Throughout this first season of Encounters With Dignity we have heard many stories about how restorative justice can be used in response to harm or injustice. These examples have taken us through the criminal legal system, the education system, and even Indigenous communities grappling with multi-generational harms.
But restorative justice need not be limited to only those times where a rule or law was broken. Restorative justice can be part of our everyday — a way of being, a way of living.
In this episode, we hear three wise teachers discuss how we all can live restoratively in every aspect of our lives.
Dr. Desireé Anderson, Fr. Jeff Putthoff, and Jerry Tello discuss the importance of community building, self-care, and honoring our cultural histories as just a few stepping stones toward living a restorative life.
Hey there, and thanks for tuning in to this tenth and final episode of Encounters With Dignity’s first season.
I’m Caitlin Morneau, your host and Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Director of Restorative Justice.
In this podcast from CMN, we’ve been bringing you stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom from people who are putting restorative justice into practice. Along the way, we've also been exploring how this transformational approach helps us live out our faith, and engage the principles of Catholic social teaching.
Throughout this season, we’ve heard how restorative justice has taken shape in a death penalty case at the Supreme Court, and in Indigenous communities healing from grave historical harm. We’ve heard how incorporating restorative principles can change the culture in schools and alter the trajectory of the lives of former gang members. We listened to the stories of two families healed through a restorative process in the wake of tragedy, and how it helped an individual reintegrate with his community after returning from incarceration.
Today, we want to leave you with some practical ways to live restoratively in your own life. Restorative justice provides a way for us to respond to crime, yes. But even more than that it helps us live in right relationship with one another -- which is, after all, our fundamental definition of what "justice" really is.
In this episode of Encounters with Dignity we dive deep into this question of “what does it mean to live restoratively? Three wise teachers will share their vignettes and insights.
Dr. Desireé Anderson is Associate Dean of Diversity and Student Affairs at the University of New Orleans and previously served as director of the Intercultural Center at Saint Mary's College in California. She is also an author in the book Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities.
Fr. Jeff Putthoff is a Jesuit priest who has worked as associate pastor, executive director, high school teacher, and president. He applies his experience in organizational dynamics, leadership, brain health and Ignatian spirituality to youth education and organizational life.
Jerry Tello is an international expert in the areas of transformational healing, men and boys of color, racial justice, and community peace and mobilization. He is co-founder of the National Compadres Network and is currently Director of Training and Capacity Building.
As you listen, I invite you to pray with these questions:
1. What relationships or groups are you already a part of where small acts of restorative justice could go a long way?
2. What experience of harm or healing care first invited you to contemplate living restoratively?
3. How have your ancestors -- be they familial, spiritual, or cultural -- passed down a legacy of healing and restoration?
Dr. Desireé Anderson:
I really got into this work sort of by accident. It started when I was in my doctoral program and I went to an educational conference and in the process learned a little bit more about what restorative justice was. And in that moment of thinking, like, wow, why is this not something that we're using more in basically all spaces? This to me is this principle about being in relationships and the power that relationships have to transform community and spaces.
And as I really got deeper and deeper into this type of work, I really realized that it was kind of often being talked about in this very reactionary type of way as opposed to being a thing that you live, right. Restorative justice is not something that you do. It is something that is.
And I realized that the community aspect was often being left out of the work, that people were not really thinking about the role that community plays in the success and the ability for restorative justice to really be transformational.
I think the most important part of restorative justice is the community building aspect. If you think about the roots, right? The Indianaity of what restorative justice is built upon, it was about how do we restore relationships? Well, you can't really restore a relationship if you don't have one. Right? And so when we think about community, that community building is about developing relationships with one another.
Because if we're in relationship with one another, one, I'm going to be more inclined to want to repair the relationship that we have, because I don't want to ruin that. Right. We have some type of connection. We have some type of community. So I'm going to be more invested on my part regardless if I'm the person who's been harmed or if I was the person who caused harm to want to repair it.
And the other aspect of it is also if we're really thinking about the community aspect of being and we're really building relationships, I'm also less likely to want to cause you harm. I'm going to be more mindful, right? So we're thinking about it from that proactive space, right? It's no longer just about thinking about restorative justice as this reactionary tool, but it's also a proactive tool.
And I'm also going to be more inclined to forgive that person. You're going to be more inclined to want to be able to communicate to somebody the harm that they have done to you when you have a relationship with them, right.
Because it's a lot easier to tell somebody when you've been in relationship with them how they've impacted you than someone that you don't really have a relationship with because is just, I'm going to just ignore that person or I'm just going to stop talking to that person altogether. But now they've not learned how they've impacted another person. And they're going to walk through life continuing to impact other people in the exact same way, because we just didn't feel the need to communicate with them because we didn't have relationships with them. So for me, the community building aspect is the most essential part.
And as you do that, you do that everything else falls in line really easy. People get in the habit of being in circle. They get in the habit of being able to communicate. They learn how to use the restorative language.
So if you're using that type of language of like how have you been impacted? Who's been impacted, what harm has happened? What happened as opposed to what did you do? And you're making that a part of your everyday life that's going to be transformative with the people in your inner circle, and that's going to translate to their ability to do that with people in their inner circle.
And so for me, that idea of that community piece is the most essential part of this work.
We have to be willing to give grace to people in their learning. If we're not, they're not going to want to be in the learning process. Right. To be able to understand how they've impacted other people. And they're not going to stop the behavior.
And so part of thinking about this work, one, is that you can do restorative practices within yourself, right, for yourself with people who you are in community with to be able to process the things that are happening with and around you. So you're able to really think about using restorative practices for your own healing, to be able to continue to do the work of addressing trauma right, of addressing historical harms.
And then on the other side of that is as you really start to continue again thinking about this idea of living restoratively is that you recognize that I can't be a person who's not willing to forgive. I cannot be a person who's not willing to offer grace to someone else. I cannot be a person who is not willing to engage with a person even when they have caused me harm.
Hurt people hurt people. So being able to understand the root cause of why this ongoing trauma is happening. And recognizing that just like everything, we don't learn things at one time. It takes multiple times for us to unlearn. The unlearning is so difficult. It is such a difficult process. You have to really practice that. You have to be much more conscious of it. And in doing that, it's going to take time.
So for me, thinking about this resilience piece, is that I have to be willing to put in that effort to be open to kind of working with people through their unlearning, through their unpacking of trauma that they've experienced that led them to cause harm through their unlearning of like, wow, I didn't even realize I was causing harm.
I didn't understand that the thing that I was doing is a result of white supremacy, of racism, of oppression, of, you know, the criminal justice system was designed in this particular way. I didn't realize that I was participating in those things. And so now I'm trying to unlearn that. Right. And so through that process is how you rebuild one of the resilience for yourself.
But also for the other people so that they stick with it. So they stick with engaging in this work because it's hard. It's not easy. And I know for some people they think that if you're just sitting in a circle and it's Kumbaya and it feels good and like and to a degree, there are parts of it that does feel good, but apologizing is hard.
It gets really hard if you're going to do it well, right? Holding yourself accountable for the harm that you have done is incredibly difficult. And so the resilience process and the way that we often kind of scaffold or structure these processes is allowing people to build up to that place where they can finally hold themselves accountable, where they can finally make those amends in a way where they're still supported and understood as a whole being.
So, we had some bias related incidents on our campus. And we invited our students by simply saying, you've had these issues come up and we'd like to bring you all to come and sit in community with one another to talk about the way that you have experienced this moment, what concerns you have, and what you would like for us of the administration to do to help respond to these issues.
And inviting that and then sharing with them what the process looks like, that everybody will have an equal voice, an opportunity to share. That if you feel and if you just want to sit and listen, that you're also able to do that and engage it in that way. But we will offer a space for everyone to have an equal space to be able to share their concerns about X topic.
And I think that sometimes it’s just as simple as that, right? So, you're going to be coming together to talk as a collective with equal voice about this. Or to be able to build relationship around this topic. And that's how you invite people into restorative justice. And then once they're done, you say, that was restorative justice.
That's how you really build that public awareness and start inputting little, little pieces here and there.
So again, reframing the way that you're asking questions or that you're communicating with people. So using that restorative language, it's a small thing that you can start doing immediately in your current practices and in your everyday life. Doing community building circles right is another way of quickly introducing these practices. I do it with every single meeting that I have that I am a host for, I use check-in questions. I talk about values.
And so that's really where that community building piece is also really important because I get to see you as a whole person and not the person who just who did this thing, who caused this harm or who was impacted by this thing. I want to see you as a full, whole human being worthy of dignity and respect. And that's through these processes that's really how you're building that resilience for both yourself as a practitioner, but also as a participant.
I've been a Jesuit for over 30 years and a priest for over 20, and I ended up spending about 18 years in Camden, New Jersey. And while I was there, I had the opportunity to create an organization that was working with 14 to 23 year olds who are not in school. And so we created some social enterprises and helped people get jobs.
And so we started that and it was going really, really well. But there were some things that started to kind of go off the track a little bit. And I remember just this one day when one of the young people came to the door and our youth trainer opened the door and she's like, "What do you want? You're late." And she says, "Come back when you are not going to be late." And she slammed the door on the person and walked away. And I was astonished because this is not what we wanted to do, right? This is not the spirit that we were working in, but it's in a sense what had happened to us.
So that was sort of our kickoff as an organization to begin to explore a little bit about, it's just not good enough to do good things, but rather to begin to move into the realm of what happens when we feel unsafe, when we've experienced trauma as not only a community, but the individual young people that we're working with, and how it manifests itself, not only in their lives, but in the lives of people who are being present.
This was a fundamental insight for us in terms of incorporating something we call the ACES, the adverse childhood experience survey. If you know this, it's really powerful. And so through a huge study, they begin to discover these three areas of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and how it impacts our lives. And what's amazing about it is that you're actually able to correlate from the ACES study, health outcomes. The outcomes are broken into behavior and physical and mental health.
So people in a sense, the study was the first time that we connected actually history to medical outcomes. And we were able to say the things that happened to us, actually we bring forward into our future through our body and the health outcomes that we manifest. Now, why that's really important for me and the work of restorative justice is because what we find is when we live dysregulated and unsafe for chronic amounts of time, our brain is impacted. So when we're living in fight, flight or freeze, our brain literally becomes pickled in stress hormones. The architecture of our brain is changed. And we, in a sense, begin to kind of create neural pathways, which we call them, or neural ruts, that predispose us to act certain ways when we experience feelings in the present that remind us of the past.
So, the really powerful thing is that we connect that behavior, right, not in a punitive way, but in a way that makes sense that actually is responsive to a pain that's happened and a structurally endemic pain that actually gets in many ways hard wired into our brain. So what we end up doing oftentimes, or the higher your ACE score, you begin to repeat or create the situations again in your life because you don't have a way of being able to thrive, you have a way of surviving, which should be lauded. You have tremendous resiliency. The young people that I work with and the staff I have have tremendous resiliency. And yet it can become an impediment when it doesn't allow us to have choices, only reactions.
And so how is it that we teach people who we're working with when we want to talk about healing, when we want to talk about justice, how do we help people in a sense heal this organ that they need so that they can actually be regulated and then begin to make choices and talk and have access to the world.
At the place where I worked, we implemented a program called Sanctuary. But there were some practices that we did daily to help our brain to do neural strengthening if you will. One of them was, we taught people to breathe, simply doing breathing exercises. So we just built in a space each day when we were breathing.
We also would begin and end the day with something called the huddle. And it was a really simple process where we would acknowledge, how are you feeling? What's a goal that you have? And who can help you? And the whole idea there was to be able to model your feelings, right? You can have feelings so that young people, adults, everybody in the room can talk about what they're feeling. Then you can actually get in touch with your rational brain. Even though I'm feeling, then I can say, what is it that I want to work on today?
And then to be able to root that in the group, in the world, in the day, by meeting someone who was in this space who could help you, right, so that you could have safety. So that folks could become comfortable with feelings, see other people's feelings, very powerful when a staff member maybe has a feeling of loneliness or anger, and they see that modeled
We also created something called a system check so that when something gets out of whack, when something feels I'm afraid is dissonant is somebody perhaps has created something, we would come together much like a circle and do what we would call a systems check and check in and collectively take ownership for that dynamic and make sure that everybody could feel safe again in that moment. That oftentimes meant that we had to acknowledge our actions, right? If our actions were not appropriate and then how would we kind of make amends and that kind of thing.
And then the very last thing was developing what we would call self care plan. And again, this was really focused on the folks who were working there to create the means to create our own robust resiliency. So I like to think about, we had the image of a tire, a bike tire on the wall and if you are riding a bike from point A to point B and the tire's inflated, it goes really well. But we've all had the experience maybe of riding a bike from point A to point B and the tire doesn't have enough air in it. And it's exhausting. You still get to point B, but you're exhausted. So our image was, how do you come to work with your tire properly inflated? So that you, in a sense, have to anticipate what you need. And so the idea was to create really specific things that you could do that would give you a sense of air in your life.
So that might be exercise, it might be sleep, it might be prayer, it might be having a really great conversation with your spouse, a friend, staying in touch with people, little things that you could actually do. So I can say that on my self-care list, I have like 20 things and they're very small things and I can do one, three, five of them a day. And they're just ways to actually keep my tire inflated because when I show up at work, you're not really sure what's going to happen. Maybe that day, you're going to be on a straightaway. Maybe one day you have to literally, figuratively ride up the hill. Maybe the road is stoney. The idea is to prepare your brain, to prepare your emotional health, if you will, to be able to encounter what's before you that day.
The awareness of brain health allows for us in a sense to retrain the brain. We need to retrain our brain.
For me, it's about being a people of hope. And I like to say that hope is sweaty, it takes real decisions on our part, and it's not a panacea, but it's an action that we take. It happens in our history and that our relationships matter. People help us heal. We need to rely on people to help us to heal.
I want to just begin by thanking God and all my ancestors who came before. I just want to acknowledge my dad, Jorge Perez-Tello, who's Tampilan Coahuiltecan, raised in, I guess we call it, San Antonio; in our language, it's Yanaguana; my mom, Maria de Jesus Olague Ramos, who comes from Mexico, from Chihuahua. They met and had six kids. Each of them came from families of 14 and 15, but raised us actually in Compton. So, I'm straight out of Compton, straight out of the barrio there in Compton, grew up in a black and brown neighborhood, went to school in Watts. I went to Ascension Elementary School and then went to Verbum Dei High School.
But, I want to begin with transformational justice is a new term and it's a new term for us. In doing my work over these last 40 years as a psychologist, as someone working in the community, I work all across the country. But, it started there in Watts and Compton, working with disenfranchised communities. But, I grew up there and realize that in my own home, in my own family, in that community that they considered high risk and in many realms dysfunctional or whatever, that there were sacredness there and that I saw that in my grandmother. I saw it in my grandmother in spite of what we're going through.
In that very house, that very house that I grew up in, all the factors you would consider, risk factors, my grandma would get up at 4:30 in the morning every morning. I thought she was crazy. "Why do you got to get up early? Let's go to school and got to go to work, grandma." She'd get up at 4:30 in the morning, the only time it was quiet in my house. There was a little hole in the wall. And then the hole in the wall, she had her Virgen (de Guadalupe) there and her candles and all her little saints. She would kneel down and you could almost do an assessment of our family. The more problems we had, the more she kneel down right there in that little pillow. But after she finished, after she finished, she came to the room where all us kids were sleeping. She gave us a bendicion. She was a blessing. She blessed us all up.
And I used to hate it. Sometimes, at 5:30, "Grandma, why are you waking me? I was having a good dream. You messed up my—. ¡Callase! Go back to sleep." And I didn't understand why my grandma needed to bless me before I got up. She blessed me before I left to school. And she even blessed me before I went to sleep. Why did I need so many blessings? I got the devil in me or what? And what I didn't understand that my grandma understood is she had to inoculate me. She had to bless me up. She had to make me understand that I was sacred. Because as soon as I left that door, as soon as I walked into the world, as soon as I walked into that school yard, as soon as I walked to the store, the world didn't see me that way. They saw me as a little brown boy. When I walked with me and my African-American friends, they would look at us at a certain way, sit us in the back of the classroom. Walking down the streets, the cops would slow down. Sometimes, we'd get thrown against the wall.
I want you to understand that in terms of restoring something, the first thing is that sacredness. We have always, in our family, in our culture, sat in circles. We've always prayed together. There's always accountability.
And so in that community in Compton, in that barrio that you would consider disenfranchised or high risk, the grandmas and the men, they had values. They knew about dignity. They knew about the sense of accountability. I want to say that because now we have a movement of restorative justice. This is not a new thing. It doesn't come from programs and projects and curriculum.
Because we understand that within everyone's culture, there are these teachings. And my research has shown me that all across the world, there's significant teachings that when they are integrated in your family, integrated in your heart, integrated in your school, integrated in your community, then we have a sense of what, in my language, we call In Tloque Nahuaque or interconnected sacredness. The first one is what my grandma did. You are wanted. You're a blessing. It's the opposite of racism, that everyone is seen as a blessing. No one is seen as a deficit. No one is seen as a delinquent. When kids are acting out, it's not seeing that we need to kick them out because they are blessing. They have a sacredness.
So if they're acting out, it means that something is out of balance, not the kid, something around them. More than that, they have a sacred purpose. So if we destroy them or throw them away which we indiscriminately do, especially for black and brown boys, we'd lock them up or kick them out, we're taking away a purpose, a sacredness that they have to contribute. If people would understand that, if a nation could understand that, if a school could understand that, if a teacher could understand that, and sometimes wounded parents who had been wounded don't have the ability to even see in this way. And so sometimes, the restoration, if you will, of the sacredness of the family or parent must go on. But, it's not enough just to do restorative justice as program if your whole ideology is not built on sacredness and blessing and sacred purpose and honoring the next one, the cultural teachings of the people that you're working with.
The first step of healing is acknowledgement. Let me acknowledge that harm was done to you. With society haven't even acknowledged the harm, how can we heal as a people? Finally, that fourth teaching of having compassionate, safe places. I went to a Catholic school and I’m glad for the education. But, I did not feel that I could go and share. I did not feel that there was a safe place for me to share what was really going on because I didn't want them to blame my parents. I didn't want them to look down on my family.
So when we're talking about this, it's about transformational learning that we must really transform the way that we teach, the way that we embrace, and recognize that any child that comes into school has wisdom already from their ancestors. We must create a love for learning. You can't get to transformational justice unless the learning takes place, unless there's a portal for that, unless there's an interconnection for that. So, you must have the leadership. It's a leadership that is about generational movement, that's about elders, yelders and young people. And it's generation. It's not top-down. It's circular. But, it has to include healing if healing isn't part of it. I will say the first step of healing was we need to heal policies, procedures, heal the adults who are in charge.
I'm going to share this with you, 32 years ago. I'm a psychologist. I work a lot in domestic violence and sexual assault and sexual abuse. I was frustrated because there's no programs for men that looked like me. They were getting sent to jail or getting sent to prison. So, I called another group of men because there weren't any programs that are culturally relevant, and call them together. 19 men showed up 32 years ago. We're going to develop programs. We knew enough and were grounded enough. We started with prayer. We asked, "God, help us. Ancestors, help us." We began to go around the circle to introduce ourselves. We were doing circle work way back because that's where our ancestors. This is not a program. This is something that indigenous people have lived with.
The second man in shared, "I wanted to develop programs for my community. But, my issue right now is I don't know how to love my wife. I don't know how to love my kids because I was sexually abused as a kid." He began to cry. As a man, all of us men in that circle, "Whoa, what's this dude crying for? Whoa, what's going on? We weren't used to seeing that." But when he cried, it opened all of our hearts and we all began to cry. As we went around the circle, we realized that all of us, we were psychologists, lawyers, teachers, social workers, we were all messed up. We realized that we had generational wounds that hadn't been healed. So, the first step of restoring is we must restore, decolonize our own way.
We must do our own healing within our institutions. We must co-create systems and processes around racial equity that supports students and families, and build on their cultural wisdom. We know this stuff. The interesting thing is because now that restorative justice become programmatic and systematized and funded, I have people that I've worked with for 20 years that can't do restorative practices. Why? Because they haven't been certified and they hadn't been certified by organizations now that are seen as the leaders. So, we have to even decolonize the way we do this work because it really is about the sacredness.
And this is a Mayan saying. It comes from my Mayan relatives. In Lak'ech, tú eres mi otro yo, you are my other me. When you learn, we all learn. When you struggle, we all struggle. When you heal, we all heal. When you grow, we all grow. When you transform, we all transform. You are me, I am you. We are one.
Let me just say to you that each of you has the blessings and the sacredness in you. If you never have a grandma like my grandma, let me say to you, "You're a blessing and you're sacred just the way you are." Thank you.
Thank you so much Dr. Desiree, Fr. Jeff, and Jerry for offering us such a broad host of invitations, from simple check-ins, to intentional group processes, to honoring cultural wisdom and interconnected sacredness.
In families, friendships, churches, and beyond, the more we imagine everyday applications of restorative principles, the more we grow to realize that the possibilities are really endless. And this need not be intimidating, but enlivening!
Throughout Encounters With Dignity, we heard a resounding call to live restoratively because this is the reconciling way that Jesus modeled in his ministry and embodied on the cross.
You and I can face the truth of our wrongdoing because Christ took on the fullness of our sins. You and I can enter into the depths of woundedness because Christ took on the fullness of our suffering. You and I can bear witness to transformation with our communities because Christ was crucified in public, alongside those who both loved and despised him.
In a culture where vengeance seeps from our legal system and into our homes and hearts… no act of restorative living is too small.
So begin where you are, and know that you are not alone.
Thank you for tuning in to this inaugural season of Encounters With Dignity! If you enjoyed this episode and haven’t yet had a chance to listen to more, you’ll find an archive of all episodes at catholicsmobilizing.org/podcast, or by searching for Encounters With Dignity on your favorite podcasting platform.
To stay engaged with Catholic Mobilizing Network, and our mission to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, follow us on social media or sign up for our emails at catholicsmobilizing.org/join.
We hope that by listening to this season of Encounters With Dignity you feel more prepared to bring the reconciling approach of restorative justice to your community, church, and society at large.
Let us close in prayer.
Gracious Lord, your love for us is not from a distance: you love us by coming close, feeling compassion for us, and healing us with tenderness. May you guide our footsteps anew as we dare to live restoratively. May we do justice with closeness, compassion, and tenderness. May we be a prophetic Church that, by her presence, proclaims to the broken-hearted: “Take heart, the Lord is near”. Amen.