By Amy Frankel, MSW Intern
One might wonder how the Restorative Justice Project Maine has faced the challenge of meeting the needs of the community during this pandemic that has upended life for all of us over the past four months.
I joined the Restorative Justice Project Maine in May, as an MSW intern, and recently attended my first community resolution conference and closing, using Zoom. I can say, based on that experience, that it’s one thing to have a good intellectual understanding of the policies and practices at the center of RJPM’s process, but it’s transformative to actually participate in this work.
I found the experience uplifting, emotional, and as strong as any evidence I could imagine for how this process works and why it matters.
Even though the conferences took place using Zoom, they were as real as sitting in the same room with all of the participants. We connected through our computer screens and phones, from various locations in the community to support this conference.
Through my involvement, I gained respect for the RJ process and the way that it can provide opportunities for better outcomes, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the way that this process can be a transformative experience for the individual who has caused harm.
I could not help noticing how much happier this young person was during the closing conference, compared to the first time I met him. Initially withdrawn and reluctant to make eye contact, he was now engaged, smiling and talkative. He felt good about himself because he had been able to make things right, and the difference in his demeanor was remarkable. When he communicated about his experience completing community service hours, we were all moved by what he had learned and felt. He was fully engaged in this process and seemed transformed by the work he undertook to complete his reparative agreement.
As a member of the community, I felt connected to the individuals gathered in this space. I am grateful for having an opportunity to participate in a restorative conference. I met a young person with strengths and determination, eager to become his best self. I will never forget this experience.
Here's a snap of RJPM staffers getting it done during COVID. While we're not involved in a community resolution conference in this screenshot, we're still in virtual circle with one another on Zoom daily. Pictured from left-right, top to bottom: Amy, Sarah Matari, Hadriane, Karin, Jenna and Margaret.