean, he’s the one that really brought John Paul here in the first place, he gave up his sociology teaching –he’s a sociologist, and taught Spanish just so John Paul would have some good…could teach. Uh, so he played a really key role and he was key in bringing me here. I don’t, and John Paul might’ve played a role, but it was, if I didn’t know if he did, but it was Vernon who did the negotiating.

patience kamau:
Yeah. Yeah.
So once you got here, among the things that you introduced was, uh, The Little Books series in general. Can you talk a little bit about that? How did that come to be? They’re so accessible –how did the concept begin?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I can’t remember which came first but, but there were, I do know the idea for “The Little Book of Restorative Justice,” I’m assuming that…I’m pretty sure that I started with the idea for “The Little Book of Restorative Justice” and then realized it could be more than that. I was thinking about how to make it accessible and there was an international dialogue going on –they wanted to have this big meeting and try to hammer out a definition of “restorative justice.” And you know how I feel about committee process.

patience kamau:
[Ironically] You just love them! [Laughter]

Howard Zehr:
[Ironically] I just love ’em! And I didn’t, wasn’t going to have anything to do with it.

patience kamau:
Exactly!

Howard Zehr:
And I figured, if I could write something short and so accessible, not that it would define it, but then it would give us a starting point for the discussion. So I set out to try to do that; and I saw on a, in a bookstore “The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” and that gave me the idea. So then I went to Goods who were my publisher, who were doing a lot of my publishing Good Books, at the time. And I had this idea, I said, I don’t know if I said exactly this, but I think I said something like, I want it to cost about the same as a Big Mac dinner, you know, it should be cheap. And they, they really, I gotta hand it to them, they really weren’t just trying to make money, they seem to have a mission. And so they went with it. Um, and they said they would do it as long as I would, I would do the editing and that meant that I would do all the screening and the initial content editing, they would do final editing, but I was to really shape them up. And so I began to map out possible books and contact authors that…I think all of the authors were “by invitation” in those early years, and I was pretty hard nosed. I mean, I rewrote some of them. Some of the authors weren’t all that happy, but they…

patience kamau:
…had to meet a high bar to qualify?

Howard Zehr:
You know, academics aren’t all that good at writing accessible things sometimes.

patience kamau:
They’ve become a really successful series.

Howard Zehr:
They do. They have, they’ve sold, I don’t know…I mean, years ago The Little Book of Restorative Justice had passed a hundred thousand. I haven’t, haven’t seen figures, I don’t know if we have figures.

patience kamau:
And it’s been translated into multiple languages hasn’t it?

Howard Zehr:
…quite a number I’ve lost track.

patience kamau:
Have other Little Books been translated into other languages that you are aware?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah –I can’t remember which ones but yeah, quite a number of them got published.

patience kamau:
Yeah. Um, so you were the original editor by default [chuckles]

Howard Zehr:
It was basically, yeah, it was basically my idea and I kept pretty close control of it.

patience kamau:
Yes, because you were shaping and you were building it…

Howard Zehr:
…it was shaping and a couple of reasons, one of them is, you know, I don’t believe in doing things by committee, but also it’s like, a work of art can’t be done by committee. It has, it needs a steadying perspective of a person and I didn’t want to control it; I mean I had people, I would, every one I did, I would run it past people in the field and so forth. I had a changing group of people…

patience kamau:
…advisors? A reference group?

Howard Zehr:
…a reference group for each one. But I felt like it had to have a consistency.

patience kamau:
Of course!

Howard Zehr:
So that’s, yeah, that’s what I did.

patience kamau:
So it reflects your vision.

Howard Zehr:
I mean, maybe I’m just a control freak, but I’m not usually, I don’t think so…

patience kamau:
I, I don’t think so…but you’re right. I mean it’s a, it’s, it’s a, you provide a vision and then you guide through it. I mean, you guide the process through it and that way then it’s consistent.

Howard Zehr:
Yeah.

patience kamau:
Um, who have been the other editors after you?

Howard Zehr:
Well, for a short time uh, Judah Oudshoorn did that, and then…and Barbara Toews is doing it now.

patience kamau:
She’s the current editor?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah. I’m not sure…Bonnie Lofton looked at it but declined to do it. So I think it was Judah and then went to Barbara –she goes by Barb. She and I have done a lot of collaboration –we did the critical issues on restorative justice book together and we’ve done teaching together, and so forth and we’re working on some book projects now together too.

patience kamau:
Where does she work?

Howard Zehr:
She’s at the university of Washington, Tacoma.

patience kamau:
What’s her job there?

Howard Zehr:
She’s a professor, well, she’s an associate professor I think.

patience kamau:
Okay. So she’s a teacher.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
So what do you think is something we should be celebrating about CJP at this milestone, at 25 years?

Howard Zehr:
Well, the fact that we exist, the fact that we’ve had as much impact! I mean this program has an international impact and reputation. I mean we have people coming, they’ll say, I went to the embassy and…interested in practice oriented conflict, conflict resolution or that kind of thing, and they’ll say, come to, come to the CJP. And, and we’re, we’re still, as far as I know, the only academic program with a practice, that “reflective practitioner,” “values-based” kind of approach, which is what we set out to be. I mean, we have a surprising number of people who’ve gone on to have Ph.D.s, but that has not been our intent; to me our intent to train reflective practitioners.

patience kamau:
What do you think we could done better in the last 25 years?

Howard Zehr:
Oh my. Oh, it’d be nice if we had a lot more money; we’ve been scraping along. Internally, we could have handled our own conflicts better than we did sometimes.

patience kamau:
So we didn’t always practice what we preached?

Howard Zehr:
Oh no, we didn’t always practice what we preached. We could have done a better job, I think, of communicating our mission and what we do and as I say, raise money, raising money, than we’ve done for sure.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm. Hmm, what do you think were some of the failures of the communication we were doing internally, or challenges, is what I should say.

Howard Zehr:
You know, it’s pretty common for, a…it’s, for a while there, so many restorative justice programs that were internally, having internal conflict. It’s really hard. Our egos get in the way, for one thing, that’s one of them. The directors who have come here from non-academic settings, you know, we finally arranged that finally we negotiated it so they didn’t have to have a Ph.D. to direct us, to be executive director of the program. They’ve all had a culture shock when they see the ego, the way academic egos and ambitions play out. You know, I said, you know, I’ve often thought about how, when people get frustrated at the conflicts and that if you’re at a big university, I mean this is nothing compared to the big universities where people are stabbing each other in the back –we don’t do that!

patience kamau:
Um, you said earlier that the stages of something new being implemented –just want to go back a little bit –has restorative justice been co-opted?

Howard Zehr:
Oh my, yes! So many places. I mean not over across the board, but, oh yeah, there’re so many places. Well, people calling things “restorative justice,” that aren’t. Just yesterday I was in a conference, I won’t name the organization, but on their website they claim they’re a restorative justice program and people who know, would say “there’s no way it’s a restorative justice program.” That’s the problem, but it sounds good. That’s one way that it’s being co-opted –people use elements of it, they use it to get money. I’ve had Corrections People say, “well, I just claim what I’m doing is restorative justice to get money.” People take pieces of it without the whole thing. Yeah. It’s very common for organizations that work with prisoners or with people who’ve offended to take on the language of it without incorporating victims, for instance. In my mind, you have to be equally concerned for everybody involved…

patience kamau:
…for the offenders and the victims…

Howard Zehr:
…and the victims and others that might be caught up in it. I got a, one time, an email from a prisoner advocacy group in Florida. I think it was saying “we’re just, we’ve just gone through this process, we’re really excited, we’ve become a restorative justice program, look at our website.” I look at the website –there’s 30 things to do for prisoners, there’s not a thing, suggestion for people who have been hurt, for victims. That’s not restorative justice.

patience kamau:
That’s not it, yeah, It’s lost its meaning in that context. What do you, have you watched or are you familiar with the program on CNN that Van Jones does?

Howard Zehr:
I’ve heard about it.

patience kamau:
What are your thoughts on that?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I am so, cynical about involving the media in particular, the entertainment really. We’ve had lots of experience over the years and most of it hasn’t been that good, and I take cues like, one of my victims’ friends whose daughter was murdered, who runs a restorative justice program, she’s just had it with these kinds of programs. She and I have talked about it –so I’m sure there’s some good things in it, but they always go for the high profile kinds of conflictual stories. You know, they don’t want to deal with the more ordinary things.

patience kamau:
The more ordinary things are complex…

Howard Zehr:
…and they’re complex. Yeah. They want to dramatize it so much. They, my understanding before I came on the scene, one of the national networks had come out to Elkhart and wanted to film and so they put them in touch with the victims and offenders who’d been through the program. They went home, there was no conflict left –I mean they, they wanted some big dramatic thing and here these people had all made peace with themselves, so there wasn’t a story there.

patience kamau:
They wanted some reality TV.

Howard Zehr:
[Chuckles] Yeah, they wanted some reality TV. That was before reality TV, but even then, yeah, so I’m just not very cooperative. I’ve, I’ve worked with some programs like ABC did a show a long time ago –I spent a lot of time with the producer trying to help him understand the complexities of it and he did a fairly good job, but it takes an awful lot of energy and there’s so many, everybody’s interested. I get so many different requests just today, somebody doing a documentary and wants help “for your advice” or me to appear on it and I’m just kind of done with that.

patience kamau:
[Chuckles] You’re moving into retirement.

Howard Zehr:
I am! [laughs]

patience kamau:
[Ironically] I’m not envious at all [both laugh]. Oh my goodness.
So in your time within CJP, how would you say you’ve experienced community around here?

Howard Zehr:
Uh, it’s clear that we, we care a lot more about each other than most places –at least in my day here, it’s a very relationally ordered place. So students coming here for instance, often talked about that and if they, when they left here and went to one of the big universities, they had culture shock because it was such an individualized climate comparatively. Um…

patience kamau:
They were expecting what they had here to carry on elsewhere and it didn’t.

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, of course, that also had…means there’s expectations that aren’t realistic about us as well. But I think we’ve had a history of trying to take care of each other. I don’t know how much the faculty and staff socialize at this point. I don’t know,I wouldn’t consider it my primary social community. Maybe it’s partly cause I’m retired but, but there is a sense of community that’s much different than what it was at other universities or other similar kinds of settings. It’s very clear.

patience kamau:
What’s your vision or hope for CJP at 50, so in the next 25 years, what would you hope this organization would be known for in about 50 years?

Howard Zehr:
[Chuckles] I hope we keep our practice orientation, our value orientation, our ability, our willingness to bring people of all different kinds of faith or lack of faith traditions together for dialogue. Uh, I would hope we both focus on larger social transformation but not lose our focus on some of the more traditional applications. One of the things I worry about, I really like a younger generation moving into these fields –it’s partly why I’m staying out of it–I think that’s what has to happen, and a lot of them are taken, they have a much wider vision about applications to historical harms to social injustices. But I don’t want us to lose also some of our focus on just things like bringing those who are harmed and those who caused harm in a context of a criminal system together as well. And I worry a little bit about losing that, but I hope we can hold those things together. You know what, I’m, I’m kind of a connector. I’ve spent a lot of my life just connecting people, and so, like I travel –a number of years ago I was traveling a lot– I was running into lawyers who are very isolated but who were trying to apply restorative justice in their lives. And so we started a series of retreats. We brought these attorneys in so they learned to know each other, shared ideas and so forth. And that’s…

patience kamau:
The Palavers!

Howard Zehr:
The Palavers, yeah! And so, I can tell you more about the history of that term if you want, but so my dream would be for the Institute that we do more of those, like I’ve dreamed about bringing prosecutors who are interested in restorative justice together. We have a prosecutor who is interested in our program. I just, he’s from another city I just connected him to a former lawyer who’s a graduate of our program and now that, he says he’s his latest best friend, and so I liked doing that. I really like that a lot because they learn a lot, share a lot from each other.

patience kamau:
Oh that excellent! It gives you joy because you just really lit up!

Howard Zehr:
It does. I love to connect people; so I hope we do more of that. In the early days of the field, when I was hired by a Mennonite Central Committee, it had been a U.S.-Canadian joint program and we immediately split it up, and Dave Worth who was one of the people who did that first case, it started this whole thing in 1974, became the director in Canada and I in the U.S. and we really collaborated. We would meet regularly. We would try to figure out “what does this field need?” And he would, for instance, we might say “it needs a book about this,” and Dave would say, “well you write it, I’ll pay for it.” You know, and we would just plot out…trying to go on gut-feeling, listening to people, trying to assess what the field needed. And so we would produce these things and we had, we started having, we would bring in a person, we would get together, we would deliberately invite mix of academics, practitioners around a speaker and we’d kinda get together for an afternoon and evening and we would have a presentation and then we would talk. And one of those was Herman Bianchi, a Dutch law professor who influenced…was one of the influences on me. And he used to say, he used to talk about “the importance of talk,” and he said, “palaver,” you have “to palaver” or “you have to keep talking.” And so we called these “palavers” and we would hold these regularly, for years, we would hold these palavers where you bring deliberately a small group, not to debate, but to explore together. And often we would publish the paper –the talk that was presented as a result. So, there was a series called “The Occasional Papers and…” Justice, justice and peacebuilding or justice or something like that.

patience kamau:
What’s that — The Occasional Papers…?

Howard Zehr:
“The Occasional Papers of Justice and peacebuilding [sic],” something like that. That wasn’t quite the right term. It was published by MCC and their little booklets.

patience kamau:
Are they still available somewhere –would people able to access them?

Howard Zehr:
I think they might be on a website–might even be on our website.

patience kamau:
Probably if people Google…

Howard Zehr:
In fact, here’s one lying here –it was called “New Perspectives on Crime and Justice: Occasional Papers of the…” at the time it was called “MCC-Canada Victim-offender Ministry Program” in the U.S.-MCC, U.S. Office on Criminal Justice.

patience kamau:
[Ironically] A nice short title! [both laugh]

Howard Zehr:
Yeah. But they each have a title for the, for the issue, and that’s where I first published, uh, “retributive justice, restorative justice” in that series.

patience kamau:
Oh, right, that’s what, so that’s what you referred to at the beginning when we started recording. Wow. All right. That’s, that’s good to know where the term palaver came from — it’s not a very common term.

Howard Zehr:
No, it’s not, and it’s a controversial term if you look it up.

patience kamau:
Mm, why?

Howard Zehr:
Well, it was a term used by Portuguese traders in Africa and they were so irritated that they had to negotiate –you had to take, when they went there to get some, they had to do all this talking, and they had to palaver.

patience kamau:
Ah, yes [both laugh].

Howard Zehr:
[Laughter continues] And so they were kind of grumpy about it, I take it.

patience kamau:
[More laughter] Yes, we Africans, we like to talk, you know “let’s sit down, let’s not rush it, let’s have a cup of tea, let’s talk about it.”

Howard Zehr:
Exactly!

patience kamau:
That’s good. All right, wow.

Howard Zehr:
So that’s what we’re trying to do.

patience kamau:
Yes. Um, and we’ve had a couple here, some of those palavers with…the last one we had was with law enforcement…

Howard Zehr:
…with police officers. We’ve done…we did with lawyers. What else? We’ve done some others but I have to think about it.

patience kamau:
Yeah.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
So what do you do when you’re not…you’re retiring…so how are you spending your time, most of your time? What’s giving you life lately? As you “pass the baton” to the younger generation, as you keep saying…

Howard Zehr:
[Chuckles] Well, I still get emails that need to be answered and people wanting to talk to me, and I try to, a lot of those, I try to pass over, pass off to colleagues, partly because I don’t want to do them and partly because I want them to become “the place to go,” instead of me, but occasionally, like last last week I had a young woman –college student– wanting to interview me and I was like, “oh my, I can’t do this,” and then I thought, you know, she could end to being a CJP student so I talked to her and yeah, she’s really bright, she’s, she’s really interested. I told her about CJP she got quite interested in it, so I still do some of that. I do consulting with a variety of things. I just met with a fellow from Shenandoah County who’s documenting all the barns in Shenandoah County and I’m consulting with him on a possible book that the Historical Society wants to do. I’m a volunteer with Gift and Thrift. Part of my, part of what I do is electronics –I’m an amateur radio operator and I’m a tinkerer and repairer of radios. I have a client for instance who is a collector of old radios going back in the ’20s, sometimes it keeps me busy restoring these radios and I just delivered to him, yeah, this week, that I hadn’t done in a while.

patience kamau:
Do you still chat with people on radios on uh…?

Howard Zehr:
I do, but Morse code only.

patience kamau:
Morse code?

Howard Zehr:
I’m, I’m, you know, it’s a dying group there. Well, I talked to the guy last night and he’s an electrical engineer with the National Radio Observatory and he is only 58 –that’s pretty young for Morse code and most of us are my age…

patience kamau:
…so you are just sitting there tapping?

Howard Zehr:
Well I use uh, electronic keys…

patience kamau:
…that shows my ignorance.

Howard Zehr:
Well, no, it’s most people…I use, it’s a pad…it’s called a paddle, you make, it makes dots on one side and dashes on the other. And it was a real craft too, I mean part of it is just the joy of doing it well, I’m more, I get a lot of positive feedback, people say I “have a good fist,” that’s what it’s called when you have got it…and I take…

patience kamau:
…what does it mean to “have a good fist”?

Howard Zehr:
To mean to hit, to really do code, it’s called “CW” –to really do “code well,” which means you got the rhythm right, you got separation right, you got, so it’s really readable. I love the mechanics of the paddle and I like the electronics of it, so that’s what I do, I mean I chat regularly but I do it on Morse code.

patience kamau:
Okay. Do you do the voice part of it?

Howard Zehr:
I don’t anymore, I used to, but I just don’t have any interest in it. I like tinkering with the electronics of it, you know, building things, fixing things. I write, I’m not doing, not doing much justice writing these days, but I write regularly for amateur radio magazine, technical articles, things I’ve built or adapted or fixed or whatever.

patience kamau:
What have you built lately?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I have a…there’s an issue coming out this month that has one of my articles on the front cover, but I think it’s got a bunch of small articles inside about various radio equipment that I’ve modified or I review or…yeah.

patience kamau:
Oh, that’s fascinating!

Howard Zehr:
And then I do a lot of photography still. I have some clients I do photography for and then, I like to do personal photography and also…

patience kamau:
…you’ve been doing some hospice photography?

Howard Zehr:
Well, I’m a volunteer. I have, they haven’t had any for a while, but I do. I’m available for hospice patients and families if they would like portraits or pictures of the family and so forth. That’s been really meaningful and I’ve got two possible books in the process, which I’m…both of which I’m working with Barb Toews on. One of them is, if we can get the rights sorted out, it’s, I’ve gone back to 22, 23 of the people from my life, my “Doing Life” book, which are life sentence prisoners; in Pennsylvania, that’s “real life” and I’ve gone back and re-photographed and interviewed them…

patience kamau:
…that’s right, you returned 25 years later?

Howard Zehr:
…25 years later, and so we’re hoping to do a new book about life sentences with a different publisher, but I have to get the rights to use some of that old material and that’s still in process, we haven’t…

patience kamau:
…is that complicated?

Howard Zehr:
Well it depends on the publisher that bought Goods out when they went bankrupt and the publisher bought it and then, so we’re working on, we have a publisher that wants to do it. They’re eager to do it.

patience kamau:
Yeah, so when you have, um just to go back to that –one of those books that you did with the lifers and then you photographed them again, was that two years ago when it was 25 years later?

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, mm-hm.

patience kamau:
Which was fascinating to just see how they’ve changed.

Howard Zehr:
It is.

patience kamau:
What struck me the most, beyond just the physical changes that obviously happen to people as we age, was that the original pictures, if you did not know that these were people who were imprisoned, you would not have just known it –it wasn’t apparent by looking at the photographs. The ones 25 years later, that’s the first thing that jumps out –what changed, is that the prison system that just doesn’t allow them to have street clothes?

Howard Zehr:
Right, that is right! Yeah. When I, when I did this, they were allowed to…I, I wanted us to confront these people as people, without the stereotypical clues that are usually associated with pictures of prisoners –and I’m kind of a connoisseur of prison photography and most photographers, well, most, but I, so I look at a lot of photographer photography by other photographers, prisoners, and it’s usually pretty stereotyped because they go there and they don’t know that much about prisons and they’re, they’re taken by the bizarre elements. But that of course reinforces our stereotypes, so I wanted us to confront these people as people…

patience kamau:
…mm-hm, with their dignity…

Howard Zehr:
…with their dignity, the way I’d want to be photographed. So I got permission, I set up a little studio and a backdrop and at that time they were allowed to have street clothes in there, so that on special occasions they could wear –that has changed so they don’t, so they are all in the prison garb now. So that’s a, that’s a, yeah, it’s different.

patience kamau:
Do you know why that has changed? That just seems like such a regression.

Howard Zehr:
Oh there’s been a lot of regression. A lot of, a lot of security concerns, rigidification in the system –a lot of the human elements it seems are out…

patience kamau:
…have been stripped away…yeah, is that…it makes me wonder whether that’s connected to the, to the profit making machine that has just taken over prisons.

Howard Zehr:
I doubt if it is, it’s partly because they’re more, they’re really sensitive to outside flack from people. Uh, so if they get flack about people showing up and looking “too human,” they get flack and security, they’ve gotten a lot tighter on security things. Part of it is, some of the old guard dying off, like one of the people in my “Victim” book, actually was at the time superintendent of one of the biggest/highest security prisons in America, Donald Vaughn. He’s no longer alive. He is in there in that book because his son was murdered and there’s a whole story to that, but he was, he was, he had grown up in the system. I mean he had been a, had been a guard at Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the original prisons in America, but he had this real kind of human…he’d walked through the corridors and people would come up and talk to him and, I think some of that’s gone, it feels like it’s more bureaucratic than it was then –the system as a whole, but I don’t know. It’s certainly been politicized. That’s part of the problem as this whole criminal justice and prison system has gotten politicized –everybody gets nervous and so they get more and more restrictive.

patience kamau:
Yeah, It’s interesting to watch what prisons look like –I think I was seeing a magazine at some point about the prison system somewhere in Europe, in the Netherlands. I mean it was not apparent…

Howard Zehr:
…oh it’s so different…

patience kamau:
…it’s very different.

Howard Zehr:
Oh yeah, their, their theory is that what prisons are about is the loss of Liberty, nothing else. So you don’t punish people there, you try to make it as much like normal as possible, so that when they’re released they won’t have that shock of going back into society.

patience kamau:
They can reintegrate into society more easily, yeah. Is there more an element of um, rehabilitation there?

Howard Zehr:
There, there is I think too, yeah.

patience kamau:
There isn’t much of that here…?

Howard Zehr:
No. And that’s partly the result, it’s a long story, but the effort in, in the ’60s we had a “therapeutic model” as in people were sick and they ought to be made, made well and so we had indeterminate sentences cause the idea was you’d hold people in prison until they got better. Well, who decides that? It turned out to be a real control device because all you had to have with one write-up for some silly thing, and you didn’t get out.

patience kamau:
Very subjective.

Howard Zehr:
Oh it was so arbitrary! And so Progressive’s got this idea, let’s just call it “just deserves,” let’s say we’re just punishing people…it’ll be a limited time. You take the discretion out of the system and that’ll be better. Well, it didn’t move…it didn’t take the racism out of the system at all –it moved it out of the public into the places where you can’t see it. So we moved from a “medical model,” which had its problems to a “just deserves model”…

patience kamau:
…a just…?

Howard Zehr:
…a “just deserves” — make sure people get, you’re just, you just, you’re gonna…

patience kamau:
…”just deserves”…

Howard Zehr:
… what you deserve, period. Your punishment, that’s it. And so we’re going to have fixed sentencing, mandatory sentences, the judges are going to be told what the sentences are and so forth. But it, it didn’t get rid of the “arbitrary-ness” and racism, and as I said, it just moved it into the prosecutor’s office, things like that. But in the process, a lot of the legislation wrote the idea of their rehabilitation just out of the law –they even lost the language of “corrections.” It’s sort of coming back, but you know, it became a punishment system.

patience kamau:
Right. Exclusively that. Yeah, and was that probably part of the, the bill, the Crimes bill that passed in the ’90s that I think also made mandatory, mandatory sentences that just had a really, really severe effect on the black and African American communities, Black and Brown bodied people.

Howard Zehr:
It did yeah. Well, it’s ironic because part of the reasons Progressives pushed it is they thought it would reduce that…

patience kamau:
…but it had the completely opposite effect…

Howard Zehr:
…of course it didn’t, yeah. And it’s partly because of the indicators that were used to set those mandatory sentences. It was partly because the Conservatives saw this as a chance to actually increase the punishment — sure they like punishment. So I think that the more Progressive were pretty naive and looking back on this, but yeah, it just turned into…you know, every social intervention, whether…no matter how well you intend, is going to have unintended consequences. And this is an example of that — this whole movement had huge, unintended consequences.

patience kamau:
That are hopefully being corrected now. Well, slowly, …

Howard Zehr:
…slowly…

patience kamau:
…yeah, yeah…

Howard Zehr:
…piecemeal…

patience kamau:
That’s right.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
How has the peacebuilding field, in your opinion, changed in the last 25 years?

Howard Zehr:
Well, it’s, it’s certainly expanded, become more expansive. Certainly our definition of peacemaking, uh, peacebuilding here has become more expansive. We now include organizational issues, we include trauma, restorative justice in it –that wasn’t there when this program started, there might’ve been some idea that it ought to expand, but…it’s certainly expanded. Um, the “conflict transformation,” I’m sorry, the “conflict resolution” field, it’s certainly quite large, but it’s also become sort of old hat too, I think…it’s…so, I think our definition of it is a much more expansive one than a lot of people understand it.

patience kamau:
Our definition of peacebuilding or conflict transformation?

Howard Zehr:
Of peacebuilding and conflict transformation really, probably.

patience kamau:
What do you mean by saying the “conflict resolution” one is very expensive?

Howard Zehr:
Well, there’s a lot of programs within, a lot of them aren’t very…well for one thing, lawyers have sort of uh co-opted it. There’s a book, year’s ago really, that I found really helpful to trace the history of mediation in this country and the takeover, the co-optation by lawyers. I mean it’s an example of what I said –first you ignore it and then you fight it, and then you find ways to co-opt it and it has been taken over. I mean a lot of us in the ’70s were advocating mediation as a way to involve the community –that really grassroots kind of, but a lot of that’s gone. These are agency-based mediation programs, lawyers are doing a lot of it, and I worry about that with restorative justice as well. My bias, when I was working –helping these communities, I was always thinking, “how do you build a community base for this?” “How do you organize, operate?” Sure you work in cooperation with the system, but it needs to be community based, uh, and not just another agency.

patience kamau:
All right, I think we’re almost done. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about –you’d like to mention?

Howard Zehr:
One thing I couldn’t, you know, I said I’m really interested in photography and I’ve tried to use that in my justice work, and I used to teach photography here. I taught research too, which I really enjoyed doing. But when I first came here, I don’t think anybody wanted to teach research and they just dumped it on me and, they didn’t give me any guidelines. But I discovered that there’s this whole emerging field of qualitative research –it was going in the same direction I had been going as a photographer and others…that was looking much more at a much more respectful perspective of relationship between the person being so-called “researched” and “the researchers” and more collaborative. It was just so many…it was coming out of, uh, out of, uh, studies around race and gender a lot and feminist studies. But, so I developed a qualitative research course that people, my former students still say this, tell me every so often it’s the thing they use the most, the skill they learned the most here. And it was, it was, uh, it was just a very exciting course, believe it or not [both laugh].

patience kamau:
I believe it!

Howard Zehr:
And then eventually I began, when I didn’t teach that I taught a course called “contemplative photography,” which I had a lot of fun with too and out of that came “The Little Book of Contemplative Photography.”

patience kamau:
How come there was no “Little Book of Qualitative Research”?

Howard Zehr:
You know, I thought about it, I just never got around to doing it, but I thought about doing that. Yeah.

patience kamau:
Yeah, yeah. So what is it that your students tell you that they go back to from that qualitative research class?

Howard Zehr:
Part of it is the interview or the conversational…

patience kamau:
…mm-hm, aspect of things…

Howard Zehr:
…cause, it was an interview based, court interview and I really believed in the importance of visuals, communication, a lot of communication is visual and so I tried to help people combine visuals and words and then, Paulette Moore and I taught for a few years here at the end, we taught a course called “research as art and transformation” where we explicitly incorporate art into the research process.

patience kamau:
Yeah, I think that’s it, so, thank you very much Howard.

Howard Zehr:
Thank you.

patience kamau:
It’s been a joy.

Howard Zehr:
Yeah, it’s fun talking with you!

patience kamau:
You as well.

patience kamau:
Howard is the author of “Changing Lenses,” “The Little Book of Restorative Justice,” “Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences,” and “Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims.

[Outro music begins to play and fades into background]

patience kamau:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by: the one and only Luke Mullet. Our audio mixing engineer extraordinaire is: Stephen Angello. Audio editing support was generously provided by: Michaela Mast. And I am the podcast executive producer, audio recording engineer, editor and host: patience kamau. As you are able, please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so that other peacebuilders may find it. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks! Thank you so much for listening and join us again next time! .

[Outro music fades back in, and ends]

7 comments on “9. Journalist of Justice”

  1. Joseph Gascho says:

    Excellent, informative.

  2. Jeannette Holtham says:

    Brilliant, as always. Fascinating to catch a glimpse of Howard's journey and to read his take on the history of RJ and mediation. THANK YOU to both of you for this outstanding post!

    1. patience says:

      You are welcome Jeannette, and thank YOU! So glad you enjoyed it! :)

  3. Elena M Huegel says:

    It is always such a privilege to listen to Howard, his reflections, connections, and different ways of looking at restorative justice and peacebuilding. Thanks so much!

    1. patience says:

      I know right –isn't he just so great?! :)

  4. Jeanette Flaming says:

    I am so grateful to hear this presentation after many years of following Howard Zehr's work and interests. As always, he is profound, clear, practical, visionary and able to help the rest of us understand the importance of restorative goals in all our collective relationships. I appreciate the whole concept of changing lenses. You are a gift.

  5. Petra Masopust Sachova says:

    So I am spending the COVID-19 time in the middle of the woods, on our cottage, in the Czech Republic. I am siting in the garden , listening to your podcast with Howard and suddenly all the summer time of 2008, SPI, discovers in front of my eyes…. all the friendly atmosphere, people from all around the world (with whom I am in touch till today!!!!), so much warmth and welcoming…. siting with Howard and others in our morning circles, taking the morning walks with JP around the campus, watching the spider's nets and composing haiku….I did not know it in that time, but it was life transforming experience that made clear my professional career and my personal dedication to search for the new ways and understanding of justice.
    I always felt that the summer of 2008 the life gave me one of its most precious gift, a gift that is not possible to touch, that stays all inside me – some sort of deep experience how justice can be healing process. Since that time I follow this vision. It guides my steps. I do my best to bring the RJ vision into my country, the Czech Republic. And you know what? The talking piece we made as part of our course and which I received from Peter, another participant, I use on every day basis. So many hands since 2008 touched it in my home country – students, lawyers, judges, state prosecutors, academics, probation officers, mediators, prison officers, social workers…. and many others. Every time I use it, there is a short moment of reflection of the SPI experience. And I just feel grateful. Thanks so much for this interview.

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