Category Archives: reconciliation

Transformative mediation and restorative justice?

ASourcebook recent post by Hofstra’s Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation caught my attention.  They have recently published a tremendously useful source book entitled Transformative Mediation: A Sourcebook.  I would invite you to investigate the transformative model first put forward by Folger and Bush many years ago.   I believe that what it shares in common with restorative justice is the awareness of and respect for the integrity of the individuals who are in conflict not necessarily due to a problem needing to be solved but a context to be understood.  How often do we go right to the ‘fix it’ model without giving people a chance to tell their stories with respect, without interruption, and taken seriously.  As RJ continues to mature and transform I think it is worth our attention to think about how we move beyond victim-offender mediation and understand that, at root, we are about peacemaking and community.  What do you think?

What place does transformative mediation have in Court-connected programs?

“More than 1000 cases are referred to the Mediation Center of Dutchess County each year from courts and similar agencies. In one recent year, more than 600 cases were business disputes such as landlord/tenant and consumer/merchant issues referred from twelve local courts. More than 180 cases of child custody/ visitation/ support issues between parents or extended family were referred from Family Court; and Supreme Court has referred adult guardianship cases…. Transformative mediation is used in all of these cases. Negotiating the transition to transformative practice in courts came down to explaining what we would do that would meet the courts’ own goals.

“We explained ’empowerment’ as helping people become clear about their situation so that decisions could be made. ‘Recognition’ was explained as understanding the other person’s point of view. We talked about mediation as a ‘conversation’ between parties. ‘Changing interaction’ meant that decisions could be made and next steps could be taken because something had changed between the parties. These explanations were helpful to the courts because these goals were not inconsistent with their own. Transformative values are present — in the work that we do and in the relationships that have been fostered.”

I would urge us all to explore the possibilities of who we are, where we’ve come from and to consider the possibilities of approach crime, conflict and dispute resolution from an integrative framework.  

As always your comments are welcomed!

what are the possibilities of an integrative framework?


Encountering Forgiveness Workshop

Forgiveness Workshop at University of Sioux Falls

The University of Sioux Falls presents “Encountering Forgiveness,” a workshop led by Dr. John Gehm, on April 15-16.  Through exploratory exercises and skill building, participants will learn to  apply “practical forgiveness”—in its spiritual, ethical, psychological, and interpersonal dimensions.  Workshop hours are Friday from 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Cost is $120 for credit, and $40 for non credit.  Call 331-6781 to register.  Or call John Gehm at 338-6020 for more information

The meaning of reconciliation

I found this on the Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation website recently:

Reconciliation means accepting that you cannot undo the murder but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.

We cannot undo the pain, the hurt, the trauma, the feeling that we got something  we didn’t deserve or we didn’t get something we did deserve but we can make a decision–maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not for years.  But we can decide.  “Empower” is so overused, but those of us who work with hurting folk on a regular basis know how important it is to facilitate the opportunity to make decisions again in all aspects.  We cannot make a decision for anyone–all we can do is make a decision to help.  jg

Introduction to Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Mediation

The Restore organization will be offering victim-offender mediation training to the public on Friday, October 1st from 6-10 p.m. and concluding on Saturday, October 2nd from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m.  Training will be held at East Side Lutheran Church, 1300 E 10th Street in Sioux Falls.  The workshop will also include an introduction to restorative justice.  Restorative justice is an approach to harm and conflict which attempts to involve, to the greatest extent possible, those who have a stake in the offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.

Cost is only $95, payable in advance with registration.  Tuition covers the entire two-days of training, all course materials, supplies, and a light lunch on Saturday.  Those who are interested in serving as mediators in the programs offered by Restore are encouraged to also attend the Advanced Mediation Training currently scheduled for December.  Scholarships for both trainings are available.

Training will be facilitated by experienced mediators, and led by Dr. John Gehm, former Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of South Dakota and the Director of Restore. Gehm has been a researcher, mediator and trainer for over 20 years.

The training also draws on the transformative model of conflict resolution. Participants will leave the training with an understanding of “the language of conflict,” approaches to resolving conflict which recognize and empower the participants, and with skills and techniques that will enable them to apply their learning with groups, business, and relationships.  The training is open to the general public, including high school age youth and elders. No prior mediation experience is required, just an interest in learning more about peaceful solutions to conflict and opportunities to apply it.

Pre-registration is required. Registration forms can be downloaded here.  Call the Restore offices 605-338-6020 for more information.

Application for CEU credits for Social Work and Education has been made.

Calling a circle…

What does it mean when we say, “We’re calling a circle?” In the context of restorative practices I take it to mean that we are clearing a space where community can enter.  It may or it may not choose to do so.  But sitting in circle is the best we’ve got to silence the din and distraction of daily life and risk finding out that beneath whatever differences we may have on the surface we are connected deeply by what we have in common.   Authentic community is rare and it is safe.  It is the opposite of that place we mostly inhabit filled with masks, anxiety, invisibility, power and imbalance.   Circles done well open a place for empathy, respect, empowerment, and direct communication for authentic ‘human being.’  Restorative circles are used for sentencing, for reconciliation, for healing, for celebration, for talking and for educating.

A small group of folks are visiting Sioux Falls from Brookings over their Spring Break.  They have visited the prisons, the food ministries and shelters and many other ministries of social justice.  Some of us from Restore talked with them at lunch today about restorative justice and restorative practices.  “How can mere storytelling be so powerful?”

I believe we learn by doing.  Thursday evening we’re going to hold a teaching/learning circle.  What is justice?  What is vengeance? What is reconciliation?  How are we connected to them?  How are we connected through them?

We are inviting all who are interested in learning how circles work, who want to honestly and fearlessly explore a difficult yet personal subject to join us.  Although it is short notice, we decided that it is much better to learn by doing than learn by risking nothing.

Learn with us tomorrow evening from 6:30 pm to 8:30pm at East Side Lutheran Church (located at 1300 E. 10th St—near northeast corner of Cliff and 10th).

There is no charge; we just thought it was a good idea.  And as the wise ones say, whoever comes are the right ones.

John Gehm, Director

Restore, Inc

1300 E. 10th St.

Sioux Falls, SD  57103


“Who is without fault, cast the first stone”(John8:7) rebukes those who have a surfeit of righteousness to back off and comforts those who recognize how their faults and mistakes have caused pain and suffering.

If fault is caused by simple personal insult, reparation is relatively simple, but criminal behavior presents a larger problem for forgiveness.  Might forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, be possible as an additional strategy to punishment?

Justice that restores emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.  Restitution and restoration is best accomplished through co-operative processes that include victim, offender, the court system and mediators.

Exploring restoration changes the emphasis from gaining cold comfort out of how much punishment is inflicted to measuring justice by how much harm is repaired or prevented: a more satisfactory solution all round.

In the United States more than 300 mediation programs[1] work toward restorative justice.  In Sioux Falls an organization called “Restore”(formerly VORP) works by providing mediation and other alternatives in an overloaded, unsustainable criminal justice system.

South Dakota has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, but its incarceration rate is twice as high as Massachusetts.  South Dakota incarcerates juveniles at a rate more than five times higher than Mississippi.  As of September 2009 19% of South Dakota State prison inmates were serving time for drug offenses, nearly 2/3 of those for “possession” of a controlled substance.  Another 40% were serving time for nonviolent crimes other than drug offenses.  In the United States one in every hundred adults is in prison and one in 45 on probation or parole.  In 2007 corrections spending was the fastest-growing major component of state budgets.[2]

When corrections’ spending is the fastest-growing major component of state budgets, restorative justice seems like an idea whose time has come round again. It is time for citizens of good will to pause before “casting stones.”  Let us step into the arena and look for alternatives to punishment that are cost effective, restorative, and in keeping with the gospel value of forgiveness.

This article first appeared in “From the Pulpit” January 16, 2010 as featured in the Argus Leader.  The Rev. Peter Holland supervises Clinical Pastoral Education at Avera Health and is a board member for Restore.

[1] National Survey Office of Victims of Crime(OVC),U.S. Dept. of Justice Programs, Washington DC, April2000

[2] Smith, C.  (2009, March 9).  Budget savings from reducing incarceration. Retrieved from

ribbonAt a recent Restore board meeting John Gehm asked participants to recall who had influenced us to take an interest in restorative justice.  Naturally, several cited parents.  Others named professors with challenging ideas on the plight of humanity.  Together we united those influences symbolically by tying a ribbon around our circle. Religious tradition has also influenced many of us.  Giving alms and taking care of the poor has characterized the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The exercise set me thinking that I must already have been puzzled by the lack of justice in the human drama, by asking how I could empower myself. Those seeking restorative justice probably undergo a parallel process of open hopeful questioning.

What makes a person open to seek change and healing and equality of power remains a mystery to me.  Likewise, I don’t know why some people seemingly accept inequality by drifting into crime, for example or becoming politically closed and reactionary. Inequality is a mystery in itself.  Anyone who has witnessed hospitals serving victims of illness, reflected on prisoners serving time for crimes committed, considered how sweatshops use the disadvantaged economically, or noted some soldiers survive and others die must have pondered the mystery of life’s inequities..  Innocent people starve because of upheaval, and families suffer arbitrary tragedies.  There is no easy consolation to the riddle of social inequality.

Changing the equation isn’t amenable to simple advice like, “Make use of what gifts you have.” Nor do I have the right to quote the parable of the talents that to those who have shall be given more. However, if I cannot prevent inequality, I can participate in the unity of all human beings to drive beyond inequality to share in the good and bad fortunes of others, to give attention to options, to share in a struggle to help shape better options.  As a human being I cannot understand the mystery of inequality, but I can grasp that for each of us something better is possible.  When two minds come together believing that something better is possible, restoration can happen.  I cannot restore all to equality, but the certainty that I am participating in something greater than myself gives me the courage to endure the riddle of inequality although I cannot solve it.

Peter Holland, Director