This Restorative Justice Life

66. The Circle Outside the Circle w/ Eric Butler

February 10, 2022 David Ryan Castro-Harris Season 2 Episode 10
This Restorative Justice Life
66. The Circle Outside the Circle w/ Eric Butler
Show Notes Transcript

Eric is recognized for his impactful restorative justice work as a restorative justice practitioner, activist, and educator. He went on to found the “Talking Peace” model of Restorative Justice, a set of practices and philosophy aimed at building relationships through shared values. 

You will meet Eric (2:32). Eric shares how he got started in restorative justice (4:12) and his journey finding his path. He shares some of his current initiatives (20:30) and discusses restorative parenting. Additionally, he discusses RJ in schools and his role advocating for students and standing up to teachers (25:55). He shares some advice for working with people who are not (yet) about restorative justice (36:00) and he answers the closing questions (52:00).

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Projects: https://www.circlesmovie.com/

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Demoint (they/them):

Hey y'all it's Demointe Wesley here the facilitator of community education with amplify RJ, I'm so excited to announce that over the course of Black History Month, I'm going to be facilitating a workshop on the history of black abolitionist politics, and action. We're going to get together every Saturday over the course of February to learn about political history of black abolitionists, so that we can deepen and refine our own understanding of systems of anti black violence, and so that we can truly build together a more liberated future for black people and all people. So come join me, I'm so excited to have you, bye!

David (he/him):

This restorative justice, life is a production of amplify RJ follow us on all social media platforms at amplify RJ, sign up for our email list and check out our website amplifyrj.com To stay up to date on everything we have going on. Make sure you're subscribed to this feed on whatever platform you're listening on right now, so you don't miss an episode. Finally, we'd love it if you left us a rating and review. It really helps us literally amplify this work. Thanks for listening. Enjoy the episode. Welcome to this restorative justice life, the podcast that explores how the philosophy practices and values of restorative justice apply to our everyday lives. I'm your host, David Ryan Barcega Castro Harris, all five names for the ancestors, and I'm the founder of amplify RJ. On this podcast, I talk with RJ practitioners, circle keepers, and others doing this work about how this way of being has impacted their lives.

Elyse (she/her):

Hey, folks, I'm Elyse, your producer, and today we are welcoming Eric Butler to the podcast. Eric is recognized for his impactful restorative justice work as restorative justice practitioner, activist and educator. He went on to found the "talking piece" model of restorative justice, which is a set of practices and philosophy aimed at building relationships through shared values. Eric talks about circles, calling people in calling people out and so much more. Without further ado, let's get into this episode.

David (he/him):

Eric, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I am a father of three adult children, adult children, that's kind of an oxymoron. But I have three people that I'm responsible for their life.

David (he/him):

Who are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I am an activist. of all kinds of things. Human rights, racial harmony.

David (he/him):

Who are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm a lover? I'm a brand new dog owner. He's got a dog two days ago,

David (he/him):

Who are you,

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm a son and a grandson and a nephew.

David (he/him):

Who are you

Eric Butler (he/him):

Simple but very, very hard to read.

David (he/him):

Who are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Someone that goes against the grain? I'm a fighter.

David (he/him):

Who are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm an educator.

David (he/him):

Thank you so much for being here. We're going to get into all the intersections of who you are in those ways, and a little bit, but it's always good to start with a check in. So to the extent that you want to answer the question, how are you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm good. I'm kind of tired. Like I said, I got a brand new dog. Um, I've been trying to make this dog do everything that I imagined he could do in one day.

David (he/him):

I'm super glad to be talking to you. Some of you might know the name Eric Butler, from a documentary that was released a couple years ago, called circles where it details a lot of what went on in Eric's life. As a restorative justice coordinator in Oakland, You're not in Oakland anymore. You've been doing a lot of work around restorative justice since then, and continue to do it now. But I'm curious. You know, you've been doing restorative justice work, probably before you even knew the words "restorative justice". In your own words, how did this get started for you?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Um, I guess when you frame it that way, um, beforehand, I guess I've been groomed all my life to do to do restores justice work. I'm, I'm the only son in my generation. I have four sisters and 15 Girl cousins. Primarily when I was a kid, my responsibility was alone. So I had to protect them all the time. And that's a lot of drama. So I had to come up with a lot of different ways of refute or defusing situations because even if I was a fighter, that's way too many fights.

David (he/him):

Yeah, what did that look like? What are some of those diffusion strategies?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I learned early, that if you can make them laugh, you can make them like you. And you can make them listen. Um, so I use my sense of humor in ways to defuse a lot of situations. When I was a kid, I was really, really popular. Because I did all of the extracurricular things I played football. And I also sang in the choir, which is an interesting dynamic. I was always, I'm always a talker, and I always sought justice, even though I didn't have an understanding of what Justice was.

David (he/him):

Yeah, is there an example that stands out to you about an example of trying to get to justice.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Um, when I was a kid, um, my mother was a single mother. Um, I don't know, she was, she wasn't single, I lived in a house, my mother and my grandmother. And my grandmother, my mother disciplined me, with her hands. And as far back as I can remember, I would have gotten most of those beatings. I'm trying to explain my case. And sometimes it would make her feel like she wasn't doing a good job as a parent. Because I would ask a lot of questions. And most times, she would just want me to be quiet. And when I found myself in that kind of trouble, I also found myself not able to stop talking. So I wanted to know I wanted to, I wanted my mother to be able to get to the truth, and understand that the discipline strategy that she was using wasn't working. And she never changed it. So I guess I'm never justice, except I think that it made her a better grandmother, or maybe she would have just been that type of grandmother. Anyway, I learned early that justice isn't isn't isn't an immediate thing. Sometimes. It takes the rest of your life to to receive justice also learned that justice isn't an external thing. Justice is something that we have inside of ourselves. And that's the reason why when we give vague definitions of justice, although we haven't experienced it together, we can all agree that justice is that thing. Justice is equity. Of course it is. But how do we know that? If we haven't had equity together?

David (he/him):

Yeah. If you I know lots of people to find justice in different ways. And I'm gonna ask you for your definition of restorative justice a little bit later. But you know, you just defined justice as equity. Right?

Eric Butler (he/him):

And not my definition. Okay, my definition of justice is having the freedom to practice your values. And the way I came up with that definition, is defining injustice. Injustice is having those freedoms snatched away from you. And if that's injustice, justice, is having the freedom to have those, to practice your values. Whenever we're in a situation, we can look back and say, No, that wasn't just situation. It had everything to do with everybody sharing collective values.

David (he/him):

Yeah, what's the situation like? What was it that led you to that definition of injustice? And then, you know, vice versa?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Um, so when I think about injustice, I watch a lot of television and a lot of documentaries and stuff. So I'm, I'm a huge follower of history. Not I'm not a I don't study history. What I do follow. Um, so I watch a lot of documentaries on justice. Um, what comes to mind from that question is the civil rights movement in the 60s, when I first discovered it as a kid, little fun fact, when I was in first grade, I played Martin Luther King in black history play. So I learned a lot about Martin Luther King. I learned more than the other kids learned. And I learned more than just the surface stuff. And I didn't grow up in a household where we were constantly talking about just what are politics at all. But when I think about that movement, it's kind of touching that the strategy that Martin Luther King used was some of the bravest things and bravery is definitely one of my core values. And that's one of the most brave was attempts at seeking justice. And when he used his values of bravery and so many other values, and other folks can see it, he was able to call them to the movement and have the world participate? In other words, um, it's kind of it's kind of parallel to what we do in restorative justice is like, breaching the levees of around humanity. So everybody can feel the pain and feel everything and and also feel like they have steak to do something about.

David (he/him):

Yeah. I imagine growing up in New Orleans, right in the south, experiencing all kinds of injustice, I imagine like Dr. King's work wasn't inspiration, where else did you draw inspiration to continue to work for justice,

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm also had a role model, which kind of separated me from the rest of the young men that grew up in my, in my environment, who wasn't from the wall, it's now in New Orleans, it's black and white. And since I'm black, I've done all the black stuff. And we were in like a box of poverty. You throw crack in that box, and you throw guns and you throw miseducation in that box, and then you shake the box up. And whatever comes out comes out, if you don't have somebody gods, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Big Brother Big Sister program. And that's where I met my mentor, who's still my mentor to this day, to kind of guide me, and show me these, um, these things about our history. And how those things in our history feeds the things in our present.

David (he/him):

You know, what were some of the like, those key key learnings and takeaways that he showed you? And is this TED were talking? Yeah, yeah.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yeah. When I was when I was a young man, that was the first thing that comes to mind is when I was a young man, the time that I saw successful other black men, they were drug dealers. And, and when I say that, it's kind of like saying, like, well, being being impoverished, not having means to simple things like automobiles, and then suddenly, this crack epidemic happens. And now these black men that never had an opportunity to shine on the inside, can at the very least shine on the outside now, so I saw that, until I met on the Ted, that was all I saw. And I've had, I had, um, men in my family, that, um, that didn't take that route. But they never was successful. They were on living job to job. Jobs didn't last too long. And I remember once, and opentag work at Loyola University, at the Institute of Human Relations, he basically did the same one I do now. And I remember once I asked him, how much he made, and he said, $75,000. And I thought that that was ridiculously crazy. I wouldn't do nothing $75,000 right now, but this was back in the 80s. And seeing him be successful, and making money for helping kids like me, was just amazing to me. In fact, I thought it was a lie. I didn't think that you can be successful by your, by your good deeds.

David (he/him):

You took the inspiration from him, and others, your athletic achievements out of out of New Orleans? And I'm, and I don't know, and so, you know, I know most of our listeners don't know, how did that lead you to the restorative justice work that you're doing now?

Eric Butler (he/him):

What led to the restorative justice work that I'm doing now is hunger. When I moved to Oakland, at right after Hurricane Katrina, we didn't know how long it would last. And we didn't know when or if we were ever going to be able to go back home. So it was kind of jumping into a double dutch trying to figure out, do I stay? Or do I even start building a career here, growing up in an environment that I grew up in, and being the only boy and having to learn how to take care of your family, and that being your responsibility? I didn't want to take anything from anybody. So I didn't want to, I didn't want any. I didn't. We didn't get FEMA support, and really didn't want it didn't expect it to even think it was real. But what I would do is I would stand in front of Catholic Charities, which is where they was given folks clothes and money and that kind of stuff. I would never ask for anything. And I was just stand out there one day, one of the directors that worked with Catholic Charities came out and personally asked me to take some of these things. And I think we had a conversation. And she probably thought that I was really charismatic, and she offered me a job. And the job that she offered me was helping other Hurricane Katrina survivors. Now, that was the first job that I had gotten, um, the funds with that job, as you can imagine, ran out immediately. But there was another job in the pipeline called crisis response, this job was a job that nobody you should where you show up at the scene of a murder, and assess the scene and find out what the needs were in the community. And you try and get and I will take that information back to to kind of charities and whatever things they could do to help with those needs. I would offer those needs back sometimes it was painful to film. Sometimes, it was having Grief and Healing circles was the first time I ever heard a circus. So I would bring those circles to elementary schools. And it wasn't there wasn't done really good. But I was consistent. I always showed up at work. That job turned it to me being in meetings with the police department. And one day I was in a meeting with the police department, I raised an issue and that issue was the way they notify families that their loved ones had been murdered. I thought it was very insensitive, they would laugh, they will tell jokes sometimes. And not knowing why they would do that. I foolishly questioned them. And, and one of them said, Well, do you think you'd do a better job, we'll see if we can have you show up at the same with us. And you can tell the parents. And so I started doing that. And it was some very heartbreaking stuff. In fact, my last day, I had I went to a family's house, and I can never forget it. Because the kid that had lost his life, his name was Eric. So I had to tell Eric's mother, that her son was more so I show up at her house. And she knows that something is wrong, because there's police with me her assumption is that her son has been murdered. And she's screaming his name, but she's screaming the wrong name. So that the name that she's screaming isn't in my file. So I had a sense of relief, like, well, maybe this is one mother, that I can give good news, too, and say, well, this isn't your son, we made a mistake. But she was screaming the name of her good son, who she didn't expect to be in that type of trouble. And, um, what were her Yeah, her bad son. But it wasn't her bad son. It was her good son. So, um, and she was so heartbroken. Um, and I couldn't deal with the emotional stress of it all. And I just stopped working. And Fonia Davis had heard about me, and I don't know if it was that particular thing. But I know that she was in association with Catholic Charities. And she was starting a new organization called Arjo. We started justice for Oakland youth, and also our first hire. And I think it was just based on word of mouth. So I was extremely lucky.

David (he/him):

Yeah, you know, thank you for sharing that. Um, one of the things that I observed watching the documentary circles, which, you know, we'll definitely have linked in the show notes for folks to check out for themselves, is the depth to which you as a person, Eric, the person, put yourself into this work and, and, you know, hearing this story, just like further solidifies, you know, when you're about something, you're about something and you give it your all. The other thing that occurred to me, it was in the dock and just occurred to me both as we're having this conversation, and as I've observed you from afar, in this restorative justice world, is that all of that takes a toll. Right, an emotional and a physical toll. Yeah. I'm curious how you were able to identify like if you're able to identify defy that in the moment. Because I know it's been like a constant evolution of like, I can't throw all of myself into this at all times. Like, you know, you talked about, like, you had to quit your job at that moment, because like, you couldn't do that, but like that, that's not something that is, that's not like a lesson that you learned and like, you know, taking care of them. And like, you've been good ever since, like balancing self care and doing this, like, deep, intense emotional work, how have you, how did you identify it, then? How have you continued to navigate it now?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Well, I'm still working on that part of myself. To be honest, I'm a crier every single day. Um, and not necessarily out of sadness. But I do know that I have some compound trauma that I pad down and it's slowly, it slowly seeps out. Back then it was situation. Just like everything else, like any reason to quit a job, you're in the moment. And it just feel it just feels bad. And being in that moment, knowing that I had other opportunities, the thing that stops us from quitting jobs, when we know we should, it's the same thing that stops us from ending relationships. Um, it's the fact that I don't believe that there's something else. And when I started doing social, these social work, for lack of a better term, um, it started feeling like, there's nothing else. Well, I started feeling like this. This is all I'm going to do for the rest of my life. And I'll always be able to find a job doing something in this lane. So I'm quitting. This was, since I've been doing restorative justice work. I have quit. What I want to quit once, but I've been fired, like three or four times.

David (he/him):

I guess, in the moment of quitting, right? Like, you can correct me if I'm misassuming there have been other moments where you might not have quit, but you've like taken dramatic steps back to take care of yourself in a need that you were identifying? What how do you identify those

Eric Butler (he/him):

Seldom identifying other people around? Um, though, if I've done anything, right, in restorative justice, it's my relationships. Um, these people are amazing. And I think people are amazing once they tap into that, themselves, that justice within within themselves. And I've now connected with these people, and they make sure that I take really good care of myself, um, to the best that they can stop me from going too far. I go too far away. Since we started justice, this is something that you do. It's hard to turn it off. So I've never turned it off. Somebody has to physically stop me from from doing it.

David (he/him):

Yeah. Do you fight them?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yes. I sell them when. And it's the way I set up my friend group. It's on purpose, um, my team. They're all women. And it's kind of like a thing in my arm. When I was when I was young, like, I'm, I'm surrounding myself, I didn't surround myself when I'm surrounded by women that made choices for me. That was comfortable for me. And now all of my, everybody is on my team. And they're really strong. And, and pigheaded, and one of them's right there. So they, they fight back. And, and, and I lose most of those battles. But I do fight. And I try to make it make sense. But the thing that made sense the most is, no matter how bad I want to do this work, if I'm not around to do this work, I won't be able to discern. And that makes more sense. And it overrides anything that I have to say. And she's like, somebody's got to do it right now. So if I'm not going to do it, you're definitely going to do it. So they'll do.

David (he/him):

Yeah, it's the sense of urgency, that we fall into a lot of time and like, I'm identifying that for myself as well. I think the other thing that why I'm personally like, so curious about having this conversation with you is, you know, I'm on the precipice of fatherhood. Right. Of you know, probably about a month when this conversation airs or about two months from right now. And, you know, thinking about there is so much work to do, and like as I was watching you give so much to the students at at at the school and in the dock, while also simultaneously balancing being your son's sole parent in the household. Like, there's, I'm concerned for myself about, like that balance of that work.

Eric Butler (he/him):

It's a hard balance. Um, and what's harder about that balance is, you're not going to be able to mathematically figure it out. It's going to happen spontaneously, where you, you prioritize, and prioritize differently, depending on who raised you and the things that you've learned throughout the time, I did things so differently than my parents did. Which is kind of scary, because that means there's absolutely no road map. So like, raising my kids was, was a was a blank slate. And I did some really, really cool things. But I fucked up sometimes.

David (he/him):

Yeah, I always take some of my friends and I joke like, you know, your kids are gonna end up in therapy for one reason or another, like you, you've messed them up one way or another, but like, you know, being present and doing your best is all you can do. And I take comfort in that answer, like, still don't want to mess up like urgency, perfectionism are still things that I'm working on. I mentioned, I mentioned the school that you worked at, you know, from coming to Our joy. You did lots of different things within restorative justice in the Oakland world, can you highlight some of those for the folks listening?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Alright, so when I, when I was hired, I was hired with the understanding that NAACP or something, were suing the school district, because there was suspending too many black boys, which was interesting to me that we were going to do something in reaction of little black boys doing something, I immediately saw the white supremacy, and that I did, so I wasn't turned on by that idea that we were reacting to what black boys were doing. I didn't agree with that notion. Um, and the way I got my training, I went to a Mennonite College in Virginia. Um, in theory, it was great. But I found myself being taught how to talk to black and brown boys by white with who most most more than a lot more times than not more, even from this country. So while the theory was tight, the content was a little bit off. So I had to think about how can I take the theory and put it into a different context, at the school, that's highlighted in the, in the documentary, on my first day of school, I remember feeling very, very uncomfortable, and wanting to do something different. Understanding that the foundation of restorative justice was relationships, I thought that if I go outside and greet the kids, or the young people as they walk in, that that will give me a leg up on building these relationships and building these connections. But they were, um, other teachers doing the exact same thing, but in a different way. Because we're all kind of standing together. And I remember one teacher saying, Hey, you're the restorative justice guy. And they called me the restorative justice guy, which meant you're not a teacher. You're not in your faculty. You're not, um, You're something else, like when you're support staff? And that's exactly how he treated me.

David (he/him):

And paid you.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Okay, do you another and we're not sure about you. But this particular teacher was absolutely sure about me, she read me and she read me wrong. Oh, she read we started justice wrong. Like, we know all about restorative justice. We read both of the books that was written about it. So we have to know everything. And here's the thing. It's a good concept, but it's not going to work for all of the kids. And this is the conversation that I'm having with the people that I'm going to be working with. And I didn't acknowledge them. I didn't I didn't talk to her. In fact, I didn't even look at but she continued to talk. And her rant, she began to tell me the kids weren't going to be able to benefit from restorative justice as they were walking into the school. Um, and ironically, all of the kids that she thought wouldn't benefit, they all look like me. Um, and when I do trainings, I tell folks to search for Why before they start doing the work, because before that moment, I didn't have a why. And my why became, because she pissed me off. And I wanted, I wanted to prove her wrong. As she was talking, she spoke about this young man who had the sense of urgency of stopping as he walked to school smoking a blunt and she completely read this dude, in my ear. She talked about his his home life, to talk about having him in eighth grade, and how he wasn't a good student then, and he's not a good student now. And she also said that, I am going to send him to your classroom every single day. Now she's telling me what type of classroom I have. So basically, it's going to be like a punishment room. So I immediately knew that I had dispelled that idea that I'm going to be punishing people. Um, but she were right. She sent that boy to my classroom. And I tried my best to build a relationship with him for about a week, and I just kept getting cussed out every day. And I had an I had to put my armor on and just take it, and he would cuss me out every day, religiously. And one day, he broke, and he said, Do you know why you don't like me? And I'm like, No, but I'm all ears. So he told me that the math teacher particularly didn't like the fact that he can do algebra without doing the formula. So that he could just look at it and come up with a number. And so it makes sense to him to write all that other stuff when he just knew the answer. And it would, argh, we became really close. And he was sent to my classroom every single day, when he wasn't suspended. Because there was feel suspending kids at that time. So when he was suspended, he would be in my classroom, and sometimes he will get suspended to my classroom. Um, he will do all this work, and all of the tests, he had the best grades in school. So he's our valedictorian, the thing that he's missing is seat time, which is their responsibility. And they have to pay a price if he didn't have seat time, so they have to give him his grades. So this kid graduated valedictorian. Um, and he has to give the valedictorian speech. And he wasn't a man of many words, two of them, and he said, both of them as he accepted his diploma. And that was the moment I realized how important it was to be in relationships, just this kid. I remember having a conversation about math, algebra, particularly because we talked about algebra to the point where I was telling him how much I hated it, when I was in high school, and hate it now and don't know nothing about. Um, and he said, Why don't we need it anyway? It's like, I literally walk over dead bodies to and from school every day, how's algebra going to help me with my life? And I didn't have an answer for. But I asked him, until we find out how you're going to be able to use algebra? Would you do it for me? And he said, he'll do it for me. Because we have we have a relationship. And that kid taught me and no kids taught me more about restoring justice, then the time I spent in Virginia, all of the classes that I've been to learn how to do circles and Islam, being in those types of being in relationship with those kids for real, taught me how to do restore to where it was, what taught me how to do restorative justice, but not be restored.

David (he/him):

We talk about all the time, on this podcast how you know, restorative justice isn't? I think it can be both right? It is a description of a process, where we're saying what happened, who was impacted? And how and how do you make things as right or as right as possible. But it's also that way of being that way of being deeply interconnected with people, I think there are limits to what you you've experienced, like there are limits to like how much of yourself you can pour into relationships with people because the first relationship you have is the relationship with yourself, right? And if that relationship isn't right, or able to function, you can't do any of those other things. But the way that we are teaching restorative justice often gets reduced to the thing for the bad kids, right? Or the alternatives to punishment, it generously. And that can't all be on one person in a school. Right? I'm thinking back to what that looks like in the documentary. He went, you know, you're having a conversation with the principal, she's like, I'm on board, I got your back, we're gonna do this, we're gonna win. We're gonna win them over all the other teachers in school because, you know, to her point, it can't all be on you. You can't be like out Restorative Justice Center. Mr. Butler's, you're right. It can't it's gonna be like, what is the relationship that I have as a teacher have with the student? Right? Like, why couldn't they be like, Hey, I understand that you don't understand that application of algebra to your daily life? Can you do it for me? Right? It's because they didn't do that proactive relationship building with that person and seeing them for who they were, as opposed to like, oh, that's the kid that just doesn't show his work on math. He's a problem for me. Um, how, in your time working in schools, how have you been able to bring people teachers have into that relational way of being, as opposed to like, oh, just the alternative to punishment.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Alright, so I'm just like, the average American, I resist connection just like everybody else. I'm in the grocery store, pretending like I'm on my phone. When I see people I know, just like everybody else. I'm so is constantly working on that muscle that does what we're supposed to do. Like we're we're built to connect with each other. So it's a constantly working on that muscle to connect. And when, when you're working when you when you're, when you're doing that, it's kind of like working on any any muscle, like, it's kind of like I'm doing any kind of exercise, when you're trying to manipulate your body to do something. The same way with a relationship, like I am trying to manipulate people that don't have an already set attraction to my humanity. So I try to do and we all do it. Um, I love women. And physically, like the type of woman that I like, and if I see that woman, and she goes to church, suddenly I go to church. Um, if it was easier than that, I wouldn't even brush my teeth in the morning. If it wasn't for the fact that women appreciate an apartment, I wouldn't pay $1,700 to stay somewhere I live on the street. Um, let's just say that we even mystic, and it's one of us, Miss Phil, because Ms. Hill was the champion of restorative justice in that school. But not until we built a relationship. The first words that she said to me is, I am the queen of suspensions. So she didn't have a restorative bone in her body. She had been a principal for 20 plus years. And her tactic was always especially if you come to my office, you're going to leave sorry, manipulating relations, and people don't like the word manipulation. And that's cool. Use another word if you want to. But my word is manipulation. Just sounds special. To me. I remember. There was a fight that was happening right in front of her office. This is another example. She comes outside of her office. And she's suspending everybody. Teachers are getting suspended. She's, it's like she's she's losing control. But as she's losing control and watching her and I'm watching her say key things that make me know who she is, or make me assume who she is. She said, Where's like, Lord have mercy. And, and please, Jesus, and all that kind of stuff. So my assumption was mixed. Those those words, mixed with our accent, that she's a black woman. From the black Christian woman from the south. What is what is well within my wheelbarrow? Because

David (he/him):

Yes, everybody in your family?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yeah.

David (he/him):

Yeah. Or in the neighborhood you grew up.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Right, right. He all go, I'm not a Christian. I know, Christian lingo. And so I just asked her Did she want to pray about? And of course she does. So we went to our office, and I led the prayer in a way that Baptist preachers lead the prayer. And I'm not even closing my eyes. Mind you, I'm just watching her. And as I'm praying, she's saying yes, Lord, and I'm like, I got you. And that was the birth of our relationship. me pretending to believe in the way that she believes now, as we continue this relationship, we're going to have to fix that up. I'm going to have to fix that. Um, but what I need right now, I need you as Listen to me. I don't need you to stop suspending people. I need you to listen to my story. And if you listen to my story, we come to some kind of agreement. Most times when we started this isn't appreciate it, it's because the person that you're trying to convince isn't listening me, they're waiting on their turn to talk. And the thing that fosters the idea of a real conversation is relationships. So I had to have her in a relationship. So she can, so she can champion restorative justice, I couldn't do it by myself, she had the power to make teachers be inserted. Now, that's not restorative at all, but it's a star. And what usually happens is, teachers die out. Um, and we live in a culture where our ego lead away. So once I say, I don't believe in that thing, there's nothing that you can do, that's going to turn me away from that, unless you can manipulate those relationships. I'm by my third year at bunch. We had gotten rid of all the teachers that wasn't about restorative justice, and recruited news. In fact, I was also doing trainings all around the country. I had folks from Texas, move to to Oakland just so he can work at bunch. And that's just relationship. That's the power of relationships. And it doesn't hurt to be a little charismatic too.

David (he/him):

For sure, but like, you know, we're talking about that that point of connection, right. And, like, I think people might bristle at like, oh, you pretended to be a Christian in order to, you know, right. But like, think about the people in your life, you pretend to like sports to connect with whoever you pretend to like a certain type of music to connect, and like maybe you do find some connection point was there and that becomes an authentic thing. But like, what's important at the end of the day, is that relationship with people and you know, where that can lead and what benefit that can do for not only you and them, but for the community at large. And the way that that's impactful. I'm thinking. I'm think I think a lot about how to further amplify restorative justice work, right? That's the name of my company. And so many of the things that I see in marketing world are around senses of urgency. And restorative justice is not like, well, it is urgent, like we can't go about it in an urgent way. Right? This riff takes time it takes relationship building, and I'm wrestling with, can I use urgency and scarcity? To market restorative justice, just to get people in the door?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yeah, I think that's you have to, um, and you would be right, he wouldn't be lying. This is urgent. Now it's going to take time. But we need to move on this right now. Because the examples now, I've had people turn their nose up at the fact, like telling that story about pretending to be a Christian to have a relationship with me still. Now, here's the results. That year, no kids will suspend 100% of the kids graduate. The following year, no kids will suspend it. 100% of the kids will graduate. And the next seven years after that. Those are my results. And if I had to pretend that I'm if I had to pretend that I love Satan to get that, I'll pretend I'm and if the God that you love truly is the God that you say he is, he understands my heart. And I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to go ahead with y'all.

David (he/him):

What was her reaction when you finally came clean about that?

Eric Butler (he/him):

She knew it. She knew it. She said she knew it. She knew I was full of shit. And she used to call me Jodi. And I didn't know what Jodi was. But Jodi was a man. They call Jodie, when she was younger, she said that they would nickname men that would manipulate women That they would be attracted to the woman and they would woo the woman. So she will call me Joey. So she knew that I was that I was full of shit. But she also knew that in that moment, that was exactly what she needed. And I didn't need it. What she needed. And if I can if I can supply you with one of your needs as a Christian was to give me something that I need in return. So the whole Christian thing, and I love arguing with Christians anyway. So like, in fact, if your job as a Christian is to lead me to the full lead me. Stop judging me because why would you judge me and shame me is gonna make me stop talking to you. Or not stop talking. I keep talking without stopping listening. If you want to lead me to it, convinced me. Your job is to convince me my job is to prove that you're wrong. And let's just have a conversation about it. Let's pass a talking peice so we won't interrupt each other.

David (he/him):

Absolutely, absolutely. I'm thinking about I don't know that I want to go like too far down. That because I am imagining that's going to bring up your your experience with molestation in the church, down the road. And I think that's an important part of your story. And I know that you've told it before, in the context of this conversation, it's not exactly where I want to go. But we can. All of that is acknowledged, for sure. And thank you for being a person to us, who shared that and been vulnerable with that. You are not in Oakland anymore. What are the things that you have been working on in the restorative justice world since?

Eric Butler (he/him):

All right, mostly what we've been doing, especially since the pandemic, folks have not been face to face. So when you're when you're working, virtually, it's easier to be in conflict is easier to to say what's on your mind while you're sitting behind this computer. So people are in conflict, and people are looking for people that can help them mediate their conflicts. So I've been doing a lot of work around conflicts, um, the world has been in a conflict with, and we like to criminalize everything. So we've been in a conflict with the pandemic. And the problem with it with what has been in conflict with the pandemic is, we don't have anybody to criminalize. And we try. It's not, it's not because we didn't try. We tried to blame China, but we didn't. But our leader at the time tried to blame a whole country tried to blame China. For So like we've been having intentional conversations around how we're going to be together, um, and anti blackness and racism. So most of the work that I've gotten from the pandemic to the present, is around race and, and just white women. Afraid to be called racist, and Karen, they're very offended by that. So they're trying to figure out a way that they can handle counts, and we're sort of justice is the way to, to hold that space. So I've been getting a lot of folks hiring me, for their companies like here recently, since I live in Austin. Now, there's been people that know about restorative justice, that are on we're going to be doing some work with the district attorney's office where they're there, um, diverting cases, to restorative justice, as opposed to sending young folks to juvenile hall. So that's one thing that we're working on this. And I think that's probably the biggest project but but primarily been working on. And last year, we get, we did some work. Um, I was I was a coordinator on online coordinator at a school last year. So we've been doing everything that we could possibly do. And we still have, like, if somebody needs it. If somebody asks for training, we'll do it. We'll train your dog, we started if you got the money.

David (he/him):

Beautiful. And, you know, where do people engage with y'all? Is that through? We are talking piece? Yeah. And we'll definitely have this things linked in the show notes for people, you know, as we're thinking about continued growth through the pandemic, because that's not over and beyond, how do you want to continue to grow in this work?

Eric Butler (he/him):

I think, I think that we have, I think that we're in the United States, we're beginning to have these important conversations, because we don't have a choice. We're running out of allies to tell. So um, we have to have this conversation, where I hope I am talking piece fitting into that conversation is we'd like to lead someone's conversation because they stop at a certain point. And it just stops. As a country, we need to heal. Um, it's been a long time coming. And in celebration of Black History Month, this one month that we're given, there's a lot of talk that needs to happen around race. We're disconnected in the way that we do. Um, this thing with, um, CRT, for example, where CRT isn't even taught in schools, the, the legs of it, just talking about race. There are folks that don't even want to have the uncomfortable conversations. So that's it organization, we want to encourage people to have that conversation. And it's hard. But it's only hard because at some point, people are going to feel like I'm being too vulnerable. And I've given away pieces of myself, and I don't know what you're going to do with him. And on the other side, it's, I'm scared that you might change. So we can take those two things out of the conversation. And if there's a talent, we've been able to do that. I'm taking shame, in the fear of being vulnerable out of those conversations, and we've been able to have great conversations. We're not we don't always agree, but we at least have a really good conversation. And I know that they know it's gonna work. And I just, I just hope that we can become illuminated enough that people will see talking peace as a, as a vehicle to have these important conversations. And hire us. So we eat.

David (he/him):

Yes, absolutely. Food is important. Eating is an important. Shelter is important. And I think one of the things that I have thought a lot about over the last few days, weeks, months is the tension of, you know, relationship with yourself, make sure that you're setting those boundaries around your time. But like, you can't self your you can't self care your way out of oppression.

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yeah, right.

David (he/him):

Right. And how do we balance, both like that internal work those practices that will continue to sustain us and like working for change? Externally communally. There's so much in there. I want to transition shortly into the questions that everybody answers when they come onto this podcast. But is there anything else that you feel like that's been unsaid around these ideas of restorative justice, racial justice, and all that?

Eric Butler (he/him):

You're a pro man, I'm just following your lead.

David (he/him):

Alright. So I told you earlier, that everyone who comes here gives us a definition of restorative justice. So in your own word, restorative justice, is

Eric Butler (he/him):

restorative justice as a way of of finding out what is our common values? And how do we use those values to get the things that we need? And want from our community?

David (he/him):

Love that. As you've been doing this work, what's been an oshit? Moment? And what did you learn from it?

Eric Butler (he/him):

It's all around adults, um, that somehow we're going to be able to change the culture. And when I see it not happening when I see it happening with it with the young people, it's like, Oh, my God, we've been doing it, we've been doing it wrong the whole time. Um, in fact, there was a smart alec elec news reporter, probably from a New York Times, go through the records that she says something like, I see that you guys haven't suspended anybody in like seven years. Are you guys just not suspending? Or is the behavior changing? And I actually thought about it? And the answer is, the adults absolutely change their behavior. And once the adults change their behavior, the kids follow suit. The kids have been acting like the adults the whole time, we've been suspending the kids. And we should have been suspending the adults. If that we're going punitive. There's a lot of teachers and principals that should have been fired a long time ago. But instead, what we do is we do that we do it to the kids, like we spend them, we fire them, we kick them out of their own communities, the lives that's been saved, it's like, it's some I have so many stories that's been recorded, have beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stories. And as I sit back and watch those stories, 1000 times in every training, and have people stand up and applaud. They're not really good stories, because it's one student. It's one school. And and in the meantime, we have a nation of young people that are getting what they've always gotten. And the people that lead those kids are hoping for different results, even though they're doing the same thing that they did yesterday. And that's dangerous. So like, so like while Dion graduated, the kid that I was telling you about earlier, and went to an Ivy League college, there's another Dion that goes to jail in that same situation. And that's the urgency that you were speaking. Um, now, we have to be urgent. And in our urgency, we may we may save the lives of two or three families. But if we Keep doing the work. And we have other people doing the work, that number grows and grows and grows. And if we, if we stop, the work stops, we're right back where we started. And that's very scary.

David (he/him):

Man, I think that speaks a lot to like, this can't just belong in schools. This belongs everywhere, right? You know, 3.2 million teachers in public school, right? 48 million students, you know, 15 to one, you know, they're there. I do think like, if all 3.2 million teachers had a radical education around restorative justice, and an attitude shift towards relationship, and you know, they were incentivized to do so and compensated better than they're being compensated right now, like, things would absolutely be different. And that still wouldn't solve all of society's problems. Because this work biller was so many places

Eric Butler (he/him):

I always say that, the moment you feel like, we got this thing down, we started getting this already worked. That's also the moment you realize that you have not been doing this, you've been doing something else. The moment you don't have anything else to do, you're not doing restorative justice. Or you're not living restoratively, you're not living a restorative life because you just had a goal. And that was it. So suspension, ending suspensions wasn't my personal goal. I didn't really care. I didn't care, the school system got sued by by the Office of Civil Rights, I didn't care. Um, I started caring about it, when I noticed that we were able to impact not only that one student, but also the families that have been harmed by this system, was able to have the parents be partners with the teachers in their child's education, because they were in a relationship. And parents are able to tell teachers the reason why I never answered your phone call, because your phone call tells me that I'm a bad parent, and teach teachers to not only call when a kid does something bad, but when the kid is doing something good, or just most of the time,

David (he/him):

As a parent yourself, right? I'm just thinking back to you getting calls when Trey your son was getting in trouble at school. Right? How would that have changed your relationship with Trey and that school? If you had gotten those positive calls as well?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Well, that wouldn't have been the important change, the important change would have been the relationship that Trey had with the school. So if Trey's relationship with the school is different, Trey and I relationship is different, because I'm getting something that I want from him, and he's getting something that he wants. And so I want I want to say me, he needs from the school, and we're all acting as partners in this relationship. Um, it was a dysfunctional relationship, though. And pressure. And even if it's a three way relationship, it like you said, if there is if you don't have a good relationship with yourself, it's hard to have a good relation with anybody else. So we internalize these dysfunctional relationships. And we also have this functional relationship with ourselves and I treat him like I'm and how do you do that, like, because you got to be with yourself, you can't like, you can't divorce yourself. So you just have to, you have to really get to know yourself, like you have to recommit to yourself. Like this is who I am. Now, these are the things I don't like about myself, this is the things that I want to keep. And you keep, you have to keep on doing it. And that's the reason why long term marriages don't work that are long time, most of them don't work. But the one reason why they don't work is because we don't re connect, we don't, we don't, um, when they call it renew our vows. And if we do renew our vows, it's just a pageantry. If I'm renewing my vows with myself, it's internal, and y'all don't even see it. It happens when I say, I am not going to stop myself from crying. I'm going to feel this thing and think about what it is that made me feel that way. And also, how can we fix it so other folks won't feel that way? Um, yeah, I think about values and his idea of empathy. So like, empathy is always a value. But folks seldom want to practice it. And the way I prove it is like, who are the Who's the person that you find it most difficult to have empathy for? So for me, it's Donald Trump. Now, how can I not empathize with somebody with whom I have no idea who this man is? All I know is his acts. And acts should be way easier to empathize with than your person. I can empathize with somebody that like, no matter how, how bad or egregious the thing they did, but an act so like, I have to try to find a way to, to rehumanize myself and become a better person, that means I'm gonna have to empathize with the hardest people, I'm gonna have to try to build a relationship with people that have opposing ideas. That's the work the work, isn't going into a school and everybody's saying, Yeah, we're on board with restorative justice. The work is finding out who's not. If there's one person that's not on board, our job is to manipulate that relationship.

David (he/him):

Find the ways to invite folks in to this work, find the connections, find the points, write all the different words to get that and I think like, to something that you said earlier, right? If you don't, you will be evaluated out of your job. Right. Right. And like, that's like a manipulation point. Beautiful. Have you get to sit in circle with four people living you're dead? Who are they? And what question do you ask the circle?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Oh, so I watch a lot of TV. So like, when you just said that? The first thing I thought about is John Bennet Ramsey and her parents because I just watched a documentary about them yesterday, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X TuPac. All these people don't have to be dead. Alright. Um, okay. And, and I will, um, I think I probably should go white guy. Um, Donald Trump.

David (he/him):

What is the question? You asked that circle?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Okay, shoot. We are in the year 2050. And all of our dreams have come through, come through. How did we get there from here?

David (he/him):

I love this. I love that question. Because you don't know. But what I do is now ask you that question, Eric. So we are now in the year 2050. All of our dreams have come true. How did we get there?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Intentional relationship building. We had we had a lot of difficult conversations. Um, we told the truth. And I don't like truth. And the reason why I don't like truth is because whenever truth shows itself, the people that the the audience does not give a soft landing for truth. So what I'm imagining is that now there's a soft landing place for truth. In America, we, um, we lie to ourselves, so we can feel comfortable with the truth that we match for will tell ourselves lie after lie after lie. Just so we can become what I mean, an example I can give is, um slavery. Like, um, we'll, as Americans will lie about about the trap, the tragic situation. And as black people, of course, white people do, because they don't want to be connected to the wrong side of history. But black people eat it. Um, some of our own people sold us to, to slavery, and you call it indentured servitude, or whatever it is, is still like one of the biggest sins ever committed. Um, I think that there would have to be some changes in our faith community, where we're not so um, I think that people need that faith. And that hope, hope and faith is kind of the same thing to me. Um, I think people need that hope so much so that they'll pay for and I think that we need to be more inclusive in our faith communities. We we say certain people are allowed, in fact, in fact, certain people are an abomination. Um, so I think we fixed the faith community. We have more intentional conversations about hard things. Um, we allow we've never allowed before. Um, and what I mean by that is we allow women and particularly brown black and brown women to do their thing, because there's so much better than us in so many ways, and we just block them all the time. And I think that there's there's becoming a revelation of more and more black women doing things and leading the way. And he's just how to be better people. Um, I think that we, instead of having a football draft, we have, we have a teacher draft where teachers make the most money that you can first round draft pick for being an algebra teacher based on your performance as a human being, and you pay them the most money. And if football players make $30 an hour, that'll make more football players want to be teachers instead of the other way around.

David (he/him):

Those are some beautiful steps. Yeah, sorry, say that again.

Eric Butler (he/him):

I'm just thinking, I just started thinking out loud this teacher draft, I can see these teachers waiting at home for their names to be called.

David (he/him):

What a world, what a world? What is one thing a mantra or affirmation? Do you want everyone listening to now?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Find something truly worth dying for then live for it.

David (he/him):

Who's one person I should have on this podcast? And you have to help me get them on?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Alright. Whoosh. CeCe Jordan. Okay, Cecelia Jordan, moved from Austin, to Oakland with me. And she has also moved back to Austin from Oakland with me. She's working on her own PhD or something she's she is she is the restorative justice mind. She actually studies this work in a real way. She's very collegiate. I don't understand half the shit she'd be saying. But she's really, really smart, and really, really dope. And she's queer black woman. And she's got a lot to say, in fact, she's writing her book, the name of that thing, dissertation on restorative justice, and a lot about how how it's been interwoven into the same system that our school system is, which is a white supremacy system is some really complex work. And it's real.

David (he/him):

Beautiful. So I'll be looking forward to that introduction. And finally, we mentioned talking piece already, but how can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Eric Butler (he/him):

Yeah, I'm just do. Um, I think that our talent is trainings. Have a training with us. And don't, don't lean on the fact that you've already been trained. Because once you have a training with us, you're going to feel like you've never been trained before. So one way to support us is to support your school by getting more tools for your tool belt, to do this work. And of course, have a budget when you do it.

David (he/him):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Eric, thank you so much for your time, your stories, your wisdom, there's so many ways that people can continue to engage in your work. And y'all know that those are already going to be linked in the show notes. Until next time, when we have another conversation with another restorative justice practitioner. Take care be safe. We'll see you next week.

Elyse (she/her):

Thank you, Eric. There's so much that we can learn from this episode. And one of the big things that I pulled away was that Eric often calls people into this work. And part of calling people into this work is being able to call people out. with his example with his school, I think that he was able to really call someone out. And at the same time, calling people in and using empathy, to find reasons to connect to people that you don't necessarily want to connect with, that can create a relationship that you wouldn't think could be created. So that's why it's so important to use empathy, and to use empathy towards people that you don't necessarily want to be in relationship with in the first place. Because who knows, you could actually find a really important common ground by making that step to call people in and call people out. If you want to try to call someone into this work, who is not normally in the restorative justice world, I'd suggest send them the link to this podcast, then they can learn so much more, just like you did today. From Eric. As always, thank you so much for listening, and I'll see you next week.

David (he/him):

Like what you heard, please subscribe, rate review and share this podcast on whatever platform you're using right now. For your old school, tell a friend. It really helps us further amplify this work. You can also support us by following us on our social platforms, signing up for our email list signing up for a community gathering, workshop, or course. So many options, links to everything in the show notes or on our website, amplify rj.com Thanks so much for listening. We'll talk to you next week.