Deb Witzel, M.A., is the host of The RJ Chronicles Podcast, a collection of stories from people who have participated in restorative justice processes and how those processes affected their lives. As the founder of 3 Stories Consulting, Deb shares her nearly 20 years of RJP experience supporting people and organizations in utilizing restorative approaches to move through conflict and be more connected. Currently, she provides Restorative Justice mentorship, consulting, facilitation and training. Deploying her improv and motivational interviewing skills, Deb listens deeply to ask useful questions that enliven the moment and generate thoughtful engagement. She works with Motus Theater and Playback Theater West as an ensemble member and conductor with the intent to build community and connection. Deb’s passion is inspiring others to engage restoratively toward a healthier paradigm for justice and a stronger sense of community.
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David (he/him): Deb. Welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Deb (she/her): Oh, David. Thank you so much for having me on this restorative justice life. Who am I? I am cisgendered white woman in America in a time where being a woman is really challenging.
David (he/him): Hmm. Who are you?
Deb (she/her): I'm a mom who raised or kid in a restorative way and am now being really taught by my kid.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Deb (she/her): I am a partner and a daughter and a. Friend to an incredible group of humans on this planet.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm who are you?
Deb (she/her): I am a person who flies a love is love flag and black lives matter. And, women's rights are humans rights flag right next to my American flag.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Deb (she/her): I am a person who loves to cook for people. I love
David (he/him): who are you?
Deb (she/her): I am an a restorative justice zealot.
David (he/him): And finally for now, who are you?
Deb (she/her): I'm a person who loves to listen to people's stories and it really juices the empath in me.
David (he/him): Well, you're gonna be sharing your stories so people are gonna get to practice those things, but we'll be right back to talk with Deb about all the intersections of who she is on this restorative justice journey right after this.
oh my goodness, Deb. Welcome to this restorative justice life. Thank you so much for being here. You know, you're a longtime listener of the pod, and so it's great to have someone who's familiar with our work. We connected right after the NACRJ conference where, you know, I've seen your work from afar at the NACRJ conferences for the last couple years but your journey with restorative justice is long and you've practiced in lots of different spaces. So before we get to that, it's always good to check in. So to the full extent you want to answer the question in this moment, how are you?
Deb (she/her): I am good, David. I am really living my best life right now.
And today is definitely, I mean, like I'm in Colorado where the sun is shining and the streets are quiet and I have so much privilege in living. Incredible life that I'm living. So how I am is freaking awesome.
David (he/him): Mm. It is, is good to hear in the midst of, you know, all that's happening in the world. Like, yeah, we're still finding those moments of gratitude and appreciation for where we're at.
But like I said, you've been doing this work for a long time and you know, the energy that you shared in that response, but like living your best life includes the way that you're doing this work. But let's go back to the beginning. Maybe even before you knew the words, restorative justice, how did this work get started for you?
Deb (she/her): Hmm, yeah, before I knew the words, like in third grade before I knew the words I was one of those kids. Like on the playground. If something went wrong, I would run over what's going on. Let's be friends, kind of kid. And, you know, was befriending all the kids and not just the white kids that were in my neighborhood that I grew up in.
And as I grew older I started to understand like, I am by nature peacemaker, a person that wants to have connection and have it be from love.
David (he/him): Yeah. Where did that come from for you? That's not everybody's experience. Yeah,
Deb (she/her): I know. It's a funny thing. I, I wonder if it's almost inherited. I come from well, biologically I come from Jewish ancestry and what I recently learned because as an adopted person, I have just had the amazing experience of connecting with my bio mom.
Mm-hmm who is actually a lot like we're, we're a lot alike, so that's been super cool. I almost wonder if it comes from there. Although the parents, I grew up with my mom in particular would take me into nature and I feel like nature was kind of my first teacher of circle way and that wholeness I want in the world and the conflicts that happened in my house, which unfortunately were kind of frequent Were places that I got to practice this sort of what's going on and how can we find some peace?
Let's talk about it. Let's come together. So, yeah, I think I've been doing restorative practices since I was really young, peacemaker in my family.
David (he/him): Yeah. You mentioned that it looked like running up on the playground and asking, you know, Hey, like can't we be friends and all this, but like what, like, like what was the outcome of some of those that made you say like, oh, this is something that I like should continue doing
Deb (she/her): yeah, I think it was connection.
I think it was, you know, running up on the playground and like connecting with people loving people and wanting to create that bridge in a way that we could play together. And that has been a through line. In all of the contexts that I've worked, that has been a thing for me, like let's connect as human beings and let's, let's speak our truth in a way that brings love and connection.
David (he/him): Yeah. And like the other word that you said there was play. And that is how I got introduced to your work. In Oakland you facilitated A session that was the, the playback, right, where you are using aspects of theater to connect to words. It was like this machine that we all created together, where somebody told their story of the way that their son was shot and killed. And as they told that story, you had us audience members, but participants in that session you know, pick out aspects of, you know, things that resonated with us and like put motion to that.
And, you know, through that play through that activity, through that engagement one it's vulnerable for the person who's sharing the story. It's also vulnerable for, you know, adults to come into a space and like, Kind of like act silly and like do use your body in ways that we don't typically, but the connection that we made with the other participants in that room, but also, you know, the person who shared their story was, was something that doesn't happen through, you know, restorative dialogue or through even through circle practice, right.
It like this embodied way of engaging in this work, is so important. And so like when you said play right, playing together a lot of times people just think about restorative justices, you know, the repair of harm and all these things. I'm like, yes, that's important. But what are the ways that we're connecting?
Right. Partially like, Hey, preventing harm. So we have relationships to restore back to all of that. But even when we're engaging in. Repair of harm work. Like how can we connect with each other on, on human to human levels? Play is such a big part of that. And so like on the playground, right. right.
That, that makes total sense. How did that manifest in like your work moving forward as an adult, right? Like theater, lots of different things that I'm sure that you've engaged in.
Deb (she/her): Yeah. Well, it's cool that you, you really connected the play piece because number eight. I am a goofball and I would prefer to play over anything else. I think what happened for me. Was I realized that play is a place where people let it down, let down their guard and just be, and get real. And so when I was considering college, my dad was like, you need to be a clinical psychologist.
And I was like, oh no, I don't. I'm not gonna have anybody pay me to do that. I want to create spaces where people feel safe to laugh and cry and move and be silly and be themselves. And so I studied dance and theater in college and I was horrible at memorizing lines but I was great at bringing characters to life.
And that's where I really learned to listen to o. And so I discovered improvisational theater and that was my jam because really all it is is play. When I discovered playback theater, so that was after college a friend of mine said, Hey, you wanna do this thing in Colorado? And I was like, yes, you mean we're gonna go into corporate America and play that was it.
Like, I didn't really get restorative justice as a concept at that point but I got connecting through play. And that's what we were doing. Like we were going into businesses and corporations and addressing conflict with playback theater and playback theater is just what you said, David it's people telling stories from their lives.
And then we, as actors are reflecting that back to them through our lens, through our interpretation, but in a way that everyone in the room has an opportunity to connect to it and feel in their own bodies, what that experience that just got shared feels like at home, in their own being. That's embodied empathy right there.
And so I've been doing it for 30 years and love this work still.
David (he/him): Yeah. There are limits to what we can explain through an audio medium of like, what that looks like, but, and what that process feels like. But I distinctly remember the line that I connected to in that, in that session in 2017 was, you know, the bullet has connected our family.
Right. And I think like the motion that, again, terrible for an audio medium, but the motion that I made was like this, you know, like extending your hand as a bullet, but with your other hand catching it and locking fingers and so for somebody who shot and was shot at, that action of pulling a trigger, has forever more like connected these two families.
You know, ways that like, we wouldn't wish on anyone. But what does it mean now that we're moving forward? I don't know that my particular emotion was any more resonant than anyone else's in the space with, with the woman who shared. But for me, right, as somebody who is like embodying that it's like, this harm that is caused really is not just about one person's life being lost.
It is we, we are also interconnected people who listen to the podcast, know that, like, you know, I talk about all of this all the time values of interconnection is really what restorative justice and this work is all about. And how can we highlight those both through play, both through dialogue, both through stories It's just so important.
And so you were doing this work in corporate America, which like I imagine, like had its challenges and it's like like beautiful breakthrough moments. How did you formally get introduced to the word restorative justice?
Deb (she/her): Formally in 2004. A friend of mine was having open heart surgery and I met Beverly title and we were talking about what we do in the world.
And she said, I have a nonprofit organization called Teaching Peace and we do restorative justice. What's restorative justice. She explained that. And my mouth said, I wanna do that. Boom. I, it just, every cell in my body lined up and said that that's the thing I wanna do in the world. And six months later she had a position open up in her organization that I blessedly got hired for.
so in 2004, I started doing this work formally in partnership with the Longmont police department in Colorado. Beverly was a teacher for me in this work Anne Rogers was another pioneer in Colorado. That was a teacher for me in this work. And then I had the privilege of meeting people like Howard Zehr and Kay Prantis and the big, big deal teachers, Mark Umbright and some other folks.
You know, who else were the amazing teachers, were the participants and the volunteers. Hmm. Because I found a place where I could invite story into the room and just watch it connect people. Yeah. And so yeah, I was a coordinator for Teaching Peace and then eventually became the executive director for Teaching Peace when Beverly left.
And that was when I got to really learn about leadership from a restorative perspective. And then the people that were working in the organization with me became my great teachers. Mm-hmm, just amazing humans who were so good at calling the values and principles into practice for us as an organization.
And we, we shifted our focus 100% to restorative and became the Longmont community justice partnership at that point. And yeah, what a rich. Experience. That was to really, you know, my goal was to create a restorative culture in the organization. And I learned so much about how hard that is and how to be called out on a regular basis when I got a, you know, leader about things.
David (he/him): Deb also has a restorative justice podcast called the RJ Chronicles or the restorative justice Chronicles that we'll be talking about. And we were just having a conversation about like what it means to do a podcast and how we do those things.
Like one of the things that I struggle with specifically on this question, when people are telling their stories is like, oh yeah, about this. Oh yeah. About this. Oh yeah. But this, like, I wanna follow up on all those points and I wanna bring it back to something that you said all the way at the beginning where you were first meeting with Bev.
Right. How did you define restorative justice for you that made you think like, oh yeah, this is it.
Deb (she/her): Oh, that is such a great question. She said I do restorative justice and I bring people together to talk about what happened in crime situations so they can work together to make things right, to the extent possible mm-hmm . And I think for me, in those moments, In, in that moment of her talking about bringing people together, to tell their stories and talk about what happened. My little third grade self was like, oh my God. Oh my God. And my adolescent self was like, yes, finally, we're gonna talk about things.
And my grown up self, who was really like, I, I had gotten a degree, a master's in nonprofit management and I was like, what am I doing? And she had a nonprofit that all of my values and skills just kind of came together. And I was like, yeah, bringing people together to have a conversation about what happened from their hearts. We met at a, a circle for a friend who was having open heart surgery.
Right. So it was no small thing that we were talking about hearts in that moment. And I think that heart connection was what it was all about.
David (he/him): Yeah. No, thank you. Thank you for that. Your understanding of this work evolves right from totally right. Like we're talking about like 18 years ago at this point.
And we'll, we'll come back to that question at the end, as you know, but, you know, as you started to do this work engaged with the criminal legal system and then like engaged with community and the people that you were doing this work alongside with, like, how did your understanding of what this work meant evolve?
Right? Mm-hmm, both as a practitioner of processes of facilitating processes and like somebody who strived to live this day to day in their life, but as an organizational leader.
Deb (she/her): Evolution. Well, there's so many pieces to this. I think one of. The things that happened for me early on was working with law enforcement and with schools and I think working in both of those contexts, I really came to understand, and this is when I was a coordinator, how challenging it was for people in leadership roles, like not just leadership roles, but I'm thinking about law enforcement to take off the Bulletproof vest and get real in a process because we invited law enforcement into the process.
And like the, I came to understand how hard it is for some humans to. Really open their hearts up and be real. And so I started to look at that in myself too. Mm-hmm cause I feel like the things that I notice in the world are things that I need to start paying attention to in myself. And I really started to see, oh, wow.
Yeah. My performance self is very accessible. A lot of the time mm-hmm and my real self, like the heartbreak that I felt when I would pre-conference with families in their homes and hear the history, that historical trauma that they were living with and who they were that brought them to the circle.
I think. I started to evolve into a more vulnerable human being, a more human, rather than a professional cuz I think I started out like I'm gonna be a professional in the restorative justice world and I am but I think the evolution of me in this work is to recognize the thing that is most valuable in this work is to be human with others and to be vulnerable and real and bring love.
That's the only word that I have for this feeling.
David (he/him): That's so interesting. Because when I think about doing this work as a facilitator I both as a teacher and as like a practitioner facilitating processes I think a lot about the performance, right? I am, I'm a the, I have a lot of skills in the world.
And one of them is to be able to facilitate learning and facilitate processes like these. But when I'm facilitating learning many, many, many, many, many times it's rehearsed stories that I tell all the time and as an effective storyteller, like you just know like the thing to like, okay, now you pause here, wait for this to like, have that impact.
And then like, you know, that story was real. Like maybe like the first through third time I said it and then like, like the 10th through 700th time at this point, it's just like, yep. Like, this is just what we do. And like, how do you. how do you balance that? When I think about being real, being vulnerable, being authentic, I think there's a danger for facilitators in bringing your shit into this space where it doesn't belong.
Right? Like you're here to facilitate this process for these people in this time. You're not here to like, get your healing. Like, that's the professional version of doing this. And because like the, oftentimes like the people that you are facilitating for, like, we're not like in day to day community with each other where like, we're gonna continue this relationship after the fact.
We're probably not gonna continue this relationship after the fact, like, it's not, it doesn't serve you or me for me to like, share these parts of myself. Like, how do you navigate being real in a moment versus like serving the process and saying the thing that needs to get said to like, help move like this particular process along whether it's learning or like a repair process.
Deb (she/her): Mm-hmm .
Mm. Well, I first I wanna say, I think I probably failed as many times as I've succeeded at that. sure. Here are the things that come to mind for me that have been helpful slowing down, slowing down in the process so that I am staying connected with my own body, with my own heart, because I feel like if I start to get heady. Like if I start to get too thinky about things, that's when I shift from being connected to people, to running the show mm-hmm , which is where my danger zone is. Cause I can get perfunctory and like pragmatic and let's move this along now. Mm-hmm good. You said the right thing now you've said the right thing now let's, you know?
Yeah. And that's, that's where my danger zone is. And then, you know, I can feel in my gut when I'm working my stuff. And so if I get that feeling in my gut, I know, oh, okay. Let's take a breath. Ah, and then I can let go of my stuff in that moment, but if I get speedy, man, I'll just run, run right over. I think there have been times where I have brought my stuff and you know, even saying that right now, I feel a little bit of shame.
David (he/him): Yeah. And I mean it happens, it's a part of like the growth and development for everyone.
And so I don't want you to feel that shame. I don't get to control your feelings, but like as, as we're having this conversation as I'm present right now and slowing down and you know, like asking you an authentic question, not to like knowing what your response is gonna be like and now being responsive to it in the moment.
As I zoom out, I think about like the way that I framed that question was more around teaching and not so much around process because when I think about a process where for example, two kids got in a fight at recess. Right. And like, it, like in the big scheme of things, no big deal. Like I broadly know the things that I need to say in order to get an apology and like, have people move forward, but like what you need to do to get people, to listen to each other.
Right. And tell stories from your life. So like in this situation, right. This kid stopped, like they were playing football and this kid like stopped throwing the ball to this kid cuz like you were always dropping the ball. Right. Like I'm not gonna pass it to you if you keep dropping the ball. And like he like berated him and like the other kid, like, you know, started pushing and it was, it was a whole thing.
To be responsive in the moment to that. Right. Was me telling a story about right when I was like, in, for me it was a basketball practice. Right. And I had a coach who like yelled at me and like all these things, like, how do you think that made me feel? And so like, while if I was going through those things over and over, like that, like that might be a rehearsed move.
Right. Like, that was just what was responsive to the moment. It wasn't just like, all right. But like, don't you see how, like, this is gonna hurt somebody's feelings. It's like, no, like, let me be authentic again and real with, with that. And I do think like we need to differentiate between like facilitating processes and facilitating learning.
Right. Because like, when, when you're talking about like learning, of course, like it's not linear, but like, Hey, there's just material that I'm trying to get through because we have an hour and a half, two hours, whatever, the, the timeframe. When you're holding people in a space of causing harm and being harmed right there.
There's a lot, there's a lot more to that. I'm not saying that like, Hey, we have two hours to get this learning done is the best way to, to teach. But like that is often the framework that we're giving. I imagine you've often worked under the framework of like, Hey, you have this three hours to like, knock out this, this conflict.
And like, make sure that everything is like neatly tied in, but, and, you know, we wanna get away from that as much as possible, but like, those are in many circumstances, like the reality of like the situation, like the criminal legal system, or even schools like, say like, Hey, solve this. Or like, we're going a punitive route.
Like, and if it doesn't happen in this timeframe, you know, like how are we, how are we navigating that sense of urgency?
Deb (she/her): Just to go back to your, your question about, you know, the performative of teaching, I think one of the things that I've learned over time, and, you know, this has been a lot of trainings that have brought me to this point is that when I'm training, I have sort of a basket full of stories that I can sure.
Pull out. And I never really know which story. So that's how I keep my improv self mm-hmm . And liven, when I'm training is I'm like, okay, I don't know which story it's gonna be, but here, you know, I've got the basket and, you know, fortunately there's a lot of experience in that I can draw from. So I think choosing this story, that seems like it will connect with the people in the space is the thing that you know, like you did with the kids, you didn't tell them a story of being in family situation. You told 'em a story of sports cuz they're playing sports ball. Mm-hmm so yeah, you know, it's the same for me when I'm teaching and training is like, okay, who are these people?
And what story will matter to them of all these stories that I've collected over the last 18 years?
David (he/him): Yeah. Or, or before even, right? Yeah.
Deb (she/her): Yeah.
David (he/him): Yeah. No, thank you for that reframe for me in this moment. But the, the other thing that you said was like, you know, the slowing down and when you worked with the, the, these systems, right?
Like how did you. Invite your partner, your system partners, to like this, isn't gonna be like, done just like this, right? Like we, the, the criminal legal system is very good at reacting to crime and harm, like as quickly as possible. Right. Not solving root harm, root causes. But like, Hey probation for this long right.
Done. Or like, Hey, you're gonna be locked up for this long. Or like, Hey, you have to pay this fine. Whether or not that's meeting the needs of anybody in this situation, you know, it is a quick ish response, right? When you are inviting people to participate in processes like these, how do you invite or articulate the need for that slowness?
Deb (she/her): Some of the words I use are, you know, this is a human process. It's not a legal process. Mm-hmm and so we're gonna be operating in human time, which kind of slows us down. So there's space to connect. And when I'm talking to system partners, a lot of times that makes 'em feel so uncomfortable.
Mm-hmm well, you know, I need to talk from my professional seat, whatever that is, law enforcement or prosecutor, or, you know, whatever, whatever, whatever. And what I assure them is their professional role will be recognized. But what matters in a process is who they are as a human and how, what we're doing, what we're talking about in the space.
Resonates with them as a human. And that's a different kind of time. It's circular. It's not linear. So my invitation is that in the process, you join us in the circular timeframe.
David (he/him): Mm. How effective was that invitation? You
Deb (she/her): know, it varied with some people. I mean, that's, that's like where I am now.
Mm-hmm . And where I was then was, you know, with officers in particular, I would be very clear that we're gonna ask you what the impacts from your professional perspective are. And I'd like to know more about this from your personal perspective. So, you know, if I knew they were a parent, then ask them, you know, this was a, a kid, how does this land with you?
As a parent or if they're I'm thinking of one case right now that we have in those days referred to as the Jerry Springer case. And there was a person who had two different lovers and those lovers found out about each other and they caused harm to each other. It was a pretty significant harm.
And so in that case, I asked the officer, so, you know, lover dynamics, how does this land with you as a person who might be in a romantic relationship? And so that's how we got. To the human piece of that person. So again, is really connecting it to people as human beings. And then after they make that connection, whether, you know, we laugh or we get tense or whatever the discomfort is of being human, then I say, and you know, what's really great is that when we tell stories like this from our lives, things can sort of feel expansive.
And that includes in time. So instead of talking about, you know, time, this is gonna take more time than writing a ticket and going to court. So it's gonna look like this. It's gonna feel like this. And, you know, I think part of what. People love about this work. So I can't tell you how many officer converts I had when I was working closely with law enforcement, because there was an experience of human connection.
Like if they sat in a process, they were like, oh good. Now I get it. Now I get why this stuff works.
David (he/him): Yeah. I'm curious for those on these airwaves at least from my perspective unashamedly abolitionist in our work, right. The police individual police officers are humans, right. And are capable of engaging on a human to human level. And in their professional role, they're still asked to carry out a lot of harm. And so like, when I think about doing this work in the context of both the criminal legal system as a whole, but specifically with people who are sworn officers of the law there's, there's an inherent tension for me.
I'm and like, I also know that the work that long one community justice partnership and other initiatives like this around the country like that, that has been like really harm reductive it's helped people like disengage from the system in some ways. I'm curious how this partnership came to be the ways that you saw it work well and like maybe some of the shortcomings.
Deb (she/her): I think what it's so funny, cuz you said sworn officers and there's this little part of me that got so triggered, because you know, true confessions. I was a probation officer. I was a sworn officer of the probation department at the 20th judicial district in Colorado mm-hmm and so you know, I'm walking into that context knowing, after working with law enforcement, after working for the state judicial office, the state court administrator's office just how oppressive the system is. And consequently, I mean, I don't know about consequently, but equally the humans who occupy seats in those systems behave in that way. And so when I stepped into, I, I should have said number nine of who I am is an idealist.
And so I stepped into that sworn officer sworn probation officer role, as an idealist, thinking I'm gonna bring the restorative values and principles to this context, and I'm gonna make change. We're gonna have a restorative culture. Well I was a supervisor of probation officers and I spent a lot of my life force trying to help them shift from the role of probation officer.
And what I learned is that the role, the sworn officer thing is protection is like body is like armor around the human and like supporting people in, in taking that off. And listening to their clients from a human perspective sometimes was so hard.
Like they just, some folks really use the position to, and, and, you know, I know you, I know your work to hold the supremacy seat. And
I, I think, like you said, there are some humans that find their way and are willing to interact as human beings and to really hold the relationship and respect. And hold themselves accountable and be a model for responsibility. And then there's space for reciprocity mm-hmm . And then there really are some humans for whom they are in that role, because the role protects them from having to be uncomfortable and vulnerable.
And I will just tell you, after five years in that role my soul was dying. I couldn't do it anymore. And I really had to walk away and regroup and figure out if and how there is another way. Because, like you said, the criminal legal system is built on a premise of supremacy. And I really, at this point, after a career in partnership and deep in the criminal legal system, I, I don't know, David, I don't know if if it can be done and I really believe there are so many good human beings in those roles that, you know, there are moments that I can remember training and coaching people that like the sweetness of them as a human came through in, and their relationships with the people they were working with, came through and they were wildly successful. And then someone else would come along and they'd snap back, they'd snap back to shut into the role. I just really hope and pray that humans who are living in those cages, on all the levels can find their way beyond. I'm just really feeling the pain of it. There's just so much healing that needs to happen. Around it. And I just don't think the way that it's designed right now, there's space for that healing.
David (he/him): The follow up question from that is like, okay, so like how do we design it?
But right. So that's a whole nother episode that like that in, in some ways, like that's a reformist question, which like, I don't think that, and of course, like there are reformist reforms and like revolutionary reforms or abolitionist reforms, right. If we're giving more power to these systems to, you know, in, in hopes that they're gonna do something better, like, I don't think that's a , I don't think that's a great idea or a great use of time and resources because over the history of this country and the history of policing in the history of like the criminal legal system, at least in America and in many other places, right.
It is about control supremacy, domination, right? And to do something different. I think like is a lot more micro and like is happening on like hyper local levels. And to build that culture is the work of generations, right? what is the actual end goal for like amplify RJ's, because like right now I think it's just capacity building.
Right. And, and like capacity building to be this way to know these practices like that is helpful, but like capacity building for capacity building's sake, isn't it. Right. But what we really want people to be able to do is be this way with their neighbors, right. Be this way in community, be this way with like, and I think like we're using, we spend a lot of our time focusing on like this work in schools, because as much as we talk about the criminal legal system as a place where folks are asked to like dehumanize themselves to like, do a job. Like teachers are often asked to dehumanize themselves to like teach control behavior, get test scores, right? Like if we're, if we're honest about like the structure of education in this country, like a lot of it is just like, Hey, how do we create workers for this capitalist machine to con continue on and on?
And you know, so many folks who I've encountered both as a student growing up as a person who has, is friends with a lot of teachers and a person who does a lot of work with teachers, like most people don't go into the teaching profession, just like, yes, I am here to build capitalists that cogs the machine, just like most people who go into law enforcement, aren't like, yes, I'm here to control the bodies of black and brown people and like force them and subjugate them into like, like they don't do that for those reasons.
But that is the way that the system is set up. And so like by your, by doing your job and doing your job well, you are upholding those things. And, you know, the conversation that I was having with Des Moines yesterday was like, yes, the system has limits, puts limitations on you if you wanna stay employed.
But you also have a choice as a human, right? Like how you will engage. And you know, at what risk you know, no matter the consequences and like, I'm not here to say like what any person should do in their specific role. I'm not telling anybody to quit their job. There are lots of people who I think should put their job in then like, there's the question of like, damn, well, then who's gonna fill those positions.
Probably people who are like, like, not as well equipped, like training wise, but also. Spiritually, mentally as a person, emotionally as a person, like coming into the, those roles where it's like, you know, what do we do in that interim? And so like, that's where I fall back on. Like our role right now is capacity building, but there has to be like this, this bigger vision for like the thing that is, is different.
You know, in, in the interim, right. Is, is where we're at right now. And I, I like to think about Miriam Cobas words in the words of others, right? About like, it's not just one thing that's gonna solve all this. I think her framing is like a million different experiments, right? Where there are people in community who are building these alternatives, right.
Abolition is not just about se mantling systems of oppression, just about building the alternatives. And like, if you wanna learn how to like build capacity for that amplifier, like offers all these trainings and a community for you all to continue to engage in blah, blah, blah, commercial link in the show notes.
But it, it is about not just like the learning the practice. And so we, we talked about the limitations of doing this work. I'm curious where you have seen hope and like fully acknowledging, you said that you're living your best life now outside of being employed by those systems. where's hope.
Deb (she/her): A million different experiments improv has taught me the yes and way in the world. And so I think, you know, my idealist self went into the probation world, really believing that I could, I could bring the restorative values and principles into probation practices and I feel.
There is a yes. And I, I feel like I was able to do that. Like probably the majority of the clients that I worked with, clients being the technical term in the context the humans that I worked with, I feel like we did restorative work together. Like we built relationship, it was rooted in respect and we really learned to take responsibility for our own actions together and to be real with each other and to reciprocate the possibility for better lives.
So that's for me a place where the hope is.
For the people that I trained and worked with, and I, you know, the truth is, let me also confess this, that I'm contracting back to probation from the outside to support restorative justice practices, continuing at the level that they, so what that looks like is making the invitation to people who have been harmed to, you know, if they want to have a conversation or a process of some kind with the people who cause the harm for them, then I am the volunteers and staff that I work with will do everything we can to make that possible.
Similarly with the people who've caused harm, like if there's a part of them that wants a restorative process within. Their humanness, then we will do everything we can to make that happen with them. So that's another little glimmer of hope. Like, yes, the system is oppressive. The system causing harm.
The system still exists and there's this little experiment that we could do together and create some connection and some heart. So there's some hope there. Yeah. And I think the other thing, and this comes around to your role really is that the biggest hope for me is with young people and instilling these values and principles with young people.
And watching them go, you know, wait, what do you mean? No, we're we had a conversation and we're good. Watching my daughter that I, when I discovered restorative in its formal capacity, she was 10. So she wanted to get trained and we work to RA have a restorative household. And she schooled me regularly on me, a restorative parent.
And that's where the hope is for me, like watching who she is in the world now as a young adult. I'm like, yes. So it's back to that generations thing that you were talking about. Yes. It's gonna take generations, but when I see a young person who's been exposed to this way in the world, Demand that this is the first and the primary way that we address conflict.
I'm like, yes, yes.
David (he/him): Yeah. You know, I, I love that and I wanna come back to that parenting piece, but I, I think like there is going back to like the work that you are now doing, like inside of probation or like from the outside supporting, right. Like, I think there's like a, like there's a restorative justice in the workplace model that like, I think.
Everybody should have. And again, if you wanna engage in those work that works with amplify RJ, like I'll let your boy most likely Demointe, but coming to support. But you know, we, we do that work and, you know, support organizations, not just schools in doing those work, right. That's, that's an important piece because as much as schools or places where kids go learn as much as probation offices, where you serve people who are on probation, like there's also workplaces.
And like, you know, you talked about like trying to be a restorative supervisor and like connecting on a human level with like the people that you work with on a day to day basis. Like that's important. I think like the, I think you can like make an argument that when we're doing this work in schools and like helping schools be quote unquote restorative, like that's flawed too, because like schools as they're built weren made to be that way. And won't be that way. I fully acknowledge that. But I think it's easier to make the connection for the humans involved. When it's, that it's about like preparing humans to be the best that they can in the world than like someone who like signed up for a job that was like, quote, unquote, protect and serve by like controlling people's behavior.
So like, so there's that piece, like, there, there is a need for like this as like, we need this ethic in our workplace. And however that manifests in like the actual job that we do, like, you know, that that's important. But when you talk about like parenting as a parent of a four month old, right at, at the time of this recording, I think a lot about that, because there, there are not a lot of ways that you can have a conversation with like this, like four month old sleep thief about like, Look, right.
I'm trying the harm. Yeah. Like you, like, do you understand the harm of like you, like, like, Hey, we just fed you and right. It is like at, at midnight, I now it's like one, like, I know you're not hungry, but like, you just want to be on the breast right now for comfort. And like, that's great. But like, your mom needs sleep like your in order to be like the best way that she can be in the world with you tomorrow.
And with the people that she works with. And like, with me on a daily basis, you can't have that conversation with a four month old. Right. It's just like, love compassion. Like, oh my gosh. Like, you know, and what do you need? Yeah. Like all parents have, have been there. But like as, as they get older, right.
I'm curious, like some of the ways that you've been school. Well, I guess like, how did you introduce this to your like 10 year old? Right. I'm doing this. I hope to be doing this from, how did you introduce this to your 10 year old? And what are some of the ways that you've been schooled?
Deb (she/her): Oh God. Well, so when I was first, you know, I told the story about talking to Beverly, I was so excited and I came home and, you know, shared the story of what it was.
And Hannah is my daughter's name was like, wow, mom, that sounds really cool. You're very excited about this. And so I had this incredible support as a single mom, she was like, yeah, do it, mom do it. Mm-hmm . And so when I landed, it landed the job. I said, okay, so let's practice this at home. So, and then, you know, basically talked about what the values are and the principles are.
And then she chose to get trained so that she could be a community member. And that's when she really got it. That's when she was like, oh, right. So this can be used in all kinds of situations. So, you know, we would have restorative conversations if chores weren't done, or if we made agreements and those agreements got broken.
So , you will soon find out as a parent, that agreements get broken. Like, you may say, we're gonna do this thing and then life circumstances, have you not do that thing? Mm-hmm but your child will not be cool with that. Yeah. And so, you know from, I can think of, well, here's an example for me. Hannah's chore was to do dishes.
And she is not a fan of doing dishes, although she had agreed, I feel you. Right. although she had agreed that that would be her chore because she probably hated all the rest of them more. And so when she would not do dishes, we would, I would say, Hey, you know, the agreement is that this is your responsibility and you have broken the agreement.
So that is causing harm for me, you know, explaining, you know, walking our way through it. That's causing harm. Cuz now the plates are in the sink instead of ready for more food. What can we do to make this right? Well, I can just wash the dishes, I guess. Great. That'd be awesome. That'd be a great repair. So, you know, that's a simple version.
A schooled version is. Me getting my, my bossy pants, mom, on the, because I said, so version of parenting mm-hmm and Hannah saying, the way you're talking to me right now feels really disrespectful and me having to go, whoa, you're right. I actually was being disrespectful. And I'm really sorry about that.
I would like to do better. Can you help me figure out what the words and way would be so that you know, how much I love and respect you, and then working through that together to get to recognition of, you know, what triggered me, you know, me as an adult doing the recognition of what triggered me so that I got.
You know, just ah, with her and her, because this is the way that we had relationship saying to me, no, you can't treat me like that. Hmm. So, you know, that's a, that's another example and she could probably recount a whole lot more cuz she's young and has a great memory.
David (he/him): well, yeah. And I, I think that's a beautiful way to highlight like that.
It goes both ways, right? Yes. Totally. It's, it's an invitation to relationship. And like when we're saying that we're gonna uphold these values, it's not just like that we're enforcing these values and imposing these values on. On others. It's like, if you're gonna be about this, like you're accountable to this.
And like the, the invitation, like both as like a leader in an organization or as like the leader of like the family organization, right? Like you're accountable to, to be this way. And like, you have to invite people to to call you on your BS. And you know, it's, it's not an easy thing to adapt to.
Like defensiveness is real denial. Like, I didn't mean it like that, like, or like the gas lighting like that we can easily fall back into right. Is, is, is so real, but like to live like this restorative justice life, right. Means that we are doing this work actively to make sure that, you know, harm is addressed in yeah.
In, in a good way. And we can repair that relationship. It's not ignored. It's not belittled. Right. It's not being perpetuated.
Deb (she/her): Yeah. Well, and I think the other thing that's so important is to remember that we are gonna mess up like
David (he/him): practitioners not perfectionists.
Deb (she/her): Yes. Yes. And you know, I cause harm mm-hmm and the thing that I make really clear, no matter what my role is in a space is that I welcome the feedback.
I welcome being called out. If I'm not living by my algin principles, because that's what I want in the world. That's what I wanna be doing. And I, in relationship with you, I want you to tell me, no, no, no, no, nah, you, you just caused harm. And that calls me in back in, right. That says, oh, thank you. I really wanna do what I can to learn from this to grow and be a better human.
So, thank you. Let's talk about what happened.
David (he/him): We've talked about like the work that you've done across a lot of different sectors, but you know, you've talked about like living your best life.
Now it's a lot of like more creative storytelling things. What do you have going on? That's filling your soul now?
Deb (she/her): So right now I have the amazing privilege of working with modus theater. There a local company theater company that does original works that are often derived from the stories of people's lives.
And I'm really excited to talk about power playback. So Motus came into the. The restorative justice world in 2019, when I reached out to Kirsten Wilson, a friend of mine, playback colleague player, and artistic director of Motus theater, she did the undocu monologues, which were stunning.
They're so amazing. And I was like, Ooh, we could do that same format with formerly incarcerated people who have had an experience with the criminal legal system and restorative in some way. And so Kirsten agreed to do that project and there are some amazing monologues with the just monologues and the boundless truth monologues.
But from that emerged. The possibility of power playback and Kirsten is developing a group of playback actors who much better represent the demographics of our community. She's inviting folks from her undocumented project. She's inviting folks from the formerly incarcerated projects. She's inviting people to learn this form of theater to really broaden the audience, which has been largely white and privileged for a long time.
And to bring it in, to bring the forms, the playback forms into communities where we can start to hear these stories again, coming back to play, right. Hear these stories. On a community building heart impactful level. So I'm super excited about the work of power playback within the context of Motus theater.
And then the other thing that I'm brand new to and super excited about is the restorative justice Chronicles podcast that I just completed my first interview with a survivor and the person who murdered her son and their experience in a restorative justice process together. And it's so freaking inspiring.
I'm just really. Privileged and honored to have heard the story and to be bringing it to the pod world. So that people, my hope is that more people will hear about restorative justice practices and go, oh no, that's what I want. And then the other thing that I'm super excited about is developing a community based holistic restorative response to domestic violence, to intimate partner violence in our community.
And that is through bringing again, bringing together circles of people with lived experience who have learned and grown to, and, and bringing in the creative process to move toward the possibility of my, my big dream is healing. The family. So, you know, like you were talking about a little bit ago, it's about building capacity and so yeah, those are the three big, super exciting things going on.
Yeah. Thank you for asking that.
David (he/him): Absolutely. And you know, for folks in podcast land link to all that in the show notes Motus theater will also be linked. Is there a project is there like a place where people can go to support that restorative responses to domestic violence piece? Or is that still in development?
Deb (she/her): It's still in development. Yeah. So you can go to three stories consulting, which is my that's my business organization. And that's where I'm gonna be putting all of the information about the the DVR J project. Beautiful.
David (he/him): So all of that will be linked in the show notes for people to tap in very excited to have another podcast in this landscape, talking about these ideas because to your point, right.
People need to know. And like, I think the beauty of podcasts for those of you who are listening, like if something on here resonated with you, Hey, share this with a friend, like like, Hey, like this restorative justice thing has been really helpful in my life. Or like, I think that this would resonate for you in this kind of way.
We always say like, you know, light comment or review, right. But like the thing that is most powerful is if like in your podcast player, there's probably a share button just like hit that share button and send this text to a friend like, Hey, I really enjoyed this conversation. Think you would too.
That's how we one continue to grow this podcast, but really it's about growing this work. So we have these communities where people have the capacity to engage in this work of living into our values of interconnection, right? Both repairing harm and building relationships rooted in equity and trust to prevent harm and to help us have something to restore back to oh my gosh.
So much, so much. But before we go, it's time for the questions that everybody answers when they come on here. We alluded to like what you initially thought about restorative justice but like in your own words now, how do you find the terms?
Deb (she/her): Restorative justice practices are a way for human beings to connect and heal.
David (he/him): As you've been doing this work, what's been an oh shit moment. And what did you learn from it?
Deb (she/her): Okay. Facilitating learning. We were talking about that earlier. So I had the great privilege to work with law students this summer. And there was a moment in the class that I was teaching the values and principles of restorative justice and. Out of my mouth were come, was coming. The words that the criminal legal system really isn't a place where this work is gonna work.
And I had to like say, unless humans like you, who are curious and learning this work really bring it. Yeah. So, you know, one of those human moments where I'm like this I'm, this is I'm so disillusioned with the criminal legal system and then realizing, oh, you're actually teaching people who are gonna be working in the criminal legal system right now.
Yeah. So, you know, there it is. And they were amazing what an incredible group of future people working in the criminal legal system. So,
David (he/him): yeah, poor hope. I imagine all the time about like, I. As much. So part of prison, abolition, criminal legal system, abolition is like people need jobs. People who have been employed doing this work need jobs and what are the things that we can divert them to right.
How do we pour resources into those things that actually like keep communities safe, both for people who are officers and other people who play roles in the infrastructure of the criminal legal system lawyers in this example, lots of other things. As, as we can imagine, and I think like there's immense possibility and like, probably not the thing to tell law students who are like, however many thousands of dollars in debt at that point being invested in like maybe like generously people who are probably taking your class were like, Hey, like about like dismantling of these systems of oppression, like, and doing that reform work from the inside, like, which.
I think is like aspirational, idealistic, yes. And, and flawed, but like, I'd rather have that person than, than somebody else. Yeah. But like, you know, like helping people, like imagine the thing that is different, where we could, and I'm not saying that everybody has to like start a podcast and run an organization ticket teaching restorative justice.
But like, what are the things in your neighborhood that would prevent domestic violence, right. If you're somebody who went into the criminal legal system, who is saying that like, you know, like I wanna make sure that women and children are protected, right. Like being a lawyer and prosecuting people probably isn't the most effective way to do that.
I'm someone who wants to keep our streets safe and eliminate gun violence, great. Locking up people who shoot like is not the most effective way to do that. Like what are the other things that are rooted in community root giving. Re one. I think it's just so much about like massive redistribution of resources, but like I was reading this article and I think I might have mentioned it on the podcast before, but like the thing that like stopped violence in a particular neighborhood here in LA was like, they opened a taco truck.
Right. And like, it's a place for food. It's a place that was now well lit in, in like a hotspot of like violent activity, right? Like, and, you know, community, people are just involved into like, Hey, if you wanna stop crime and violence in your, a community, like what is the thing that you can put in place instead of like disincentivize people with like punishment so much possibility, long tangent on such a like short answer.
We have a handful of other questions to go. You get to sit in circle with four people. Living or dead. Who are they? And what is the question that you ask that circle?
Deb (she/her): Maya Angelou,
Martin Luther king.
Can my biological ancestors be one? Okay. And this one's gonna throw you for a loop
David (he/him): Right. And what is the question that you would ask the circle?
Deb (she/her): What do you need? What do we need as humans to connect through love for peace and freedom?
David (he/him): I think, you know, what's coming, but Deb , what do we need as humans to connect? Do you love for peace and freedom?
Deb (she/her): We need to come together and have conversations, real conversations from our heart, feeling our guts, staying embodied, and ask for what we need.
David (he/him): How do you think? I imagine the ways that like maybe Maya Angelou or Dr. King would respond to that, what kind of response are you hoping to get from? Hitler?
Deb (she/her): You know, the reason that I thought about him is because I feel like he is someone who has caused such immense harm. And like I know in my ancestral line, mm-hmm, , there is harm caused by him.
And I would want him to think about that. Like, I have a feeling that he had his own historical harm. And I always believe the best in a person and that there is the possibility for empathy and love the capacity is there mm-hmm so my fantasy, since it's a fantasy sure. Is that he would be able to hear the responses from others and be touched in inside and be able to find a place of love and connection within himself that could be healed.
And you wanna know the rest of the fantasy is that that healing would lead to healing all the way forward and all the way back.
David (he/him): I'm fighting like the cynical urge in me to like, say like, go ahead. Yeah.
Well, I mean, like I like ultimate white supremacist,
Like, I mean, I think it's like the balance of like, honoring, like honoring your response to the question, because like, that was your response to the question and like, yeah, Deb, but be real right. Like, like what? Like, and like that particularly isn't the energy that I hold. But I think like we touched on this in the episode with Kathy bacon and like, there were some things that, like, that got left on the cutting room floor and part of the things that we had in the conversation following up.
But like when we're talking about harm on that scale it's not that like someone is irredeemable. Like theoretically, but like they've chosen a pattern of behavior so often that like, what is, what is the redemption, right? Like what is, what is the healing like the healing for most people in the world is that like, you just go away forever
Deb (she/her): and in his case, all it was was death.
Like that was the only way that he could go away forever. But look at the, the harm and the people who still follow those hideous, heinous beliefs.
In my little bubble of life experience and understanding of, of history and the current heinousness of white supremacy, like few humans have had such a horrendous influence mm-hmm and, you know, chances are the dude was a psychopath and there wouldn't, you know, he's in that 1% that really, we, we might not be able to reach mm-hmm however, If,
and again, it's my fantasy world. Right? So if someone were able to represent and be the model for things that he didn't believe and were possible, like those two, Maya Angelou and Martin Luther king embodied beauty and love and story and possibility in such magnificent ways. And you know, I don't know my biological ancestors mm-hmm.
But I believe because of who I am in the world, that somehow I inherited this passion for play and love and connection and a belief in the possibility for getting our needs met through human connection. So all of us together in the space with someone who clearly doesn't have that experience clearly doesn't know like could having the experience and sitting in the presence of such magnanimous power not be influenced, impacted changed by that experience.
Mm-hmm so I got, I gotta believe David. That's why I added him to the mix because I, I believe in change, I believe in change.
David (he/him): Yeah. And like, I don't think I'm as cynical as I, I come off. The, the, as I might have come off in this moment, I think like,
as somebody who believes in this work, like, I think you have to like, have some level of optimism and hope. I also.
Don't spend a lot of energy thinking about like, how do we get Donald Trump into a circle, right. Because like, that's just not gonna happen. right. Right. Right. And so like, I, like, what are the, what are the other inroads, like when we're thinking about like capacity building, where we can do this, but fantasy, thank you for engaging.
As we're, as we're starting to close our time together, what is something, a mantra or affirmation maybe that you want everyone listening to know?
Deb (she/her): Yes. And yes. And yeah. And I'm gonna say more about yes. And because I, I think yes, and has been the thing that has helped me influence the harder edged folks into considering the possibility of restorative to participating in restorative, like meeting resistance with yes.
And has served me so well in my years. So when you're in that moment, when you're like, ah, how can you say no? Or how can you be like that? If we can settle into yes. And I'm a human being, you're a human being. Let's see how we can connect. Then I think it's a better world.
David (he/him): I think for me, the yes. And is like, yes.
Also, like I used to think that way too it's a way to like, tell your story about like the impact that this has honey. Like, I feel you like restorative, what? Right? No, like, I think like really clearly, and like, this was the mind of a six year old, right. In California, like three strikes were like, oh no, it just makes sense.
Like you had like three chances to like, get your act together. Life in prison. Right. And like, and this was like my dad having a conversation with me about like voting, because like, You know, that's what you do with your six year old when it's time to vote, or at least that's what, you know, my dad did.
But you know, like thinking through like the reasons that like people might quote unquote reoffend, right. And like telling those stories. Right. Mm-hmm it is how we, how we shift hearts and minds make change. And you know, all of this, all of this is circular. Beautiful. Yes. You, you told me before we started recording.
So I'm gonna ask you to tell me again, unless you've got someone else in mind. Who's one person I have on the podcast and I already know you're gonna do it, but you gotta help me get them on
Deb (she/her): you know, I will. So yeah, I talked about Motus theater. I talked about the just project and Joaquin Mobley is an amazing human being and I think he would be incredible on the show.
And I will absolutely get you in touch with each
David (he/him): other. Yay. Beautiful. And then finally we've mentioned it before but how can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?
Deb (she/her): Well, I would love for people when I get the next episode of the restorative justice Chronicles out into the world.
I'd love for people to listen to the restorative justice Chronicles. I would love for people to check out three stories, consulting.com and sort of stay in touch with me that way. My projects will always be listed on the website, so and then feel free to reach out to me. I'm always interested in a conversation with another human.
David (he/him): Beautiful. Well, all the ways to do that will be linked in the show notes. Deb, thank you so much for sharing your stories, your time, your wisdom on these airwaves, please, please, please follow up and check out the restorative justice Chronicles and we'll be back with another story of somebody living this restorative justice life next week until then take care.