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Radical Power of Restorative Justice

Excerpts from a panel discussion with Jodie Geddes, Rose Elizondo and Garry “Malachi” Scott, moderated by Lisa Dettmer.

Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth © Lane Hartwell

Contemporary restorative justice practices, which arose in the early 1980s, focus on healing and transforming the wounds of victims, offenders, and the community caused or revealed by the wrongdoing. It is frequently based on a process of truth telling, apology, making amends, reparation, and reconciliation. Even some conservatives have come to realize that punishing the offender creates more conflict than peace and deepens societal wounds instead of healing them. Restorative justice seeks greater self-reliance in the community by involving all those with a stake in a specific offense to come together in order to heal and repair the harm as much as possible. Ultimately, it allows all parties, but especially the person harmed, to begin the process of healing.

Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) was founded in 2005 to interrupt cycles of violence and to focus on reducing racial disparities and public costs associated with incarceration, suspension, and expulsion. RJOY provides educational training and technical assistance, and works with Oakland schools in the community and the juvenile justice system. Jodie Geddes is the Community Organizing Coordinator at RJOY.

A Way of Living
Excerpt from an interview with Jodie Geddes by Lisa Dettmer

Lisa Dettmer: Can you tell us a little bit of how restorative justice came about, and how Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth got started here in Oakland?

Jodie Geddes: Restorative justice comes from indigenous practices about how we are in relationship with each other, community, and also the world around us. It comes from these indigenous practices of health, thriving, and healing communities, but today what we find ourselves dealing with is a system that oftentimes is perpetuating cycles of violence, and trauma, and harm.

When I say “indigenous,” I talk about native people to this land of the Americas, but also all across the world. When we look at places like South Africa and Rwanda, they’ve used their own indigenous practices of healing to deal with deep harm and conflict within community. And, when we look at Oakland, one of the things that many people were examining on a large scale were these disproportionate rates of expulsion and suspension [from schools], particularly among black and brown youth. And, when we think about our educational system, it’s supposed to educate our young people, right, so that they can go out into the world and live deeper into their gifts. The more we suspend and expel young people, what we’re doing is filtering them into the school to prison pipeline.

In 2007, we started this pilot project working in three different schools to really look at the relationship between restorative justice and building a whole school’s approach. It is very successfully decreasing suspension rates and eliminating expulsion. So, that called the question to the city to say, “How do we continue to do more restorative justice?” We find ourselves having right now over 40 coordinators within schools throughout Oakland.

When we talk about restorative justice, it’s not just doing a circle process to deal with that particular conflict and harm, but how do young people be in a relationship with each other, as well. What we find are relationship-building circles happening in schools where young people can talk about the things that they’re experiencing within their home and also within their community so that they can bring their whole selves into the school. And, so I think, honestly, this started out of community members raising a need for other practices of healing, to better serve their young people, to better serve their communities, right, and just different voices coming together from judges, to teachers, to just vocal community members and young people saying that there’s a need for this. And, that led to the foundation of our organization that does work within schools, the juvenile justice systems, as well as the community.

Dettmer: Is restorative justice also a way of living?

Geddes: One of the things to keep in mind: that restorative justice isn’t just about the circle process where people are sitting and sharing stories, but it’s also a way of living. How are we calling people in and nurturing them? I mean, also hold them accountable, to what their values and what they say their values are.

One of the easiest ways to understand restorative justice is imagine your family members sitting in a circle with each other, and you have something called a talking piece, a significant object. So, let’s say there’s a picture of your grandparents, right, and your grandparents were the pillars of your family, right. And, while that picture is in the frame, you’re going around answering questions. So, one of the questions could be, you know, “What was something that happened this weekend that was really significant for you?” and you go around and you just share with each other. Most times, in this system that we live today, people are so busy that we don’t take time and space to be in community and be in a relationship, even people that are connected and related by blood. And, then one of the other questions could say, “How can we build deeper relationships with each other as family members?” and then another question you can go deeper and ask, “What is something that people are struggling with right now?” So, restorative justice isn’t something that we only do in schools and we only do in a juvenile justice system, but also within our lives and how we connect with each other.

When we are talking about restorative justice in relationship to conflict, let’s keep in mind that this is a victim-centered process, right, because what happens within our traditional criminal justice system, people who are harmed do not have space to speak up. We have something called a victim impact statement, but that’s not something that’s always read, and what we know about trauma is that it has lingering effects on people. It’s like a residue that stays behind years, and years, and years. People who have been harmed, want to know, “Why me?” In this space, they’re oftentimes sitting in the circle with the person that committed the harm. The person who causes the harm explains why they did it, what happened, how it made them feel, and whether or not they recognize how it affected those afflicted and the community. The person who was harmed has the opportunity to express what they felt, what came up for them, and how they’re still wrestling with it. The essential question is, “How do we make this right?” Not how we punish people, not how we exclude people from our community, not how we hurt people, but how do we make this right? How do we heal people from the harm that they face?

And, what we begin to recognize throughout this process is that ‘hurt people hurt people’: so we need to stop these cycles of violence and harm. One of the things that we’re challenged with in the field right now is, how do you transform and shift systems? In schools, we ask young people to hold each other accountable, but we don’t hold the systems accountable that created the circumstances for harm to take place in the first place.

I think when we look at school systems, I think that teachers and administrators need to see themselves as youth advocates first and foremost. And, if we put the young people at the center of our work and schools, we begin to challenge the other structures of school systems that can oftentimes lead to an unhealthy school culture, which is why when we talk about restorative justice in the schools, we’re talking about a whole system shift.


Courtesy of Insight Prison Project

Truth and Reconciliation Framework

Dettmer: Maybe you could tell us a little bit about the truth and reconciliation aspect. I was just reading that Fania Davis was talking about bringing truth and reconciliation practices into places like Ferguson, where there’s police terror.

Geddes: Historically, there have been different kinds of truth and reconciliation processes that have happened on smaller levels. A lot of people know about South Africa and, in some ways, Rwanda and their Gacaca process. That was a combination of the International Court as well as their own homegrown native process. One of the things we’ve seen, though, is there are a lot of people doing truth-telling and action work, but it’s really about them being in a relationship with each other for us to say if we can do a smaller process, such as a Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation process. What would it mean to have that on a larger level, looking at the history of violence, particularly against African Americans, in the United States with the restorative justice lens and framework? That is not fully defined. We are still developing and understanding what that means.

For me, it’s about calling people in instead of calling people out. If I push people out that I have different opinions with or who have perpetuated systems of whiteness and oppression, in some ways I’m only replicating the dehumanization that the system has done to me and that I’ve seen the system do to other people that look like me, right, black and brown folks, women, and queer folks. And, so I think, on many levels, it’s really about decolonizing these processes that we’ve seen, to hold people accountable and nurture people at the same time.

There are a lot of components of healing. It’s really thinking about how do we not just look at reparations in terms of money, but also in terms of land, in terms of economic growth. And, this is something that Malachi often talks about when we talk about restorative economics, right. The dignity that comes along with people being able to afford and be offered fresh food to eat, right, a place to live that is dignified. And, so I think all of those things are part of a truth and reconciliation process, but, also, we would have restorative cities, right. We would have people that are in harmonious relations that are healthy, and in harmony doesn’t mean conflict doesn’t exist. Conflict is natural, but not conflict to the point where we’re committing violence and harm against each other because the state has shown us what that looks like. The state has created the structures in place that allow for us to function in relationship with each other that way. n

-Jodie Geddes is the Community Organizing Coordinator at Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY).

Putting the Neighbor Back in the Neighborhood
Excerpt from an interview with Rose Elizondo by Lisa Dettmer

In 2013, there was a young woman, Donitra Henderson, who was murdered in front of her four-year-old son right in Dover Park. The community was very disturbed and became really afraid. They wanted to do something.

Donitra’s family had trouble with funeral expenses and couldn’t afford a memorial service. We went to Max Cadji, who works with the Phat Beets program and asked if they could support a memorial service. (Phat Beets was using Dover Park and creating an edible community garden there for anyone in the neighborhood.) So we had this service, and also a memorial tree planting with Growing Together and Mallika Nair.

The memorial was in the park. A lot of people in the community came out. Donitra’s family was there. Her minister came and spoke. It was beautiful to have a ceremony, plant a tree, pour African libations. It was important to combine different practices that are culturally relevant to the community.

I was asked to do a restorative circle process. People in the neighborhood had never participated in something like that.  About 150 people showed up for the memorial service, and then there was a potluck. And about  60 or 70 people stayed for the circle. It was quite profound because we talked about the homicide and how it made us feel.

The restorative justice belief is that when a crime happens, the community is harmed. It’s a break in relationships. Fear causes distrust, which means the neighbors are going to be distrustful of each other, especially if there are differences, which there are in North Oakland. Because of gentrification, there are a lot of racial, social, financial and economic differences. This memorial service brought people across differences together. We sat in circle. We talked about these deep topics. As Malachi says, there’s a strength in being vulnerable, and so people were vulnerable and they shared a lot. (See Malachi Scott interview on p 52.)

I knew Malachi from my restorative justice work in San Quentin with a grassroots group that the men in San Quentin themselves started in 2005, the San Quentin Restorative Justice Interfaith Roundtable. He was there and he just spoke so beautifully about taking a life and how he wanted to give life.

So, that event was a catalyst. The neighbors kept asking for more. They wanted trainings and restorative justice.  One of our goals is to put the neighbor back in neighborhood because, as you create relationship, there’s less crime. Violence happens when we forget that we are neighbors, that we are all brothers and sisters to each other. In restorative justice, there’s the value that everyone is connected, that we are all interconnected, too. What happens to one happens to other. We’re bringing these values, and, hopefully, it will make change in the neighborhood. I think it already has.

-Rose Elizondo cofounded the San Quentin Restorative Justice Interfaith group and the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council.


Restorative Economics

Excerpt from an interview with Rose Elizondo by Lisa Dettmer

Lisa Dettmer: What is restorative economics about?

Rose Elizondo: Restorative economics is the belief that you can’t just talk about equal opportunity but have to do something. Restorative economics creates opportunities, especially for those who have been incarcerated or those who face barriers in employment. Oftentimes, people who are victims of crime have barriers to employment, too, because of the trauma that’s created.

In North Oakland, we’re working to try to create restorative economics, for example, through Phat Beets Produce which works with people of color farmers; and the Youth Pickle Company that hires youth. Foster youth, who oftentimes end up in the juvenile justice system, get hired. Neighborhood youth learn about cooking and catering skills through the Phat Beets Youth Pickle Company.

I’ve done circles with the youths, and I love it because they love it. It’s really nice because it’s not just giving someone a job, it’s also how can we listen? How can we talk to someone? If someone shows up late because they have a difficult life situation, should we just fire them or kick them out? Not in the restorative justice way of living. If they have trauma in their life, it’s talking about that and talking about ‘are your needs being met’, especially for foster youth. And, that’s really beautiful. So that piece of restorative economics also empowers the community, people in the neighborhood.

There’s a kitchen incubator program, and through the kitchen incubator program there’s a woman. She’s Venezuelan and she identifies as queer, and she wanted to start a restaurant business but didn’t have the startup funds, and you need the insurance, and the permits, and all of that. We can help her start her own restaurant or food service business, and she can get a start with that and see if she likes it. We’re doing the same with other projects.

Father Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries says, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” so how can we reinvest in our communities? And, Zachary Norris from the Ella Baker Center, he talks about truth and reinvestment. Can our state, and county, and city reinvest in communities, especially communities that are harmed by the systemic violence?

Dettmer: Well, when you say “we,” who’s we? Because, from my understanding, North Oakland Restorative Justice Council is a grassroots organization. I mean, this is something the city should be doing, is trying to figure out how to create restorative economics. I’m just wondering what kind of support you’re getting from organizations, from the city. You said you’re having a good turnout from neighbors. I’m guessing this is still in the beginning process.

Elizondo: So, we invite the city, the county, the state, and national government to reinvest, to re-examine how money is allocated or spent, in the communities they’re working in. There’s a lot of money in city governments, especially for police departments. How that money is allocated or spent is up to the city and elected officials to decide.

Another one of our initiatives is Restorative Justice Food Truck—everybody loves food trucks. I love them. So, with this food truck, Children’s Hospital donated a food truck to us—it’s used—we bought it for a dollar. But, it needed repairs. We’ve raised maybe $16,000, but it needs almost $30,000 to make it viable. And, what’s beautiful about the concept of this food truck is that we want to have the food truck be for different purposes. For people who’ve lost somebody to homicide, and maybe have difficulty keeping jobs because of the trauma, they would love to use the food truck.

We also work with Beyond Emancipation, and the foster youth use the food truck. [It’s part of] the kitchen incubator program. There is an Ethiopian family that wants to use the food truck one day a week, and a Colombian family. So, it’s a beautiful way to revitalize the economics of the community. We source locally… almost everything is organic and fresh and from farmers rooted in communities of color.  You know, some people talk about the triple bottom line, and this is even more than that. You can find out more from the video on our website.  As organizer Bryant Terry’s says “You can’t talk about bringing food into communities without bringing jobs into communities”.  n

Reference: North Oakland Restorative Justice Council’s website


Inside Incarceration

Excerpts from an interview with Garry “Malachi” Scott by Lisa Dettmer

 Malachi Scott © 2015 Bay Area News Group

Lisa Dettmer: Malachi, talk a little bit about how restorative justice, how you came to it and what was healing about it for you? What do you find important for restorative justice in you, in your life, and now in your work.

Malachi Scott: I came to restorative justice 10 years into my incarceration. I was incarcerated for a homicide that I take full responsibility for. I was 15 years old. I was tried as an adult, and I was facing over 60 years to life in prison. I took a plea bargain for 15 years to life. So I would just say this: during the first part of my incarceration, all I could think about was how am I going to make it in this new world where there is no way out? I had to figure myself out, how I’m going to survive, how I’m going to make it each day. It was very complex. It was difficult. I was alone in the sense that, you know, I’m a teenager, and I’m so dependent on my mom. Now, my mom can’t do nothing for me. I am there alone, and I have to focus on survival. So, at the time, like, I really couldn’t think about the actual harm that I did to the degree that I should have, and so it took years. Basically, I don’t know if I ever would’ve got to the point where I could actually face what I’d done without restorative justice because, in the process, I gained so much insight into myself and who I was as a person and how I got the point where I can do the worse thing that I could ever do to another human being.

The process was transformative. I got to look at the guilt that I carried, the shame, the domestic violence in my household and how that impacted me, and the way I think that it impacted my family, and, so to really be compassionate and be empathetic towards myself. You know, we was talking about empathy earlier, and I had to see myself in that light, you know, where I could actually start caring about myself instead of beating myself up so much, to be able to go into the process of actually looking at the harm that I caused. To make the long story short, it was called the Victim Offender Education Group, and it was through the Insight Prison Project. It was a restorative justice based curriculum that was meant to be probably for about a year. It was so transformative in my life that I ended up being in it for almost five years. I was in there with a majority of the men who were in for homicide at that time. That was the part of my circle, at least. We really, really shared deeply and exposed ourselves, became vulnerable, and then thought about the actual impact that we caused on the family and the community in such a way that I knew that I could not live the way that I used to. I just couldn’t do it.

At the end of the process we had surrogates come in, people who have lost loved ones to homicide, people who have been robbed, etc., come in and share their stories, and we shared our stories with them. Seeing the tears and their actual pain, and to hear what they think about…like, I never thought about anniversaries in that way, you know. Anniversaries come up and the pain that they go through, and maybe they become paralyzed, many different things that I never thought out. With all of it, I was able to get to point where I could be kind to myself, be empathetic towards others, and also honor the lives that I impacted. And, to this day, I still honor all the people that I impacted with my choices and my decisions.

You know, I do this work because it fills this void in my heart, and without it I don’t know where I would be, emotionally, mentally. This is the reason why I show up the way that I show up, because it’s for me. I see all the love coming towards formerly incarcerated people, people really accepting us. Not everybody. I know we have a long way to go, a long way to go. Being in Oakland, being around the community that I’m around, I see so much love and compassion that they don’t see me as sometimes I tend to see myself.

Just recently, I shared at a training about a dream I had a couple of days ago, that I’m probably not going to express too much on air, but I pretty much, at the end of the dream, I was hearing my own voice saying that I forgive myself, I forgive myself, and I woke up. I mean, it was kind of scary on one end, but it was a revelation. Am I really coming to the point to where I’m moving forward in a way that I never have before?  I just feel like that is happening right now, and I just want to carry that and just be in it.

Dettmer: I’m wondering, Malachi, how do you feel toxic masculinity, patriarchy, or misogyny molded your identity, and also how gender played into how you have been able to deal with your life or your feelings?

Malachi: You know, growing up I never really thought about masculinity and what that was. I didn’t know it was a thing. I didn’t think about social construction and oddities of the things. I was just in it. I would just live in it. And, so, you know, again, to the point where I actually can think about it, I definitely understand a combination of things. I definitely believe in choices. I’m really coming to terms with what it meant for me to grow up without a father. We talk about it a lot, you know, being in the circles where that question is asked. “How many of you have been raised without a father?” Like 90 percent, 95 percent of people raise their hands, so this is a conversation that’s been going on for a while before me. Personally, what did that mean to me, not to have a father? And watch my brother have his father partly in his life? Not necessarily as much, but at least he knew him and know that side of the family, and I have no clue?

I believe that I really battled with identity as a growing young man, and what were my needs at the time? I mean, my needs weren’t met. What is the immediate access that I had to meet those things? And, that was right outside my house. I spent so much time as a teenager outside of my house in the streets just running the neighborhood, not coming back for three days, sometimes a week would pass. I wasn’t happy at home. And, even though I didn’t know what love looked like in the household, I’m out looking for love not knowing what love looks like. We’re trying to create what it looks like, but ultimately it’s not necessarily a healthy sense of what love is and the kinds of decisions that we made.

I definitely battled with identity, and it took time for me to grow. I think I came to a point where I exercised strength when I was around 20 years old, when I just started to make a change in my life. I was affiliated with a street gang in LA. At 20 years old, I gave it up, and I had stress by going on the level four prison yard, maximum security yard, and telling that specific gang about the path that I’m choosing. I did that, and I think at that time when I made that decision I was afraid because I didn’t know how else was I going to live in this prison setting. A couple of weeks into it I felt like I made a huge mistake, like I should not have done that. It took some time for me to really feel that freedom that I had, feel the joy of being who I am and standing up as a man. I gave myself permission to live and to be free, and to pursue whatever it was that I could pursue in prison. If I would’ve stayed in it, I really believe that I would still be incarcerated to this day. I possibly would’ve died in prison, and the decision I made allowed me to take off  to the point to where I’m not getting into trouble, so then I made it to San Quentin State Prison where there is restorative justice, right. And, now, look at me today. It’s been a process. It’s been a journey.

- Garry “Malachi” Scott,is the Re-entry and Community Justice Coordinator at RJOY



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