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Marriage, Community and Restorative Justice

Date: November 3, 2011
By Becci McCormack
What if marriages operated like society? Let's say a husband forgets to put the toilet lid down, or a wife forgets to turn off the heat before vacation. Are reparations needed? Do we measure the damages and charge the other? No, we discuss the harm, thought processes, extenuating circumstances, consider solutions and move forward in the relationship. Likewise, restorative justice focuses on bringing together victims and offenders to rebuild community.
Starting at a young age, The Conflict Center helps youth internalize restorative justice philosophies. In Denver primary schools conflict management is taught through playground conflict management and restorative justice circles. Playground conflict managers are trained on-site with a Conflict Center representative and do on-the-playground conflict management. In a restorative justice circle, students are allowed to talk about harms committed or incurred and air out the injustice. In addition, emotional intelligence and conflict management skills are taught in these schools to help build communication and problem solving skills. Some schools report that the programs taught by The Conflict Center have helped reduce suspensions by 50%.
“Restorative justice is repairing the harm after harm is committed, whether it’s me calling you a name or stealing the radio out of your car. We talk and see how our brains were working and what our feelings are about the harm: We consider our accountability.  We look at the humanity in the situation – that’s restorative justice; it builds community.” said Vickie Samland, School Programs Coordinator at The Conflict Center.
Longmont, CO is a city using restorative justice philosophies. The Longmont police, municipal courts and probation offices contract with nonprofits to hold community group meetings.  , Common offenses managed through this process are  theft, harassment, trespassing, vandalism, possession and arson..
Dr. Beverly Title and Chief Michael Butler state in the paper Enhancing the Capacity of the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, “Our youth live in a world that is different from the one many of us grew up in.  There is a new paradigm for values of power and authority that does not always respect traditional authority. The ways of exercising shame, guilt and punishment to accomplish positive behavior still works for some, but many of the ‘x’ and ‘y’ generations require a deeper understanding and connection before they internalize the need to respect our laws.  Through processes like restorative justice, they can come to internalize a code of behavior that considers the wider impact of their actions.”
In 2008, Denver Public Schools adopted a philosophy of restorative justice as an alternative to suspensions for fighting. Nelson Garcia, channel 9 News reported on March 2, 2010 that “the district has had 6,000 fewer suspensions over the same time frame in the preceding years.” (9 News report link:
The positive impacts of restorative justice are far reaching for schools, cities, communities and one-on-one relationships. For more information on Restorative Justice, or if you are interested in having restorative practices integrated at your school contact us at  4140 Tejon St; Denver, CO; 80211.
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Reframing Political Conversation

By Mitzi Hicks
Each season brings clear signs announcing its presence: autumn is heralded by turning leaves and cool nights, winter brings snowflakes, and election season blows in on a wind of heated political rhetoric.  We are at the beginning of a new presidential election cycle, and if the past few years are any indicator, the coming months will be chock full of sound bites designed to divide us along ideological lines.  The political climate wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to stay this way.  But does the average person have the power to change this?  Absolutely!  In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed, thoughtful citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Civilized political discourse is essential if we are to uphold the spirit and ideals of our democracy, and creating this conversation is within everyone’s power. 
If anything is to be learned from the ongoing struggles between political factions in Washington, it is that we must find ways to reframe political discussion around values, beliefs, and visions of the future for our communities and our nation as a whole. By reframing the discussion we can move from treating politics as a zero-sum game in which winning is a goal in itself, and focus on collaborating to achieve shared visions and goals for the future. 
One way to defuse conflict in the political arena is to seek out the common ground that is often masked by political posturing.  Even the most opinionated person, if asked to describe the future he or she desires, will likely agree that safe and thriving communities in which to raise families is a shared goal.  Once common ground is established, then the conversation can be enlarged by asking questions like “What do safe and thriving communities look like?” and “How can we work together to make it happen?” 
Identifying common visions of the future for our community and our nation will allow us to start creating ways to realize those visions.  If we work together we can return to the concept of “We the People” on which our country was founded, and bring about a brighter future for all.
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Parenting: Letting your children deal with their own conflict

Date: October 31, 2011

By Tamara Sherwood

A woman found a cocoon of a butterfly and a small opening appeared.
She sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole. Then it stopped, as if it couldn't go further. So the woman decided to help the butterfly. She took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon.  The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The woman continued to watch it, expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge and expand enough to support the body. Neither happened! In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around. It was never able to fly.
What the woman in her kindness and haste did not understand: The restricting cocoon and the struggle required by the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing the fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once that was achieved.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what our children need in their lives. Going through life with no obstacles would cripple them. Wait a minute, if our children are struggling and making bad decisions aren't we impacted? That might mean leaving work early, spending money, or another sleepless night worrying. It only makes sense that a parent would want to do their best to end the struggle, and besides what would the neighbor's, friend's, or the in-laws think.
Parenting with guilt is universal. We all had the notion that somehow we would do a better job than our parents. The first time we find out our child skipped a class, got an “F”, said a bad word, hit someone, drank, smoked…we feel responsible. As parents we have read parenting books, articles, attended workshops and sought out counseling to prove we are good parent's, yet we still can feel angry, afraid, guilty and a failure when our children struggle.
Sometimes our children who we love, do things we don't like or approve of. The trick is before we react and escalate the problem, to think about whose problem is it anyway. The only person who can solve the problem is the person who “owns” the problem (or feeling) and by allowing the child to solve problems for themselves helps build self-esteem. This means we detach and consider the child's behavior and ask how it will effect or hinder our life. When the problem is our child's concern, then be ready to listen and offer support.
Often, detachment (watching the butterfly) to our child's behavior or struggle appears to be the least likely, or possible thing to do when we are hooked into a power struggle – an attempt to control or force our child to do it “our way” or force the cocoon open. Long-term problem solving can't be accomplished while in a power struggle.
Once there is an awareness that reacting and controlling don't help the next step is to find a peaceful place – it can be an actual place, a thought, a song, a friend, but a place that restores balance. Don't forget to breathe deeply and soon there will come clarity on how to determine who owns the problem and what is needed to solve the problem while building the relationship.
Sometimes the struggles are exactly what parents need to transition their own self-awareness and acceptance, that than expands their capacity to model for their children a happy and healthy adult, which than contributes to their children's ability to spread their wings and fly.
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