Tonya Covington is a Trainer, Mediator, Community Health Worker and Health Educator. Tonya has been engaged in training, consulting and coaching on issues of diversity, equity and cross-cultural communication for three decades and is an experienced “cultural humility” trainer.
She has been a Community Health Worker with the New Mexico Shared Strategic Plan Leadership Committee, the African American Health Network, the Native American Partnership, Project HOPE, and the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, where she chaired the Deconstructing Racism Committee, as well as a Racial Justice Coordinator with the YWCA of the Middle Rio Grande.
Contact Tonya at TCovington@cabq.gov
In this episode, Tonya recounts many of her amazing stories of growth and healing that she's been a part of during her long career of doing restorative justice work. She talks about her experiences with Law Enforcement as well as in the public education system. Thank you to our previous guest Angel for helping us connect with Tonya to bring you guys this amazing episode!
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David (he/him): Well, Tanya, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Tonya (she/her): I am Tanya Covington.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Tonya (she/her): I am a person who loves teaching and mentoring, young people.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Tonya (she/her): I'm a peacemaker who always has a plan B
David (he/him): Who are you?
I'm the one who does not play and will not be played with
David (he/him): Who are you?
I am pride of my ancestors.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Tonya (she/her): I'm someone who loves storytelling and hearing other people's stories.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm . And finally, for now, who are you?
Tonya (she/her): I am the daughter of those. They could not kill.
David (he/him): Hmm, goodness. Tanya, we're gonna get into all of the intersections of who you are right after this.
Welcome back to this restorative justice life, Tonya. It is so good to have you here. Shout out to Angel from a couple episodes ago for making this connection and glad you, accepted the invitation. We missed each other, at the NACRJ conference. but I'm really glad to be able to spend some time with you now.
it's always good to check in at the beginning of these conversations.
David (he/him): So to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question in this moment, how are you?
Tonya (she/her): I'm very well. Very well doing, some exciting work and looking forward, to doing some more and making some inroads, into restorative justice in New Mexico.
David (he/him): Well, we're gonna be talking about the ways that, you've engaged in that, throughout our conversation. But you know, the question that we start with at this podcast is, you know, you've been doing this work for a while now, probably before you knew the words restorative justice.
Tonya (she/her): Absolutely.
David (he/him): So, from your perspective, how did this journey get started?
as I, as I look back, there were a lot of things I think that, sort of happened in my, in my life that. Coalesced later on. I was originally born in Washington, DC and, come from a family that's, that's very political and was always interested and involved in, in politics. And there were things, I think growing up around my, around my house that, I didn't realize one of the things I can remember from early on is, people arguing or, or fighting or whatever, and somebody trying to intercede, you know, and help out and people saying, I don't need you to Ralph Bunch, my argument.
Tonya (she/her): And so it's like before I knew. The word mediation before I knew, you know, about the Nobel peace prize. I knew that Ralph Bunch was the guy who stopped arguments. you know, and I,
David (he/him): Are you gonna explain who Ralph bunch is? Because I don't.
Tonya (she/her): Yes.
David (he/him): Okay. Okay.
Tonya (she/her): Ralph J Bunch was the first black man to ever win the Nobel peace prize.
He won it, it because he was also the first person that ever mediated a peace treaty between Arabs and Palestinians. And he did this in the fifties. He won the Nobel peace prize in 1955. And I found out later on in life that he had lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I live right now, he went to Eugene field elementary school, which is still standing, a few houses from where he lived.
His mother is, buried here. And interestingly enough, after, you know, he had moved from Albuquerque after his, his mother died and lived with relatives in, in Los Angeles. But while he was here in Albuquerque, he always credited the woman who was his teacher as the first one who taught him about peacemaking.
And she was the first black woman ever licensed to teach in a school in the state of New Mexico. her name was Mrs. Loftus and she lived to be 103 years old. And, so years later after he had won the Nobel peace prize, some business people from Albuquerque asked him if he would come back to the city and sort of give a speech, at the time that he was here long before, before I was, there was only one place that had an auditorium big enough to, you know, to, handle a big event.
And that was the auditorium that was at St. Mary's Catholic school, which also is still here downtown Albuquerque. So, they invited him, he accepted the invitation, he came to speak. and although, you know, they were, you know, certainly happy or we have a Nobel peace prize winner. He was still a black man
And because of that, he was allowed to come to the school and speak, but every child in the school was locked into their classroom until he left the campus. So, he's always been a hero of mine. I've had the opportunity to, to spend time and, and talk to,to his son and, really researched and got into, his work.
And one of the stories I, I love to tell is, when he finally signed the peace treaty, both the Palestinian and the Israeli, people ministers who were, who were negotiating. he, he said, wait, I've got something for you. And he came and brought out two very big, very fancy Vases that he brought. And they said, oh, these are beautiful.
Where did you get 'em? And he said, oh, I got 'em weeks ago, you know, at some local bizarre or whatever. And they both said weeks ago, weeks ago, we were nowhere near coming up with an agreement. What would you have done if we hadn't come up with an agreement? And he said, I would've taken them and busted them over both of your heads.
And, to me, that's all, that's what taught me. You always need to have a plan B.
David (he/him): That's what, that's what stood out to me. Like you, your, who are your statement? Like I'm a peacemaker who always have a plan B like what is plan B
Tonya (she/her): Plan B doesn't it doesn't need to be violent, but you need to, you know, think about what you're gonna do if things don't work out. So
David (he/him): I think we're gonna come back to that yeah, we'll definitely come back to some of those moments, but I really wanted to check in with like, what is it that is going to, so you, you heard you, you hadn't even known who Ralph Bunch was at that point where people were coming in and around your home,
Tonya (she/her): His name? Yes.
David (he/him): Yeah.
so yeah, it was surprising, you know, later on, you know, I start to get into mediation, I find out here's a mediator. you know, and we're both ha have lived in the same town and I thought, you know, it's, it's one of those things that's super important to me when I'm doing something or whatever.
Tonya (she/her): I'm also a history buff. Yeah. And to find out that I'm following in the steps of an incredible black man just sort of gave me even more, even more pride and you know, more motivation to go on.
David (he/him): Yeah. And so, as you were growing up, seeing these kinds of, arguments, disagreements, right. Being solved, like what was it about that, those circumstances, that drew you towards, like this kind of work?
well, I come from, a long history of, very activist women mm-hmm but I was very shy growing up. And so when things were going on, I was usually the one, you know, standing in the back of the room, holding a book, But I kept seeing how this affected people and I'm, I'm definitely, you know, into, into people and words and, and listening.
Tonya (she/her): And, I hadn't realized that, you know, I think probably genetically, almost I had their, their sense of, duty and, and commitment to community mm-hmm . but I never thought that I would be the one who would be in the middle doing things. and years later somebody said, you know, why don't you, have you ever thought about mediation?
I thought, what is mediation? You know? And somebody said, I think, I bet you'd be really good at it. And I thought, well, I'm always up for learning things. I'll, you know, I'll take a class. and I took a CLA, took the class and, you know, through role plays and watching other people doing it. I thought, you know what.
This is a way that I could help my community. I, you know, I could, could do this. and I realized very early on that, even though, you know, I had been fairly shy and, you know, and quiet and whatever. And one of those people who did not like being around people who were arguing that I could do it once I realized what the process was about.
And I also teach now, and one of the things that I tell, tell my students, this is what helped me first is it's not about you. There is nobody in the room who is pissed at you. because they don't know you. You know, and you are not going to make any decisions for them. So they're not going to have a reason to hate you.
So as long as, you know, when it gets tough and whatever, and people are venting or, you know, not following the restorative justice, if you can just say to yourself, what's not about me, it's not about me. I said, you know, that always helps me be able to continue.
David (he/him): Yeah. Yeah. What age was it that you took this mediation course?
about 25, 24, 25, something like that.
David (he/him): So this wasn't the, like the professional track that you were on, like going into school and okay.
Tonya (she/her): I was working with computers. And realized that, you know, although they were fascinating, I had said to several people, I I've gotta find, you know, a new direction. I need to be doing something where I'm working with people.
And, you know, a friend who knew me said, you know, why don't you try mediation? And like I said, I, you know, I know what mediation was, but, you know, I thought, well, you know, if it's working with people, I'll, I'll take a look at it. Sure. You know? And then, you know, shortly after that, I, you know, It just clicked, you know, I totally gelled.
And I thought, this is it. I'm gonna, you know, I'm gonna really start doing this. And I had said to, a friend of mine who had gone, who I'd gone to high school with, I said, you know, I'm into this new thing now. And it's great, and I'm doing mediation and I'm helping whatever. And he said to me, what do you mean new thing?
You were doing that at 16. And it was like, what? And then it, I remembered. I was in a high school that had a race riot, and I was one of the students who stepped up and said, look, we we've gotta find a way to work through this. And I, I had totally forgotten that. And at 16, I certainly had no idea what I was doing or how, whatever, but I just knew something had to, you know, had to, to make the stop that, you know, people were being hurt.
David (he/him): Yeah. And so, you know, you take the, you take the course, as- but like taking a course and learning, doesn't mean that like , you know, the practice, well, like you have to practice what were some of like the early, the early experiences that like one, like were definitely learning experiences, but like,
Tonya (she/her): oh yeah.
David (he/him): Motivated you to keep going.
Tonya (she/her): I took the class, through, a court, the, a district court, office. And so I immediately then volunteered to be a mediator for the, for the court and was, you know, all volunteer. And so I was doing it ev- you know, evenings after I got from work and on, you know, Saturdays or Sundays and, over and over and over again, I, you know, I just, I really loved it and it, and it felt like also that it, that it fit a bill for me, cuz also around the time that I took the mediation class, I had been thinking very seriously about trying to get into law school.
I was in a, a position where, I was working for a university who had their first ever employee union, and I was the first ever shop steward. And for one full year, I was the only shop steward for the entire university. Hmm. And I thought, if I'm gonna be able to do this job and do it well, I need to learn more about the law.
Tonya (she/her): And I had a friend who was a lawyer who then went on to became, become the judge. And he said, look right across the street from your office is the law library go over there? And Start cause I would call him up and say, isn't this against the law, isn't this, you know, and he'd say go over there and you know, get the statute.
And so I started going to the law library and I was there like every night until three o'clock in the morning. You know, quizzing people and reading law and reading case law and whatever. And I thought, yeah, this is, this is gonna be the way that I help people. So, you know, I love research. And I started researching, you know, how does this work for people of color and other people and women and does it, or whatever.
And I realized that, you know, although there's a lot of good things about the justice system. It shouldn't be the end all be all. There always needs to be more than one way and it wasn't working for a whole lot of us. And I thought, I need to figure out why. And when I started looking at it, I thought, well, wait a minute.
Here's something, the people who were the most important, the victim and the defendant are the two people who almost never get a chance to talk.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
Tonya (she/her): There's gotta be something wrong with that.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): You know, and I thought that doesn't feel good to me. I wonder if it feels good to the people who are around.
And I started asking people and so many people who said, you know, I wanted to go to court. I wanted to see justice done. I thought this would make me feel really good. And it doesn't. And I dug deeper. And one of the things I found out is that almost every victim on earth wants to know one question right up front.
And that is why me? Why did you do this to me? Or my loved one? And the only person who can answer that is the defendant. But in the court process, they work very, very hard to make sure the victim and the offender never talk to each other, you know, hardly see each other. And it's like, well, then there really isn't gonna be any resolution, cuz there's not gonna be any satisfaction.
If the one, if I'm not allowed to talk to the one person who can answer the most vital question I have, I'm gonna be pretty, you know, I'm gonna be pretty dissatisfied. Sure. And you know, and I saw mediation as a way to, to get around that and restorative justice, you know, even more. And it's like, you know, as Fania Davis says, you know, justice should be about healing and it's not.
David (he/him): Yeah. I'm curious, like. Words that have never I'm positive, been spoken on this podcast are like, there's a lot of good in the justice system.
Tonya (she/her): There's some, I'm one of those people who, who pretty much doesn't believe that, you know, there's only one way of doing things.
David (he/him): Sure.
Tonya (she/her): And I feel like there are some times, you know, and I've worked a lot, within the justice system, especially, in juvenile justice.
And there are some times, you know, when we need the justice system, there are some times I hate to say it when we need the police. you know, and I feel like, I don't want, see everything just totally be eliminated. Cuz I feel like if somebody comes at me with a gun, I'm calling 9 1 1, and I want somebody with a gun and a badge to come and rescue me.
I'm not calling the local abolitionist. Okay. Cause you know, we're talking about my life. Yeah. and I feel like at some point we're always gonna need people, you know, who can do that. They can sure do it better than what's being, being done now. But, I know how difficult it is to build something up from the, from the bottom up.
It's so much easier to go in and fix things and, you know, and rearrange 'em and you know, and make what's wrong. Right.
David (he/him): Yeah. since we're here, we'll go there. and we, we kind of talked about this off air, a little bit where, you know, you work for the city of,
Tonya (she/her): the city of Albuquerque,
David (he/him): the city of Albuquerque, like working directly with the, rapid, oh shoot, I lost that.
Tonya (she/her): No, that I'm not anymore. That's that. No more. I am the coordinator. I am the restorative justice coordinator for the city of Albuquerque.
David (he/him): So I'm gonna take that,
Tonya (she/her): that program. And that's one of those things that program did not go well because the police didn't support it.
David (he/him): Yeah. Okay. So, yeah. So maybe we'll fast forward a little bit into the story.
Just to give folks some context. I was gonna say, like you were the, what was it called? The rapid
Tonya (she/her): rapid accountability diversion program. That
David (he/him): seems like a, not wholly restorative name for a program.
Tonya (she/her): and that's why it's gone.
David (he/him): okay. Yes,
Tonya (she/her): that was invent. That was invented by somebody else before I got there.
David (he/him): Gotcha. Gotcha. And so you're the restorative, we're gonna come back to like that specifically, but like you were currently the restorative justice coordinator for the city of Albuquerque New Mexico inherent to that means that, a lot. A big part of what city governments do is like quote unquote public safety, is like work with the police and community safety in other ways that that is defined.
there's been, I already, I I've heard that there's been like resistance to that from people who are police officers. and you know, I'm, I'm assuming like the systems of policing, where you're at. But, you know, you, you are doing this within the framework of city government,
Tonya (she/her): which, which it was very odd for me.
I have, I have to say, this is my, this is my first time doing it. And I know the research, behind restorative justice that says it is best when it's done away from all government. I totally I understand that. but we don't have a restorative justice foundation here. And I feel very lucky that although I'm in a system that I probably shouldn't be in, I got here because some high level people had said, you know, what came to me and said
we believe in restorative justice. And the first one was our, was our district attorney who said, yeah, I really believe in restorative justice. Let's try and get this off the ground and to get funding for it. And of course the powers that be said, oh, no, not, not that. excuse me. And also our mayor, who I, you know, worked with on and off for years before, before I got this job, he came to me and said, I want Albuquerque to be a restorative justice city.
And I said, you know, wow, that's, you know, saying a lot. And, he created a job and said, you know, I, and It was just absolutely wonderful. I said, what is it that you want me to do? And he said, I want you to do what you know is best. To make this restorative justice work. And I thought, you know, I don't want to be under government, but boy, if I have to, this is the place to be.
David (he/him): Yeah. When you heard the district attorney. Say that like, you know, we want this
Tonya (she/her): mm-hmm
David (he/him): I don't imagine that like you and he like necessarily, or the city, the mayor of the city, like necessarily have the same definition of restorative justice
Tonya (she/her): actually, actually we sort of did. And the reason why is that our district attorney, you know, it heard a little bit about restorative justice, but really, struck him was when he went to San Francisco and saw the program that was set up by Fania Davis and the people in Oakland.
Hmm. And he was so impressed by there. And that's, you know, one of my heroes and the people that I looked for and, he came back and he. Could you do this? And I said, well, I'm already doing half of it. you know, and the only thing that's keeping me from doing the other half of it is, you know, is funding.
And he said, I, you know, I just can't believe how wonderful it was they were doing. And he, you know, he's one of those people that, you know, sort of also has the mindset that, you know, if you really wanna keep people safe, that doesn't mean you put everybody on earth in jail. And I thought, you know, that's, you know, that's certainly where I'm coming, coming from.
So, so I felt, I felt very, very good, about that. I feel like there are a lot of other people that I work with who don't have a clue about what I, what I do, what restorative justice is, you know, or how it can, can be useful. And I feel like that's one of the biggest parts of my job is getting that education out there.
and letting people know that it is past time to let go of that tough on crime crap, cuz it does not work.
David (he/him): Yeah. We, we've kind of gone like up, down all around a linearly. Cause we're at this point where I know you had like a long career as a mediator. Right.
Tonya (she/her): I have been a mediator, and a restorative justice practitioner for 35 years.
David (he/him): Yes. But like, so mediation came first, like where did restorative justice come in for you?
Tonya (she/her): Restorative justice came in, shortly after I became media media, a mediator mm-hmm we were lucky enough to have an organization, here in town that was actually doing restorative justice without, you know, necessarily calling it, calling it restorative, just that was long before, it became a buzzword mm-hmm and they started out and most people, you know, don't even realize this, that, Albuquerque was one of the first or the second places, in the country to have mediation in the schools and this organization put mediation in the schools.
But as a result of that, they started seeing some other things that were going on. So they were doing mediation. Between teens and parents, what they were actually doing was restorative justice. Mm. And I certainly had never heard the, the term restorative justice either, but that was one of my jobs was, was to do that.
You know, I found out years later, oh, that's what, what I was doing. but you know, they were, they were doing that sort of, you know, that sort of thing and, you know, bringing in the community, you know, and the things that we do in restorative justice. So I feel like, you know, I I've been doing restorative justice almost as long as I've been doing mediation.
David (he/him): Gotcha. So where were the words, where were the words restorative justice, introduced to you and like what made it click for you that like, oh yeah, I've been doing this?
Tonya (she/her): I'm doing this. I think, oh gosh, definitely years later. I think in doing, in doing research and stuff and trying to find out what things were going on.
in other places I heard about, restorative justice really happening, in Australia mm-hmm and Aboriginal people, people bringing it, to Australia that of course, you know, caught my, my attention. Here's a group of people of color, again, introducing, you know, a peaceful series and, and read about what they were doing and how they were doing and how they were bringing it into the, into the school system.
Tonya (she/her): And it was like, well, wait a minute. You know, I, I was doing some of this, you know, and then followed and saw how it, how it developed there and how. There were people there who were willing to listen and take it on. And they incorporated it into schools and into, you know, communities and the, you know, and the government and the, you know, the justice system.
And I thought, wow, you know, we need to be following in, in their footsteps. And, you know, maybe I might need to go to Australia for a little while or bring somebody back and, you know, you know, it was, it was a totally different mindset, I think, there than here. And so they adopted it, very quickly and, and, you know, pretty easily and.
They were able to prove that it worked. And I thought, okay, then this is it for me, for the rest of my life, you know, right here, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do everything I can to, you know, change the systems in this country. So that restorative justice, is thought of, and not as an afterthought.
David (he/him): Are there any like particular, cases or like examples that you read about that were like, oh yeah, this, this is it.
Tonya (she/her): Well, you know, as I said, I, for me, there's always been, the connection. The other thing that I do is anti-racism training and I've done that. as long as I've, as I've done mediation, when I started reading, about what was going on in Australia, what was going on, there was very similar to what was going on here, that the majority of the kids that were kicked out of color were the black kids.
And they were kicked out of kicked out of schools for reasons that didn't make any sense to their parents. And, you know, luckily their parents went back and said, look, number one, you know, like everywhere else, we pay our taxes so that our kids are in school and you're sending them home. So there's something wrong with that.
And you're sending them wrong, a home for ridiculous things. So they said, let us show you how we deal with our kids and how we disciplined it and what goes on. And they were extremely lucky that the school said, well, you know, show us. And they did. And they, you know, then adopted those principals. And I thought, that's what we need here because, you know, the same thing is going, the majority of kids that are kicked outta school, you know, you know, look like us.
And I feel like there's something wrong with. And, and I feel like this is one of the, one of the ways that, can solve it. And I feel like restorative justice can definitely close down the school to prison pipeline.
David (he/him): Yeah. When I'm thinking about the global application to this work, not only as like alternatives to punishment, but like white supremacy being like, an export of, you know, the period of colonization and imperialism and like is all over the places where white people went and colonized.
Right, right. Yes. From, from, you know, the land that we're on here on turtle island to Australia and places in Africa, Latin America, mm-hmm, like all these places, right? The, these issues are the same in these systems of domination, and subjugation or yes, of putting people of the global majority. Right.
Global majority always remember, Below, white people. Like it, it happens all over the place and different people have approached it in different ways. We've learned a lot, definitely from, indigenous people all over the world who have preserved these ways. And I'm sure, you know, you talked about you live in New Mexico, being a place where there are, I think you said like the highest.
Percentage like of indigenous people, like per state. Yeah. Like, you know, you had indigenous teachers in this work, as well, like, you know, you did the reading, you did something like, yeah. What were some of the other learnings about restorative justice that you've done over the years?
you know, just trying to, to, read and talk to everybody, you know, that has ever done any kind of restorative justice and, you know, I'm the one that's always going to sing te tell me how it works, where you are.
Tonya (she/her): Hmm. You know, and yeah. You know, and tell me where you got, you know, your inspiration and, you know, and whatever from, And, just trying to study, things that are going on and really keeping in mind, you know, those kinds of similar things and, you know, trying to make sure that everybody understands this isn't about court.
It isn't about discipline. It's a totally different mindset. And I feel like that's one of the reasons that, that it's so hard, to get people to, to buy on in the, the United States. We've been so brainwashed to think that if somebody does something wrong, you have to punish them. Hmm. and it's like, we, we know we have proven to our self punishment is not rehabilitation.
Punishment. Doesn't work. You know, it doesn't stop anybody. It doesn't make anybody safe. So why aren't we willing to give up that mindset? You know, it's like, we're, we've got a system that we know is not working and instead of trying something new, we want to keep doing the old stuff faster and harder, you know, it's like, that doesn't make sense. so,
David (he/him): Yeah. I'm what has your, and so like, I wanna like fast track through like your journey to like where you're at the point where we're doing this work to the city. Like, are there any like key moments of like doing this. Like in mediation, coupled with restorative justice that, stand out to you over the last, you know, 30 years before you moved into like the specific position.
I know, like I'm asking for,
Tonya (she/her): yeah, there, you know, there were, so many for a while. when shootings were going on, I was working at, you know, doing postal me mediation when people were really going postal. Hmm. and just seeing that there was, there was so much trauma, and hurt that people that people had.
And I thought again, you sure don't get this talked about in the court system, you know, but restorative justice is, you know, a really good way of doing that. And I think, watching that and watching what was going on when I was working with school, kids also made me think I've gotta even change my perspective.
Restorative justices must be about healing. And my little tagline that I have on my email or whatever that says restorative justice is conflict resolution with an emphasis on healing. and I feel like that's, that's what, it's what it's got to be about. Not about discipline, you know, not even really about justice.
It's gotta be about healing and repairing our, our community and our people who are suffering from trauma. And I feel like I learned an awful lot when I was doing programs where, I was working specifically with teens, you know, who, who had came to my program because they had problems in school mm-hmm and the one thing, and I would always, you know, sort of do an evaluation at the end and talk to 'em about, you know, what they liked and what they didn't liked.
And, and the one thing that I kept hearing over and over and over and over again from kids is nobody ever asked me my side of the story. Nobody ever listened to me. Nobody ever believed me. And I didn't know there was anything I could do other than hit because that's what everybody in my family does.
And I thought, oh my God, we, the adults have failed these children because we only showed them, you know, from the TV and all that. You were talking about that there's only one way that you solve anything and that's punched somebody in the face or get a gun. And I tell this to people all of the time.
We're one of those people who just recently has started having a few, you know, shootings and problems in school. And I tell people we need to be doing prevention. We don't need to be coming along after we just need to do prevention. We need to let them know right up front, the minute you're angry, the minute you have a disagreement, there are other things you can do besides strike out in anger.
And if we don't tell them that and teach them what that looks like, and they go out and get a gun that's on us. Yeah. Because they only know what they're taught. Yeah. I mean,
David (he/him): when I think about like the framework of your entrance to this work being mediation and you know, the learning that you've done over the years, both through experience and books and conversations with folks, I'm curious, like how you think of the work differently than, or like, how would you define like restorative justice or conflict mediation work than as you do it as you do now?
Because like you, you just talked, talked about like, you know, this work being like healing and being trauma informed and prevention. Yes. What was
Tonya (she/her): your yeah, like, and I didn't, I didn't know any of that starting out. and that's one of the things I have to say is, you know, right wrong or indifferent starting out.
the majority of my teachers were all white and I feel like they didn't understand the trauma that our kids go through. and that's something that I, you know, went outta my way to try and understand and felt like my, my goal always is to be as much help as I can to my community and then to others.
Tonya (she/her): And in order to do that, I have to know where my community's pain comes from. And, seeing, you know, working with these kids, which I did later, really, really taught me that, oh my God, if we're not addressing talking to and preventing all of this trauma. It's gonna come at us in another way.
You know, there, is a quote, I believe from,Baldwin who says that, when people have pain, they can't deal with it. So what they do is dress it up as hatred and push it out into the world. And I feel like, so then the way to solve that is to solve their pain right up front. And if not, then we're gonna have to get ready for that, you know, for that hatred that they push out there.
David (he/him): Yeah in some way, shape or form. I'm, I'm curious then, like, when you think about the application of restorative justice work to. A citywide context. Like there are like lots of places that you can go with that, that have nothing to do with like policing in conflict.
Tonya (she/her): Absolutely.
David (he/him): So like, I'm, I'm curious how, because you're being asked to do both, but,
Tonya (she/her): Actually I'm pretty, i'm pretty lucky and in a bad way and that, because we only have a few, police officers who had built into this, I'm not being asked to do this with the police.
David (he/him): Okay so you were initially, you were initially asked?
Tonya (she/her): I was initially, yes. And I said, this isn't gonna work. They're not, they're not there. They're not ready. They're not interested. they still, for the most part, think of it as number one, you're letting people off easy. because you're not punishing them.
and you know, maybe you're trying to take my job away from me cuz it's my job to handle the bad guys. And if you handle 'em instead, you know, and it's like, and I feel like, you know what, I'm not gonna deal with that. I just said, you know, no, I'm not gonna deal with that. So instead when I'm doing
David (he/him): So I guess like, what was the conversation like with people who asked you to come in to do this work?
thinking that like, oh, you're, this is the way that we're gonna like the alternatives to criminal legal. Like what was the conversation with them? What was the reframe? Because like that's what I think about a lot when we're going into systems, whether it's an organization or a school, it's like, Hey, what are we doing to like.
David (he/him): Resolve our conflict because we can't talk to each other. It's like, well, there's a reason that you can't talk to each other. Let's talk about all of those things. And I'm curious how that conversation went on the city level.
it didn't go well and primarily because they had no idea what restorative justice was, right.
Tonya (she/her): Or what it looked like. Not a clue. And I certainly knew, and I said, you know, right up front, I have to, you know, I've been given license by, by the mayor to do what I know is best. And if what you want me to do, doesn't fit into that, I'm not doing it. And you need to know, I have some very, very specific rules and ethics that I absolutely positively will not break.
And I was concerned about coming in being, you know, the first and the only, and, technically I was, you know, working for the, for the chief of police and he said, oh, well, don't worry about it. You know, I've got about, you know, eight officers who, you know, who I can get to help you. And I said, no, you know, I'm sure that they haven't been trained.
I said, and you cannot do restorative justice, wearing a uniform, a gun and a badge. And he said, well, what do you mean? I said, look, you know, if whatever is going on, I said, if you cannot find a way to talk to a 14 year old youth without a gun on your hip, you cannot work for me. Well, you know, when I talked to several officers, well, we're supposed to be intimidating.
I said, not in restorative justice. I said, and you know, think about this. You've been going around with your chest, puffed out and your gun and whatever being intimidated has crime gone down because of that, then maybe what you're doing, isn't working. And I am the alternative to that. And so you can't bring in what you are doing that is not working into my restorative justice session.
We don't have time for that. and you know, it didn't go well, and then now you're not working with them. which is why I'm now not in a part of the police department. So, you know, that's working out well.
David (he/him): Yeah and so you reorient thank you for clarifying and like laying that down. And I know there are people who are police officers, And, you know, I say it that way to emphasize like there's a human before, like the job.
Like that person clocks out, right? and puts the badge and the gun down. There are people who are police officers who I've seen do great circle work. Sometimes while wearing their gun in the badge. And I respect those people as humans.
Tonya (she/her): And in it. And I feel like, yes, you're right. You know, there are a few people who it's possible to do that until I know for sure. And you know, and still at that, I feel like my, my bottom line is you're not going to, you're not gonna do it with me, at least not right now, given what's going on in this country. And I tell people this all the time about cops in school, kids are traumatized by police and no kid in this country needs any more trauma.
And I don't care whether the policeman is good or bad or thinks he's officer friendly. They, if they have watched the news and seen a police officer with his knee on somebody's neck, until he dies, there is nothing you can say that is not going to scare the crap out of a kid. When somebody who looks like that approaches them. And I feel like
David (he/him): Not just kids.
Tonya (she/her): Yeah. Not just kids. Exactly. But I feel like it's gonna take a while before we can change that around. And until we change that around, if you want to be in my circle, you come in as an unarmed civilian dressed, neighborhood person. Yeah, so that they can get to know you as a human being.
Then we can talk about what you do for a living, but if you have to come in right away looking like the person who hurt somebody who looks like me looking like the person who shot somebody who looks like me looking like the person that I am scared to death of you have ruined the entire process.
David (he/him): The argument that I come up against with the, with those people that I was referencing, like the folks who are doing this work that I respect, like it is a requirement of my job to show up this way. And if I'm doing this work on the clock, like that just has to be the way that's gonna be, is like, Fine.
And like, for all of the reasons that you said, right, it would be so much easier if you didn't come in this way. Right. And so like, what is the policy change that we can make to, to do that work? Right. And like some of these folks, like, you know, outside of their nine to five, or, you know, they don't work nine to five, but, out outside of their work hours, like they do, they also do amazing community work.
Like, well, I wish I could find money to. Let you do that full time, because like, there's like, there's really all the, and like in that way. Yeah. Like I actually want to take away your job right.
Tonya (she/her): Well, you know, and I feel like that when people believe in it, they always find a way around it. I had a case one time that was, a victim offender case and a young man had stolen a car.
He had stolen a police bait car . So I said, you know, so, you know, the person that he needs to sort of talk to was police. And so. I called up and talked to several police who were in, you know, the burglary unit who said, you know, I'll come. And I said, no, first you need to know that you can't come in uniform.
You can't bring your gun. Well, what do you mean? And I said, look, that's, that's just the way it has to be. Well, I right. You know, and, but everything that they said to me to me was I want to come in and scare the shit at this child. And it's like, no, I am not going to allow you to do that. And I thought, you know, I'm gonna have to just give this.
The case was given to me by a judge. And I thought I'm gonna have to give it back to them. And then lo and behold, I got a call from somebody I had not talked to who was an officer in that unit. And he said, I understand you're looking for a police officer to sit in with your restorative justice. And I said, let me just tell you what I told everybody else.
He said, you don't have to. He said, because years ago, my son was one of those people who got into trouble and he went through restorative justice and it changed his life. He said, I will come and sit in in civilian clothes. And so we did the mediation, you know, and you know, the whole restorative justice session.
And it was wonderful. And I thought, thank God for you willing to do this in the daytime, because you believe in this so very much.
David (he/him): Yeah. Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): You know, and it was like, just go back and tell your, you know, your buddies, you know, how this, how this went, but it was like, it. And I feel like this is the other difficult part for me.
you know, because I do these sessions and, you know, I really do want everything to be confidential. So I respect people, especially the victims, but I feel like for the majority of people, until they sit down and see what it looks like until they actually experience it, they don't believe it works. I've been told over and over and over again, you know?
Tonya (she/her): Well that might work, you know, with a second grader, but you certainly couldn't do that with a gang member and a whatever. And it's like, I have , you know, and it works. And the reason it works is because when we sit down face to face and look at each other and talk to each other, all of a sudden you realize nobody is a monster.
You know, this is a human being who made a mistake. It is not a pathological, you know, person with no conscious or whatever. And people just, they cannot wrap their head around that for the most part without having seen it.
David (he/him): Yeah. I, this makes me think a couple things, one like the whole like bait car situation where it's like, who was the victim in that who is really, who is the victim in that situation?
It is not the police , but that's the first thing that came to mind. But like, to your point about like people finding, finding ways around to like, do ways around policy, to like, do this work, like, you know, policy's great. You can have all this restorative policy. It, it's only as good as people who are upholding those things.
And if you're doing this work and wanting to be about this work, in, in all of the ways, all of the time, like you're gonna have to. Break rules, restorative rule breaks. I think about the episode that we did with Chris Mendez up in, Minnesota, I don't remember what episode number, but he is like, you know, if you're a teacher and not breaking rules daily to like meet the needs of your kids, like you are, you're not because of the way that the system.
Tonya (she/her): Yeah.
David (he/him): Yeah. And he said it in a more colorful language, but yeah, you're not doing your job. And I think,
Tonya (she/her): Yeah,
David (he/him): That applies to so many of the systems that we're working in daily. you know, you're in a role where you're getting to form or help form some of the systems of the city. So not on the like police and quote unquote public safety side.
What are the ways that you are helping Albuquerque to become more of a restorative city?
Tonya (she/her): I think getting people to think that there's an alternative that, you know, there isn't one way of, of doing things, and really getting people to, you know, to stop and say, wait a minute, you know, it is what we're doing, really working, you know, we lock up more people in the United States than any other country in the, on earth.
So if it was working, we should be the safest country on earth, right. Yeah. You know, and, and we're not. And, getting people to, you know, I think along, along with others to think, what, what are we supposed to really be about? Are we about. Punish crime and punishment. Are we supposed to be about community safety?
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Tonya (she/her): And one of the things that has been helpful and has also taught me is, one of the people that I work with, who is a Lieutenant commander, who is my biggest, biggest ally. And he goes out and talks to people and says, you know, when you start to have these kinds of arguments or whatever, please don't call me.
Don't call the police call Tonya, call restorative justice. And people say, well, wait a minute. You know, aren't you just putting your, you know, your job off or whatever. And he said, my job is not to arrest every person on earth, on my police car and my badge on my, everything. It says serve and protect.
It doesn't say arrest and throw away the key, you know? And I feel like for so many, it's like, you know, and I've been around when he said that and people's mouths drop open. It's like, oh my God, what? Oh, Yeah. I never thought about it like that. And I feel like if we just get that far, you know, we have done so very much that people are reframing their thinking and it's like, think about what makes you safe.
If two people are, are arguing and the argument continues and escalates, there is a chance that somebody is gonna get hurt. And it could be one of them, or it could be somebody that's standing by, but if we can, can deescalate right up front and make that argument go away, everybody is much safer.
David (he/him): Yeah. So what is the, Like, what is the day to day of you and your team? when it comes to,
Tonya (she/her): I don't have a team. It's the problem right now, There are some wonderful volunteers, but,
David (he/him): So you were working with Angel, right?
Tonya (she/her): No Angel is in other different, totally different department.
David (he/him): Oh my goodness. Okay.
Maybe that was like the disconnect. Yeah. Okay.
Tonya (she/her): Yes, he's one of our, our supporters. And one of the things that I do also is to try, and promote, his team, which is something also that's brand new to the city. the Albuquerque community service team for years and years, people have been saying, you know, we've got a real problem with how we handle mentally ill and people, you know, with substance abuse and whatever.
And so, you know, again, like I say, we're lucky that we have a mayor who's very progressive who said, well, you know, let's look around and see who's doing that well. And you know, most people know about, the team called cahoots, C A H O O T S in Oregon, who has successfully for 20 years, had a team of people who come together, that when you have something going on, that doesn't necessarily involve violence.
You don't call nine one, one mm-hmm you call cahoots. And they come out with a social worker and a, you know, a drug advisor and whatever. Well, we now have an entire department like that. Yeah. So that the cops don't have to go out. And again, it's that same thing. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
If you are a cop and you don't know how to handle mentally ill, you don't ha know how to handle anything, but you have a gun. There's a pretty good chance somebody's gonna get shot, cuz that's the only tool you have. But if we send out people who have a myriad of tools who know counseling, who know therapy, who know substance abuse, they're gonna come up with a much better attitude, you know, and with a much better outcome.
And so we're lucky that we have that. And I, I try to also encourage people and let you know, people know, thank God we, you know, we've gotten more than one place you can go to when you have problems. and I feel like it's again. And I do that because it's that same mindset that I want people to know there isn't only one way of doing things because we have parts of our community as just like parts in other places where something happens, they refuse to call the police because they feel like I have a better chance of being shot than them coming in, taking care of the problem.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): And I feel like then that means we need an alternative. And I'm one of those alternative. And so, you know, are the people that that Angel works with.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): And, it's like, you know, we just, we gotta keep getting out there getting the message out and because all of this is brand new, you know, it's, we're on pretty steep learning curve.
David (he/him): Yeah. So not for your team for you. Like what does your day to day look like of doing this work for the city?
Tonya (she/her): My my day to day, pretty much is, working with setting up, programs, and setting up, different things right now. We have a city community, restorative justice center. That's based out of our, our local, peace and justice center.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
we I've just finished, a 10 week training. With a group of interns who work at different social justice organizations, around the, around the city and taught them how to do restorative justice so that when cases come into the city community, they, we can have them work on it. Yeah. So that they get the practice, you know, and, and the theory.
Tonya (she/her): So, you know, setting up classes like that, I go and speak to a lot of different organizations, who wanna know about restorative justice. I just made a presentation to, our statewide public education department to, let them know that it's far more important to have restorative justice than police in the schools.
And, you know, please help with that. I'm putting together some training, for teachers at a number of schools who have decided, you know, what, it's time we, we just, we have to have restorative justice. And, you know, so they have come and said, you know, would you teach us how to do this in our, in our schools?
And we start with the teachers and then go, you know, with the students and the, and the community. And, so
David (he/him): Sorry, just say that last part again.
so I'm, I'm doing this, first with the teachers and then with the students in the community so that everybody has the same language everybody's on the same page.
Tonya (she/her): Everybody knows what restorative justice is and how it works. Why teachers first? Why staff first? because, well, because frankly, I feel like, the teachers have to support it. If just the students know, students know a lot of things that teachers don't support. and I have found out that in years of trying to get this into schools, I made some, some real major mistakes.
And one of the biggest mistakes was I would go in and say, well, you've got to do restorative justice because it empowers students. And when I said that, you know, teachers, teachers would basically start crying. We don't wanna empower students in our class, you know? And so I feel like, if I don't want it to break down, I need to start with the people who, you know, who are not only gonna support it, but in a lot of cases are the most resistant.
David (he/him): Yeah. And like, I definitely my approach as well, like when AmplifiyRJ works with schools, right. People ask like, oh, can you come in and like, do this thing with your kids is like, I could,
Tonya (she/her): Yeah.
David (he/him): But will I? Right? Like, yeah.b It's why am I going to teach them to do something that like, is not gonna be like, supported by people in the building.
Right. They're gonna pick it up just fine. Right.
Tonya (she/her): Yeah. You know, and that's what I tell people is, look, I've taught children and I've taught adults, kids, get it on a level. You would not believe they get it faster. They learn it better. It's like, I'm not worried about the kids. okay. They are not the problem.
David (he/him): And I mean like logistically thinking about like, there are. Hundreds of kids, maybe thousands of kids in a school. Right. Like it's not incredibly helpful for me, or people from our team to come in and like build relationships with them and then like piece out when you, yes. You could equip y'all with like the skills, the, the practices to do this on the daily.
And like everybody gets like what they need out of that situation too. Like, I mean, from my perspective as a practitioner, your experiences, mm-hmm, somebody who's been doing this work almost as long as I've been alive.
Like, yeah, after listening to you, like, I feel like I have no business, like with all of your experiences you've been through and like, you still like having hope in this. Like, I feel like I have no business being cynical.
Tonya (she/her): It's easy for people to be cynical when all they've seen is the bad.
Um, and when they haven't lived long enough to see those seeds. You know, mature. One of the things that I, that I like to share with young people and definitely let's, you know, how old I am. Uh, my dad was in the Vietnam war mm-hmm and, um, you know, the Vietnam war lasted for, you know, over 20 years. Um, and what I always want young people to know.
And I feel like that people don't tell them is the Vietnam war was stopped. By 18 year olds, 18 year olds, who at the time did not have the right to vote. 18 year olds who didn't have social media or computers or what, you know, they used to do what was called teach-ins, where they sat people in a room and told them what the real truth was.
And there used to be a saying, what if we, what if we gave a war and nobody came these 18 year olds did that. No one on earth had ever stopped an active war as it was going on. And these teenagers did it. So I feel like don't tell me you're powerless. I have seen people stop a war. You know, who didn't have half of the resources you did, who don't have half of the knowledge you did?
And they knew that what was going on was wrong and that they were not gonna take a part of it and they made a stand and they changed the world. So do not ever let anybody tell you that you're not important or you are not whatever, because people who didn't have half of what you did changed the world.
So imagine what you can do.
You know, I have, I really, I, I have so much. And like I say, I try to. I try to be positive, especially because I know that young people have so much crap put on 'em and people, you know, treat 'em like they're dumb and don't wanna hear their ideas and whatever, you know, and I tell people, you know, when I started class with young people, the first thing I tell them is you need to know. I think you are brilliant.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
Tonya (she/her): and I know you are going to prove me. You know, so I, so I expect to learn as much from you or more as you're gonna learn from me because you're thinking in things that I could not even imagine. And since you are the future, I need to know what you're thinking about so I can make sure I'm there to support you.
You know, and people have said to me, well, you know, you're getting on up there, you ready to, you know, pass on your torch and whatever. And I tell people, hell no, I'm not passing on my torch and I'm not, and I'm not going to extinguish it. I am going to use my torch to light the torches of young people. And I, although it may be dim and I may be standing in the back of the room, I want them to know I will be there standing in the light with you until the day I die.
Ya know, we just, we gotta do what we gotta do
David (he/him): Yeah. When you think about like the scope of the work that you've done over the last 30 years, right? Yeah.
There, you have like however many years left, like yeah. Do you not like torch passing, but like, how do you see, like, how do you see, like, you, you just talked about like your role as like being like, continuing to like pass on that torch and like, in your role with the city of New Mexico, but even like outside of that, like Tonya, the person, like how do you see yourself continuing to do this work?
Tonya (she/her): Um, I wanna always, always, I absolutely love mentoring young people. I feel like, you know, they're energetic, they're exciting. They're brilliant. They're whatever. And I feel like, um, one of the things that I have had, um, a lot of young people tell me is it's really nice to know that there's somebody in our corner.
Um, you know, that there's somebody who's gonna, who's gonna listen to us and somebody's gonna believe us. And I feel like that's something I can always do. You know, no matter where I am or whatever, you know, I, I try really, really hard, you know, not to, to turn, you know, anybody away. And I, you know, I've got five young women that I'm, that I'm mentoring now.
And I just had a young black man come up to me and say, you know, would you mentor me? And I said, look, you know, my, my hands are kind, you know, are kind of full. And he said, you know, only black women have done it. And it was like, you know, I can't say no. You, you know, you've already showed me how brilliant you are, how much you wanna, you know, work for the community, you know, just like no way am I gonna, you know, whatever did, you know, call me, you know?
And we'll, we'll talk, you know, so yeah. I feel like, you know, that's something that I, that I can do. I feel like I need to be always giving back because, you know, I was lucky enough to have people give to me and, you know, show me by example. And I feel like. The least I can do is, you know, stand behind him and say, you got this, you know?
Mm. And I'm here and I got your back.
David (he/him): What does, yeah. When you talk about capacity, right? Because like the most precious resource that we have right. Being time, when, what makes somebody, uh, a good mentee?
Tonya (she/her): Um, somebody who's, somebody who's really. Dedicated. And I feel like has, um, a, a clear vision, um, you know, like this young man who, who literally just came to me last week, you know, his thing was, you know, I, you know, I've been through some major crap, but I really wanna give back to my community.
And it was like, well, then, you know, you had me right there. That's, you know, if you really want to, and somebody that's smart enough to know it's not gonna be easy. You know, there's gonna be some pitfalls, but you know, if you're willing to, you know, to go on before, I'm willing to help you. I feel like, you know, I'm, I'm old and weak, but if I can carry a couple of stones that lighten your load, I'm here for you.
Yeah, so what is- like you said you're engaged in like some, really exciting work and. Really excited for things coming up. What's coming next that you're really excited for?
Tonya (she/her): Doing this, training for, the teachers in several schools. Whereas, I had been talking about this for a long time and there were a lot of administrators and stuff that were very hesitant and now, the structure is somewhat changed so that, schools can be a little more autonomous.
Tonya (she/her): And so they're coming out saying, look, we need to do this. We're we're committed.
David (he/him): Gotcha.
Tonya (she/her): And I'm so excited about that. and, and, you know, also the working with young people, I feel like there is, a kind of thing. you know, I don't know. It was Buddha who said, you know, plant a seed, you may not see it grow into a tree, but plant it anyway.
And one of the things that happened, and, and this is, you know, to me, so marvelous is, the group of, of interns that I trained in, in restorative justice. That was their, their main training. but we have a group of, four young ladies who are interns at the, at the peace center.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Tonya (she/her): And so they're doing stuff there. the person who, works, who, you know, supervises them a wonderful community activist. She had said, I need to make sure, especially with the training that you're giving them, that these young women work into the work in the community. I said, great, I'll help, whatever I need.
So what she did is once or twice, once or twice a week, they put together sack lunches and they deliver these lunches. Two areas where there are homeless people within their quadrant of the city.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
Tonya (she/her): Now because they're all young women, we, you know, knew that it probably wouldn't be safe. So we asked, you know, one of the good cops, you know, would he escort them?
And he was delighted to, to do it. And he would take them out each time. Well, he was smart enough. He started watching them and seeing how they interacted, you know, with these people who have no houses and, you know, and sometimes are, you know, drunk or whatever, but they have such great respect and rapport with these young women because these young women respected them.
And he literally came back to the police center to the peace center and he said, our guys need to know this. And I thought, okay. Yes, they certainly do. But, you know, and I thought, well, let's see, you know, if it goes beyond just the statement and sure enough, within two weeks, this officer brought in the SWAT team, the SWAT team came to the peace and justice center and sat in a restorative justice circle and listened to my teenage interns.
Tell them how to respect people who were unhoused. Yes. You know, it's like, I was glad I was there. I couldn't believe it. I cried, you know, was so bad that they finally said, you know, would you mind leaving the room? So we could just talk to the-
But it was amazing. It was, and I thought, who on earth, would've thought from the seed that we planted, something like this would happen, you know? Yeah. It's like you just, you never ever know. And I feel like it may take them a while to even be able to understand what they heard.
David (he/him): Yes.
Tonya (she/her): But I know they heard it.
I know they respected it, you know? And it's like, these were teenagers, you know, high schoolers who now have been able to help train the SWAT team. I am so proud. I can't tell you. It's like, this is what, this is what gets me up in the morning. , you know, to think, you know, I help them. And they made a difference that, you know, could possibly be felt for generations.
David (he/him): I noticed this in myself, in my conversation with Angel and I'm, I'm feeling it coming up too. Like the, the cynicism of like, okay, cool. The SWAT team sat in one circle and like, great for great for the high school interns like that. Like, yes. I, and like, I don't know how to get over that, like cynicism, like, all right, well who quit their job.
Right. Who walked away from right. and like this,
Tonya (she/her): But It has to start somewhere
David (he/him): You're right.
Tonya (she/her): You know,
David (he/him): You're right.
Tonya (she/her): Yep.
David (he/him): And like, you know, while. I'm sure your students weren't like the explicit reason for this is like, we're teaching you an abolitionist ethic and like the way that we're, it's like, Hey, this is how you talk to somebody with respect.
Right? Like, imagine like seeing them as like a full human, not like an object to be managed right. Or like a problem to be controlled. Right. Like I think like that might be language that like might be more or less effective in some instance. I don't
Tonya (she/her): Yes,
David (he/him): right. But,
Tonya (she/her): And I know, I mean, I'm that way other people are too, we're very cynical, you know, but I feel like, you know, I've seen, excuse me, I've seen a lot of things come to fruition, you know, that I never thought I would see this was certainly one of 'em and I feel like.
It's a start. You gotta start somewhere.
David (he/him): It's true. It's true.
Tonya (she/her): And we're not just gonna wake up tomorrow and you know, every single person with a badge is turned into Gandhi. You know, it has to start somewhere.
David (he/him): It's so true. It's so true. And so that work continues. I'll ask it now. How can people tap in, support your work in the ways that you want to be supported?
they can help out by,volunteering, you know, helping with, coordination. I think one of the things that, you know, eventually, really does need to happen because of. How we know restorative justice works is that eventually there really needs to be, a completely independent restorative justice, restorative justice center in Albuquerque that then can help, you know, where they're, where they're needed.
and, you know, right now, like I say, there's, there's just me, I'm thinking about taking up a collection so I can get an assistant because one of the, you know, the good things is that the more people, hear about this and, you know, really think about it and think, you know what, this is a good idea.
Tonya (she/her): Then they want to be involved involved, or they want to be trained. And it's like, I just, I don't have the bandwidth to, to do all of that right now as one person. And, you know, my first. Thing is to get it into the is to get it into the schools. To me, that's the absolutely most important thing is the younger, you can start with kids and they can, you know, have the sensibility all throughout their growing up that, you know what, we don't have to fight.
We can talk. and I feel like that's, you know, that's where, where it really, really needs to start.
David (he/him): Yeah. for those that don't live in, Albuquerque or Mexico, are there ways that people can support and tap in? I know it's like a little bit different.
Tonya (she/her): Yes.
David (he/him): Cause it's city government,but
Tonya (she/her): They can, you know, they can contact me.
you know, I do teaching and training and, you know, all kinds of things. I'm always willing to, to, talk to people and, you know, support them and give them ideas. I find that, I get, you know, really good inspiration and whatever from other people. And I would like them to, you know, to do the same with me.
Tonya (she/her): So, I will certainly, Share my information.
David (he/him): And that'll be in the show notes for folks to tap in, for those like, and, and I just looked it up right now for the hundred of you all time who have ever listened to this restorative justice life, in New Mexico, shout out to you. right. and to everyone else, the way to, to tap in and connect with, Tanya's work, will be linked in the, the show notes below.
But now it's the time to ask the questions that everyone answers when they come on, this restorative justice life. So, we already talked around it, but in your own words, define restorative justice.
as I said, restorative justice is conflict resolution with an emphasis on healing.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm, as you've been doing this work, what has been oh, shit moment. and how did you learn from it? Or what did you learn from it?
I think, doing restorative justice and, and just being, amazed at, you know, it's sort of how, how it helps people be able to see each other in a totally different way. And because of that, resolutions and come out as, you know, very, very different, you know, there's, there's, you know, lots of other people's stories and stuff, but some of, you know, of mine of just seeing people, I had a, a restorative justice, Session that was, three, young white boys in an upper class neighborhood.
just apparently got a wild hair one night and one of 'em had a brand new truck and they wanted to see how much trouble they could get into in one night. And they basically destroyed 42 homes in their own neighborhood. Yeah. And of course got caught. the judge said, you know, called me and said, I want these guys going to restorative justice because I want them to have to look into the faces of all those people, you know, whose homes they, they destroyed.
Tonya (she/her): So we put together a restorative justice session. We invited every neighborhood and every neighborhood had had problems and be about 25 families showed up. and you know, the boys. and they, you know, they had done some damage. They, you know, drove their truck, you know, through people's front yards and pulled up flower beds and broke glasses and, you know, houses and, you know, threw bricks, through windows and I, they did some stuff okay.
And, you know, most home homeowners have, you know, home, home insurance, you know, but had they been willing, you know, have to pay, they would've had to pay. but again, the neighbors, you know, same old thing. I wanna know why you did this. I wanna know why you, you know, picked my yard and you know, not the one across the street.
and they had to look in every single person's face, as they told them, this is what you did to me. You threw a rock and it landed in my baby's crib. And since then, my kids won't sleep in their own beds. Cuz they're scared to death. You know, you did that. And everybody told them their stuff and everybody, whatever they apologized and whatever.
Tonya (she/her): And then all of the neighbors said, we wanted you to hear this. We wanted you to know what's going on, but we don't want you to go to jail. And the kids were shocked. They said, you know, what do you mean? I said, look, we were all young. Once we did dumb and stupid things too. We don't want it, you know, to, to affect the whole rest of your life.
Like it did in ours, but we want you to know what you did and to understand it, you know, and these, you know, great big football playing kids, cried like babies and said, we cannot believe that you forgave us after we did all of this crap to you. And they said, of course you live in our neighborhood.
We gonna see you every, you know, and what they asked of the kids, as you know, their compensation was, we want you to promise that you will graduate from high school and go on to college and you will help other people to make up for this. So everybody in the neighborhood gets the opportunity to see their, their, report cards.
Everybody gets, you know, an invitation to graduation, you know, but it's like, you better believe that there is no way on the face of this earth that any of those three kids are going to do anything, anything that could affect anybody else ever again, because they had to look in their face and it was like wow.
This is like, you know, this is amazing, you know, it's like, I'd done a whole bunch, you know, on little scales and stuff. But when you have this many people in the room, all saying, we forgive you.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
Tonya (she/her): I think, you know, this is the stuff, you know, people think they're gonna get in church. When you see people rise up to their highest, to their best potential to their, you know, angel status, you know?
And it's like, you will, you won't get this in, in, you know, in, in court , you know, this isn't gonna happen. This can only happen in restorative justice.
David (he/him): Yeah. That's first I was laughing because like I heard you tell that story on the other podcast. but you told it in with much greater depth here. and I, and, and, you know, when people say like, oh, it's just talking, restorative justice is just talking.
in some ways like, yes, we are just talking and like the things that come out of those conversations and having to sit there. Right. bearing the weight of the impact of your actions in front of all the people like that is really, really hard. I'm not saying that is more or less hard than doing.
Tonya (she/her): I can tell you, I have done this with young people and I have had young people say to me, you know what, I, would've almost rather gone to jail than had to list look in that person's face.
David (he/him): Yeah. And people say that colloquially. Right. And I also don't wanna like, equate like belittle, like the experiences that people face.
When, when they're locked up, like it's a different kind of hard.
Tonya (she/her): Absolutely.
but like you don't have to actively participate in like making things. Right? Yeah. The other thing that comes up for me when I hear that story, though, it is, is an experience that I've had working in, in schools where.
white kids get these opportunities.
Tonya (she/her): Mm-hmm
David (he/him): Right. And, kids who look like me, kids who look like you. don't and that, I just have to name that as like-
Tonya (she/her): Absolutely.
David (he/him): That's like, I'm really curious about like the, the racial makeup of like the neighbors
Tonya (she/her): Yeah. This was, this was three white kids and it was, you know, 40 white neighbors.
David (he/him): Right. And so it's like, oh, like you are a part of us. Right. Like what if they had looked different? and I'm not saying that like, oh, like, well, just because like, it didn't go this way. Like doesn't mean, like, it wasn't a beautiful process. It was. And I, like, I made sure to say that first and like, it was beautiful and like this process works and it like it's repair and healing on a different level that like locking those kids up
Tonya (she/her): Mm-hmm
David (he/him): for however long would never have done
Tonya (she/her): Mm-hmm
David (he/him): And the- a reason that it was able to ha it was able to happen because a white judge saw kids saw something in kids that like, he like something about and like made a connection. Right. And then the white neighbors were like, oh, something about like these kids, like they made a connection. Right. It's beautiful that that's the place that we're at, that, that, that can happen for people.
And , what are all the other cases that, that judge didn't refer, right? Yeah. Yeah. What are all the other neighborhood circumstances where, That couldn't have happened. And so all that is to say
Tonya (she/her): And, you know, and again, that's sort of that thing of getting people to understand. Another thing that I'm really proud of here is that, all of the judges in our children's court are very big proponents, of restorative justice.
And when I was running a program, you know, where I had more, access to them, they used to send me cases. And I would say in the programs that I was running, you know, for young people, 75% of the kids that I was working with were kids of color. Now, of course that's because that's who gets kicked outta school or threatened or whatever.
But because the judges understood, we had an agreement that any, child who went through my program and successfully completed it and didn't get any more trouble. Their records were automatically sealed at age 18. So it didn't keep them from getting, you know, college loans or going to the air force or, you know, or whatever.
and that's one, another reason why I'm so adamant about doing this is I feel like our kids are more impacted than anybody else and
David (he/him): Absolutely
Tonya (she/her): they deserve, they deserve a second chance just like everybody else. And if these programs aren't there, they don't get that second chance.
David (he/him): Yeah. Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): So, and you know, we are, we do have a, just an incredible group of, people in our juvenile justice system.
we have, you know, a juvenile detention center, that at one time, you know, used to have as many as 300 kids in it. we have actually gotten to the place where there have been a couple of weekends where there was not one single kid that was in the juvenile justice. And that's because of the people who work there who have figured this out and learned whatever and said, you know what, you know, locking kids up is not what we want to be about.
Tonya (she/her): And so they've come up with alternative methods. And it's, you know, it didn't happen overnight. You know, it took a long while, but that's why I tell people, keep working on this. You may not, you know, see that Oak tree in your lifetime, but buddy, it's gonna be there.
David (he/him): Yeah. The, I mean, this is generational work. and as difficult as that is to swallow sometimes, right?
Tonya (she/her): Yes.
it like, there's something about just like being faithful to the work and like, regardless of, regardless of outcome.
Tonya (she/her): Yeah. And I, but I feel like for me, I, and I wouldn't even say. Regard. Well, regardless for outcome, when it comes to the system, I feel like there's always a good outcome when it comes to the people who are involved.
David (he/him): Oh, sure. Sure.
Tonya (she/her): And I've had to get to the point where I've said, that's good enough for me, because that's who I care about. That's whatever. Yes. I would love to change the system. But if right now, all I do is keep one black child out of prison. I am happy, you know?
David (he/him): Yeah.
Tonya (she/her): And you know, and I feel like I'm, I'm gonna do that.
You know, as long as I possibly can and hopefully the system will catch up, you know, but whether they do or not, you know, at least that kid isn't sitting in jail for the rest of their life.
David (he/him): Mm mm-hmm, thank you. you get to sit in circle with four people.
Tonya (she/her): Yes.
David (he/him): Dead or alive.
Tonya (she/her): Okay.
David (he/him): You feel, I feel like you're a little bit prepared for this, but who are they?
And what is the one question you ask the circle?
Tonya (she/her): Oh, well, it would certainly be Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther king,
Ralph bunch. Wangari Maathai. I can never say her last name, right? She was the first black woman to ever win the Nobel peace prize. I, the question I would ask them is now that you've gone through your whole life and looking back and whatever, what is the one thing that you wish that you knew very early on that would've helped you make even more of a difference in people's lives?
David (he/him): What's one thing that you wish you knew very early on, that, you know, could have helped you make a difference in more people's lives.
I think just knowing that, that if you believe in, in the process and do it, to the best of your ability that you really are changing people's people's lives, whether you, you see it or not.
I I've had so many times where I thought there were people who, you know, were not listening at all. Who've come to me later on and say, you changed my life. And it's like, whoa, I, you know, I, you know, I didn't even think I would never think you remembered me. I don't think you heard anything that I said.
Tonya (she/her): And it was like something got something, got to them some kind way. And on a level I had no idea and I think, okay, that. That's why I can't give up. Because I never know who that's gonna be. I never know. You know, what's gonna be said, I, you know, so it's like, okay, just keep doing it and wish for the best.
David (he/him): Yeah, absolutely. I was just making sure, like, I got all the questions. Okay. This one's challenging in a different way. Cuz it requires homework from you. angel Garcia did it really well, but who's one person that I should have on the podcast. this is sort of justice life. and you have to help me get them on.
Tonya (she/her): Oh, gosh. well, if you haven't had Fania Davis on, you certainly, have to, to, have her she's the grande dame of, of restorative justice and has done such an amazing, amazing job in Oakland
David (he/him): Working on it.
Tonya (she/her): Oh yeah. Good, good. yeah, let's see. Who else? gosh, I haven't even heard from heard from us such a long time. John Paul Lederach who works for the Methodist, Methodist community. He has done, restorative justice and mediation in war torn countries and has done some amazing work. His last name's L E D E R A C H John Paul Lederach. and he has just some amazing, wonderful stories to, to tell about the work that he's done.
David (he/him): Beautiful. Well, I'll be looking forward to that connection. he's out of, Notre Dame right now that-
Tonya (she/her): Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, probably has. But he has, I mean, he literally, he has done this all over the world. there's another woman. Oh God. And I can't, I can't think of her name. Oh my God. I know her so well.
I'll have to get it to you, but she, Was teaching primarily mediation at,the re the, United college United world college here in here in, New Mexico. She made such a difference in the lives of the young people. And most of the young people who go there are, you know, kids of Kings and Queens and ambassadors and, you know, who are gonna be very high up and very involved in the United nations and what she did.
Tonya (she/her): And she started teaching at the height of the, of the war in El Salvador. And she made such a difference that they've asked her to, put, take her class to every United world college in the world. And I think there's like seven of them or something. and yeah, it was just, you know, amazing to, because it was one of those things where.
You're teaching and you're not talking about what's going to happen or whatever you end up actually teaching people whose families are fighting, the BI battles you're talking about. So, oh, I will. Yeah. I'll get her name for for you and email it to you.
David (he/him): Definitely. definitely, definitely. And then we we've asked it already, but you know, just a reminder folks, where can people support your work in the ways that you want to be supported?
they can, can contact me through the city of Albuquerque. I am the restorative justice coordinator for the city of Albuquerque. my email is TCovington@cbq.gov and I absolutely love, talking to people and, hearing about their experiences and, and, talking about ways that we can be supportive and helpful, to each other.
Tonya (she/her): And, I would really encourage people to make sure that when you're doing this work, that you're doing it from the right perspective and know that all of the very, very best, of restorative justice came from, indigenous people, tribal people, you know, African people who'd been doing it long, long, long before.
other people, thought about it and jumped on the bandwagon and that the ways that they do it are the absolute best because they're rooted in keeping the community together. one of the best things, that I learned in doing research is there was a tribe in Africa that has, you know, and everybody sort of has their own little unique way of doing restorative justice.
Tonya (she/her): What they do is when someone has broken a rule or done something bad in the village, the village stops and they come together and the person who's, you know, done the harm is stood in the middle of the circle. And it is the job of everybody on the outside of the circle to tell them every good thing they have ever seen this person do to remind them they are actually a good person and that they are wanted and needed in the community to help them get back on the right track so they can rejoin the community.
And I feel like it's that kind of positivity. That we need in order to get us away from thinking that punishment works.
David (he/him): Yeah. Beautiful words to end on. Thank you so much, Tanya, for all of your wisdom, your stories, and sharing on this restorative justice life. We'll be back with another episode with, we'll be back in another conversation with somebody, living into these restorative ways of being next week until then take care.