Molly Rowan Leach cached version 04/07/2018 15:08:13 en Facing up to our shadow side with compassion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Restorative justice makes real the fact that conflict, pain, suffering and crime are part of all our lives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Inside H Block 4.Credit: <a href="">Flickr/Still Burning</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal">In 1995 my mother went into full blown psychosis as a result of a drastic change in the medication she was taking for <a href="">schizo-affective disorder</a>. She lured some of our friends and neighbors into our home and took the youngest, a toddler, into the basement bedroom. Once there, she slashed the child’s throat with a knife because of a voice telling her she had to. The toddler survived despite a massive loss of blood.</p> <p class="normal">Mom had suffered from mental illness for most of her life in some form or another, and her new doctor at that time had reduced her antipsychotic medication without monitoring the effects. She had tried to take her own life after I was born, so afraid of being a bad mother that she thought it would be better if she exited, but I had no idea that she was managing life with depression that turned into bipolar disorder in my teens. She never harmed me. Quite the opposite—I was loved and supported by both my parents. But I do remember, and live with, the stigma that surrounds people with mental illness and everyone who loves them.</p> <p class="normal">After the attack my mother was arrested, obliterated out of her mind. The media went wild, and she became the town monster. The magnitude of what she had done and the fear it elicited was everywhere. Others in the neighborhood began monitoring my family. They wanted to make sure the monster was put away for life. People I had known since I was a kid turned against us.</p> <p class="normal">What followed was a textbook example of how <em>not</em> to deal with mental illness and its consequences—through ignorance, suspicion, incarceration and revenge instead of facing up to the shadow side of humanity with openness, love and understanding. It’s a story that I’ve never told before in public in such detail, but it needs to be told as another step towards redemption, and as the reason I believe that <a href="">restorative justice</a> is by far the best way forward. I’m also telling it as part of the process of owning who I am, and who my family are—good people who had something horrific and tragic visited on them, which devastated many lives.</p> <p class="normal">Restorative justice values and strives to honor the needs of everyone involved in the most humane ways possible and in a safe environment—those who commit crimes, and those who suffer from them. In so doing, it brings humanity back into the justice system. It converts a limited worldview based around isolation and individualism into a much more positive vision that is rooted in honesty, accountability, and the visible connection of causes with effects. And it works in concrete terms by drastically reducing recidivism and costs. Most important of all, it nurtures new relationships and a strong sense of human unity. In that sense, the root power of restorative justice is love expressed in action.</p> <p class="normal">This is not to shy away from the need for accountability or regret. I cannot overstate the utter sadness that I and my family have felt for what happened ever since, the desire to take away the pain from my mom’s victim and those who love her. The empathy and care we felt and still feel has never had a chance to be fully seen or expressed given the shambles of a criminal justice system that pits people against one another to further detriment and destruction—not to mention the total lack of opportunities for a mentally ill person to try to communicate their authentic feelings and reach for accountability under the harrowing conditions of imprisonment, where they are denied proper psychiatric treatment. This has been a hex for us all.</p> <p class="normal">My mom was put on trial in the spring of 1996. I testified that she was not a criminal, but has a mental illness. I stand by that to this day. The court was cold and bifurcating: divided aisles, and a mix of fear, judgment and unspoken hatred mingling in the air. The judge ruled that my mother did not belong in prison due to her illness, and she was sentenced to house arrest and stringent rules for probation. If she violated them, she’d face 15 years in jail. And that’s when the neighborhood witch hunt resumed in earnest.</p> <p class="normal">In 1996 and 1997, the Probation Officer received slews of calls about my mother’s case, falsely reporting violations. One group of neighbors followed my family around like bloodhounds, and one day at a water aerobics class at the local YMCA they found out that her caretaker had gone back to the locker room because she had a cold. Although my mom was in the pool with other responsible adults, this was one of the things cited by the group as a violation of her probation.</p> <p class="normal">She was summoned to a hearing and from there to prison to begin her sentence (the judge who had issued a clear ruling against incarceration at the initial trial was now up for a possible spot on the state Supreme Court, and this may have influenced his decision). I remember the day she was taken away very clearly. My father and I sat with her. “Molly, you have to live your life—go on,” she told me. That was the last time I saw her outside of prison until 2014. It was 1999. I was 29 years old.</p> <p class="normal">I visited my mother at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center in Eastern Idaho, a dank university town with a strange oppression in the air. The prison is located as far as possible from most of Idaho’s other major cities, which is a common pattern in American society—to make it as hard as possible to keep up any kind of contact or relationship with incarcerated family members. My mom became another number, 48985 to be exact.</p> <p class="normal">In the western world prisons have become de facto asylums. Data are very difficult to gather, but it’s estimated that <a href="">over half</a> the prison population in the USA are mentally ill. At Pocatello, female prisoners shared a host of human rights violations with me: one belly-chained at her child’s birth with an officer watching the whole proceedings. Others forced to strip naked and be probed in their vagina or anus on suspicion of hiding items. Women with babies and small children who were not allowed extended or overnight visits. Mentally ill prisoners like my mother who were punished in the ‘hole’—placed in solitary confinement—for being honest about their symptoms. On and on, repeat <em>ad nauseam</em>.</p> <p class="normal">In our failure to acknowledge everybody’s shadow side we act out our fears on the most vulnerable members of society. We scapegoat the mentally ill and treat them as though everything is their fault. We are unwilling to acknowledge the sickness that imprisons us in our own patterns of projection. Afraid to face the truth, we cannot enact true or lasting change. Transformation is only possible if we set ourselves free from these limitations and acknowledge the <em>in</em>justice that lies at the heart of the justice system.</p> <p class="normal">My own work as an advocate for restorative justice emerged from these experiences. I saw needs go unmet for decades for everyone involved. I saw no chance of healing, or even of the slightest opening towards it in the prison system. I knew that what I’d experienced was the exact opposite of justice. Justice is respect and communication, and true accountability and reparation. It means distinguishing the individual as separate from their crime and the harm it has caused, and truthfully evaluating the unique conditions that inform a person’s actions. Justice is helping all people—including offenders—to be and feel accountable for what they have done, and to work together to make things right.</p> <p class="normal">I can’t be anything but grateful for the opportunity to choose love over fear again and again throughout the last 25 years, and to live out that commitment in my work. I’ve done everything I can to respect and understand how my mother’s actions have affected others in the community, and to listen to the often ugly, revenge-based messages I’ve received from strangers. I know that housing 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners in American jails when only five per cent of the world’s population lives in the USA is both morally wrong and substantively ineffective as the basis for justice and reconciliation. I know that corporations with vested interests are passionate about filling every prison bed. I know that punishment only exacerbates the problem.</p> <p class="normal">I know that stories like my mom’s must be held and heard safely to provide the raw material for healing. I know that people do not heal when they are pitted against each other and made to play a ruthless game of blame and shame. I know that by humanizing those stories we release the possibility of redemption, and come to understand our shared humanity. Without doubt, I know that restorative justice makes real the fact that conflict, pain, suffering and crime are part of all our existence. They constitute our shadow side.</p> <p class="normal">Facing those shadows head on, naming them, and valuing people for who they are and not for the crimes they have committed, opens the way to offer a renewed sense of belonging to those we realize we have discarded. As <a href="">Carl Jung</a> once wrote, “if [we] only learn to deal with [our] own shadow [we] have done something real for the world. We have succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/six-boys-one-cop-and-road-to-restorative-justice">Six boys, one cop, and the road to restorative justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/restoring-justice-to-america">Restoring justice to America</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/can-prison-system-be-transformed-shaka-senghor-and-cut50">Can the prison system be transformed? Shaka Senghor and #Cut50</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Criminal Justice Reform Molly Rowan Leach Prison abolition Care Mon, 17 Apr 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 110109 at Can the prison system be transformed? Shaka Senghor and #Cut50 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new campaign to be launched on March 26&nbsp;aims to cut the U.S. prison population in half by 2025.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Shaka Senghor. Credit: &nbsp;<a href=""></a>. All rights reserved. </p> <p class="normal"><a href="http://h/">Shaka Senghor</a><span> spent seven out of his 19 years in prison in solitary confinement, known to other inmates as</span><em> ‘</em><span>the hole’ or ‘administrative segregation’ in the official language of the U.S. prison system - a term eerily designed to reduce the impact of its reality.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Convicted of the murder of a fellow drug dealer, Senghor was incarcerated in a bare six-foot by eight-foot excuse for human habitation. A concrete slab juts out of the wall, threatening impalement instead of offering sleep. The hole in the wall that’s intended for bodily functions gapes back at him as if to say, </span><em>I will swallow you</em><span>. The lockdowns run 23 hours a day on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Human contact, if it ever happens, is administered as if an animal is being handled, replete with leashes and five-point chains. The environment is steeped at a pitch of insanity - cell blocks rife with shouts and screams and the flinging of human feces. The walls seem to speak: ‘you cannot escape the incessant reminder that what you did is now </span><em>who you are</em><span>.’</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Even after his release in 2010, Senghor, like most other former prison inmates, faced </span><a href="http://h/">systematic discrimination</a><span> as he attempted to step out of one bizarre reality into another that seemed intent on recycling his original punishment. A job and a supportive community are top priorities for those leaving prison if they are to avoid </span><a href="">recidivism</a><span>. But on employment applications, a </span><a href="">box</a><span> must be checked if the applicant has served time. In implicit and explicit ways, former prisoners are reminded of—and invisibly shackled by—their crime, long after their discharge.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Today however, Senghor is part of a new initiative in the United States that aims to transform the justice system by cutting the U.S. prison population in half by 2025. Called the “</span><a href="http://h/">#Cut50 initiative</a><span>” and launched on March 26</span>th<span> 2015, this effort has unusual bi-partisan support and leadership, and carries a powerful moral and political message: a culture of punishment run amuck is destroying the fabric of society; it’s time to end the warehousing and exploitation of human beings.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>As someone who transformed his own life and discovered a love for writing while serving those 19 years in prison, Senghor will be a powerful and respected spokesperson for #Cut50. By </span><a href="">sharing his story</a><span>, he’s already helped mothers of murder victims to forgive, inspired young men in the streets to choose a college degree over a prison number, and shifted the thinking of ‘tough-on-crime’ advocates from the ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ mentality to believing that redemption is possible. His </span><a href="http://h/">TED talk</a><span> “Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You” has received over one million views.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Senghor’s colleagues include </span><a href="http://h/">Van Jones</a><span> and an ongoing endorsement from </span><a href="http://h/">Newt Gingrich</a><span>, about the most unlikely political partnership imaginable in the USA. Jones is an attorney and co-host of CNN’s </span><a href="http://h/">Crossfire</a><span> program, as well as a former Obama Administration advisor on “green jobs” and the co-founder of organizations such as the </span><a href="http://h/">Ella Baker Center for Human Rights</a><span> and </span><a href="http://h/">Green For All</a><span>. Gingrich is known for his staunch conservatism. Yet both realize the high stakes involved in the transformation of the US justice system, and the common ground that exists underneath the surface of party politics.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>#Cut50 aims to reduce the incarcerated population of the US by 50 percent over the next 10 years by convening ‘unlikely allies,’ communicating a powerful new narrative, and elevating proven solutions such as </span><a href="">restorative justice</a><span> and youth empowerment programs that </span><a href="">provide job</a><a href="">s and skills</a><span>. Recent successes in both ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states prove that it is possible to reduce incarceration rates successfully while achieving better outcomes, saving money, and protecting public safety.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>These programs have already demonstrated a reduction of </span><span>recidivism to eight per cent</span><span>, compared to national averages of 65 per cent to 70 per cent. Fania Davis and the </span><a href="">Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth</a><span> program is a good example, with a proven track record of diverting young people from detention and the likelihood of entering the ‘</span><a href="">school to prison pipeline</a><span>.’ </span><a href="">Gregory Ruprecht’s</a><span> work in Colorado is another, showing how police officers with conventional views of justice—‘lock them up and throw away the key’—can change over time as a result of direct experience of the alternatives.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In Ruprecht’s case the turning point was his arrest of a group of 10 and 11-year old boys who had broken into a chemical plant. Instead of charging them with a felony, he agreed to take part in a series of “restorative justice circles” that were designed to bring the boys into direct contact with the people they had harmed, along with their parents and a trained facilitator. At the end of the process, the boys signed a legal agreement listing how they were going to set things right, ensuring accountability without having to process yet more people through the justice system and eventually into prison.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Given that the </span><a href="http://h/">US warehouses 25 per cent of the world’s prison population</a><span> while comprising a mere five per cent of the world’s total population, #Cut50 is long overdue. But regardless of where you live, the initiative provides a clarion call to reframe how we see ourselves and each other in the emerging landscape of justice.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In its </span><a href="http://h/">Mission Statement</a><span>, the initiative argues that there has never been a better time to mainstream the idea that prisons can be safely closed, and more effective alternatives pursued in their place.</span><strong> </strong><span>In terms of public opinion</span><strong>,</strong><span> Americans of all political stripes are questioning the failing prison system and searching for new ideas and alternatives. The moment is ripe to capture the imagination of the public with a bold vision and concrete efforts to mobilize people to hold their elected representatives accountable for seeing it through to completion.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Critics who aim to polarize the issue claim that approaches like restorative justice are ‘soft on crime,’ and may actually enhance the prospects of violence. A </span><a href="">recent article</a><span> published in The New York Post by Paul Sperry, for example, asserts that “liberal policies” are making schools “less safe” by placing too much attention on offenders. The #Cut50 movement aims to dissolve such criticism by providing statistical evidence that the alternatives are working, and by moving public and political opinion beyond worn-out stereotypes about crime, punishment and retribution.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>These alternatives make sense far beyond any particular party line. At heart, very few people would deny the basic needs that exist inside everyone to be understood, heard, and seen; to be given a chance to redeem; to confront the impact of our actions and be given the opportunity to re-enter the collective endeavor of society.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>The choice is clear: stand by and allow the rampant </span><a href="">school-to-prison </a><a href="">pipeline</a><a href=""> </a><span>of the US to inflict yet more needless punishment on a population that produces no improvements in its stated goals of rehabilitation and public safety – or join #Cut50’s efforts to achieve a root and branch reform.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Ultimately, Senghor’s message of personal and political transformation provides all of us with an opportunity to contemplate the reality of that harsh solitary cell, and to question the enormous costs of caging the human spirit.</span></p> <p class="image-caption">You can join <a href="http://h/">#Cut50’s launch livestream </a>from anywhere in the world on March 26.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/six-boys-one-cop-and-road-to-restorative-justice">Six boys, one cop, and the road to restorative justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/restoring-justice-to-america">Restoring justice to America</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/andrea-abikaram/there-is-no-such-thing-as-prison-reform-interview-with-cece-mcdonald">There is no such thing as prison reform: an interview with CeCe McDonald</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/transformation-of-warrior-behind-bars">The transformation of a warrior behind bars</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation restorative justice US Prison System Molly Rowan Leach Prison abolition Care Wed, 25 Mar 2015 01:00:00 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 91501 at Restoring justice to America <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The United States is a violent nation. The police are part of this problem. They have to be part of the solution.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=""></a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal"><span>To understand what happened around the deaths of </span><a href="">Michael Brown in Ferguson</a><span>, </span><a href="">Eric Garner in New York</a><span>, and </span><a href="">Tamir </a><a href="">Rice</a><a href=""> in Cleveland</a><span> requires that we acknowledge and address the larger patterns of violence that are occurring more and more frequently in the United States.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Even more demanding is the challenge of doing this while refraining from further polarization, and accepting the need to appreciate the viewpoints of everyone involved—especially people of color </span><em>and</em><span> the police. There must be an honest evaluation of all the issues and a commitment to work together towards a viable solution.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>If we can grasp the larger story that goes beyond the incidents themselves, we can see that a nation of violence and fear, of mass incarceration and punishment, has brought us to where we stand now. These three deaths are tragic examples of a long and growing series of cases that require immediate attention. But what is really going on, and how can we prevent violence like this from erupting in the future?</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>The statistical evidence that </span><a href="">young black men are disproportionately destined for incarceration</a><span> is clear. Distrust of policing practices, especially in communities of color, continues to rise. Racism in police forces and prisons </span><a href="">is a fact</a><span>. The US prison population has skyrocketed and the rest of the world now looks to America as the </span><a href="">“incarceration </a><a href="">nation</a><a href="">.”</a><span> In fact the USA now locks up </span><a href="">a higher proportion of African Americans than South Africa did at the height of </a><a href="">apartheid</a><span>, holding </span><a href="">25 per cent of the world’s prisoners</a><span> even though the US constitutes a mere five per cent of the global population.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>American society seems systemically bent towards violence and punishment, and there is an increase in military-esque ‘interventions’ whenever voices speak out against this trend in public. Just this week </span><a href="">reports revealed</a><span> a very dark side to the CIA and torture in the United States. But the police are also facing complex and urgent issues around how to serve communities against the background of rising numbers of shootings in schools and public venues. Blame doesn’t provide a solution to these issues.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Martin Luther King Jr. once said that a riot is the expression of those without a voice. If the US is not hearing something, it is past due that its leaders and citizens begin to listen and work together to enact real change. The lives of all the children and young people lost in shootings cannot be brought back. The distrust of the police and the justice system cannot be reclaimed, except through an honest debate that leads to systemic change. And systemic change must include the transformation of the police and prison systems.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>That’s where </span><a href="">restorative justice</a><span> has a central role to play: systems that meet the needs of everyone involved in the most humane ways possible—those who commit crimes, and those who suffer from them. In so doing, humanity begins to be restored to the justice system itself.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Although underpublicized, the restorative justice movement in the US is growing rapidly. The </span><a href="">Peace Alliance</a><span> acts as an umbrella for many programs that show how conflict can be prevented, de-escalated or resolved using </span><a href="">Nonviolent </a><a href="">Communication</a><span>—skills that American society has consistently undervalued.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In Seattle, for example, the Alliance has partnered with </span><a href="">Seattle Restorative Justice</a><strong> </strong><span>and other community groups to formulate a radically different response to the </span><a href="">Marysville-Pilchuk High School </a><a href="">shootings</a><span> that took place on October 24, 2014, when a young student opened fire and killed four others before taking his own life. The approach is based on the idea of </span><a href="">Restorative Circles</a><span> where everyone involved in a conflict meets together to hear each-other’s needs and concerns, and then to formulate ideas and actions for reparation. The circles are based on “</span><a href="">reflective listening</a><span>,” a powerful way of making sure that what is heard matches with each speaker’s intent—a tool that’s essential to catalyzing a deeper understanding of justice and injustice among all the parties.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Four years before the Marysville-Pilchuk tragedy, a police officer in Seattle </span><a href="">shot and killed</a><span> a homeless woodcarver of indigenous descent by the name of John T. Williams, who at the time was carrying a piece of wood and his open woodcarving knife across a city street. The officer testified that he thought he needed to engage with Williams when he saw the knife, and initially claimed that Williams came after him, but this statement was retracted by the Seattle Police Department. Williams was shot dead at the scene.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>The public outcry around this case was long and loud, so Andrea Brenneke, an attorney and co-founder of Seattle Restorative Justice, decided to use the same Restorative Circles approach to address the deep anger and submerged racism that were felt by the Indigenous community and the homeless in Seattle at the time.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In 2012, the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department, tribal representatives and members of Williams’ family met repeatedly to work through the aftermath of this tragedy together. Their willingness to face the truth, listen respectfully, and work their way through dialogue to restore some sense of balance to their relationships is a living example of what other communities are calling for now in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and others.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In fact in Ferguson, a group made up of equal numbers of white and black citizens has already come together to initiate their own Restorative Circle process. Fania Davis, the Director of </span><span><a href="">Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth</a></span><span> in California is </span><a href="">a keen observer and supporter</a><span>.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>“A Ferguson Truth and Reconciliation process based on restorative justice principles could not only stop the epidemic but also allow us as a nation to take a first ‘step on the road to reconciliation,’ to borrow a phrase from the South African experience. A restorative justice model means that youth, families, and communities directly affected by the killings—along with allies—would partner with the federal government to establish a commission. Imagine a commission that serves as a facilitator, community organizer, or Council of Elders to catalyze, guide, and support participatory, inclusive, and community-based processes.”</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>In Gainesville, Florida, the</span><a href=""> River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding</a><strong> </strong><span>and the Gainesville Police Department have also partnered with one another to address the relationships between officers and young people of color in the city. According to Executive Director Jeffrey Weisberg and co-founder Heart Phoenix (River Phoenix’ mother):</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>“A common quote made by many is that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. It is with this in mind that we have created a five hour intensive training bringing together cops and kids. The training aims to break down stereotypes and negative perceptions that kids have of cops and cops may have of kids.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>The program uses role plays, honest discussions about perceptions, games, and one-on-one meal times to interview each other and [promote] activities that build trust and understanding.&nbsp; By understanding adolescent brain development, the effects of trauma and the challenges that both youth and adults face, we equip the participants with new skills and insights that are translated into community policing and relationships in local neighborhoods.”</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>Similarly, in New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio is </span><a href="">revamping the training</a><span> of police and prison officers by introducing tools such as nonviolent communication and the de-escalation of conflicts before they get out of hand. We already know from Police Chiefs like </span><a href="">Bob </a><a href="">Richardson</a><span> in Battle Ground, Washington, that improvements in police academy training can support a transformation of how his officers approach their work. He believes in the efficacy of Restorative Justice and has seen its game-changing effects in the communities he serves in Southwestern Washington State.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>To do this, his force provides a toolkit of responses to police officers that is oriented towards de-escalation, providing them with scenarios in which they can learn to use nonviolent communication techniques and examine a situation from a larger point of view. In that way they can avoid triggering a violent over-reaction in themselves in the heat of the moment.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span>As these examples show, the key point is that there are ways to respond to, and even prevent more tragedies like Ferguson that lessen the chances of recycling the same harm and damage that lie at the root of the problem of violence in the United States. Are they also signs that America is finally waking up to this fact? If so, this could be an unprecedented opportunity for transformation.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/six-boys-one-cop-and-road-to-restorative-justice">Six boys, one cop, and the road to restorative justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kazu-haga/transformation-of-warrior-behind-bars">The transformation of a warrior behind bars</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/abbey-kiwanuka/need-for-transformation-in-uk-detention-centres">The need for transformation in UK detention centres</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation police restorative justice Transforming Society Molly Rowan Leach Prison abolition Mon, 22 Dec 2014 10:30:00 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 89099 at The unspoken atrocity of standardized education <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the corporate takeover of public education proceeds in the US and other countries, schools cease to be training grounds for social transformation. We are not just fighting for our children, but for the liberation of our country.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">From the Denver “Zombie Crawl” against standardized testing. Credit: <a href=""></a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">From the Denver “Zombie Crawl” against standardized testing. Credit: <a href=""></a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>For my son David, who’s at the youngest edge of second grade at school in Colorado, things are not going well - at least according to the results of the </span><a href="">standardized tests</a><span> that every school in the US has to use. These tests say that he is struggling, but at home he was always an imaginative and enthusiastic learner. &nbsp;Over the past two years however, he’s expressed increasing hatred towards school, where he’s more and more discouraged by a climate that subjects children to mounting pressures to conform to a narrow and mechanistic vision of education. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>This isn’t just a problem for David; it’s a crisis that’s engulfing all children in the USA, because it starves them of the skills and capacities they’re going need to transform society in the future. Given that similar forces are at work </span><a href="">in the UK and other countries</a><span>, it’s time that we all woke up to their calamitous effects and joined the movement to reverse them.</span></p> <p><span>Who is responsible for this situation, and who benefits? Not children, or their parents, or their teachers, or the communities in which they live. Although David’s school is packed with caring and competent staff, something is happening that’s beyond their control: a corporate takeover of public education. That’s where the story begins, but thankfully, it’s not where it ends.</span></p> <p><span>In the United States, it’s no secret that corporate interests have already taken over most of the systems that are supposed to educate and care for people, and to keep them healthy. After all, this is the country where </span><a href="">a corporation has the same rights as a person</a><span>. </span><a href="">Prisons are filling up while private companies</a><span> reap billions of dollars from incarceration. “</span><a href="">Big Pharma</a><span>” and the health insurance industry are </span><a href="">key beneficiaries of Obamacare</a><span>, which is about as </span><a href="">affordable for regular people</a><span> as a small Mercedes. The federal budget is still dominated by a </span><a href="">Military Industrial Complex</a><span> that sucks resources out of national efforts to enhance people’s lives.</span></p> <p><span>So it’s no surprise that education is being added to this list, with </span><a href="">corporate entities earning mountains of money</a><span> from a package of reforms that are labeled and sold as ‘improvements.’</span></p> <p><span>These reforms come straight out of neo-liberal ideology, where the purpose of education is to prepare children for the labor market. Therefore, priority is given to basic competencies in literacy and mathematics - the so-called “</span><a href="">common core standards</a><span>.” &nbsp;Anything that doesn’t fit into these basic competencies - like the arts and physical education - must be dropped or drastically scaled down. The standards are measured by tests which are </span><a href="">produced and scored by private companies</a><span>, maximizing the use of their own technology.</span></p> <p><span>The results of the tests are then used to </span><a href="">evaluate the performance</a><span> of both teachers and their schools. Those who perform well are rewarded financially, and those that do poorly are fired, or see their schools closed down and handed over to </span><a href="">private charters</a><span>. Competition is everything, a motif that runs through the names of successive government programs like “</span><a href="">Race to the Top</a><span>” and “</span><a href="">No Child Left Behind</a><span>.” In the process, the market is capturing public education for itself.</span></p> <p>The underlying message is one of standardization to the lowest common denominator. Conform. Sit still for long periods of time. Focus on the basics. Be grateful that you are taught by teachers who are overtired, underpaid and under-respected. Squeeze as much money as possible out of the system for consultants, managers and corporations. Does this sound familiar?</p> <p>The process begins as early as five years old when children enter kindergarten.<em> </em>There they must enroll in a system of reading comprehension tests known as <a href="">DIBELS</a>, or “Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.” According to <a href="">author Ken Goodman</a>, not only do the tests reduce reading to a few narrow skills, but they only measure a fragment of them anyway. It’s a system that rewards speed but not comprehension. Teachers must score children ‘on the fly’ while administering the tests, using a stopwatch which students find distracting. </p> <p><span>Because of these flaws, </span><a href="">Goodman</a><span> concludes that DIBELS “cannot be administered and scored consistently” even though their results can determine whether a student progresses from one grade to another. &nbsp;Worse still, new laws in Colorado and other states link standardized test results to teacher evaluations, tying at least 50 per cent of their job performance rankings to something that can’t even be measured consistently. In plain English, teachers must improve the test scores of their students in order to keep their jobs. Not surprisingly, this leads to </span><a href="">widespread cheating and test-score manipulation</a><span> in order to inflate the image of success. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><a href="">Paul Horton</a><span>, a teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, goes further:</span></p> <blockquote><p><span>“The purpose of the Common Core standards is to generate profits for business and deskill teachers. The Common Core standards are essential to the long-term strategy of leaders in business-industry-and-government to eliminate unions, to replace experienced teachers with Teach for America [an NGO that places college graduates in schools], and to hand public schools over to private management.”</span></p></blockquote> <p><span>The driving force behind this revolution, Horton concludes, is greed. And the best course of action is to eliminate the Common Core completely.</span></p> <p><span>The problems created by these policies are so bad that even their original architects have changed their minds, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Diane Ravitch, for example, who was the chief strategist behind the “No Child Left Behind” program during the administration of George H.W. Bush, now </span><a href="">says she was very, very wrong</a><span>. Teacher </span><a href="">Aaron Pribble</a><span> calls tests and teacher evaluations “the arbitrary albatross.”</span></p> <p><span>Whether you are for or against standardized testing and the other measures that form part of the corporate wish-list, everyone wants their children to learn, and perhaps even to be inspired in the process. But what does that mean? What does a ‘good education’ consist of, and who decides? Where is the “bow that casts the arrow of our children’s lives” aiming, as Kahlil Gibran asks in “</span><a href="">The Prophet</a><span>?”</span></p> <p><span>In my view, schools should be places where </span><a href="">imagination and creativity can flourish</a><span>. I want all children to be empowered and freed from restrictions, so that they can be independent and accountable for the choices they make. Education should nurture these qualities, and open children up to the full range of possibilities in life, where magic and truth lie around every corner. I want them to be happy, healthy, and whole. I want them to be academically competent, but not at the cost of their empathy, creativity, and free thinking. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>When we insist on “</span><a href="">teaching to the test</a><span>,” the pressure mounts for everyone involved - parents, children and their teachers. Teachers who already commit so much of their lives to children are pushed to conform, narrow their horizons, and remain silent if they want to keep their jobs. Children pick up on these pressures. They can feel and taste them in the air of the corridor and the classroom, as thick as the ice in my Colorado Rockies winter.</span></p> <p><span>But teachers and parents are fighting back. </span><a href="">United Opt Out National</a><span> is a movement to end corporate reforms in education. It supports parents who want their children to opt out of the system, building resistance at every level in the process. Parents are encouraged to mobilize in support of students and staff so that they can protect their schools from external pressures.</span></p> <p><span>For example, in Chicago in February, 2014, </span><a href="">teachers at the Saucedo Scholastic Academy</a><span> unanimously voted to opt out of the tests, bolstered by parents who supported their actions. In Seattle, a similar </span><a href="">uprising </a><span>occurred at the Seattle Hill Elementary School, where parents used the rights contained in the No Child Left Behind program to remove their children from mandated testing. And at Garfield High School (also in Seattle), a </span><a href="">monumental boycott</a><span> occurred that has helped to spark resistance nationwide.</span></p> <p><span>Meanwhile, back at David’s school in Colorado, parents, children and teachers continue to walk the line between conformity and outrage. Sometimes I’m surprised at how quickly schools have become corrupted, but it’s easy to make something look as though it’s beneficial when the reality is the opposite - that’s part of the power of the corporate reformers. The fact is that good people who provide the ‘bone marrow’ of the education system are being force-fed requirements that clamp down on everything from children’s ability to grow and learn at their own pace, to the security and satisfaction of teachers, who worry whether they will have a job at all next year.</span></p> <p><span>As the days pass, mobilization against the reforms increases, both as a protective measure and as a foundation for building an education system of which we can be proud. When I am fully present with my son, and when I join forces with his teachers and with the parents of his classmates, I can see what needs to be done. It’s our collective voice that will keep the school doors open for children to develop their freedom and imagination, their playfulness and sense of joy in art, and their love for themselves and other people.</span></p> <p><span>We are not just fighting for our children, but for the liberation of our country.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/molly-rowan-leach/six-boys-one-cop-and-road-to-restorative-justice">Six boys, one cop, and the road to restorative justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/shilpa-jain/%E2%80%9Cnuestra-escuela%E2%80%9D-bringing-love-and-creativity-back-into-education">“Nuestra Escuela:” bringing love and creativity back into education </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lennon-flowers/roots-of-empathy-interview-with-mary-gordon">Roots of empathy: an interview with Mary Gordon</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/12-year-old-madison-kimrey-rocks-north-carolina-politics">12-year old Madison Kimrey rocks North Carolina politics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Ideas Education for democracy Education Molly Rowan Leach Fri, 04 Apr 2014 08:12:06 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 81030 at Six boys, one cop, and the road to restorative justice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; font-size: small;"> </span></p><p>With US Attorney-General Eric Holder announcing plans to curb mass incarceration, could restorative justice transform America’s prison-industrial complex?</p><p><span style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; font-size: small;"> </span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Molly Rowan Leach/<a href="" target="_blank">Feverpitched</a>.&nbsp;All Rights Reserved.</p><p>It’s a warm summer night in Longmont, Colorado, a vibrant midsized city in t<span>he Rocky Mountains.&nbsp; On a dare, six young men aged between ten and thirteen years plan to break into a giant chemical processing plant. High levels of alcohol and testosterone, peer pressure and a moonless night propel the group towards the locked gates of the factory, and they break in.</span></p> <p><span>Across town at the Police Department, Officer Greg Ruprecht is about to embark on night patrol.&nbsp; A former Army Captain and top of his class at the Police Academy, Ruprecht believes his job is to arrest everyone who commits a crime and throw away the key. Justice means punishment: an eye for an eye, no questions asked. You do something bad and you get what you deserve. There’s a clear line to walk. But what occurred at the chemical plant that night changed him forever by awakening a very different sensibility: instead of an instrument of vengeance, justice requires that we work to restore all those who have been injured by a crime.</span></p> <p><span>The police transponder went off not long after he arrived in the industrial area of the town.&nbsp; “Six suspects breaking and entering at BioChem Industries, 644 Southwest Way, over.” “Roger, patrol 33 in vicinity and responding” he replied. &nbsp;As with any emergency, in the time between receiving the call and arriving at the scene, Ruprecht imagined what was happening, and tried to prepare himself mentally to avoid underestimating any of the circumstances. It was known in town that the plant had highly toxic chemicals inside, and he assumed he’d be dealing with seasoned thieves who would be armed.</span></p> <p><span>Carefully emerging from his car, the scene was quiet except for the tall grasses in the field to the left of the plant that provided a possible route of escape. Given the moonless night he had to switch on his searchlight to back up his suspicion that the suspects might be hiding in the grass. He carefully pulled his gun, just in case. Bingo. The spotlight beam illuminated the bobbing heads that were running for their lives. But these were not the heads of adults. Kids, he thought - these are just kids. He called out for them to halt. Almost out of earshot but just enough to look back, two stopped, while the rest stumbled on, hesitated, and then realized the seriousness of what was happening.</span></p> <p><span>Once he was next to the group, Ruprecht found he was dealing with six boys. It shocked him. Not only had these kids committed a felony with their break-in, but they had endangered their own lives and the lives of others because of the chemicals that were housed in the plant. He took them to the police station and kept them there, ready for processing into the US criminal justice system.</span></p> <p><span>This is a system with a national recidivism rate of between sixty and seventy per cent, dominated by a growing, for-profit prison industry with giant companies like the GEO Group and Correctional Corporations of America that rake in billions of dollars a year.&nbsp; It’s an industry that is built on incarceration and punishment instead of rehabilitation, with </span><a href="">one in every ten young black males in the USA currently in prison</a><span>. People with </span><a href=";Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&amp;ContentID=57465">mental illness are thrown away</a><span>, into a system that is glaringly unfit to treat and care for them.&nbsp; Children are subject to </span><a href="">zero-tolerance policies</a><span> and get wrapped up in the lethal web of the </span><a href="">US prison-industrial complex</a><span>. Corporate interests push for even higher rates of incarceration because their bottom line improves with every prison bed they fill.</span></p> <p><span>These are dark times for justice in America, and they offend the moral core of many US citizens. Still, what difference would six boys make? Six more to process; six more lives to waste.</span></p> <p><span>Except that this is not what happened. As Ruprecht was about to leave his shift the day after the arrests, his phone rang and the call almost knocked him off his chair. The case he’d handled the previous night was being re-directed, into a process that’s called “</span><a href="">restorative justice</a><span>” - an easy way out for offenders in his mind, some sort of hippie gathering where everyone would hug.</span></p> <p><span>Later that week the process got started. Ruprecht and the boys joined a small group of professionals from the </span><a href="">Longmont Community Justice Partnership</a><span>. Along with representatives from the boys’ families and from the chemical plant, they talked about what had happened and how to make things right. They discussed accountability, and how nothing would stay permanently on their records if the boys kept their word, so crucially, they would not become permanently considered as ‘high risk’ in the criminal justice system. Separate meetings between all the members of the group prepared them for a larger “circle process” that got everyone involved.</span></p> <p><span>The boys each got an opportunity to sit with the consequences of their choices, to discuss the ways they would do things differently in the future, and to share anything from their home or personal lives that might have influenced their decision to break into the plant that night. Held in a safe environment that did not undercut the importance of accountability, each boy heard the plant representatives speak, and began to understand that their acts had real consequences. Apologies were made. The restorative justice process gave the boys one clear message: their actions were the problem, not themselves as human beings. &nbsp;They rolled up their sleeves and took part in creating their own contracts for restitution in the form of one hundred hours of sweat equity in the same plant the group broke into, plus alcohol awareness classes and an agreement to write a story about what they’d learned for the local newspaper. Then they signed the contracts and got to work.</span></p> <p><a href="">Officer Ruprecht continued to feel skeptical</a><span> about this process, but something was definitely changing. He saw how much money had already been saved by choosing to go down this route instead of jailing the boys and sending them into a lengthy and expensive judicial process. He realized that restorative justice had more teeth than conventional punishment because it imposes real, face-to-face accountability among offenders for their actions, and makes them listen directly to the victims of their crimes. He realized that six young lives might be saved from years of cycling in and out of the prison system. He learned that the human brain doesn’t develop fully until the age of twenty-two or thereabouts, so punishment and fear-inciting prison regimes have an even bigger impact on the development of young people. He remembered his own children, and recognized that more than anything else, they and others deserve the chance to make mistakes and pick themselves back up again, sure in the knowledge of their own inherent worth and value.</span></p> <p><span>So he decided to stay engaged in the process. He took on other cases and found that the usual suspects weren’t recycling through the police department any more.&nbsp; Recidivism dropped to ten per cent, and surveys showed high rates of satisfaction with the process among everyone involved. In fact </span><a href="">Ruprecht is now a Police Ambassador for Restorative Justice</a><span>, one of the first of a growing number of law enforcement officials and corrections officers in the USA who believe in, and are enacting, the systemic changes that are saving lives and not just Dollars in the American justice sector.</span></p> <p><span>The role of justice, as portrayed by Lady Justice’s scales, is to bring back balance, to make things right again. Punishment and the warehousing of human beings in prisons destroys vast amounts of human potential. By contrast, restorative justice meets the needs of everyone involved in the most humane ways possible – those who commit crimes, and those who suffer from them. In so doing, it brings humanity back into the justice system. It converts a limited worldview based around isolation and individualism into a much more positive vision that is rooted in honesty, accountability, and the visible connection of causes with effects. And it works in concrete terms by cutting recidivism and costs. Most important of all, it nurtures new relationships and a strong sense of human unity. In this sense, the root power of restorative justice is love expressed in action.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/james-odea/both-perilous-and-wonderful-global-transformation-of-authority">Both perilous and wonderful? The global transformation of authority</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-steinhardt/welcome-to-america">Welcome to America?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/joyce-dalsheim/banality-of-legal">The banality of legal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas Molly Rowan Leach Prison abolition Economics Intersectionality Wed, 21 Aug 2013 08:17:37 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 74871 at Molly Rowan Leach <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Molly Rowan Leach </div> </div> </div> <p>Molly Rowan Leach is a specialist in the field of Restorative Justice and is Founder/Executive Producer of the popular webcast,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Restorative Justice on The Rise</a>. She is a media partner with the National Association for Communities and Restorative Justice (<a href="" target="_blank">NACR</a>)&nbsp;and a Certified RJ Facilitator. &nbsp;She lives in Colorado, a leading state in the &nbsp;growing restorative justice movement in the US.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> </div> </div> </div> Molly Rowan Leach Tue, 20 Aug 2013 21:48:51 +0000 Molly Rowan Leach 74872 at