This year for RJ week we are shining the spotlight on our members and the valuable work that many of them do in the field of Restorative Justice. Our third blog comes from IARS member and friend Esther Friedman. Esther is currently an Assistant Professor in Social Work at Linnaeus University, where she interacts with RJ from an interdisciplinary approach. Her blog reflects on her experiences that led to working with RJ and its application on interpersonal relationships and coping tools.
I was caught by surprise last week as I was invited to write on the IARS blog for RJ week. I was never a blogger so this is my first attempt at doing so. I have so much to say about RJ so I hope I can sum it up…
My way with restorative justice started about 17 years ago and the more I learned about it the more I am convinced it is an effective method of dealing with offences and crimes. My way with it begun as a young social worker, fresh from university, working in a violence prevention centre and trying to help both victims and perpetrators of violence against elderly people. In many cases, the official responses provided by the Israeli criminal justice system was not of much appeal to my clients. Mostly elderly mothers to addicts and/or elderly people depended on a violent caregiver. The intervention of making a complaint at the police and charges being filed was most of the times an impossible choice. It was the end of the 1990s and the trend of mediation was gaining popularity.
I had begun to study at a peace and negotiation MA program, where I was told by one of my lecturers (Prof. Michal Alberstien) that there is something called Victim-offender mediation which might interest me. That was a beginning of a lifelong search. I wrote my master thesis (supervised by Prof. Uri Timor) and interviewed participants in processes of Family Group Conferences, in the probation service for youth. From there my way into criminology was natural. I wrote my Ph.D. on concepts of responsibility taking by offenders who participated in victim-offender mediation proceedings coordinated by the probation service for adults. I spoke with them at length about the process they went through. About their awareness of the feelings of the people who were affected by their deeds – a thought they avoided before and kept themselves ignorant about. In a lonely isolated and defensive reality of surviving everyday life in a conflicted, angry and traumatized society, not much attention was given to the feelings of themselves and others. Care was perceived something practical rather than emotional.
Today I am teaching social work in Sweden and keeping my search on restorative justice. Sweden albeit its liberal image is in many cases a conflict avoidant, conservative and puritan society. Talking openly or expressing strong feelings and emotions is considered as inappropriate. Here in Sweden restorative justice is not so popular, though they have an advanced law enabling alternative processes. Victim-offender mediations are taking place on a very low scale under the authority of Social services with little if any referrals from the police. Elinor Lind and Lottie Wahlin are running training courses in autumn and spring terms, to train some new mediators. However, the prospect for these mediators might be very lonely. Linda Marklund is also struggling to promote RJ in the academic world. There are many hard working coordinators who struggle daily to implement RJ and make a little difference. However it seems a Sciziphic struggle here in the north. Not only trying to rethink the punitive reaction to wrongdoing, but also suggest the need to talk about feelings and emotions. It is here in Sweden that life brought me and that I study and teach interdisciplinary perspectives of dealing with conflicts, exclusion, violence, and addictions.
Bullying is a form of which our politicized, divided and excluding society, reproduces itself in the little world of individuals. Where individuals lacking coping tools gain sense of control by putting down another human being. It is not a new fact that children from a minority background (for example first, second and even third generation to immigration here in Sweden) are at higher risk of being bullied and alienated from a very early age. Parents and teachers may lack personal skills of dealing themselves and to educate children to deal with conflicts in a way which acknowledges and validates the individual who is dealing with strong emotions such as shame, anger, pain, rejection, fear, stress… Many times these strong emotions are considered illegitimate and threatening and lead to more shame and isolation. Most of the time, problems are settled with a silencing avoidance or the use of power rather than involving individuals in finding solutions and better ways to cope with feelings of themselves and others. Many times the young child is left alone and isolated to survive in the jungle of strong emotions.
I focus in my search on coping with strong emotions and interpersonal relationships. I stress the personal inventory of coping skills (that from home, from our family and cultural background that we need to develop with lived experience). Each individual develops strategies to deal with the problems, choices, and decisions we make in life, which guide our emotional and behavioural reactions toward ourselves and others. I have learned that Restorative coping practices are from my perspective a key to create adaptive coping tools and sense of belonging. It helps to develop the empathy and validation which is often missing in our cultures. It provides tools to restore harms and strengthen the connection between individuals. The wisdom provided from restorative practices, provide a wide range of coping mechanisms to develop caring, understanding, empathy and emotionally sensitive citizens. It helps to deal with problems in ways which respond to the feelings, needs, and rights of each other. A possible outcome are responses and behaviors which might be less harmful. It is a key to enact human rights and respect to mankind in our everyday life.
I find hope and potential in Kalmar where a small drug rehabilitation centre is applying, in addition to the 12 steps tradition and values, a restorative community approach. A unique model worldwide. They are getting counselling and guidance from Peter Woolf, who is known from the UK for his knowledge in this area. I am hoping to be able to follow the program and learn more about its outcomes.
There is much potential, much to do and more to be learned and done. As we are dealing with feelings which can be very painful, much care should be given. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, however it gives me much hope to know that there are worldwide many more people who share this hope, effort and care. It strengthens my blieves, in that spark of light in our shared humanity and our interconnectedness.
Happy RJ week my friends and a big hug from Sweden.
Esther Friedman, Ph.D. in Criminology
Social worker and specializes in Restorative Justice
Assistant Prof. in Social Work
Institution of social work
39182 Kalmar, Sweden
(Original image accessed here)
Disclaimer: This is a guest blog and the views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the Institute’s views.