Sujatha’s work is characterized by an equal dedication to crime survivors and people who’ve caused harm. A former victim advocate and public defender, She was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2008 which she used to launch a pre-charge restorative juvenile diversion program.
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David: Sujatha, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Sujatha: Oh my goodness. Thank you for having me. Who am I? I am a Buddhist practitioner.
David: who are you?
Sujatha: I am a mother and a sister and a daughtier, and a wife, and a partner, and a, yeah, I'm a family member.
David: Who are you?
Sujatha: I am a restorative justice practitioner.
David: Who are you?
Sujatha: I'm a peacemaker.
David: Who are you?
Sujatha: I am a lover of everyone and everything.
David: Who are you?
Sujatha: I'm someone who loves to feed people healthy food and healthy ideas.
David: And finally, for now, who are you?
Sujatha: I'm a humble student.
David: Those of you watching us on YouTube, you can see the warmth, love the energy radiating off the screen. And if you're just listening, hopefully you're picking that up. This conversation has been a very, very long time coming by the way that you got on the call confirmed something from me. We've met a handful of times at restorative justice conferences and like, I don't expect you to remember me and our interactions, but every time No, no, no, no.
And I'm gonna share like one of those incidents a little bit later, but every time I've been in your presence, it's been a wonderful feeling. And, you know, I need, it's important for me that folks are given their flowers while they're alive and present and able to receive them. And I am so deeply excited to, to have you here on the podcast.
You know, no shade to any of the other guests, but like, when I first started this 120 episodes ago, like, like getting Sujatha on here was, you know, maybe top of the list. Shout out to Cheryl Graves. Shout out to Tashmica. Shout out to a bunch of different folks who have Put, put me onto your work. Oh, wonderful.
And it's really good to be here. So I'm just gonna let you receive that.
Sujatha: Oh my gosh. You tell from my face if those are watching, I'm like, oh, she's really uncomfortable. Again, she doesn't do this part well, it's all, oh, okay. I will receive it.
David: So with the being said, yes, receive it. You don't even have to say anything.
Just receive it. To the extent that you want to answer to the question though, how are you today?
Sujatha: Well, I'm humbled. And it is wonderful for the next generation of people lifting up this work to remind me that it's had impact, right? Like, and you know, I was looking at your face thinking, I kind of feel like I recognize that guy from somewhere other than your podcast, right?
But so that we've met is wonderful. And yeah, I think today I am, it the sun is coming out. I live in the Bay Area. It's it is I feel like at this is the moment in time it feels like I know that the world is really, really hard right now in so many ways for so many folks. And I feel like the sun is starting to come out in some ways, not just because we pr pretending that the pandemic is over and everybody's sort of going about their business.
But at some deeper level, I feel truly optimistic at this moment. Despite all how do we do on cursing on this podcast? Are we trying to keep it clean here?
David: Say whatever the fuck you want.
Sujatha: Okay, great. Honestly, despite the fuckery that is flowing in all the different directions, I am feeling optimistic these days.
David: Where's that coming from?
Sujatha: I spend a lot of time with Tibetan Buddhist teachers and with indigenous folks who have long view. And so, you know, I've heard a lot of times from a lot of people, even at some of the worst and darkest moments, like you don't know how the story ends, like in stories don't actually ever end.
It just keeps transforming. Transforming. So just, just hold tight, like, you know, just keep applying good efforts. And that, that is, that is in the, that's going into the pot. You know, it's going into the, into the process. And so I've been getting that message a lot from a lot of teachers lately. And so that is It is infecting me in all kinds of good ways with optimism and positivity.
So that's how I'm feeling today.
David: Yeah. You know, for a lot of folks restorative justice is this thing that we have focused on the criminal legal system and alternatives to punishment. That has definitely been a part of the work that you have done. We all know hopefully if you're listening to this podcast, that this work is so much more than that.
Right. It's this sort of justice life, this way of being. Mm-hmm. Which you've articulated in, in the communities that you're a part of, right. The words restorative justice weren't necessarily your way into being this way. So in your own words mm-hmm. How did this journey start for you?
Sujatha: Well, thank you for asking that.
Yeah. And I although I had had a friend who was saying the words restorative justice to me for years, they didn't, the words didn't originally resonate with me, and I didn't actually follow her wise her wise suggestion that I, I take a look at this stuff. And instead my, my coming to this way of life, this way of being it was, it is a personal journey.
I, I myself and, and just advising folks who are watching this to take good care of yourselves, cuz my personal journey involves sexual and, and domestic violence. And so I was trying to find my way to my own healing. In that way that young people do, which is to think that if I solve the problems all out there and I make sure that nobody else lives through what I lived through, that somehow that that's gonna make it, that my trauma got healed.
And while surely the collectivity of the healing journey is an incredibly important part of it you know, all of my attention was pretty much turned outwards. I was doing like the requisite amount of therapy to hold it together. But it wasn't really healing me at the deepest level for the child's sexual abuse that I endured as a child.
And the multiple sexual assaults and one rape that I'd experienced at that point. And so and just growing up in a house in which we felt fear. And so I ended up, I was working in I was trying to work at that time I was living in Mumbai, in, in India with my then partner. And he was doing this wonderful work trying to help folks who had been trafficked from Nepal, young, young children who had been trafficked into sexual slavery.
And he I had a breakdown. I couldn't help him. I could not help with this project. And I ended up going, traveling by myself and ended up in, which is where the Tibetan community in exile was living at the time the Tibetan government in exile was there, is there. And I through this unbelievably.
Bizarre course of events, wonderful course of events. Got to have an hour alone with the Dali Lama when I was 24 years old. And he really encouraged me in my work and also just really encouraged me to put my own healing at the center of the work. And it was through that journey, he had no interest in converting me to anything.
If anything, he felt pretty strongly that, you know, everybody has their path and they should, you know, ideally stick to your own, your own cultural roots if it's, if it's home for me, you know, the Buddhadharma actually started in Nepal. The Buddha was born in Nepal and you know, flourished in India. And the Indian traditions of Buddhism were actually lost to India, but kept alive by the Tibetan Buddhists.
The very practices actually that were influenced by some of the people who, you know, are involved in sort of my family's Hindu lineages. And I had wanted to leave Hinduism. I had left Hinduism because of my really unsettled feelings around cast. Mm-hmm. And so I knew that I was looking for, I'm a very spiritual person, religious person, was looking for a path.
And through meeting his holiness and his holiness, actively encouraging me to consider Upending oppression, particularly the kinds of oppression that I myself had experienced, and to shamelessly name my own place in that work. Basically he encouraged me to be a public survivor. And and, and that really started, started that journey.
Shortly thereafter, I started law school. I realized that the binary ways of thinking about the law were not beneficial to myself or to others. Even though I was a public defender, I left being a victim advocate. I became a public defender. Everything was unsatisfying to me on all sort of quote unquote sides because I realized I didn't believe in sides.
And also through his holiness's advice, I sort of stepped onto the path of forgiveness and my own meditation journey. And came to forgive my father who had sexually abused me. And realized, looking back on my own life, as I had gone off to law school thinking I would be a prosecutor and, you know, supporting victims and all of this stuff that I actually didn't have a prosecutorial bone in my body and that I'd never had, like, I had no interest in what the systems had on offer, right?
I didn't want my dad locked up. I didn't want immigration consequences for my family. I didn't wanna be taken away. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania all the houses that c p s might have put me in didn't speak my language. You know, practice our religion, eat our food Or just get down the way we did.
Right. And so that was, you know, it was interesting to me. I was like, why was I gonna be doing something that I myself would've never opted into as a kid? Mm-hmm. Well, what would I have opted into as a kid? And in the process of studying the Tibetan system of justice prior to Chinese's occupation, and there were all of these notions around truth telling and the potential for reconciliation.
And the fundamental responsibility being to make things right. Once you've caused harm. I was like, oh, this makes sense. And that is when my friend who had been telling me about restorative justice for years, my friend Susan Marcus said, Sujatha, I've been talking about this for years. Let's call restorative justice.
Why don't you start coming to some stuff with me? You know? And so that is how I got introduced to first and foremost the Mennonite folks who are doing this good work, right? Howard Zer. And and, you know, Lorraine Stutzman on Stutz is not Mennonite herself, but you know, was practicing restorative justice within those communities.
And maybe she has Mennonite, at least she wasn't raised Mennonite. Anyway, the point is those people really Tammy Krak, all the folks affiliated with Zare Institute. And then over time I started to conti, well, I continued to study Tibetan you know, notions of justice and Buddhist, particularly Indian Una, like the teachers within the lineage that I practice in, like what were their notions of justice.
and then obviously, ultimately learning from people like justice Robert Yazi and other, you know, indigenous teachers the world over who have taught me so much about what it means to both live and practice restoratively. So that was my journey to this point. Yeah, for some of it, I, it's long-winded, you know?
David: on this podcast, like balance, like producing a show and conversation going back and forth versus like circle values of like, let them say what they need to say. Mm-hmm. But there are so many points of like, oh yeah, but like, what about, but what about, and so I'm gonna try to remember some of them and, and, and get in there.
I think your story about, you know, being a survivor, a sexual abuse or a survivor of trauma, and like you said, like many young people, like, I wanna prevent this from happening for other people. Like is a lot of the times where people end up doing their life's work, right? Mm-hmm. but when you talked about like, you know, being a victim advocate, being a prosecutor like being a public defender, like the binary way in which the criminal legal system puts us up against each other, what was it about you that, or what was it about engaging in that system that had you come to the conclusion like, this is wrong.
This is not about sides, this is about our relationships. Mm-hmm. Was there a moment, was there an experience? I'm sure it was multiple things.
Sujatha: Yeah. There was so many moments and experiences and yet I kept going thinking, oh, I'm gonna fix this from the inside, you know, and I, no You know, no shade on those who are making those efforts.
You know God bless. I really like Oh, hold you in my heart and the challenges related to that sort of thing. But from my side there were a couple times as a victim advocate, where I realized that it wasn't, and this was before I'd read Nils Christie's incredible article called Conflicts as Property, where he really breaks down that the state, the state steals our harms as people.
Like, instead of it being me versus my father, it would would've been the state versus my father. Mm-hmm. So I get shafted. Right. And or the state has its own interests. And so to me you know, when there's a crime survivor who's telling me I don't wanna testify against him, or I don't really think that that's, you know, gonna be of benefit or whatever or I've actually forgiven him now, or, you know, I was pathologizing people and I was making I, I was drive, helping people drive.
This didn't last very long, but I was trying to help people drive towards what the state wanted as an outcome, which was a conviction. Mm-hmm. And I was, I. Confusing what a survivor might want. I never thought to ask 'em what they needed and that we could pre create systems or processes that were designed to meet survivor needs.
Right. And so I was really pushing folks to you know, with being angry or being broken, being devastated. Being frightened was what was gonna look right on the stand. Like there was almost a way in which it was important to keep survivors in the place that was gonna lead to the conviction. Mm-hmm. Not in the place that was gonna heal them.
So that, that was really horrible. And then on the side of representation, one time I was working on a case where there was a guy who I was working on his appeal and there were a lot of errors in the trial. And he was a sweet kid who got 25 years for something that was very, very close to self-defense and could have, could have flown in front of a jury, his self-defense.
But the judge had made some decisions at trial that had excluded evidence that would've been really good for him. So I knew we could win an appeal and get him a retrial. and he was feeling really, really guilty for having taken this person's life. And they were all connected, they were like related to each other.
And he was actually trying to protect, you know, a cousin or something from a domestic abuse situation. But then the fight just kept going and it didn't need to go, you know, as far as it did. So, So what happened was, you know, he wanted to apologize. He really, really wanted apologize, and I had to advise him to not, and what I knew from having read the trial transcript with all the family wanted at sentencing was an apology.
They just wanted to understand like what happened and he couldn't talk and he wouldn't testify. And he would, and I was like, all these people just need to talk, you know, like he feels bad. This was, you know, his, his actions weren't unjustified. We could get to a good place, you know, and the family in the end, because he refused to speak, was like, we want the death penalty.
And it was so not a death penalty. It was like, you know, it was, shouldn't have maybe even been more than a manslaughter case. and I just felt like I could see it from every place between the trial transcript and, you know, flying to upstate New York at that time to meet with my client in prison.
And this baby was like a kid when he was like 18 when this went down and he was looking at 25 years and the whole ev and all he, his morality was telling him to apologize. Right. And I was saying that could be used as evidence against you and no, you can't write that letter. You know, it was just, and the terms of whatever, say that you're not allowed to reach out to the other side.
Mm-hmm. Like every single part of that whole case was doing everything in the opposite direction of healing. And I was like, nah, can't, can't do this anymore. This is not, I'm not helping. I'm not helping. So, yeah.
David: Yeah. You know, recovering lawyers are some of my favorite people to talk to on the podcast. And like, you know, they're some of my greatest teachers, right?
Because like, you get into this because you are seeking justice, you are seeking truth, you are trying to meet the needs. And growing up in the society that we did, like, we've been indoctrinated into thinking like, well, these are the people who are taking care of this problem. But I love that you brought up Christie, when it's like, you know the state has taken all of that away from us, right?
And when we think about the ways that that manifests, not just within the context of the criminal legal system, but mm-hmm. You know, you talked about child protective services mm-hmm. Or like even in schools or even in the ways that we like parent you know, yep. Me being a much younger parent much less experienced parent at, at this time.
Right. I think about like, what are the ways that we are breaking relationship even more when harm has already occurred by being maybe neglectful of like the needs of people who have been impacted, not giving opportunities to even ask, right. Deciding paternalistic like what is right or wrong and who's justified and who is not and Right.
And that's not what this work is. When you you were working with Susan and were getting introduced to the Mennonite perspectives, the Indigenous perspectives. Were there experiences there that were like, oh, this all makes sense to me now?
Sujatha: I mean, from jump. Yeah. Like the very first time I was even in a room with folks who were, I'm doing these things in this way, and the organization that I first was in some process with, I can't even remember.
They were e they were visiting New York and they were from New Orleans and they don't exist anymore. And Susan and I have both tried to figure out who they were or track them down or whatever. And so it's so interesting, but it was just like, I had been in circle once before on 9 11. When the day of actual 9 11, I was living in New Mexico, and some friends who were friends with indigenous folks who were not originally from New Mexico held a sweat lodge.
They said, I just remember somebody said something like, somebody's invited us to this thing. They didn't know their names or anything. There's, they said, we heard your country has been attacked and we want to, we wanna have a healing circle for you. Right. And I went to a sweat and it went on for like five hours and we were in that, it was super intense.
And I had had a classmate from law school who died in the World Trade Center. I wasn't close with this person. But it was, it just was really close to home in that sense. And then when I, and I, and I kind of forgot about that because I was so like in my own trauma and I'd forgotten about that incredible experience of being in circle in a sweat.
And then years. Later when I was in this first restorative justice process where it was, it was a circle again, and I was like, oh, I've done this. Like I know what this is. And wow, this is really like, you don't just have to do this at a time of trauma. You can do this as a way of learning more about one another and I talk too much.
And so the whole gift of people speaking in turn and being given the opportunity to just drop in and listen, felt like the closest thing to meditation as I had experienced. Like, it was a meditative way of being together. It was learning to be completely and fully present to someone else's words and feelings and thoughts.
And it just felt like a contemplative presence in a way I hadn't experienced in conversation before other than in that sweat lodge, you know? And so that was, that was a really beautiful that was a really beautiful, like, awakening. Like there's something here that feels right and I'm not sure how we might use this or uses the wrong word, how we could you know, address harm and healing with this yet.
But I knew that there was a possibility there. So, yeah. But also just, I mean, I'm a geek too, so like the first time I, I read Howard Jer Zer is changing lenses and the book opens with a discussion of structures of scientific revolution, which was my favorite book. And I was like, what is happening? Like this is, this, is this guy's talking about paradigm shift in this way?
And then to see the paradigm shift applied to the thing that I was so ready to leave, right? The practice of law was like mind blowing. You know, the three, the three questions and the reframing of the three questions. That was just like, I mean, I still use it all the time. Like I still say it all the time cuz I just think it's such a great way of us popping out of, you know, who we center and why.
David: and you know, I, I say that all the time on this podcast, but do you want to frame it the way that you share with people?
Sujatha: Yeah, no, I just say, you know, I, I think this is the way Howard frames it, but instead of asking what law was broken, who broke it and how should we punish them we ask who is harmed and what do they need and whose obligation is it to meet those needs?
To my mind, without the third question, whose obligation is it to meet those needs that they would still be a lovely Two questions that we should ask anytime someone, you know, we love or someone we don't love is experience something. How are they harmed and what do they need? But when we add that third question, whose obligation is it to meet those needs?
Right? That is where it becomes a justice model for me. And yeah, I just really love that framing. I just think it's. Truly brilliant, and it anchors my work all the time. Like, oh, am I doing, am I really doing rj, you know am I, am I really getting at those three questions? That, I mean,
David: what would be the alternative to not doing RJ with just those two questions?
Sujatha: Well, I think that there's like, I mean, I don't know what people mean by the word restorative. Standing alone without the word justice, you know, that's a restorative way to be. Like, I think that that's the first two questions. Who is harmed to what do they need, right? So if I do a healing circle, like there was this a time, well, almost a decade ago at this point, where I had a circle, I co-facilitated a circle for South Asian survivors of child sexual abuse.
And we spent a lot of time in the first two questions, how are we harmed and what did we need? And but we never got to like, I mean, we might have talked about whose obligation it would've been to meet those needs, right? Mm-hmm. But those obligations weren't met or the people who caused the harm were in the circle.
And so my work has primarily been in trying to get those folks into the circle. That is where things feel juiciest to me, the possibility of having people who have actually caused the actual harms. And I know we don't have all of them. Like I understand that individual harms exist within this broader structure of structural harms and historical harms.
And at the same time, I think. There is something so revolutionary about the fact that we can live within all these systems of, of structures, of oppression and still choose on the individual level to be our best selves. It's almost like, I'm not gonna let you do that to me. I'm not gonna let you turn me into the thing that I have every right to be for my own survival, you know, to steal from that store to, you know, be violent back to whatever.
I wanna be my best self despite all the impression. And so that to me is the exciting part about, you know, meeting our obligations to make things right. When we've harmed people, even when it's really understandable, we've been set up by the world to cause those harms.
David: And I don't wanna discount folks who engage in processes where, or processes formally or like in the work for themselves that is healing for themselves without, mm-hmm.
Without engaging with the folks who have caused them harm, right? Mm-hmm. When we think about, you know, the needs that are present when harm occurs, when sexual violence occurs, when any kind of violence occurs, right? It's not always within the person who's caused harm capacity. To be in your presence to make those repairs, right?
There are communal ways to do that. There are things that you, as an individual are responsible for and like, you know, that can be restorative in nature. But I really appreciate you bringing out, like, I'm not sure, like how we do this justice thing restoratively without those people being involved.
As you think about like, you know, your own experience, like your father's not here to have that kind of conversation with like, how do you, like, do you feel like it's, like there's not justice, but you've moved on despite?
Sujatha: Yeah. I mean, I don't think justice arises in every circumstance. Mm-hmm. And I don't think that justice is, possible in every circumstance, right?
Like, some people cause harm and die without ever being accountable. And so that, you know, is justice served, like to me, and what I mean by justice, I mean accountability, like being directly accountable, making things right. Mm-hmm. And so, yeah, my father never gets the opportunity to make things right.
And, but my healing isn't contingent on justice. My healing has never been contingent on justice. My healing can be benefited by justice. If justice had occurred earlier in my life, my healing would've taken a lot less time. Right. But it wasn't a requirement for healing justice is one, you know, because ultimately it belongs to me, my, my wellbeing is ultimately mine.
And there are other causes and conditions that are required, but the person who's caused the harm isn't always one of 'em. Yeah. But it's a fast track when it happens.
David: For sure. Like, comes up for me when you say that is, well, two things. One, like similar to like forgiveness, right? Forgiveness is not necessary.
Like we can go back to, you know, changing lenses. Restorative justice is not primarily about forgiveness, right? Forgiveness can happen if you want, but like, that's, that's your journey. Or the person who's been harmed journey about like how they want to move forward. And I remember you talking about in one of the many times that I've heard you speak over the, over the years about that experience that you had with the Dali Lama and, you know, you talked about like being so angry, right?
And not being in a place where you were ready to be like, I'm gonna heal. I'm gonna let this go. Right? And he was like, good, be angry, right? Like, we can't rush folks into navigating these healing processes and, you know. Yeah, of course. The criminal legal system. Doesn't necessarily give fair speedy trials, but like, when it's time to go, like it's expected that you are going to process all of the, these feelings, emotions, and we're gonna meet these needs.
Yeah. Within the context of like, what's going on in this courtroom, and if you need anything outside of that. Too bad. So sad. Yep. Yep. Good luck. Yeah. Right. Taking the time to heal, taking the time to accompany people. Right. And so when we're talking about like needs and ob, like whose obligation is it to meet those needs?
Like that's not something that is often possible, like as you were saying. Mm-hmm. And yet here we are doing this work that is good and imperfect. Right. This has manifested for you in a lot of different ways with impact justice across a lot of different organizations. How have you thought about the, how have you thought about mirroring, like the healing as individuals and justice for people who are experiencing oppression because of the criminal legal system throughout your career?
Sujatha: so thank you for that really beautiful question. I wanna step back for a second and say, you know, I think that that's something that people don't know about the Dalai Lama is that like, even though he is often speaking about, you know, forgiveness and moving beyond our anger, there's actually this sweet little book that he is an author of called Be Angry, literally saying like, you know, we have to maintain anger at injustice.
The problem where it becomes toxic is if we maintain it towards individuals who are causing that. And then it breeds into hatred. And, you know, maintaining anger at people isn't necessarily beneficial. Maintaining anger at issues sure is. And there's, there's a heat and a fire there that can help us move the work forward in the world.
So it's always good to be reminded of that. And then with regard to, you know, the, this combination, so, you know, to my mind, like I was saying earlier, like my healing can be expedited by other people's accountability. There is an in, there is an imbalance that occurs in the world, like the fabric of, you know, fairness gets torn in a way.
When someone does something to me that is unacceptable to my body to my property to people I love and I myself can ultimately not have the negative consequences of that in my body. In my spirit, you know, I can ultimately become what, what was torn can be mended myself. I can do that myself.
You see people doing it all the time. But, you know, there are causes and conditions that give rise to speed of your healing. And particularly when I think about it in the context of sexual harm, one of the things that I carried as a survivor and many survivors I know carried as like, ugh, why did this happen to me?
Why did he pick me? Or why did she pick me to harm? Why did they pick me to harm? You know, and, and carry a lot of like, guilt and feelings of like yeah, self blame around the harm. And so, and then sometimes the families compound that being like, you shouldn't have worn that that night. You shouldn't have been out.
And, you know, you, you've, you know, you draw this stuff to yourself, you know, we hear so many survivors telling those kinds of stories. Or this happened to you cuz you're gay or whatever, right? Like, terrible things get said to survivors sometimes by the people who are supposed to be supporting us, right?
And so I can't think of something that is more effective in expediting that healing journey collectively when the person who's caused the harm says it in front of your family and community and their own family community. Mm-hmm. This is my shame, not yours. Like this is entirely on me. You know, I, yes, what you say happened happened.
And and sometimes even when we, when we're survivors of any kind of harm, we think, I just, I've been burglarized many times and one time I was sitting in a burglary case I was facilitating and the survivor in that case said to the kid who burglarized her home? Why'd you pick my house? And he said, cause it was there and it healed something in me.
I was like, oh, it's not. Cause I painted my house purple and it draws attention to my house. It was like, I'm literally trying to find a way to blame myself for my burglaries, right? And when the kid said, cuz it was there, cuz that's the way I walked home that day, it frees me of the story that I could have controlled this or had anything to do with it.
Right? And that's even more so in sexual violence cases. Every time I get to hear somebody take responsibility, I'm facilitating a case right now where I'm getting the person ready to, to meet with the people that they harmed and hearing that person take full responsibility for their acts is. Like I, I feel something healing in me on a, yeah, again, on like a cellular level.
Every time I get to hear somebody wake up to, oh wait, that was consent and that was what was required and there wasn't consent and oh my gosh, and I was responsible for that. You know, it just, it keeps chipping away at whatever is residual there with me around my own survivor journey. So so for me it's a win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win when we get everybody doing this off, off the grid or before charges in particular, ideally before arrest.
But if we can find a way for folks to sit down face to face with the people that they harmed with their families and communities in a way that there's a plan to repair the harm that is completed, right? Instead of the criminal legal system. Like we can do that. And we've done that in tons and tons of cases and and that is, that is my dream world.
That is the way to do it in my mind.
David: Yeah. we often find ourselves not being able to solve these problems that are happening all the time because of lack of imagination. Right. And, you know, you and I have been. Awake to restorative ways of being for a long time. And you know, many people who are listening to us right now have also been awake to these ideas.
Right. These ideas aren't new, they're very old. But because of the society that we live in our imagination about like how to get justice, how to right wrongs, how to deal with conflict and harm is punitive generally. Right? I, I think about bringing these ideas of healing and restoration up to people who have been harmed.
And, you know, you've, over the course of your work have dealt with many people who, you know, the state or criminal legal system would label victims, right? Maybe survivors is words that we might be more comfortable with. What have been conversations where there was initial resistance to like doing a restorative thing.
Like, no, that person needs to rotten jail and die. Mm-hmm. And what were some of the ways that you invited them into a process that was ultimately more healing?
Sujatha: Yeah. Again, Howard's questions, how are you harmed? And what do you need? I even if in the beginning people are like, I need that person to go to prison.
When you keep asking, you know, the same way you asked me in the beginning, the seven, seven times, who are you? Who are you? Who are you? What do you need? What do you need? What else do you need? What do you really need? What do you need? And you get to the need under the need. Under the need. Prison is never the answer.
Like actually needing somebody else to go to prison. Ultimately, survivors are not interested in that. Their needs are about themselves. I need to feel safe. I need to know this isn't gonna happen again. I need to, well, prison doesn't produce any of those outcomes. Prison doesn't make us safe. Prison doesn't make it not happen again.
Right? And I think people know that, right? And, and nobody has ever asked survivors what happened and what do you think needs to happen now, right? In a way that is really open and generative and really like, how are you harmed spiritually, materially, psychologically, physically, like, and what are the specific needs that flow from each of those things?
And other things like, let's be broad and expansive and in your dream world, what happens now? Right? We don't, so those are what my meetings with survivors are like. Well first I just let them vent and vent and vent, like the first many. And I don't try to correct anyone if they're like, I need them. See this person locked up.
Ultimately, pretty quickly, I'm gonna have to be like, well then I'm not the person you should be work. Like the district attorney's office has a victim advocacy thing, and you could go back and try to do that, but that's not what I do. And, and if you work really well with survivors, I think very rarely the answers are punitive at all.
You know, they're not like, I need this person to have these things taken away from them or their, their happiness limited in these ways, or their freedom limited in these ways. Maybe there's some notion that, you know, oh my gosh, is this person gonna keep doing this? And so that, that can be challenging. But yeah, that's, that's a little bit of it.
One of the, one of the, my favorite exercises with folks is actually just getting them to think about a time in which they were harmed more broadly. Like, when I'm doing workshops, I'm like, tell us about a time which you were harmed and let's, let's make some post-it notes about what you needed then and what you need now.
Okay, now tell me about a time in which you caused a harm. Right. What did you need at the time it happened? And what do you need today? And they make them two different colors. Like the times you caused harm, the times you experienced harm. And then we started to like do an art project on the wall with the post-it notes.
Right. In all the years I've done this, I have seen thousands and thousands and thousands of these post-it notes, and I have done this exercise even with district attorneys and police officers and whatever, right. No one has ever written on any of those Post-it notes, the word present. I have never seen that word on a Post-it note.
What did you need? No one, no. Like I make people drop into a time in which they experienced a harm and no one's ever said for the, some people have said revenge, some people have said I needed pepper spray. Right. But nobody has said that they needed prison.
David: Yeah. They'll say like, I need to be away from that person.
Like, I can't be around that person. Boundaries. But that doesn't necessarily look like in an eight by six, by eight box for 23 hours a day. Right. That's
Sujatha: exactly right, David. Right. That's exactly it. And I think, you know, it's just interesting to me now, now somebody's gonna come and get 'em on my training's, the right, the word prison on a post-it, so they can be the first one.
I swear to you, I've never seen one.
David: I've known, yeah. You know, when we, we do that exercise as well and I think about, right. Yeah. Revenge comes up a lot, right? Mm-hmm. I need them to hurt. Mm-hmm. I need them to understand the pain that they caused me. Yeah. Right. But that doesn't necessarily look like, you know, captivity.
Sujatha: Yeah. And I would say honestly, that I see fewer of those. I see there's like two, like this last one, I just did this last week. And there were 60 people the first day and 80 people the second day, and three of the post-it notes said something that smelled like to get back at them. And those were always on the post-it notes that are about what I needed then.
And if enough time passes, the word revenge doesn't last. You know? It's interesting. Yeah. So, so that is so, so what do we need? What do we really need? And it's, it's usually not punitive at all. No. That I really honor the ones that are like, I needed my bike back, I needed my stuff back. I like the material ones.
I'm like, that's right. And that is a thing that we could work on. Right. Getting your stuff back or whatever. Right. Like,
David: yeah. I like that addition of the what did you need then and versus what do you need now because mm-hmm. You know, it's really helpful to help people think about, like, you know, when I'm in crisis because somebody has like, deeply hurt me in a moment, right.
I might like, I might need just like time and space to process before, like I get to say like, oh, like this is what would actually like, be healing for me. And like, you know, of course with, in my experience, people are reflecting on things that like they're years away from. Right, right, right. When we're, we're asking for them and like, you know, the, the things that we're able to be like more reflective on like, that's just human journey, human development, like we.
We're generally very resilient and adaptive to, you know, the things that are going on around us, and we find other ways to get those needs met at least some of the time. Mm-hmm. Even if it's not like that person giving us a public apology. Yep. And talking about like, being accountable. And I think, you know, when we think about restorative justice as a way of being more expansively, that proactive relationship building strengthening relationships rooted in equity and trust like you were talking about.
Right. We just don't have to have circles when there's conflict and harm. Like we can talk about how we want to be together, like consensus-based decision making. Mm-hmm. Check-in circle, like all all of those things. Like I'm most familiar with your work at Impact Justice, right? Mm-hmm. And so when I think about that work, like what were the community building aspects mm-hmm. Of that, that aren't just focused on building harm and especially as like somebody who is like leading a team, how do you continue to like, uphold those ethics, uphold those values as you do work that is so much about like navigating conflict and harm.
Sujatha: Mm-hmm. Well, I would say you can't, you know, you can't get to, I don't remember who, who said this. This is, many people say this, you can't get to a good place in a bad way, right? Mm-hmm. And so I think that it's really important to operate restoratively in the way in which you run an organization, a way, way in which you help other communities roll out a restorative justice processes, right?
And, you know, consensus is challenging, right? And everything doesn't happen always entirely by consensus. And every single thing doesn't need to be done in a circle. But or you'll never like it, your bun budget finished or, you know, some things, but like that, right? But at the same time, like having meaningful engagement and feedback and sitting in circle with your staff and your team, right?
Like and when you're trying to help a community start something somewhere new, like starting by sitting in circle with them and hearing what are the needs here? Like what, what, what would this look like to you? Like co imagining it with people and then saying, here's, here's what we do and this is the gift and skills we have.
Let's see if there's some alignment here. Let's see if this is, you know, and maybe it isn't. Oh, you guys are really, really wedded to doing this in a way where people had to plead guilty to restorative justice. Well, that's not how we roll. So we're not gonna, we, we, we love you and we hope you succeed in things that help your community grow.
But that crosses our sort of line, right? And like, and being in deep dialogue around that sort of stuff. And at the same time, really, you know, understanding who we are in the relationship to the work and, and also really understanding what the community's desires and needs are, right? And so it's just about, it's about engaging in the same ways that the process might look, right.
You gotta actually build it that way too. So that is a huge part of, of the process. And understanding that it's not all gonna go well. Like there are places where we tried to start things that I don't think are it, that have stayed in alignment with what it is that we had hoped for collectively, or that had been originally aspired to.
So Perfection is a very dangerous thing. And it, and it can make for a lot of really painful relationships. So that's hard understanding that, you know, things are gonna go off the rail sometimes, and then how do we find our way back? But again, over and over again, being in meaningful dialogue, keeping in deep relationship, loving everybody, and learning how to make space to love one another including our systems partners and our right.
And, and that work is less and less of what I do today, but I still keep in touch with a whole bunch of folks who, you know, do jobs that I could never do are in positions that I could never be in. And keeping my heart and mind open to where it is that they are in the work that they're doing is really, really, really important without smudging about what it is that I do and how I show up.
Right. So I hope that answers the question.
David: Yes. Yes. What, and what it sparks for me is, you know, as an abolitionist, right? I can get my head around like the work that you're, the work that people who are actively engaged in systems who are like, actively, like prosecuting, actively like sentencing, right?
Like, you can do that in a way that is harm reductive and like that's very meaningful for a person who's experiencing Who's, who's right in front of you in that moment. Right. And we Right. We don't want to belittle that. Right. And I know many of those people, like in district attorney's offices, like quote unquote progressive prosecutors who like espouse abolitionists beliefs, like outside of like, the construct of those, the, the rigidity of their job.
And like, you, right, right. I didn't name anybody. And I, and like I, in some ways, like, I, I want you there, right? Because the alternative to you being there is somebody else who doesn't have those values. And more people not getting their needs, but more people ending up incarcerated, more overc like, you know, harm being perpetuated.
What was it? What was a breaking point for you was like, I can't do this. Right. I can't be this advocate who is making the thing, making the change from the inside. Mm-hmm. As over. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. What was it for you that like made you break out of that?
Sujatha: I think that for me I feel really comfortable with you know, the word it means to hold, hood means to hold.
Mm-hmm. And it's like to be held within a very specific, that's just me, right? Like, I like having, like this is the four noble truths and the eightfold path, and these are the 10 virtuous actions of the 10 non-virtuous actions. And it really suits the part of me that still is lawyer brainy, right? Mm-hmm.
And so for me, creating the parameters in relationship to the present system, that I think that if we go beyond, we are not beneficial. Mm-hmm. In the long goal of ending mass criminalization, ending racialized mass criminalization. When are we, as David Anderson cooker often asks, like, letting the steam out of the pressure cooker just so the thing can keep doing cooking.
Cooking the people of color. Yeah. Right. And so for me, when I look at outcomes, I look at cost benefit analysis on how much we're paying for programs to how many people are we serving, what are the actual recidivism rates of the program. Like I felt like the pre-charge line is unbudgeable and that to me, It just, it helps me be really, really clear.
I'm like, once we, we assign attorneys and have court dates, this is me. Once we assign attorneys and have court dates, then we are popping into Adversarialness. Mm-hmm. Then we are truly in the system. Now, I'm not saying that like an arrest record doesn't make you in the system in some way. Of course it does.
on the level of restorative justice, once we cross a certain line, then it is binary.
Then we have ascribed labels of the accused and the defendant and the dah, dah, dah. Right. And we don't want to, to my mind then we're doing a lot of cleanup of another system's mess. And so I believe that if everybody said, we're gonna do it this way, that we could all keep it before that line. Right. And so that, that's just the line I drew.
Right. For me, I don't, I also fundamentally believe that this is a this is about the power of families and communities to understand that we can heal it ourselves. We got us. If you reach the point where you are then in, in a court having to tell a judge, we did this, now dismiss the case, and the judge has the power to decide yes or no, or the judge gets to say, oh, we're gonna tweak the plan in this way to make it more in alignment with the law, then you're compromising the empowerment of the people who came up with this plan themselves.
And so that, for me, those are some reasons why I don't believe in doing things in a way that requires further, you know, decision making over us by state actors. Then I think we run into nis, Chrissy problems of who owns the harm, right? I want the harm to always be owned by the people who experienced it.
And so once we give that much power to the state to decide whether our restorative process was good enough et cetera, then I think we've, we've got, we've, we've strayed into areas that aren't restorative justice. It could be restorative, So you were asking about how did I decide the degree to which I think, I think the general sense I was getting in the question was like about the degree to which I've decided that I work within systems or in tandem with systems, and that's about as far as I can settle up to a system is Yeah.
The notion that you know, once their decider's over us, right? It's like once we've lost that we got us right? And we are dealing with people deciding whether or not what we decided was good enough. If the crime survivor, you know, or the person who's experienced the harm and the person who's caused the harm and the, and the people who know and love and support them and are gonna be helping them move forward in a good way, are all in agreement that this plan is good enough, then I'm not really sure why We think the state with its astronomical recidivism rates is in a better position to tell us what to do.
Right. And so that is my general feeling about that kind of stuff. Yeah, that makes sense.
David: Yeah. And, and I think that the other thing that gets me about like some, I'm not gonna generalize and say all, but some quote unquote restorative initiatives within the context of the criminal legal system are for.
Quote, unquote crimes, right? They are violations of the law. Right? But they are victimless, right? Yes. The person who is being harmed is the person who did the thing, right? Whether it is like and I think like on some level, like theft, like shoplifting, property destruction, possession of, of either a firearm or, you know, drugs, right?
Like those things are being done by people in crisis, right? Yeah. And so to put people through like a restorative process, like who are the, who are we restoring to? Like is the state, is the state, is society taking responsibility for creating the conditions, for putting that person in those situations? No.
Like we're just putting this person on an improvement plan and like hoping for the best. I don't know that I would call that holy and restorative. Yeah. And some of these things are happening and so like, again, yeah. To the folks who are like doing this work that's harm, reductive blessings, but are we giving more power to the state, to lord over us?
Like Yeah. And just being able to stamp the letters rj, or like, God forbid, like TJ right on, on their efforts.
Sujatha: Yeah. Well, the state should get the words TJ outta their mouth entirely, right? Yeah. I say that with love and respect, but please don't, don't, I mean, that's literally not. That's literally the opposite of what transformative justice is about.
So so there's that. And then I think, you know, for us there was this question of net widening, right? Mm-hmm. We made the choice early on to only work with high, high level misdemeanors and felonies because this is where, you know, the process is most honored as well. And we took this tip from New Zealand, right?
AO te aoa, where they anything lower level actually needs a needs like the kid, if the kid is doing graffiti on people's buildings, that's putting them out, right? Like they don't want the side of their house tagged over and over and over again. Yeah. There's a person who's harmed there, right? Or even in theory, right?
Like, you know, it depends on the size of the store, right? And what kind of loss prevention they have. But if you know somebody's stealing from someone's mom and pop shop, like that's not okay, right? Like, that's somebody's bottom line. But the truth is, is that those kids are not, like, it's really hard to think of the circumstance under which, You know, the person who is running this mom and pop shop maybe is gonna take time off when they're so busy and they're just making ends meet themselves to sit down in a circle with this kid.
Mm-hmm. That kid needs something else. Yeah. And, and so in New Zealand, you know, they don't, they don't send cases like that to restorative justice. It's gotta be pretty serious to go to restorative justice. Restorative justice is a serious thing. And it's for serious stuff. And the power of the impact of hearing from the person who you harmed really applies in situations that are serious.
But if you're trying to get targets, loss prevention team to show up at a circle, like it's just garbage, you know? And then, and to me it just seems like a publicity stunt on all fronts. And I'm not saying that the, that people don't come with good heart about what it is that they wanna see happen.
They wanna see something positive move for in the world. I get it. I think people come with a lot of fear about what it would look like to do the more serious cases where I have more fear about the low level stuff, cuz it doesn't turn out well. Like, nobody feels like you've made this big production out of something.
Cuz a circle is a big deal. Like it takes sometimes a really long time to prepare people to be ready, to be accountable. And it takes a lot of courage to show up and meet with the person who's harmed you. And it takes a lot of courage to show up to meet with the people who you've harmed. Right. And. And, and you do all of the stuff for some little thing that the person isn't even taking that seriously, cuz it's not that serious.
Like, it just, it, it devalues a short of justice to my mind. So these are some of the many reasons why we sort of drew the line at more serious stuff and hope that people continue to do that. I think that it honors the process. It honors, honors the modality, the way of being and it doesn't let us pat ourselves on the back for doing something that's actually not changing anything.
David: The other question that people are often asking when we're thinking about applying restorative justice to the criminal legal system, to addressing harm and conflict, like, hey, this is a lot of work, this is serious.
Like, is this scalable? Like, how are we equipping people? Right? And I, I, I do take those critiques to heart, right? Because I think within the United States, let's just talk about the United States. They, they're probably
less, I'll be generous and say like, there are less than 5,000 people who you would trust to facilitate like mm-hmm. A repair of harm process between folks, right? Mm-hmm. And so if we're advocating for these ways of being to manifest in the world, I think it's a, it's, I think it's a legitimate critique to say, yeah, but like, you can't actually do this because there aren't enough people to like, make this happen.
How do you respond to that?
Sujatha: Yeah. Yet there aren't enough people yet. Yeah. Yeah, you're right. There're not enough people yet. And so let's keep experimenting, let's keep building the experiments and let's keep introducing more and more and more people to How to do this h how to do this in a good way.
Let's keep inviting other people to co-facilitate with us and building our confidence. I mean, there are people who I used to co-facilitate with in the beginning where I was like, they'll never get it. They're not, this is not their jam. And now there are people who, you know, I would 10000% trust to Yeah.
To, to, to do the work. So it's gonna take time. It took us a couple hundred years to build mass criminalization to the, into the, the monster it is today. Mm-hmm. So what will it take to build something gorgeous into the beauty that it will be someday? I always say the seed never sees the flower. Right?
We have to like, hold the urgency of ending mass criminalization tomorrow with the understanding that it's gonna take hundreds and hundreds of years. The paradigm shift is a really good thing to return to in thinking about this the primary paradigm shift that I think is described in structures of scientific revolution is the worldview that the earth was in the center of the solar system versus the sun.
Mm-hmm. And so when people first started to say hey, the earth is in the middle, you know, it was punished, it was punishable to say that. And it was shut down and it took a good 200 years. For the world to come to consensus. And there's still probably some people out there who think the earth is in the middle.
Right. But it took 200 years. Mm-hmm. And there were great consequences for those who knew the truth. And so I see the things the same way. I believe that the sun in the middle is restorative and transformative and indigenous peacemaking approaches to justice. And that is the sun in the middle. That's the sun in the middle.
It. And, you know everybody else still run around their punitive view with the earth in the middle. And I think it's gonna take a long time for us to help the world shift to the, to the, to the better way of doing things. Right. And there are some societies that always knew that the sun was in the middle.
Right? Yeah. You know, this is a western question, right. Of the Western. And, and, and it was based on a very particular view. And it, and there were entrenched views that were connected to it. Right. and there's still some remnants, like we still think planets go retrograde and stuff.
And when that's, that's an earth centric view. Right. And, and we still, and you know, there's some information there that's useful. You know, mercury going retrograde is fame from us in our earth centric view. Right. But But yeah, it's gonna take a ti some time. You know, it's like says, you know, another world is possible, you know, on a quiet day I can hear her breathing, you know?
Mm-hmm. She's on her way, you know? I love, I love that. And to have the humility that, yeah, I don't need to see the fruits of my labor. I just need to be putting the pieces in place. And one of those pieces is data. Like, I'm really grateful that my previous organization Impact Justice invested time and energy into making sure that we could show the system that our system works better.
Our, our system isn't a system. Our approach works better. These are the kinds of things that we're chipping away. And, and another thing,
David: can you say more on, our system isn't the system.
Sujatha: Our system isn't, the system isn't a system. I don't believe in restorative systems of justice. I don't believe in systems of justice.
I believe in community, families and communities and people having available to them places to go to when harm has happened. But it's not like a system that is being imposed from above. I think systems are easily corrupted. And so for me having available opportunities for heal conversation and healing is what we wanna be growing in the world.
David: Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm. I,
there's so much possibility, right? You ta said like, it's going to take years. Centuries. What are some of the things that you're seeing presently, some of the things that maybe you're a part of that really excites you?
Sujatha: One of the things I'm involved in that super excites me is the Chat Project Collective Healing and Transformation in Richmond, California.
We are working with families and people who are in a relationship are around intimate partner and sexual violence. People can contact chat directly and not, not through the state. Like, not call the cops, not, you know, you can just come in and, and or, you know, call and contact and, and see, you know, if there's somebody available there to help you think through a restorative justice approach towards an ongoing or past intimate partner, sexual domestic violence harms that have occurred in in your family.
And and do a little bit of co-facilitating with that and done a lot of, you know, sort of helping people think through how to do these processes. And I'm just really grateful to get to work with Chelsea and Sona around that work. They're incredible. You should have them on the show sometime.
They're incredible. And that gives me incredible hope. Like I just yeah. Did the work that is continuing on at Impact Justice with the Restorative Justice project, I'm super impressed. They've had some hiccups through the through transitioning, through leadership changes and then The pandemic, you know, has been hard on everybody.
And I know that that's true of all of us doing restorative justice work and the thoughtfulness and care with which notions of how to do RJ online through the pandemic, you know, all of this, all of this innovation that's been required has been so impressive to me. So I just believe in the next generation.
I, I think one of the things that I feel most moved by all the time is the final sort of this. Finally were awakening to the fact that gender is a continuum. It just, it's one of the most entrenched binaries that we have, right? And moving beyond binary notions of us them, right, wrong, good, bad, like Victor vanquished, gladiator Court kind of thinking requires other levers to be moved.
And I think that us understanding that there aren't two genders is a really, like that, that is, that we're awakening to that as a society is something that I get really excited about. You don't know what all the little pieces moving are gonna actually help. The paradigm shift approach actually isn't.
It's not linear. It sort of plugs along and everyone's like, the, the sun's in the middle. The, the Earth's in the middle, the earth's in the middle, the earth's the middle. And then there's like a, it's like a step ladder where it like, shoots up suddenly it's like, oh, here we are. We've arrived at this new place.
And we don't know what the tipping point is. You never know what's gonna be that thing. And so for me, my o optimism and my curiosity and my excitement comes from like, what's it gonna be that gets us to stop making enemies of each other? What's it going to take for us to stop seeing that we are really, truly interdependent?
It could be, it could be anything that really starts to tip the world over in some new way. That's exciting to me.
David: Yeah. The, the cynic in me, the, the observer of the world as I've experienced it over the past, really like 10 years, but you know, course of my life says like a lot more people getting murdered, a lot more people being harmed, a lot more people like being close enough to harm to Blake, oh, this has to change.
And there are other, like, more generative ways that those realizations happen, but so much of the. Awakening or the, the shifts happen in moments of like intense pain or at the expense of like the most marginalized people in our society and communities. And so like I have a hard time receiving that as like, and I'm energized by the possibility because like it's inevitably gonna be more harm.
More harm, more harm. And, you know, that was already going to happen. How do we keep going? Mm-hmm. There's nothing else we can do, I suppose. Mm-hmm.
Sujatha: There is nothing else we can do, my friend. The harm has been here, it has always been with us. And to be frank, it is really bad now, and it has always been really bad.
I do not believe that it is worse today. I believe that income stratification is growing, but I think that the levels of desperation and horror that people lived with in the past were as extreme, if not more extreme than the ones that we live with today, depending on what society you're living in. And so, and I'm not trying to blow sunshine and be like, it's better than it was.
Black people can vote now. Like, what? No, I'm not saying that. Please. No, I am not saying that. But there are, there are there are fundamental shifts that have occurred that are truly beneficial and more importantly, It's always been bad. Like, so for me as a Buddhist, the first noble truth is that like the way we are currently experiencing life is suffering.
Mm-hmm. Right? It is the fundamental ground that we stand on. So long as we operate in unenlightened ways, we are suffering. This is suffering. This disconnect from understanding the way in which the universe operates, causes us to have, you know, attachment to some and aversion towards others. That whether humans are experiences that cause us to harm each other, like this shit is gonna be happening until we have collective liberation.
That is exactly what is happening. So it doesn't surprise me that people are killing each other. It doesn't surprise me that people are sexually abusing each other, like sexually abusing children like that. This does not surprise me. This is the current nature of our lack of collective liberation. And so that is really hard sometimes, David.
And so we gotta like, take good care of ourselves, right? So for me it's about keeping, you know, the glass more than half full with the joy and the beauty and the happy and the, you know, whatever. Whether it's, you know, the barbecues and the porches or they're going to the temple or the dancing or the just loving on each other and taking breaks and being whole and, you know And, and just ho holding that, right.
Imagining seeing the future. You know, there's a lot of this in Miriam Kas new book. Let this radicalize You. Like, it's just, there's just this joy is like, hope is a discipline, right? It's what she says and all of this joy and beauty and love and connectivity, so critical to being able to move forward because you're absolutely right.
Like, and especially as we continue to populate this planet, like there's literally statistically just more murders, right? There's more harm. Like there's just more of us, so there's more of us to hurt each other, right? And so that, that is true. And I, I'm not trying to dismiss that. It's it's, yeah.
I mean, you said it yourself from the, from the first words outta your mouth is what's the option? What is the alternative? Is it to lie down and take it? Is it to, is it to give up? Is it to just make a lot of money myself and have my little fiefdom of my little family and get a nice car? Like I don't, like That doesn't sound good to me.
That that won't it. Oh, for those people for whom it makes them happy. Okay, fine. But first of all, I was wondering are they really happy? And number two, it won't make me happy. I know myself well enough to know that it won't. So no options. No options, but to continue to move forward in a good way.
David: Yeah. In the past for, for listeners we did this segment that we're actually going to run as a separate podcast restorative justice Reflections because you just spoke to something and, you know, because of your experiences with his Holiness the Dalai Lama you have unique insight to.
And the transition that I'm gonna make is that, you know, the world, I don't think same, the same as you. Like I don't think the world is actually worse. We just see more of it. Right. Social media, the news that that's right is pro producing. Putting all of these things in our faces, insidious sources, and sometimes just like our own collective outrage are like building more and more and compounding on each other.
And so on. Restorative Justice Reflections episode that is going to air separately from this, we're going to reflect on the recent controversy with his Holiness asking little boy to suck on his tongue, but that's going to be aired separately.
Okay. So transparently dear listeners, we just recorded an episode of Restorative Justice Reflections that is going to air next week. So look forward to that. But we're at the place in the podcast where I'm gonna ask you the questions that everyone answers when they come on.
So, in your own words, to find restorative justice. Mm,
Sujatha: I can't, in my own words, cuz I'm such a huge fan of Howard Z's words on this one. That's what I generally do is that I, I refer to his, you know Process to involve, to the degree possible everyone who's got a stake in a specific situation of harm.
And in order to collectively identify and address harm's needs and obligations in order to put things as right as possible. I mean, I just, I don't really feel like try to improve on that. I mean, sometimes I do, sometimes I think I think that there's something to be named about. He talks about a continuum of restorative processes, and I'm always like, what would, what is the, how would we define the most c what the most restorative end of that continuum?
Right? And to me, it's about face-to-face dialogue and participatory decision making in which folks who've caused harm are lovingly held directly accountable to crime survivors, self-identified needs, or I don't even like the words crime survivors to, to survivors, self-identified needs. So I guess that's my definition of restorative justice, if I have one.
David: Beautiful, beautiful. As you've been doing this work, what has been an Oh shit moment? It can be a time where like, oh, I made a mistake. I wish I had never done that. I've learned better. Or it can be like an aw shit. Yeah, I did that anyway. Oh,
Sujatha: the oh shit. And the aw shit. Okay. All right. One of each maybe, I mean, I've worked on a few cases where I've worked in tandem with the system or in tandem with the circumstances that have caused the process to be more rushed, and I know better. Like, I'm like, that took two, that would've taken two or three circles. Not one, but we only had this much time, or we only had, or we were up against this.
And the up against this compromises the work. And I don't like doing that to folks. So that, that is, that's a regret that I've often had. Not often. I've only, I've only had that situation come up a couple times and it just shortchanges the storytelling and it changes the time and space and breathing room to be able to hold sometimes, especially in murder cases, sexual violence cases, like we wanna make more space for that.
Right. So that's, that's one. And then, yeah, you know, I, I don't know. I just, every, every sexual violence case that I get to do when people are able to say directly to the person they sexually violated Yeah. That, you know, this was on me and I should've, I should've understood that that was not what you wanted.
And I, you know, I should've known better. And what can I do now? And I don't even wanna put it on you to have to tell me, but I also wanna leave space for you to like, when they just get it right, when the person who's caused harm gets it. Right. I feel like, oh my God. Like my friend Amita Swen they run their co co-director of this thing called Mira Memoirs, which is an organization that is for queer and trans bipo survivors of child sexual abuse.
And I myself identify as queer and Amita ha has on their Facebook page this quote, be who you needed when you were younger. And when I am helping people you know, take responsibility for what they did, I feel like I am living into that. You know, I'm like, oh, I am being who I needed when I was younger.
And and when I, when, when I'm facilitating those, those moments where I get to see people take responsibility directly. There was one particular case I worked on where it was like a young teenage girl and an older boy in her high school who had sexually harmed her. And I mean, he knocked it out of the park in terms of taking responsibility.
And she found her power and totally told him off. And he sat there, threw it, and got it, and said all the right things. And it totally diffused her rage. And she, her mom told me in the weeks following that dialogue, like she was just like, she said, she became an even more empowered person than she was before the assault.
You never want your kid to be sexually assaulted, but also, like, I don't even know who she is today. Like she is next level empowered young woman. And I, I just, I'm like, guy helped with that. I helped hold that space. And that case to this day makes me so grateful for when I think about who I was when I was her age.
Oh my gosh, I was a mess. And I felt. In many ways really alone. I had some good people around me, including my sister who was really holding it down for me and knew what I had lived through. But man, that is like, that is like next level. It's like my work is done here in the universe. Like, you know, that.
And then sometimes when I'm starting to story tell around it and doing some writing, writing a book right now, and sometimes I, I hit a, i, I nail a paragraph where I feel like that is it. That is, that's the paradigm shift thinking that I wanna get out there in the world. And I'm like, oh yeah, that's good.
David: So I'll ask this here. I was in conversation with Donna Harra last night in preparation for having this conversation with you, and she was like, make sure she talks about the book. Oh, how cute. So, you know Donna, what is what, what's coming, what's, what are you working on?
Sujatha: I'm working on a book about forgiveness and restorative justice ends up in there and there will be another book on restorative justice at some point, but this book is just the book that I am imagining putting out there in the world is and that I've done some, some writing on is a book about actually starting when I was, you know, in my, in my early twenties and really just a hot mess and miserable and my journey to healing myself and to trying to find my way out of the rage and habitual responsiveness instead of not responsiveness, reactiveness instead of responding that I was living with back then and how ineffective it was for me and everyone around me and how I found my way to To forgiveness and to restorative justice.
And those are two really, really different things, right, as we talked about earlier in, in this episode. But yeah, so it's the story of meeting his holiness and receiving his advice about how it is that rage doesn't have to be the work that constantly fuels everything I do. and how it led me to, you know, both forgiveness of my father, but then also more importantly, not more importantly, equally importantly a life and restorative justice.
And and then some short essays, I think is the way I'm conceptualizing it now about what some of those major takeaways were. It's not a self-help book. It's kind of like a memoir and essays about the short memoir that help deepen that understanding. So that, and the title of the book is called Angry Long Enough.
And I hope that that will, that's what I imagine the title to be today. I hope that it will express the importance of having been angry at some point. There was a time for anger, and then there was a time in which I wanted to have other types of fuel, cleaner fuel. It's like solar instead of you know, other kinds of fuel to, to fuel the work.
And so, That, that's what the book is. And I like writing. I didn't know cuz I, I'm so out there doing it in the world all the time that I don't, I haven't, I've been taking more and more time to actually engage in the writing process. And I joined this really amazing thing called the Unicorn Authors Club.
And it is like for bipoc Writers in there, out their allies to to, to, to work on, to work on a book. And it's been incredible. And so I feel really, really grateful for this time and this space that I've been afforded in my life right now. To have been able to step away from the day-to-day work.
I'm still doing it. I'm still, you know, working a little bit with chat and facilitating some cases and definitely doing trailers. Just why I saw Donna was because I was down in la mm-hmm. With Homeboy Industries and doing some, how do we start to think about the possibilities of restorative justice and domestic violence in that community?
Really grateful that people still keep asking me to do a few things here and there, but thinking about a shift towards being more of a paradigm shift communicator, that, that would be my job somehow. Like somebody gimme that title Paradigm shift communicator, whether it's through books or other types of media trying to get, get the word out that there are other ways of being and we can find our ways there.
And it is like that other world is possible. And we can actually start to imagine it, plan for it, create it, co-create it. That's, that's what I wanna do next.
David: Beautiful. Beautiful. And so when that book comes out, you know, this is a request and I'm not taking no for an answer. Yes. I'm taking no for an answer.
So like, you're gonna come back on and, and fund that when it comes time. That's funny. That was not, that was so rude, but no, so great.
Sujatha: Just not allowed to say that to sexual violence survivor. That's, don't cut that. That's funny.
David: Yeah. Paolo, you have to leave that, you have to leave that in there. Egg on my face.
Egg all over my face.
Sujatha: It's gorgeous. I love it. Well, you don't have to take no for an answer because my answer is yes. I will happily come back and, and tell you all about the book when it's done. So it might be a minute. Because I am moving forward in a good way. I am attending to my own my own the pace, the wisdom is sort of being spun out of my engagement with my memories and and learning how to tell really hard things in beautiful ways, I think is the whole work of restorative justice.
So what does it look like to write a book in a restorative justice way, you know, to, to spin the beauty out of the horrors? That is, that's our work. And we can, we can do that. We can do that on the page. We can do that with each other. So, yay.
David: Beautiful. You get to sit in circle with four people, dead or alive.
Mm-hmm. Who are they and what is the question you ask? The circle?
Sujatha: I would say that the four people are his holiness, the Shiva who are both alive. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, just cuz I mean the two of them together was such a beautiful thing. And also just cuz he is who he is and Harriet Tubman. And so those are my four. And I think what I would ask them about would be about telling me the source of your confidence to continue doing the sacred, beautiful work that you do.
What is the source of your confidence? I think that, and I would ask them that because it's what I need. I need to be more confident. I, I still live with somebody said the other day, imposter syndrome isn't accurate because those of us who have it think that we don't have imposter syndrome. We think we're actually imposter.
And so, no, I don't have imposter syndrome because I'm the actual imposter. But I mean, it's, it's not that severe, but there's still some residual I'm in my way. And so the question would be around the confidence that causes them to be out there in the world, not in their own way. Right. They just, they, they, all, four of them strike me as beings who.
Were, were unimpeded by any of their own shit, right? For like this incredibly powerful, positive forward movement. And so that is that I, that is what I would ask them. I think a lot of us have a lack of confidence, a lack of self-belief, or other related things that are stopping us for being the forces of nature that we all are.
And so those are four who seem to have figured that one out. And I would like to know more. I would like to know more about that and their journey to that place. Maybe they came outta the womb that way. All four of 'em. I don't know, but yeah. But that would be good to know.
David: So what happens often on this podcast is I turn the question back to the guest, right?
Mm-hmm. Where do you get your confidence to shine as you do? Mm-hmm. But I want to answer and maybe speak to you the way that I started our conversation. One, because like one, I imagine like all of those people will tell you all of the times where like they weren't confident and like, experience like lots of the same things that you're experiencing as you've navigated the world.
But like, Sujatha take a step back and acknowledge that. Me, like someone who you've met twice and now have spent like significant time with, like yay. Has so been impacted by, you know, the work that you've done. And like, I'm not even like the person who has been in space, like where you're facilitating like these amazing healing processes.
So seemingly confidently, right? Confidently enough that the people in those spaces trust you enough to like bear their souls, bear their vulnerability, their hurt, their pain their aspirations for wanting to be better, to do better. Where does that confidence come from you to do that? Mm-hmm.
Sujatha: Knowing that it's not about me when I am in the moment of facilitating those dialogues, this is a beautiful question, by the way, thank you so much for making me engage in this process. So I am supremely confident when I'm bringing people together for these ki you can't not be, you can't be trepidatious when you're bringing somebody to talk to the person who killed their child.
Like there can't be any, you have to totally, you know, be solid and certain, and I am when I'm doing these processes, and yeah, because it's not about me. I am doing this for them a hundred percent, for all of them equally. And so that, that is one of the biggest sources. It's not about me. And yeah, but I think my other source of confidence comes from my daily practice, right?
I have a really beautiful visualization that I do six times a day that involves an ocean of, you know, life giving milk that is growing a tree in the, an infinite space. And it's got these 11 layers in it and, and these, and, and layers of beings, all these Buddhas and and gods and goddesses, and they're all doing incredible work to make the world beautiful, to make the universes beautiful and safe and filled with loving kindness and compassion.
And I hang out with them six times a day. And, you know, they guide me and, and I see them. You, you, you really visualize them as alive. Like you, they're breathing and some of them are talking with each other and they, they're going off to be of benefit and returning and reporting back what happened out there in this crazy samsara existence.
We're all in. And so So I know that they love me and all beings equally and infinitely. I do actually in the core of my being, know that. And so when I, I, I would like to live every day, all day in that, that level of confidence. But at least do it 3, 3, 3, 6 times a day. I get it in. And I think that juices me up to, to go to a podcast, even though there's always a question, like I have a shame spiral afterwards.
Like, oh, did I talk too much? Did I say the wrong things? Like, what's gonna happen with that? Are people gonna cancel me? Okay, yeah, I still have all that. Right? And, but then I'm just like, mm, nah. The buddhas are telling me, be brave. Go out there, say your thing. Be useful, be beneficial. Be of benefit. Useful is the wrong word.
Sounds like all capitalists be of benefit to others. And I know that they, that they know they want me to succeed. And so I feel like held. I feel like they got me. Yeah.
David: Love it. I love doing that to folks. I love that. That was awesome. I love that framework of questioning. Couple of things to get you off quick, and I have so many things that we're gonna talk about the next time that you're on here that you know, folks are just gonna have to wait for.
But where, you know, the book is coming, where can people support you and your work? Oh, in the ways that you want to be supported?
Sujatha: How wonderful. Yeah. I mean I am not really out there in the world so much, right? Honestly, for, for the year of 2024 I'm gonna be doing like maybe a couple of talks and that's it.
The way people can support me honestly, is that like after this you'll go check out my website and then there's a contact Sujatha page and it says, Sujatha is not doing things. And so please forgive me if I do not write you back. I, I get like, my inbox is overflowing with survivors and with folks who cause harm and with people who, you know, would like me to be interviewed for your, you know, school newspaper or for your master's thesis or whatever.
And I, I can't tell, once upon a time if anyone wanted to even hear anything I was saying, I was like, oh my goodness, yes. And now I'm kind of drowning in requests. And so forgive me. That is how you can support me. Forgive me for not being able to get back to you as quickly as I would like or at all or for sending you in some other direction.
And and yeah, someday when I have sold a book to somebody and it's out there in the world, check it out. And yeah, I think that's it. And just really just keep lifting up restorative justice. Look to all the amazing organizations out there doing such incredible work across the board. There are so many almost all of whom have been on your show now, David and I just I would love to, to have people just, just keep the faith believe that it's possible.
Those are some of the ways that you can support me, but right now I'm kind of going inward. I'm going on retreat. I'm gonna do some more writing. I'm gonna get quiet for a while and remember me when I come back. How's that?
David: Beautiful, beautiful. And you know, if you do like send, go, go to the contact page at sujathabaliga.com/
I'll spell it correctly in the show notes, in the description. Send a note in the contact about like how awesome she was on the podcast. And then you'll be tuned in on the email list whenever the book does come out. And so let's do that. There's our call to action. Okay. Since
Sujatha: I have to make an email list.
Okay. I will know
David: inherent. Well, we, we'll talk
Sujatha: about that out. Thank you. I need all that help. I need all that help.
David: Sujatha, thank you. So, oh my gosh, so much. You know, I'm very much looking forward to the next time we're in space together and too, sharing these airwaves. But for those of you listening, I know you've been blessed by all of this.
And we'll be back with another episode with Sujatha actually early next week, the restorative Justice Reflections. And then next Thursday with somebody else living this restorative justice life. But until then, take care.
Sujatha: Thanks so much, David. Appreciate you