“I just feel really, really angry, and I don’t know why."

A Circle Keeper recounts the incident that led to a family’s involvement in the RYC program, and a breakthrough during a Circle:

Two 15 year old twins live with their single mom. The brother (B) and sister (S) share a computer. They live in Parkdale. 

B came home and asked S to get off Facebook so he could do his homework. S refused. B tipped her chair over backwards. She fell on the floor. He pinned her down. She got away, locked herself in the bathroom and called 911. The brother was charged with assault and there was a restraining order against him. When we came together in the Circle, this family had not been together in the same room for seven months, outside of the courtroom.

The Talking Piece went around and around, and we were getting nothing out of the young people.

Then, in response to a question from the Lead Keeper, B said, “I just feel really really angry, and I don’t know why.”

As the Co-Keeper in the Circle, I was next. A 50-something white, relatively privileged woman. For me, what resonated in his statement was, “and I don’t know why”. Since Circle Keepers are also participants, I shared my experience of feeling angry. “I hate feeling angry. It’s like all this energy that has no place to go. So when I try to peel it back and say, Why does this anger have so much energy? The answer I get is, behind the anger is pain. And pain is even more uncomfortable than anger.”

The talking piece continued to go around. The mom talked about her anger that her husband had died and left her alone with two babies in a new country. The mom works two split shifts, cleaning hotel rooms. She is the 9th child and the only adopted child in her family. All of her brothers and sisters are still in the Philippines.

The sister talked about her anger that she shared a computer with her brother and a bed with her mother.

The talking piece came to B, the so-called “offender”. He’s a tough kid, with spiky hair and the waist of his jeans hanging down to his knees. Right now he’s fighting back tears so much that he can hardly get his story out. He said: “It was my basketball tournament. I scored the first point. I looked around to see my mom and my sister cheering for me, and I couldn’t find them. I played my best game ever: three baskets. I thought maybe they came late. But they still weren’t there. We won. The team went out to celebrate.

I went home, to tell my sister and my mom of my success. My sister was on the computer. My mom was on the phone. I came in and said ‘We won!’ My sister didn’t get off the computer. My mom didn’t get off the phone. It’s like, I’m invisible.”
All of this surfaced in our first Circle. B found a voice. Nothing yet was resolved, but it was a definitely a positive beginning.

After the Circle, as we were all packing up to go, the sister went over and gave her brother a hug. The mom saw this, went over, and they had a 3-way hug. B said, “I’ve been saying I don’t want to come home, because I thought you didn’t want me to come home, but now I know you do.”

Participating in the Circle process enabled the family to begin to re-connect. It was a significant breakthrough and a powerful experience for everyone involved.

 

“Peacebuilders is not a magic pill; instead it is an agent of positive change motivating—not forcing—people to  talk openly about how they can learn from their mistakes."

From the father of a youth who had recently completed the RYC Circle process:

Re: A. H.
Confidential
January 31, 2012


When I first heard about the Peacebuilders process, I was originally skeptical about its application to my son, and for that matter to my family. As the process unfolded, my skepticism gradually transformed itself into full participation, as our family started to come to terms with our situation and what outcomes lay before us. Restorative justice and consultation are the cornerstones of Peace builders philosophy, and for many people coming to terms with their own frailties and honesty is an evolving activity, which must be played out before people who you do not know, yet have a common bond with your circumstance. The various sessions our family experienced with Peace builders and its facilitators were unique, in that human understanding and emotions were unveiled from everyone in the group. These sessions taught us about how acts against another human beings have consequences, and that those consequences must be understood in order for everyone to come to terms with the next step in one’s life. Peacebuilders is not a magic pill; instead it is an agent of positive change motivating—not forcing—people to  talk openly about how they can learn from their mistakes. Ultimately it is also a teacher about how our humanity is at the core of everything we do in life.
The judicial system is often based on precedents while Peacebuilders tends to focus on the person. In the final analysis, I would hope that it always our goal to work towards improving ourselves as human beings. In that respect, Peacebuilders is an essential element of addressing youth violations, because it goes to the core of the individual’s values and beliefs, which are at the core of all of us.

I thank you for the privilege of participating and on behalf of our family, we are better people because of the Peace builder process

A.
 

“This program has made me more mature and instead of using violence I am able to talk about my problems.”

An apology letter from a youth who completed the RYC program to her victim:
May 2012

Dear S---- R----,
I am writing you this letter to apologize for what I have done.

I know my actions speak louder then words but throughout this experience I’ve learned to be more sympathetic of others. I’ve also learned that before doing something I should try and figure out if the consequences will be in my favour. I know you probably don’t want to hear or see from me again. I’ll understand I know we simply asked you for directions and ended up stealing your phone and causing you to lose trust in us.

I also know that I am a leader and one to represent my neighborhood and community but this doesn’t prove so. You probably have a certain image towards “Muslim Girls” now because of what we have done. I’ve been attending Peace Builders it’s for youth who have been charged or have criminal records. There I learned many things such as being heard and having a voice. I also tried to picture my self in your position and how you must of felt at the time I didn’t like the feeling I actually felt disgusted with my self. This program has made me more mature and instead of using violence I am able to talk about my problems. We may never run into each other again but if we do I want you to feel a sense of comfort and ease.

I am truly sorry for all I have done I wish I had never done it in the first place.
I hope you can forgive me and this has really helped me learn to respect others.

W---- A-----

 

“I am 17 and already at this age I am known as a criminal to many of my friends, neighbors, teachers…”

A Youth who recently completed the RYC process in 2012 shares his experience:

My name is G---. I am 17 and already at this age I am known as a criminal to many of my friends, neighbors, teachers etc. On the early morning of August 14 I was placed under arrest and charged with theft and assault for getting into a fight with Mr. G--- and taking Mr. J---’s possessions. That was pretty much where my life started going downhill. After the first time I got arrested I fell into a type of depression because to me it looked like I was hitting rock bottom. Many people may think that it’s all in your hands to change your lifestyle and honestly it is but at the same time it is very hard. I kept on getting into trouble and socializing with bad crowds just for the fact that everyone had already named me a criminal, therefore nobody was willing to see the good I could do. For a period of time I wasn’t really doing good, until I got arrested again. That knocked some sense into me. It also partially took away my freedom and I was on curfew. Staying in at home was a good idea for it made me get better in school and help around the house more. Although I wanted to go out, at the moment it seemed like a good idea. I still hated the fact that I am a menace to society just for a mistake I made. In the end everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, but mistakes do have consequences. Staying at home might have been good for me but I still could not express my feelings about this matter to anyone. I was embarrassed to talk to my friends about it because I was afraid they would make fun of me, and I was too ashamed of my actions to even think of speaking to my parents about it. Even though I have spoken to my family about my story it was only because they asked me and bot that I was volunteering to open up. In the beginning of January I was assigned to a Peacebuilder program from my court as a resolution to get discharged. Peacebuilders worked in a very fascinating way. The first ten weeks I went into a classroom with a Circle Keeper and a group of other so-called criminals [Peacebuilders’ L.O.T. program]. We never talked about our cases but we talked about things in life in general that we should be careful from. I think that part of the program helped each and every one of us a lot in the participating field, as I could tell, no one wanted to, but everyone did and eventually everyone liked it. After about ten weeks of L.O.T. Circles, I proceeded to the final step of Peacebuilders [the RYC program]. I am going to class becoming friends with three Circle Keepers. I am the only minor there and now we are talking about my cases. In my opinion Peacebuilders is the best resolution a person can hope for. At my meetings with these “Peacebuilders” I felt so comfortable talking to my Circle Keepers. They never judged me to make me feel bad about my self, or call me names, but they did make it clear to me that what I did was a mistake and is not ethical nor legal. One thing that really attracted my attention is how much Peacebuilders expanded my point of view on my problems. My Circle Keepers asked me who I think was affected by my actions and how I think they felt, and I know exactly how they felt, but I had never thought about it until I was asked in that classroom. I was so focused on how it had affected me and my own problem in life that I was stuck in time. While everyone else moved forward with their lives and building their future. I kept on complaining about mine and how unlucky I was to get arrested instead of facing my problems like a man and understanding it was my fault and to move on with it because even though mistakes do have consequences, it is never too late to change and there is always a second chance for everyone. Well I have changed enough! I started going to school more often and also doing my work. I’ve become more helpful to myself and my family with chores around the house. My parents are very disappointed in me. They always tell me what I did was unacceptable. I’m sure both of the victims regret it just like I do. I’m sure they wish it never happened just like I do. To this day, I have never seen them again. I don’t think they would like to see me but I know they think the same about me that I wish it never happened too. It’s just logical. The probably know I’m sorry it happened. I would really like to thank everyone from the Peacebuilders program. They have all been very helpful! I had the willpower to change, but they are the ones who set me on track. Without them I probably would not have been able to change, so they deserve a lot of credit. I would also like to thank the courts for keeping our city in justice. It really is the only was to keep our place safe.
Sincerely,
G---J---
 

 

“I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”

An RYC Youth writes an apology letter to her victim
May 2012

Dear ----

I am writing you this letter to give you all my apologies and say I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I know my actions weren’t highly right. I should have not been at the scene and everything. I’ve got charged and been through so much now I know right from wrong and I truly feel bad for what I have done till this day I regret it. You were nice enough to talk to us and give directions. I hope you are doing well and forgive me for my actions. Now I probably think you assume all Muslim girls are bad and you probably stereotype them as bad people you can’t trust them because of my actions. Not all are the same just because of my ignorant mistake. Please take that into consideration and don’t judge all the other Muslim people society. On my behalf for myself I am apologizing for my actions only. Sorry about everything hope you and your family are well and you’ve coped with everything well. Have a nice life, I wish you the best.

Sincerely,
W---

 

“To meet their membership criteria meant that he had to be tough; it meant engaging in illegal activities to support his drug habit.”

A Circle Keeper shares a story about one of the RYC youths she worked with:

K. was and intelligent adolescent with the gift of poetry. He was one of three children and believed he was being neglected by his mother. He felt that he was not getting the attention from her that he deserved, unlike his other two siblings. He did, however, capture her full attention when he became involved in criminal activities for which he was charged. Later, K. felt that his behavior, though not worthy of celebration, gained him some merit since it captured his mother’s attention, and later served to improve their relationship.
K. befriended peers who were drug dependent. Like his peers, he became a frequent user of marijuana. But he had to prove that he was worthy of inclusiveness as he desired to fit in. He admired their seemingly ‘cool’ lifestyle, treasured their warm friendship and the attention that he received from them. To meet their membership criteria meant that he had to be tough; it meant engaging in illegal activities to support his drug habit. Belonging to this environment, K. hoped, would bring him respect and recognition.
One evening K. set out to prove his eligibility: he used intimidation and robbery to assist in providing funds for his acquired drug habit. Thus he engaged, and was charged. He did not calculate the legal and unfortunate consequences which would ensure. He afterwards reflected on how ashamed he was of the values that led him to such behaviour, throwing away his potential and turning in to “soul-less” shell. After having participated in programs like Peacebuilders, K. now considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to start afresh to do positive things. Opening up in Circles, he related unfortunate incidents from the past that his mother was hearing for the first time.  She was shocked and devastated; it was a ‘light-bulb moment’ for her.
K.’s revelation, though troubling, was instructive. Lessons were learned, and the information served as a catalyst for the turning point in their relationship. In future, things would be different, and the changes were undoubtedly to impact both their lives for a positive outcome.

 

“Peacebuilders I would have to say I thank you.”

A letter to Peacebuilders from an RYC youth:

May 17, 2012
Peacebuilders I would have to say I thank you. I say that because deep down it gave me more knowledge into tough situations when I say that, I’m meaning if there’s a fight happening and I see there my friends or even myself I should snap into myself and realize I’m doing something wrong. Also I can give other people knowledge not only myself I can show people the outcomes whe we do something bad so they realize what they’re doing is dumb. For example, if I seen one of my friends fighting I’ll show him don’t even bother cause all it’s going to do is escalate, meaning we should just walk away from the situation instead of being ignorant.
 

 

“I’m not proud of what I do but I have to do this to survive.”

A Circle Keeper re-counts a moving Circle experience:
April 2010

The Circle went on after eight. We had to turn on the lights because we were so busy talking that we didn’t even realize that it was dark. This 14 year-old in our Circle told us:

“I am not proud of it but I have to sell weed because I have to survive. I need lunch money this is my reality, you can point your finger at me but this is about our community.
My father lost his job and he was selling weed to support us and now he is being evicted

It’s the Circle that kept me from leaving -- I told you that I was going to leave the Circle to go home to see my dad --- When I said I have to leave the Circle it wasn’t because I wanted to see my father, it’s because I had to go to sell weed.

And I am smart. And when I don’t have any lunch money to take to school and my mother is struggling and my father is laid off -----I go out and sell weed.

 This is my reality. You can live in your little glass house and point your frigging fingers at me.
I go to school every day without lunch because education is important to me.
I am smart and I want an education that’s why I am one of the few black kids at the school.

I’m not proud of what I do but I have to do this to survive.

What’s going on is that everyone has problems in my house. I am keeping my focus because I don’t trust anyone- where we live we can’t trust anyone. We can’t talk to our guidance teachers all they will do is call the cops. What happens in this community is a reflection of me. All I know is I have to survive. What else can I do? I am 14.

Do you know what its like to have your dad evicted? What it’s like to go to one of the best schools in the city but to go there without lunch money?”

These are the problems in the community – and in order to improve do you have to show your dirty laundry in public? Is that what people have to do to get help? It’s sad but that’s the reality.

They said “We’re not proud to have these things going in our community.”
 
When she went outside she said, “I can’t f---ing believe it. His dad should get a job at a supermarket – why doesn’t he do that instead of selling weed?”

I said to him, “This is the last day you are going to sell weed.” And I went to my car and cried.