Restorative justice, restorative knowing, restorative being

To keep me entertained during church when I was young, my parents would give me two small plastic dogs – one black, one white – each with a magnet glued to its feet.  When two similar poles of the magnets were put together, the dogs would repel one another.  Turned so opposite poles were aligned, the dogs would snap together.

Often my involvements have seemed to represent similar poles.   One of the poles is restorative justice.  The other is photography.  On occasion these two poles seem to have nothing to do with one another.  But other times they snap together and then I feel most complete.

My photography is often combined with people’s words using the methodology that Robert Coles has called “attentive listening.”  I sometimes think of this combination of photography and interviewing or story-sharing as a form of documentary work. But I am also interested in photography as a mode of contemplation as well as celebration.

Sometimes the two poles mesh in specific justice projects. The “When a Parent is in Prison” project that I am doing with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz shares the portraits and experiences of children of incarcerated parents. Similarly, the Mural Arts Greenfield Restorative Justice Project allowed me to use photography in a justice-related process.

But the two areas of work are also linked by some common goals and values: both aim to bridge divides, challenge stereotypes, reduce “othering,” to be respectful.  They are also joined together by a common methodology:  dialogue, storytelling and attentive listening.

Overall, then, this blog is about restorative justice and restorative photography or research.  More broadly, it’s about a restorative way of knowing and being.

A heads up, then:  this series may be a bit quirky. Though positioned as a restorative justice blog, I also plan to explore some of my photography and documentary interests and the interconnections between these and restorative justice.

My aim is to share some reflections, reading and experiences in these fields of work.  I also hope to use this forum to help bridge the gap between academics and practice.  While I am currently positioned in an academic venue, the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding is an unusual program with a real-world practice focus.  And most of my career has been spent working with practitioners and laypeople.  So my intended audience is people who are interested in a “just” way of being together.

We plan to keep adding resources and links to this site so I hope you’ll check in frequently.  I welcome your comments as well.  Given the volume of email we all receive in today’s world,  I won’t promise to respond to all individually but they will all contribute to what I trust will be a respectful dialogue.

10 comments on “Restorative justice, restorative knowing, restorative being”

  1. Judah Oudshoorn says:

    Looking forward to hearing more! And bring on the quirky! I’ll be curious to hear more about your thoughts on restorative ways of being, as I often more think of restorative justice as a conflict/violence intervention tool.


  2. Thanks for doing this, Howard. In addition to the bridge between restorative justice and photography that you talked about here, I see you building bridges in many ways–between many people and ideas. I have benefited from that bridge building many times, and I look forward to seeing how this blog develops.

  3. Howard, I was interested to hear what you said about your “opposite poles.” Most of my professional life I have balanced with some form of three dementional art: currently working in clay. And balance is definately what it is. Being involved in the lifes of people who are many times in crises and pain would take it’s tole upon me if I didn’t have this channel of creativity to keep me sane, connected to myself, beauty and have a sense of humor (you should see some of the “art” I turn out!). My art is a place of refuge and contemplation, as well as a time that I can totally call my own.

    Some of my art is taking a piece that doesn’t seem to work and keep with it until the beauty unfolds within the piece. Many times it’s taking found objects, things other people throw away, and finding a way of incorportating it into the art.

    And this is brings so much inspiration to my other work, which is predominately with “throw away kids” or those who are working with them. It helps me look for the beauty and treasures that always lie within if I’m patient enough to watch, look and listen for it.

    Through my art I can “restore my soul”…which informs the work of restorative and creative justice.

  4. HOWARD, Jill Strauss kindly distributed your RJ enterprise to the New York Dispute Resolution Forum. Hence I came, I read, I respond.

    The martial arts as peacemaking have long seen the connection between art and love. Both of these latter are about awareness of being before decision on doing. Both consequently offer openness to transformation which occurs not between actors, but between beings. In fact the Alternatives to Violence Project principles of opening oneself to Transforming Power are identical to the principles of martial arts at the highest level: Affirmation, Attention, Trust and then Transformation (even though the names in many martial arts now tend to be in Japanese or other non-Indo-European languages).

    The difference between peacemaking that arises from the martial arts and other sources lies not in principle but in focus. Somatics is the focus of the former, linguistics of the latter.

    Many high level professionals have joined together in Aiki Extensions ( to elaborate and clarify how exactly the insights and methods of the art of aikido apply to building peace; more recently this extends to practitioners of Taekwondo (a Mennonite group in Goshen, IN), Capoeira (a group of social activists in a Bogotá, Colombia), Karate (an Israeli/Palestinian group in the Middle East).

    We have been in dialog for several years with all three and two now are member organizations of Aiki Extensions, Inc.

  5. Howard,

    I look forward to your contemplative photographic imagery. I continue to hope that you will offer a course at SPI.

    I remember the black and white dogs. They occupied my hands and mind for lengths of time when I was a young boy. I would be thankful to find a pair today so that I could marvel at the mystery of magnetism as I did then.

    Thank you for extending your soothing voice over the internet. It will be a site to visit when I seek refuge.

  6. Katherine Griffis says:

    Dear Howard, One of the crispest comments I ever received from our spiritual direction teacher was that “contemplation” had nothing to do with withdrawal and was instead about being completely present in, and aware of, the moment. Charles Williams, in Descent into Hell, makes a similar connection: we either choose (and strive) to see things as they truly are or we choose illusion, which is to choose ourselves and to reject God and others.
    While photography can be used as a distancing tool, it can also be just the opposite, allowing both photographer and viewer to see what might otherwise be missed. How can we truly move toward reconciliation if we’re not willing to take the time to look and to see the one with whom we wish to be reconciled?

  7. Judy Clarke says:

    Hello Howard,
    In my volunteer work at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, Goochland, VA, I ooccasionally hear women express their longing for their children. Have you ever considered taking pictures of the beautiful faces of the women who are incarcerated and publish the letters that they write to their children? I think it would be great to show both sides of the conflict that you illustrate with the magnificant pictures of the children.

  8. Jeremy Simons says:

    Thanks howard, look forward to more.

  9. Dear Howard,
    Artist to Artist, Soul to Soul, you continue to bring the voice of the commonality of our inter-woven relationships directly to the heart of the matter. Your second last paragraph above, is kindred and beautiful.
    Thank you for your vision,
    Margot Van Sluytman/RavenSpeaks

  10. Thanks Howard,
    Interesting article with message. Thanks for posting.

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