The story is at the center of the Restorative Justice process, and as a volunteer for the Brattleboro Restorative Justice Center, I’ve listened to a lot of stories.
These are real-life stories, often dramatic, sometimes emotionally wrenching, and at their best, transformative.
Engaging with these particular stories is one of the best examples I know of how powerful a personal story can be, how empowering telling that story can be, and how adversaries can find common ground, settle conflict, and make positive changes by telling and listening to each other’s stories.
While I’ve always wanted to tell important stories, it is this work that has taught me how telling stories can create change. So I’ve been writing about Restorative Justice for almost ten years, including on this blog.
I’ve spread the word about Vermont’s widespread use of Restorative Justice in the place of punishment. Restorative Justice keeps offenders out of the criminal justice system and brings them back into the community. Studies repeatedly show that this approach reduces recidivism, strengthens communities, increases safety, reduces costs, and promotes active citizenship – all things I support.
The criminal justice system focuses on the offender, often to the neglect of the victim. Restorative Justice includes the victim in the process. In RJ, victims of crime have a voice in a facilitated dialogue with the person who harmed them. I know. Last summer I was a victim. Restorative Justice allowed me to tell my story to the offender. I told him how he made me feel unsafe and what he could do to help change that.
RJ gave this offender a chance to “make it right” – which was much more effective than putting him in jail.
I’ve also learned how to apply restorative practices within my own life – to the betterment of my marriage, my mothering, my friendships and all the other relationships in my life. Because I believe so strongly in the benefits of restorative practices, I’ve written about Vermont’s leadership in the field – a lot. I wrote because not only does RJ rely on storytelling, but so does my livelihood. I believe in “advancing issues through narrative; telling stories to create change.”
Last week, I was recognized for my work with a 2016 Restorative Justice Communicator Award, presented by the Community Justice Network of Vermont. I went to Montpelier and picked up my plaque in a ceremony at the statehouse.
I’m honored – and humbled. Establishing Restorative Justice within Vermont’s Department of Corrections is the work of visionaries whose leadership and dedication developed the program and convinced the politicians to support it. In Vermont, RJ relies on volunteers; I’m one of over a thousand.
But I’m also a writer whose job is to tell stories that matter, and it’s lovely to be recognized for this work. This recognition serves as both a reminder and as encouragement to keep writing to change the world.