Our Restorative Justice work-in-action

A young woman whom we shall call Maria Elena, was generally calm and soft-spoken with no history of negative behavior in school. For no clear reason, she erupted one day, making one scene after another at school, even yelling at her favorite teacher. While she never hurt or harmed anyone, she caused quite a disturbance. The class had to be cleared, and when the school dean was called in to try to calm her down, Maria Elena yelled at her as well. Not knowing what else to do, the dean called the police who, after being unable to calm her down, arrested Maria Elena and ejected her from school in full handcuffs, thereby traumatizing her.

Given her total lack of any prior misbehavior, Maria Elena was referred to OurRJ. She agreed to participate in a restorative Circle, and chose her grandmother, father, and the dean as Circle participants. During the pre-Circle prep, facilitated by OurRJ’s program manager, she was asked if there was something bothering her that she needed to express. Maria Elena revealed that her melt-down at school happened on the third anniversary of her mother’s death. When she was just 13 years old, Maria Elena found her mother dead in the bathtub. Her grandmother, also present at that devastating moment, has stepped in to support Maria Elena ever since her mother’s death.

Once in the safe space Circle creates, Maria Elena found her voice and could share her pain in her own way. The dean and others acknowledged her truth-telling, which provided a starting point for healing. Next, Maria Elena expressed her own deep regret for yelling at fellow students, the dean, and her teacher whom she liked and respected a great deal.

Remarkably, the Circle process also clarified that no one at the school had taken the time to talk with Maria Elena, to listen or to find out what precipitated such an outcry. A creative and tailored reparative agreement generated by the participants, including Maria Elena, provided that if Maria Elena felt this way again, she would immediately ask to see the school counselor or social worker to ask for help with this and any other related issues. The school agreed to make this assistance possible. In another provision, Maria Elena also wanted to apologize to her teacher and others in person. This was added to the agreement and signed by all parties.