"I 'became' that naughty boy"
“You little sh*ts.
I send my son to school expecting him to be safe and he has to put up with you two.”
I could feel the shame rise in my gut, then through my chest. I could hardly raise my head, though I did, just for a moment. In that instant, I saw his grief, anger and pain all mixed up together. He was looking directly at me.
I have never felt so ashamed.
My mate and I had thought it would be fun to make up excuses to walk past his son during woodworking class and “accidentally” shoulder-knock him.
What an idiot I am.
I’ve never even called his son by his real name. Nick and I had always called him ‘retard’.
I wanted to disappear. I have never felt so sorry for anything in my life. I’ve never been through anything like this either. The son was sitting next to his Dad.
The Dad who was now showing me the impact of my callous behaviour.
I could hardly lift my head and look at him.
As I write this and recall the intensity of emotions that I felt that day, it reminds me how powerful Restorative Justice can be.
This was a role play simulating reality.
Nick wasn't Nick. He was a colleague from the school we both worked at. The words were real though. And so were the emotions.
Back in the mid-2000s it was part of our introduction to this inclusive, relationship-based way of dealing with harmful behaviour. I was playing the part of one of two boys caught harassing a boy in our class who had a learning disability and walked with a slight limp. The man whose words and penetrating gaze that had elicited a storm of shame within me was a School Principal playing the role of this boy’s Dad.
The role play was teaching us a key Restorative Justice process: sitting on chairs in a circle, a trained Facilitator using a scripted process to guide those have offended or caused harm into facing up to wrongdoing, with the person(s) harmed sitting in the same circle, along with his/her/their support people. The process ensures that all those who have been affected by the wrongdoing have an opportunity to speak. The primary goal of this process is to create an agreement that both harmed and "harmer(s)" are satisfied with, andaccountability that harmful behaviour will cease, and wrongdoers "make things right" to the best of their ability. This process is more about the dynamic process of wrongdoers having to face those they have harmed and meaningful justice emerging from that, than proscribed punishments.
What I’ll never forget about this experience of acting the part of a “naughty boy”, is that in my real life when I was at school, I was a “good boy” – socks pulled up, hair combed, handkerchief in my pocket – but the shame I felt in that role play was "head-droppingly" real.
I ‘became’ that naughty boy, and the process did what it was meant to do: never again would I treat that boy the way I had been doing – in fact I wanted to look out for him now. The shame I experienced wasn't destructive...it was constructive.
Since that day I have facilitated many Restorative Justice processes that were real, not role plays. Injustice isn't just about breaking rules. Injustices harm people....real people. My experiences have shaped my awareness that one doesn't have to always inflict more pain to heal the pain of harmful injustices.
This is one of a series of buzzes that I sincerely hope will raise awareness of Restorative Justice. I intend to write them in non-academic, narrative style, though I want to comment that there is abundant literature and abundant research that demonstrates its efficacy.
I also want to keep the buzzes as brief as I can, and, over the coming weeks and months, write about the values, methods, and science of this way of 'doing justice better’. I am delighted to write these buzzes under the auspices of a London/Athens based organisation called Restorative Justice for All (RJ4ALL). I live in Australia, and writing like this is one way that I can support their ethos, activities and goals. I have recently been made a Team Member - a Team Member "down-under"!
Here's a link if you wish to read more about the work of RJ4ALL:
Until next the next blog,
This blog is also posted on www.sbconsulting.space.
Image Credit: Jeremy Tan https://www.flickr.com/photos/69052313