UB: How did you get involved with the Restorative Justice Project?
RM: I go to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, and one Sunday a few months ago, they had a speaker from RJP. The most interesting part was when he gave a case study about a young couple who had defaced a synagogue and how their repair agreement was set up and completed. I just thought it was fascinating: it made so much sense. And I thought, this is something I want to be involved in. I took the RJP mentor training, and about a week later, Sarah called and said “I think you’d be good with this mentee.” Of course I was anxious, but it proved to be fascinating. Within a few days I went to the first circle meeting. It was just very, very powerful. My mentee had stolen some controlled drugs, and so the family—her husband and her two daughters—were there, and the victim and a friend of the victim. Each in turn spoke. I thought the best part was the way the circle started. The offender spoke first. Instead of asking, “Why did you do it?” the facilitators asked, “What were you thinking at the time?” I thought that was a much better way to approach it.
UB: What was your role in that circle?
RM: My role was to introduce myself as her mentor-to-be, observe, and ask questions if any arose in my mind. I did ask one or two questions. And then after everyone had spoken, we broke up into two groups to put together our ideas for a repair agreement. Even then I thought, “How are we going to pull this together?” [laughter]. But when we got together again, it turned out that the ideas of both groups were very similar. Everyone wanted to help the mentee maintain sobriety long-term and reorganize her life so she would not end up in a situation where she would have access. It was clear that it was a very profound event for her family, because they had really thought she was sober. She had gone through alcohol detox some years before. Both her daughters had young children, and her daughters relied on my mentee to drive to their house to babysit. In the circle, my mentee’s family realized that she was perhaps unsafe while driving. The meeting lasted about four hours, four and a half. At the end of it, with Sarah’s help as the facilitator, we put together the repair agreement—a written contract—taking ideas from everyone. Both my mentee and the victim signed it, and my mentee had one year to fulfill the agreement. After that circle, I began to meet with my mentee once a week.
UB: What was your first meeting like?
RM: We were both anxious. She was wondering what it was going to be like. I thought it would make sense to go step-by-step through the repair agreement and see what she was thinking about it and what she’d already done to repair the harm. That’s how we started. She got to know me, I got to know her. She says it’s helpful to have someone connected to her who’s not part of her family, someone to review these things with her. And in fact she doesn’t really talk to her family. They don’t ask, “Are you attending Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings? Are you doing this or that?” Actually, that’s why we’re going to have a family meeting this coming Friday, to give her family an idea of what she’s been working on and where she is at. She’s really done very well. It was a rollercoaster; there were times
when she was quite discouraged and feeling hopeless—that “this is too much for me.” But that would pass. I brought her attention to the fact that those periods would come, but they do pass.
UB: Do you apply restorative justice in your own life?
RM: I think that question, “What were you thinking at the time?” makes a lot of sense to me. And I’ve been using it more and more. I have also really been seeing my life as part of a community. My husband and I live in the woods. We are pretty much by ourselves out there, and unless we reach out, we could really go a long time without being in touch with anyone. Since I started working with RJP, I think it’s probably more likely that my husband and I will get out and go places in our town.
UB: Have you learned anything about yourself while volunteering with restorative justice?
RM: Well, my background is in psychiatric nursing, so I really had to think about the role of mentor. It’s not a therapist, not a friend. My mentee has kept saying, “Thank you for being so accepting.” I didn’t find that hard, being non-judgmental. I’ve also learned that part of the role of mentor is to maintain certain boundaries. So far, I haven’t had any problems
UB: Is there anything you’d say to people thinking of mentoring with RJP?
RM: I think it’s a very, very constructive thing to do, because you develop insight into how another human being is coping with a serious problem, and you discover what resources you have to respond to that. Most of all, you have the feeling that you’re really making a difference. If your mentee emerges with no criminal record, that’s a big accomplishment. With RJP, mentees have the chance to reorganize their lives and set out on a different path. That seems very rewarding. Even more than that, to be able to support the mentee through the process of making amends for damage done and to be witness to the despair turning to hope is very much part of the reward for mentoring. In fact, my mentee said that, even if she ultimately ended up with a criminal record and jail time, the journey had been transformative and all the various supports from RJP had made the difference.