Helping others is hard work, keep your focus, imitation is easy.

This piece of wisdom has stayed with me for nearly a decade.  I had the opportunity to someone a ride.  She was really a strong leader and she brought a great deal forward in gender-based responses, both in criminal justice and human services.  I guess if they give an award in her name, that’s probably an indication of her contribution.  I would also say she was a good feminist.  Her bumper sticker:  well behaved women rarely make history.

On this car ride, I asked all I could think of.  I listened where I needed.  She was a little bitter about being let go from a job, in her words “because we wouldn’t shut up”.  I think the bureaucracy she worked for didn’t want to hear about treating girls in juvenile justice differently.

She told me that she saw, and thought that people will start to imitate the population they serve.  She suggested I carefully consider where I wanted to work.  I’ve carried this advice in my back pocket.  I’ll looked for it in life.  I’ve seen it play out, not all the time, but a lot.

Look at the MN Gang Strike Task Force, shut down in May, corrupt.  I heard a public radio interview with an expert and I learned that this type of corruption is more prevalent in gang, drug and vice units.  MN NPR story, here.  The University of Nebraska staff said that it’s because those units are isolated from the rest of the police force.  Hmm, imitation of the population served.

Now, I can go here, I used to be a domestic violence advocate, a shelter worker.  Matter of fact I still have a feminist poster in my laundry room.  I got it back in the day.  The days when I was making my own t-shirts that said “Good Shootin’ Nellie”.  Nellie went to court and shot the man that molested her daughter.  I was pissed off back then.  I woke up to just what a mess it was that women were property.  I spread the word about domestic violence, and I was not happy.  Some guy in a bar said “nice, ass” to me, I turned around and lectured him up one side and down the other.  Sure I had educated him on the better treatment of women I turned around and started to walk away.  Not before I heard him say, “what a bitch”.  My friends caught me and contained me before I went for his eyeballs.  One of them said, “but, Kris, I think he liked you”.  I took a drink of my beer and realized that being mad about it, didn’t get me anywhere.

I’ve seen angry DV advocates, and I’ve seen ones promoting restorative justice.  I’ve seen child support workers, fried to a crisp, and barely there because it’s all about the money, the law, the process of what they can and cannot do.  Almost powerless. 

I’ve enjoyed my friends that work in alternative schools, they are pretty cool people.  Are they imitating the kids, or in that case, are they all just better off because they are a little ‘alternative’.  I love these people.  Jay gave me the idea that you can run the whole show, and wear sandals to work.  I taught anger management in a room that had stuff glued on the walls, everywhere!  I did get on a chair and change the non-functioning clock.  It was on 4:20.  (that means smoking weed)

So what do we as restorative justice practitioners start to imitate.  Well, we have to be careful.  You could end up imitating the offender who minimizes responsibility.  Or the parent who over-reacts, under-reacts what their youth did.  What about imitating victims.  There are some that have one single solitary need, and no one could meet it.  Or the victim that remains a victim, by keeping what happened in-front of them, instead of working thru it.

What’s MOST important, is to keep being restorative, stay focused . . . remember that harms, needs, obligation and engagement are the elements.  Bringing victims, offenders and community members together means staying smaller than the process.  My personality, needs and judgements are NOT to be served, this is about everyone else.  It’s about exploring past harms that led an offender to feel justified.  It’s about exploring the needs, wishes and what these things mean to a victim.  I guess it’s best to imitate your own community and what community means to you.