Imprints of justice – introducing Carl Stauffer


I am pleased that my friend and colleague Carl Stauffer has agreed to co-author this blog with me.  Carl has brought new wisdom, insights and energy to our program and will be providing academic leadership in restorative justice now that I’m semi-retired.  I have invited Carl to introduce himself below. – Howard


I grew up in the midst of war. I was born and raised in Vietnam, the child of church workers. Palpable sights, smells and sounds of violence were always around me. Memory “snap-shots” wash over me still: crawling under the bed with my mother and siblings when the house shook from the shellfire around us; hearing empty bullet cartridges falling on our tin roof as a US army helicopter rained down its machine gunfire on Viet Cong soldiers holed up in a petrol station near our home; seeing a charred, burnt-out tank in the ashes of post-war carnage; watching a dead North Vietnamese soldier, in full black garb, feet tied together, being dragged through the streets of Saigon amidst sneers of hatred and cheers of celebration – an ironic “victory” embedded in the desecration of the enemy’s dead. In 1975, three weeks before Saigon fell to the Communist regime, my family fled Vietnam and moved to the Philippines, just as the Marcos dictatorship was beginning to crumble. The motivational seeds of justice, peace and reconciliation were deeply planted in my spirit in those early years.

In 1988, three years after completing my social work degree, I was ordained to ministry and joined a team that initiated an urban, inter-racial church and community development program in the inner city of Richmond, Virginia. In 1991, I was appointed the first Executive Director of the Capital Area Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (Richmond) that offered a diversionary victim offender conferencing (VOC) process within the adult and juvenile justice systems.

My family and I moved to South Africa in 1994, under the auspices of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a faith-based international relief and development agency. There I was privileged to work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, facilitating face-to-face encounters between amnesty applicants and the individuals, families or communities that where traumatized by apartheid violence. From 1996 through 1999 I formed an NGO coalition to pilot VOC processes in four different magisterial districts in Johannesburg. In the following decade (1999-2009), I functioned as a Regional Peace Advisor for MCC working at transitional justice and post-war reconstruction processes in 30 countries both on and off the African continent.

In 2010, I accepted the faculty post of Assistant Professor of Justice and Development Studies at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. My academic interests focus on narratology, transitional justice, and post-war reconstruction and reconciliation. My current research concentrates on the critique of transitional justice from a restorative frame, and the application of hybrid, parallel indigenous justice systems. I am married to Dr. Carolyn Stauffer a sociology professor, and I am the proud father of two young adult children.

It is an honor to be tapped as Co-Director for the Zehr Institute for RJ and to give leadership in the development of a Masters degree in RJ for CJP. Working with Dr. Howard Zehr, my former MA advisor, colleague, coach, mentor and friend, continues to be a great privilege. I am inspired for my work in RJ by the words of Augusto Boal:“When dialogue becomes a monologue, oppression ensues.”


2 comments on “Imprints of justice – introducing Carl Stauffer”

  1. Dr. Carl,

    Post War Trauma is a subject of, for lack of a better word, interest to me. Not that I have interacted with people subject to war but I have had a number of discussions with riot-struck people in various states of India, where they have felt nothing less than war and coping up with the post-trauma symptoms is a big pain-point.

    Does restorative justice as a concept involve the mental healing side of it? How?

  2. Bhavya,

    Your question is both critical and complex. I am convinced that RJ is linked to healing both at an individual and collective level. For the sake of brevity I will only mention two of the many overlaps between RJ and healing that I have experienced in applying RJ in post-war reconstruction.

    1.) RJ processes enable psycho-social trauma healing to go forward. Let me make it clear, I am not saying that we can conflate the practices of RJ and trauma healing. What I am saying is that RJ provides a “safe-space” for all the parties affected by violence to speak and be given voice which is a critical component of healing. Some refer to this collective truth-telling exercise as “a place where society bears witness”. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, although not entirely restorative in nature, provided the space for this kind of national healing to begin.

    2.) RJ processes provide a cohesive, alternative system of justice that allows people to deal with the past without violence – I refer to this as “Remembering without Revenge.” A well-facilitated RJ process will open up healthy communication channels and nurture stronger relational attachments which in turn builds trust and increased social capital. These are all recipes for containing cycles of violent retribution and opening up the possibilities of a collective undertaking to re-write historical narratives and reconstruct preferred realities of how a society wants to live together. This form of social ‘meaning-making’ that occurs in RJ is foundational to the healing path.

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