WorldLink Intern Learns from the “Grandfather” of Restorative Justice

By WorldLink Intern Alexis Parkhurst, La Jolla Country Day School

AlexisParkhurst and HowardZehr

Alexis Parkhurst heard about the “Three Rs” of restorative justice – Respect, Responsibility and Relationships – from Howard Zehr, known as the grandfather of restorative justice for his pioneering work in the field

Walking into the Diocese of San Diego Pastoral Center for a Restorative Justice Conference in October, I was overwhelmed by the number of people I passed who were genuinely interested in the topic.

I spent this past summer as a WorldLink intern researching restorative justice for the 2015 WorldLink Reader on the theme of “Healing the Wounds of Violence.” But I can honestly say I was not aware of the intricate process prior to my research. Restorative justice is best explained through example, as I quickly learned.

In a simple example, let’s say Tommy steals a cell phone from Billy. Rather than simply punishing Tommy for stealing the phone, a restorative approach means that Tommy and Billy, along with a third party — whether a teacher, friend or trained mediator (depending on the intensity of the crime) — sit down and talk. Billy may ask questions, Tommy may apologize. The goal is that in the end, both walk away with a better understanding of each other and why this happened, resulting in a lower chance of Tommy repeating the crime.

During the conference, I was interested in the composition of the audience. It included those involved with criminal justice and victim/offender reconciliation, families of the incarcerated, and victims of crime.

I had the great pleasure of listening to the “grandfather” of restorative justice, Howard Zehr, who explained the “Three Rs” that are key to restorative dialogues: respect, responsibility and relationships. Through these key principles, restorative justice focuses on the harm that the crime caused, the resulting needs of the victim and the obligations of both parties to “put things right.” Professor Zehr, who wrote the foundational book Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice and is distinguished professor of restorative justice at Eastern Mennonite University, stressed both victim empowerment and that violence is rooted in shame. Although “shame is dangerous, it happens. Shame happens.”

In an extensive lineup of knowledgeable speakers, we also heard from Jack Hamlin, who provided information about Peace It Together, an organization that builds relationships between Israeli and Palestinian youth through filmmaking, dialogue and community engagement. John Stevenson spoke about Beloved Community, a group based on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideas on nonviolence and peacebuilding. As a WorldLink program participant, I had met Mr. Stevenson prior to this event through his work for the Alternatives to Violence project, which he spoke about at the WorldLink Workshop “Annual YTM: Next Steps” (See page 12 of the 2014 WorldLink Newspaper).

The speakers at the conference were remarkable in their perspectives and actions toward a restorative future. Experiencing a multitude of brilliant minds in one location was something I will never forget, and hope to incorporate in my own work.