Developing the skill set for working with storytellers is one of the most crucial building blocks for developing a successful Restorative Justice program. Stories are a key element in Restorative Justice Circles. Having powerful storytellers . . . common everyday people who have experienced a trauma and have the ability to share that story in a way that is transformative for the teller and listener both.
1) Relationship to speakers. Learn to hold people close and offer them guidelines for effective storytelling. People who have stories of traffic fatalities, homicide, drug overdose, suicide or war have experienced LIFE changing events. The trauma restructures and reorganizes the brain – ways people organize thoughts, think of the world express and allow love. Be a support an ally. Show them other speakers, affirm their existence, wisdom and authentic relationship to the topic they will be speaking about. GUIDE them into telling the story (link to 53 blog posts) with 4 bases and 12 tips.
Teach people they are the expert in their story, encourage the “telling” and minimize the reading. Believe in them more than anyone, even their own selves. A speaker finished recently, apologize to me, nearly in tears for being “all over the place” in telling his story. I hugged him, whispered in his ear “the courage to share is all you need”.
2)Be a LISTENER. Listen to the person who has something to share. Listen and listen and listen. Meet and plan for them to share, just by meeting and discussing their story. You have to hold, HAVE TO HOLD peace, love, compassion. You can’t twinge, hide or respond with your needs (okay balance this with being real). Know the person well and know their story, you will hear hours, and they will give 20 minutes of this story. Affirm all of it, reflect back what is impactful and helpful.
3)Know the process. At SCVRJP we use 4 bases Intro/Incident/Impact/Reflection. This works so well. I can explain it forward and backwards if I have to. I have taught it, used it, heard it, felt it, lived it, observed it. I can’t help speakers unless it is a part of me. I need to have it understood and create an understanding that speakers and I can talk about these stages and help them when the story changes. The story should change. Restorative Justice storytelling is designed to be a living thing, the story can change with seasons, experiences and how the speaker is doing on that particular day.
The above comments relate to storytellers for a specific segment of Circle. There is also encouraging storytelling when everyone in the Circle is asked to share. I say lots of affirmations when building up to a storytelling round. For example I might offer: “we are all experts in our own stories”, “we can all tell a story; just think of the begining, the middle and the end”. It is especially important to tell stories at Circle Keeper Trainings.
One volunteer who attended several trainings, and several Circles with youth, where often we related stories was not fond of a technique I would use. The technique was an egg timer, and asking people to share a story or to share for 3 minutes what was on their heart. Caution: use when emotional climate is ready.
This volunteer recently shared how she started something for her Granddaughters, based on her experience with storytelling at SCVRJP. She offered this after reminding me how much she disliked the egg timer activity. She related seeing how her Granddaughters are growing up in a very different world. She decided then each night to write a story of her or her Mothers so that one day, her Granddaughters will have a better understanding of Grandma and Great Grandma who they never met. The volunteer attributed the ability to write these stories from her experience in Circle.
I told this story to my coworker . . . who said “I wish my Grandma would have done that” to which I replied “I wish all Grandma’s would do that”.