Today, we sat in the King County Youth Service Center lobby that had been turned into a courtroom for the sentencing of one of the youth we have been working with. I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team (PCT). We apply the principles of Peacemaking Circles, an ancient process taught to us by the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation people to modern court cases. A new-old way.

Today, we heard from the judge, the prosecution, the defense, the PCT…and then the respondent (person who did harm) spoke. And then the victim’s mother spoke.

We were all blubbering and sniffling by the end of it. But not because it was hurtful. The tears were because of the witness of transformation and hope. To see a genuinely healed person extend their hand to honor the victim. To see the victim’s family stand up and say, “Do more of this.”

There are some flaws to work out but that is because we are human. And this process is all about becoming more completely human.

In this particular case, the respondent had committed felony harassment. This charge on a juvenile record could irrevocably alter his future. It would limit his housing, loans, educational opportunities and more. I don’t know if we really understand what we do to juveniles when we hang felonies around their neck during a time in their life when their brain is not fully formed. But I digress.

I remember the mother of the victim looking at the respondent and saying (paraphrase), “It is so good to see you this way. Before, all I had as an image of you was the threat on social media where you had a gun and were threatening my boy’s life. You were scary. Now you are human.”

During the Peacemaking Circle process that took about 8 months, we discovered how similar the respondent and victim were. They were both from homes going through divorce. They both loved photography. They were both kids being sunk by the social systems around them. One responded by acting out. The other by withdrawing. In this case, working towards healing the family systems healed the crime. It helped everyone remember that they were human. And that we are all human.

I share below with you the recommendation from the PCT and the joy in a complete dismissal of charges against the respondent. (I’ve removed the names of the young people involved).

Can I get an Amen?!

Summary and Final Recommendations for Referral #4

July 7, 2017

Good afternoon, my name is Safia Ahmed and I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team.  I have the honor of speaking on behalf of the team to share the work that has been done in this case and our recommendations for sentencing.

To begin, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to honor and thank the victim and his family who gave their courageous support for this case to be referred.  Their support and willingness to participate was instrumental in this restorative process to promote healing and partnership between King County, community based organizations, faith based communities, and the youth, families and communities of King County.

We received a referral for the respondent’s case on October 11, 2016 from Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jimmy Hung.  A home visit was conducted with the respondent and his family to determine the suitability of this referral for the Peacemaking Circle process. In addition, a home visit was also conducted with the victim and the victim’s family to share an overview of the Peacemaking Circle process, answer any questions and gain an understanding of what level of participation in the Peacemaking Circle process they may want to have.

After completing both home visits, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team accepted the case. The following summarizes the work done since accepting the case in December 2016 until July 1, 2017.

  • Five Healing Circles with the respondent, the respondent’s family and community members who wanted to show support. Each circle was on average 3 to 4 hours long.  These circles were to promote healing, peace and reconciliation and as preparation to meet with the victim and the victim’s family since they indicated their openness to actively participating in the Peacemaking Circle process.
  • The respondent and his parents participated in an all-day community circle with King County Executive Dow Constantine and other King County leaders on March 11, 2017.
  • The respondent’s mother attended a 3-Day Introductory Peacemaking Circle Training from April 26-28, 2017
  • One Pre-sentencing Circle and One Sentencing Circle that included the presence of the victim’s mother along with criminal justice stakeholders; friends and family from both parties.
  • Approximately 8 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the victim’s mother and her family, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress with the Peacemaking Circle process.
  • Ongoing check-ins with the Criminal Justice stakeholders involved in the respondent’s case, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress.
  • One home visit and approximately 20-25 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the respondent over the course of 7 months.

The following outline was agreed upon in the Sentencing Circle as a conclusion to this case:

  • Reimbursement to the victim’s family for 8 of the 12 counseling sessions the victim partook in for self-care and healing work. Each session cost $120 for a total of $960
    • 2 sessions paid by the respondent
    • 3 sessions paid by the respondent’s family
    • 3 sessions paid from funds provided by the community and the Peacemaking Coordinating Team
  • The respondent’s father kindly agreed to show support to the victim and the victim’s mother by offering to pay for a trip as an opportunity to spend time with each other to rebuild their relationship along with having a positive experience coming from the respondent and his family.

In addition the Peacemaking Coordinating Team also recommends the following:

  • 6 months of volunteer work with the Peacemaking Coordinating Team as a way to give back and pay it forward that includes:
    • Attending the Peacemaking Coordinating Team meetings once a month
    • Participate and help lead a monthly Young Men’s Circle in support of other young people who are going through similar situations.

The respondent, with the support of his brothers and parents, has agreed to these recommendations as a way to heal the harm he has caused to the victim, the victim’s family and to the community at large.

The Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to conclude our review and recommendations to this case by again expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the victim and the victim’s family who graciously permitted the respondent and his family to participate in the Peacemaking Circle process even while contending with the harm inflicted by the respondent’s actions.  It is our belief that their generosity and commitment to restorative practices have given space for the healing process to begin for both families.  We would also like to express our appreciation to the court, our criminal justice partners and the community for the continued support of our work.

Shalom and Amen,

Terri Stewart

One thought on “Justice in a New-Old Way

  1. I’m happy for a positive outcome and have to say that this seems like such a better way than simply throwing people in jail. I love that it promotes understanding and healing from both sides, working towards inclusion instead of isolation. This seems like it would be much more suited to lessen recidivism than incarceration. I do wonder if it works as well with more violent crimes, as I imagine there would be a lot more pain and hurt to work through in those cases. But this obviously shows that it works, and that is hope! 🙂

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