Here's an anecdote from Terry Whitfield, a Youth Coordinator with Partnership for Youth in Detroit, Michigan. 48 young people, ages 14-18, that are performing Community YouthMapping in all 5 zip codes in Southwest Detroit. They are identifying and interviewing about opportunities for young people ages 11-18 in the community.  The total group is broken down into 5 groups of 8-10 youth per team, with a field supervisor assigned to each team.

On one team the field supervisor was having issues of insubordination with one of the youth staff. One day John (not his real name) was confronted by the field supervisor about constant cell phone usage during work hours. During this initial conversation John refused to comply with the supervisor’s request, and going so far as to be verbally dismissive of the field supervisor and using profanity toward him. The same day John had to use the restroom, but with no restrooms in the immediate area he urinated on the side of an abandoned building. When the issue was confronted by a fellow youth teammate, John’s response further alienated the rest of the team.  Upon the team’s return back to the office Whitfield referred to Restorative Practices as a possible intervention strategy and lobbied for its use in this situation.  It was approved and scheduled to occur Monday, July 18.

That Monday morning the team was called into a separate room and sat in a circle. A list of restorative questions were handed to each person to review, one list for the John, who had caused harm, and another for field supervisor and team of nine youth who had been affected by John's actions. The session was started with John answering his questions, and he was honest and forthcoming about his feeling that he did not feel that his actions affected his teammates, that the issue was with him and the field supervisor, and that him being moved to a different team would be how he would solve the issue. When asked if he had thought about the incident since it occurred, his response was no. When asked about what he felt needed to occur to make the situation right, he responded that nothing needed to be done because the issue was dealt with and over.

At that time the teammates were then asked their set of questions and the responses varied from the nonchalant to the very pointed and honest. It was clear that John’s actions had affected each of the members in the team, and when probed to expand on their initial answers really provided insight to everyone as to how John’s actions truly did affect the team dynamic in a negative way. At the end of the session John lashed out at his team members stating that the team was not a team and would never be a team because they only thought of themselves. It was clear that some of the comments made by his teammates affected John and that was the only way he knew how to communicate those feelings.

After the session the opportunity was presented to John to write out in his own words what the presenting issue was and what would be his plan to handle similar situations in the future. The alternative was a one day suspension with no pay. He decided to work on the plan. John was able to acknowledge what he felt the problems were and develop a solid plan for how he would handle issues of anger in the workplace in the future. Later on that day, without any prompting, John went up to his field supervisor and apologized for his actions and gave his word that similar incidents would never happen again.

Since the circle, John’s behavior has been on a steady incline, improving every day.  He has taken on more of a leadership role within the team and works closely with his field supervisor.  The field supervisor has noted a marked change in John’s attitude towards the work and his teammates, and he has been open about his appreciation of those changes to John himself.  The group dynamic has improved as well, with every team member taking responsibility for themselves and their role in making the team a better place for everyone.  There really has been marked improvement shown by everyone involved and it has to be attributed to the opportunity Restorative Practices gave everyone to have their individual voices heard.

When we asked for permission to post this story here, Terry commented, "YES! It would be an honor to allow this story to be told. Just a heads up though that while the Restorative session worked for the young man in this situation, we eventually had to let him go because of other work related issues. But in the situation in which we used the Restorative practice, the session did prove to be most effective."

I think it's important when working with restorative practices to keep in mind that things don't always work out the way we'd wish. But if we "separate the deed from the doer" and continue to give people an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, even when consequences like being removed from a program are required, the person does take with them the memory of being given a fair shake. Thanks to Terry Whitfield and Henry McClendon for sharing this experience!

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