This Restorative Justice Life

58. Restorative Justice in the Criminal Legal System w/ Erika Sasson

October 28, 2021 David Ryan Castro-Harris Season 2 Episode 4
This Restorative Justice Life
58. Restorative Justice in the Criminal Legal System w/ Erika Sasson
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Erika has studied human rights, law, criminal justice, Peace and Conflict studies, and more. She was involved in creating the Red Hook peacemaking program, and she was the director of restorative practices at the Center for Court Innovation, for over a decade she oversaw CCI’s restorative initiatives across a broad range of disciplines. 

You will meet Erika (1:45), hear about her experiences in the courtroom (7:40), and learn how she lives restoratively (25:24). She discusses her law experiences (31:48) and working in schools (54:10). Finally, she unpacks her privilege (1:06:00) and answers the closing questions (1:14:45).

Learn more about the Redhook Peacemaking Program:
https://www.courtinnovation.org/publications/red-hook-peacemaking-program

Redhook Peacemaking Program Doc: https://narf.org/nill/documents/2014_red_hook_peacemaking.pdf 

CCI Healing from Conflict: Restorative Approaches and a Path Forward for Justice
https://www.courtinnovation.org/publications/healing-conflict-restorative-approaches-and-path-forward-justice 

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David (he/him)  
Erica, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you? 

Erika Sasson  
Um, thanks, David for having me. Um, who am i? i? I'm first relational. I'm a daughter. I'm a sister. I'm a wife. I'm a stepmother. I'm a mother, my granddaughter still, which is really exciting. Yeah, those are, those are my key relationships. I'm a neighbor, also, I want to say that.

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Erika Sasson  
 I'm an immigrant, daughter of a refugee. Family all over the world. And this has become kind of increasingly interesting to me to think about. What is it married to an immigrant as well? What does it mean to be from so many different places? What does it mean to speak different languages? What does that do to your perspective, that feels kind of really important to me as I build an understanding of my identity that spans the Middle East in all kinds of ways fans, Canada, and now I'm an American, which is very bizarre. And new for me, I just became an American. So my kind of geographic and linguistic identity is really mixed. Hmm, are you. Um, I'm someone who makes like, a lot of faces on zoom. And so I think it's gonna be really different. To do a podcast where you don't see I think I'm really excited where you don't see all the face that I constantly am making. And sometimes I'm on zoom calls, and people are like, what is it? What's going on? I'm like, nothing. I'm just making a lot of face. So I am definitely somebody who makes a lot of face. I don't know, I don't know how that will translate into audio.

David (he/him)  
Who are you? 

Erika Sasson  
Um, I really am someone who loves humor and pleasure and fun and connection. And I really like people. That's something about who I am. I think that probably probably true, mostly true, true six days out of the week.

David (he/him)  
 Who are you?

Erika Sasson  
Oh, my God, You're gonna go for it and ask me, seven times.

Erika Sasson  
I am, I've been thinking a lot. I mean, I'm, I'm dealing with mortality, as everybody is in the pandemic, I'm thinking about a lot. I'm thinking about my time and my life, my relationship to time. And I've been thinking a lot about the, the gap between our kind of huge infinite consciousness, and then our little finite existence and how so much about moving through the day, the week, the years is managing the gap between the two and like, how it impacts our identity and our sense of self. So I'm kind of that's probably, I'm somebody who can think, who likes to think about that as well, like, consciousness, presence. Those things keep me up a little bit. 

David (he/him)  
Who are you

Erika Sasson  
He's gonna ask it again, folks? He is asking it again.

Erika Sasson  
I'm I'm emerging. I'm just like, I'm emerging. There, I'll just give you one word for that one. 

David (he/him)  
Who are you?

Erika Sasson  
God, Seven's the charm. I'm here.

David (he/him)  
Well, thank you so much for being here. Erica. We're going to explore a lot of the things that you talked about in those intersections, as well as your journey in this work of quote unquote, restorative justice. But before we get going, it's always good to check in so to the fullest extent that you want to share how are you

Erika Sasson  
I'm again, I'm happy to be here with you even feel really comfortable. That's really nice. I am, I don't know my kids just had COVID. You know, we are a working parent in a pandemic, half of half of the time like that is really that's what I should have answered for Who am I and how I, how I am is intimately connected to being to being a working parent and a pandemic. Um, but I am right now kind of on the precipice of a transition, and I'm feeling really energized by it. Really, I'm energized. That's how I am. Well, how are you I get to ask you back. How are you?

David (he/him)  
I'll respond by saying like, you know, I am excited to be having this conversation. You know, Elyse gave us a wonderful intro of you with like, the fancy bio entitled and all those things. But you know, I shared with you the last time that we talked that, you know, you're someone who I've recognized is like, Oh, yeah, like this is somebody who's like been doing some cool things, some innovative things within the context of your work at CCI, and this was I was learning about restorative justice, at the same time where I was involved with a project that was getting a lot of support from CCI, and I was like, Oh, so Erica, so I'm, like, cool, we're gonna, we're gonna get to connect. And we connected a couple months ago and had an initial conversation. And I think that that's what lends to this being a little bit more comfortable. And we decided that that wasn't a great time to record because of the transition that you're going through. And so, you know, you are in this process of transitioning out of your role at CCI into some of the great things coming in the future. But, you know, this has been a long journey to get to this point. 

David (he/him)  
So I'm curious, from your perspective, how did this work? It started with you probably before you knew the word restorative justice. 

Erika Sasson  
Yeah, I think that that's true for a lot of people is like restore justice kind of just gives you a name or something to use for something you felt before. I always think about k pranas, talking about this process of remembering that always struck a chord with me that we're remembering something that we used to do, I can give kind of a short answer. That has to do with my first job out of law school, right out of the gate was as a prosecutor, a federal prosecutor in Canada. And I want to say for the American audience, that Canadian prosecution is different, has certain certain different guardrails, I think that are really important and how it's practiced. So it wasn't exactly like being a prosecutor here. But But definitely similar. 

Erika Sasson  
And I remember feeling, you know, there was this experience, and I've talked about it before. So I don't want to repeat that. But it was so physical, for me, the experience of being in a courtroom, because the way that the Canadian courtrooms were designed is that the person who was accused of the crime would be standing kind of behind me and to the right. And I was often standing or sometimes to the left, but definitely behind me. And I would be facing the judge. So I was in Canada, you always stand when you speak to the judge, I'm standing up and face talking to the judge and talking about a person who is behind me who I can't see. And the physical experience of that was, like I used to get a neck ache, because I'd want to look at the person who I'm talking to, or talking about, I'd want to use their name, you know, I wouldn't want to call them the accused, which is what we the the word we use for defendant in Canada. And so I'd want to say mister so and so and, and look at the person, but I can't look at the person because I have to look at the judge. 

Erika Sasson  
And that was kind of my first I would say that was like a hint that like I'm I'm in the wrong place because my body isn't enjoying the experience of what I'm doing. And then I would talk to defense counsel, and I want to know about the person I'd want to talk directly to the person who was accused of a crime. And that was obviously a No, no. And there was always fun stories of me really connecting with people who are going through and knowing their names, and then knowing my names, and I was looking for connection everywhere, despite the kind of natural barriers of the court and of the system. And so I was there for about two something years. And I you know, hightailed it, and came to America to do my Master's in law. And I spent the time doing my Masters thinking about, you know, what I had experienced? And what did I learn because I wanted to be in the system only insofar as I could really understand its, its mechanics, but not insofar as it would start to understand me and take me away from myself. So I did that short experience. And I felt like this need to connect this need to talk directly. This need to to be face to face was just constantly interrupted. That was maybe my I'm in the wrong space, and I'm looking for something else. I just don't know what it's called.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I'm thinking about the first thing that you shared here was like the relationships that you have. you're someone who I've experienced as someone who's highly relational, wanting to be in good relationship with people. present company included, right? you're someone who studied Peace and Conflict Studies, how does someone with those ideals decide like, prosecutor? 

Erika Sasson  
Some of it is, you know, the other part of the prosecutor is that you're in relationship with the judges and you're in relationship with defense counsel, and I was an actor before I was you know, even throughout law school, I was taking acting and you know, really serious about acting and the performance of court, you know, if if the content of what was going on in the court room were different, I would have stayed and been a litigator, because I so enjoyed the kind of high energy performance of everything I just couldn't, you know, the content, I would leave court and cry and, you know, as a very high performing prosecutor in the sense that like I, you know, very focused very, you know, into my work and doing the right thing, and I had a lot of support to do what I thought was the right thing, which was incredibly important to me. And I had a wonderful boss, who kind of supported me the way I was, and didn't expect me to be something else. I mean, it wasn't different, I was really the same as I am now. And, you know, but it was like, it was it was very, really, the courtroom is the most, you know, the courthouses, you know, the court officers, everybody's just kind of in constant relationship. And that piece of it, I really loved it, it was it was just the underlying issues that were really terrifying.

David (he/him)  
I'm imagining that most people listening to this conversation, have not had to go through criminal proceedings in court, right, I'm someone who spent a little bit of time in felony court, as an intern in Cook County Jail, and like, you realize that not only is a court room, a place where people, you know, are tried and sentenced and all that, but it's also a place of work. Right? 

Erika Sasson  
Right. Right.

David (he/him)  
 Like, you know, we talked about how like, schools are places where students go to learn, but it's also like, places where like, adults go and work every day and are in relationship. They're like, those relationships matter. We're gonna circle back to that relationship piece, like within the context of the court, court, workplace in a little bit when we get into your work at CCI, but, you know, take us through that journey of like, a, I'm done with this, I'm gonna look for something different. And, you know, find the words, quote, unquote, restorative justice.

Erika Sasson  
It's funny, I met my current, my husband at the time, he was I had just met him when I was deep in the, in that world. And you know, right. This is funny, David, right. Before we started, we both did a self neck massage, man up, like get grounded, and always takes me back because my husband gave me a neck massage. I remember when I kind of first met him. And I just started to cry. And I was just crying, crying, crying, crying, and just a lot of the people that I had met, and a lot of the things that I had seen, were sitting on me in a bad way. And I think I always think about that moment. Like, Oh, no, you know, nothing, everything's cool, everything's fine. But really, I'm, I'm, I'm upset and like, deeply upset. So that was almost my first self indication that, you know, this work is hurting, it's not giving me what I want. And it's not, you know, allowing me to do be in the world in the way that I want to be in the world. So there was that. And then I, you know, I went to, I went to do a master's in law. And I use that as a way to kind of come into New York, I was very, very Canadian. I didn't understand New York law, or the way things work in New York. And I, so I was really grateful to have a year of study, and a year of reflection, which is so important for me.

Erika Sasson  
And, you know, we in that year, I studied with people like, you know, James Gilligan, who writes about shame and violence, and patriarchy, and David Richards, and there was, there was some professors who gave me a little bit of language around, you know, what does silencing people mean? I mean, I don't think there's anything more sensing than the criminal legal system. And, you know, just that, that fact, the fact that your deepest, right, if you're accused of a crime is, and you need that, right, I don't ever take away the fact that people need the right to remain silent. But that that right, hurts you, and it hurts the people that you have hurt if you have hurt them. And it doesn't allow you to move through certain things. So it's like it's baked in the thing that you need the most is baked into, you're not moving forward in a good way. 

Erika Sasson  
Now working through some of those ideas kind of came through for me. Also, like I mentioned, I you know, I had been an actor and like, some of the, some of the things I love, you know, love in the world around expression, also, like, why do I love expression? Why do I love truth telling? You know, another way I could have answered your question, Who are you? I'm somebody who really likes to say the truth, I really like it. I'm actually uncomfortable in like passive aggressive environments, I kind of can't take it. And, you know, I'm like, I want to break it. You know, sometimes zoom meetings, I like act out if people are too happy, you know, and that's terrible. I have to just get off the zoom meeting and stop acting out. But you know, I, I really value truth telling. And so those were some of the ideas that were starting to percolate for me after I left working within a courthouse.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. And so masters of law, restorative justice came in when?

Erika Sasson  
Well, so there's like this whole other journey that happened also, in all of our journeys are like multifaceted, and they kind of ebb and flow into each other like little streams and making, making waves. But even before when I was in law school, I had spent a summer in Ecuador, studying this indigenous form of justice of the Ottawa people, which is a WA. And they're an, you know, a, an indigenous nation in Ecuador that has it, they live deep in the cloud forest and the jungle in villages that are not hit by the mainstream Ecuadorian society. And they have their own justice system, and it's a lot of corporal punishment. But it's also a lot of shaming. And I think when they use shaming, they mean more reintegrate of shaming, in the sense of saying what you did wrong and saying in front of the community and and then then again, there can be use of corporal punishment, and my job that summer was to study it. 

Erika Sasson  
And so I would spend time in these remote villages. And that helped me to break a few of my maybe preconceptions about what how things should be. I'd also say that I studied in Canada, and I study the civil law system and the common law system in French and in English, simultaneously. So again, between like the indigenous system, and then my law studies that were two more systems, all of these things help you step out of the system. And think, because everything is a choice, if you use corporal punishment, that's a choice. If you use civil law, that's a choice. Nothing is what is I mean, this goes back again, to this like idea of being from many countries and different speaking different languages, like, can you exist outside of your reality? and figure out what is fiction, what has been decided and what is endemic and necessary. And I think that my legal studies helped me do that help me say, like, you don't doesn't have to be a judge and a jury, it can be something else. So that's kind of a little bit of a prelude. 

Erika Sasson  
And then I'm so lucky. My first job at CCI was as part of this tribal justice exchange, which had me talking about, I would say, you know, conventional Western legal practices with tribal justice systems. So there was this whole exchange of information between the New York system and a different tribal systems. And as part of that exchange, we would travel and travel across different native villages and reservations and see what's going on over there. And here, what they were working on in a lot of what they were working on with peacemaking.

Erika Sasson  
And so in that context, I mean, I think that really opened my world because peacemaking was so special, and I felt so privileged to be there, when I did this one trip, where we went to the Colville reservation, where they had a peacemaking program, but we brought to Navajo peacemakers, to coleville to do cross Tribal Training, and I just got to be there, you know, and that, that kind of level of exposure and nuanced exposure again, it's not this like monolith one peacemaking thing, this idea that I'm seeing two tribes exchange ideas and say, Well, what do you do in this situation? Well, I don't know. What do you do, right? And like, everything becomes a bit like a lasagna. It's a horrible, horrible food analogy, but I just, there's just layers. And it's not a monolith. But that was terrible. So I'm going to just pass it back to you.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, I'm curious. Like, that was that was one of those one of many instances where, like, you were able to understand that like, just because something is written is not the way that things have to be, right. Yeah, you've you've been able to take multiple perspectives of how people go about problem solving, whether it is a peacemaking, whether it is shaming, whether it is through a formal formal process, as you observe those things. What were the things that stood out to you as like, a little bit of this, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, like, what are the common threads that you were like, this is actually what I want to be doing. And this is actually what feels right.

Erika Sasson  
There was this amazing trip I made to Alaska, and I remember sitting in, it was with with the yupik Eskimo community. And I would just sit there and they spoken yupik which was beautiful as well just to be in a village that spoke its original language. And I have this very visceral memory of their speaking all on yupik. And it's all elders and watching them listen to each other not understanding necessarily, definitely not understanding what they're saying. But watching them listen, and it was, I mean, as I feel like, you know, I'm from this kind of Middle Eastern Jewish family, there's a lot of hands, there's a lot of talking, there's a lot of interrupting and my family. And it, this slowdown that I have done over the years, which I don't do in a one on one dialogue, so no judgments, but I certainly experience in a peacemaking or in a restorative justice space, the complete slowdown, the complete listening, without thinking of what I'm going to say to somebody else, that kind of that weight has been waiting, I mean, has been really special for me. And I use it in my personal life all the time. And I certainly use it in my professional life that I can turn off that need to reply and then need to fix and then need to be in control. Those are all things that I absolutely love to do, I love to do it in the courthouse, I love to do it in my you know, but like, learning how to not do that has been probably the key to getting deeper into this work.

David (he/him)  
I guess what's been the hardest part about embracing that.

Erika Sasson  
I think, I think sometimes I want other people to do it. And I want them to get it and, and I want them to just listen to each other to me. And they're you know, and there's like there's a cultural difference. There's this like culture of active listening, and it's a way of showing people use it to show their compassion and their connection. And I experienced that as alienating when people are like, you know, so active into each other's you know, so I think sometimes like, I can feel like a little impatient and people don't embrace it, but it's, I, I gotta, I gotta just let people be.

David (he/him)  
I'm reflecting on when I first learned about circle, right, and that, you know, sitting through a training for four days and experience for four days with this deep listening and like, yeah, like, and, or shubh, talking about how, you know, like, you know, circle starts, the real work of circle starts when you leave the circle and like wanting to go out into the world, quote, unquote, transformed by this way of being and then like, nobody else in my life had that experience. Right? And so like, how do you invite people in without having that? That similar experience that you did, and like, I think there's something about modeling, I think there's something about having explicit conversations about, you know, agreements about how we want to be together, but for people that you don't get to have those conversations with. That is something that I was like, well, damn, like, existing within those two worlds, and having to navigate both with was a challenge.

Erika Sasson  
I was gonna say, I think there's sometimes I remind myself that there's like a deeper lesson in a circle practice, which is that you're everybody is welcome. And that we can't all agree, like, even when you think about making agreements, the agreement isn't what do you want? It is, you know, what can we agree on? Or what can we live with? Not this idea that everyone's going to get exactly what they want, because that's just not the world we live in. And people are really different. And that's an amazing thing that you can get from circle practices to be in community with people who are incredibly different from you. And so sometimes I just remind myself, like, Don't forget that part of the circle practice either that, like you're supposed to be able to be with other people who are.

David (he/him)  
I'm curious, like to zoom out a little bit just to, like laser in on that. We could pick any number of issues that like we're facing in society at large, but let's, let's just think about like, wearing masks. How do we agree to be together in a circle way? When we're talking about from your my perspective, life and death, and from somebody else's perspective, like, my God given freedom?

Erika Sasson  
I mean, we're gonna disagree clearly, you know, I think so much this, like, there's something wrong when everything is about personal freedom, I think, you know, and I've actually just asked myself as, like, why do I think that when I certainly feel that abortion is a choice, right, like, I absolutely, deeply believe that. And, you know, so it's like, what, where I draw the line is different than where somebody else draws the line, and trying to understand what are the social and cultural factors that have come into where I draw my lines and so I want to have some, like, I want to say that first because I don't necessarily understand how we all kind of position ourselves. But if I would, you know, if I was going to zoom out on on the masks or anything else like that. There is You know the part and to connected to restorative justice there's, we just don't have a good developed sense of collective responsibility. We've just completely abandoned that whole ethic. And that's something that we get from research just from from sitting in circle from thinking beyond the individual, like, if you want to have into two individuals deal with their individual issues, go to me, you know, you can go to mediation, you can go to the courts, you can go to anything that's designed to work around individuals. But what makes restorative justice special, in my opinion, is the zoom out about our collective harm, our collective responsibility, the extent to which we've enabled or fostered harm beyond what the individual has done. And so like those, that ethic is absent right now, in America, it's just really absent and in favor of an individualism that is, like, toxic and harmful. I, you know, it's i that is the issue, I think.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, yeah, thank you for for entertaining that and like I wasn't expecting, XYZ answer this is this is the exact way to do that. If it was that easy. Somebody would have figured it out by now. Right. But But thank you for that, you know, what you brought out in there is this idea of collective responsibility, like the interconnection between folks, that is so present throughout, in my experience, right, through the way that indigenous people across the world, have moved in, like built their lives around, built their communities around, you were initially exposed to this way of thinking, like through just problem solving, right, like conflict resolution, like you came to it from a lens of like, these are the ways that people are navigating harm. But I'm curious, like, as you were exposed to those ways, like, how did that ethic of interconnection and collective responsibility, seep into, you know, your understanding of this way of being? That we're calling restorative justice, right?

Erika Sasson  
I mean, I think here, I want to say, you know, if I, if I was gonna go for around eight of Who am I am somebody with really, really amazing teachers who have honored me, and and what they've shared with me? And so to answer this question, I would say, I think, really primarily of, of my teachers, so I think of a number of teachers in the Navajo Nation, but particularly Ray Diehl, who is in who really has taught me that this is about ceremony, it's really about like almost nothing other than ceremony, what is sacred and what is connected and, and all of those pieces of the work. And so sometimes you can see it restorative justice, that is, it can be a little bit more kind of like programmatic and 1, 2, 3. But I kind of try to kind of pull into what I learned, being on the Navajo Nation and participating in ceremony, and having ceremony here in my home, and in Red Hook and, you know, in different areas. 

Erika Sasson  
And that, you know, one time I remember I did a circle was a grief circle. I didn't say much I was in a way I was I had to kind of organize the circle, but I was just a presence of community presence during the circle its self, I didn't facilitate it. And I realized that my job in that circle was just to pray, essentially, and I'm not like a religious person, but I found this ability to pray for the people who are grieving the person who had been taken from them. So that that is a lot for me about what restorative justice is I also think of Kay Pranis, who really has drawn out this idea of collective responsibility of what does it mean to be part of the collective that you can't have restorative justice that doesn't really draw on that. And so I would say that she has really opened my mind into that direction.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I'm thinking about how the word ceremony, right means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. A similar word is ritual. Right? I'm thinking about the contrast between the rituals of the criminal legal system. And bringing this ethic of where it is, in a lot of ways oppositional like, and I think there is some idea of like, collective responsibility of like, safety, quote, unquote, safety for the public good. But the way that the the rituals of the criminal legal system go about getting to safety aren't necessarily very humanizing. Right? 

David (he/him)  
How do you bring restorative justice, peacemaking, collective responsibility into these systems, through your work at CCI, and in some other ways that you are, you know, continuing to learn and growing.

Erika Sasson  
So now I want to say that I want to answer your Who am I? Number nine, and I want to, you know, I'm going to answer it more than any of your other guests ever. And I feel like one, one who I am is, I am comfortable, I'm like, I'm ready to work in non ideal spaces, and ready to work with what is and what is practical, and what is impacting people, even when it cuts our ideals, and makes us feel crappy. And so and that's, I think, how I would describe working with the criminal legal system working in a big nonprofit, you know, these, there are just so many moments of conflict that come up, or of saying, like, this is not how I want it to be, and having that fight and having that debrief with your team and trying to kind of like understand how are we going to be effective, when we're fighting so many things, maybe you're doing some really good work with people, and then, you know, it gets undone so easily by this, the monolith, you know, by the system that is in place, or something else just kind of undoes all your work, and it can feel really demoralizing. 

Erika Sasson  
You know, we're or, you know, something else, sometimes, you know, systems folks will be like, you know, give us the, and I say this with schools as well, you know, do your magic thing on this kid, or do this, you know, fix this conflict. And, you know, they're sprinkling, you know, $10, and, you know, whatever it is, like some kind of fraction of the energy and output of these giant systems, and they're asking you to kind of undo a lot of harm, without any promise that they will kind of support that undoing down the road. And so, there is a lot of, it can be very demoralizing, however, I have, um, you know, we're just they're chipping away, chipping away, trying here, pushing here, having this conversation, having that conversation. 

Erika Sasson  
I work with this prosecutor, we've been working on a homicide case now for it's coming on a year, it's been a really long time are really trying to make it work. He's really coming at this with in good faith, and I appreciate him. And he tries to understand what I'm saying. And, you know, he'll say, he'll say something like,you know, I could listen to you all day, I don't totally know what you're saying, but I could listen to it all day. He's trying, you know, we're trying to bring our perspectives together, we talk a lot about how we disagree on some things. And I, again, back to the truth telling, like, I want to tell the truth about what I disagree with, but I also really try to respect what he's trying to do, which is to support a family. And I see that so I you know, I'm not always at odds with the system that I'm working with. But I can be more specific, if you want to hear like specific programmatic things that we've accomplished.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, you know, in a 10 year, career, I'm, I'm not expecting to hear all of them, but some of them would be great.

Erika Sasson  
I think the most exciting kind of first thing that I ever got my hands into was designing and developing and implementing the Red Hook peacemaking program, which runs out of red health, Brooklyn, trained community members from Red Hook. I mean, there was a time that we trained a few people from outside of Red Hook, and then we doubled down to basically only people from Red Hook, which is a very isolated community in Brooklyn, that has a very large housing project has a great community. And we train community people to sit in conflict with cases that can come either from the local court or directly from the community and they are able to resolve it using peacemaking, they're trained I say, the peacemaking because they are trained by native trainers, I don't use the word peacemaking if there's no native involvement involvement at all. So in that project they are and it's just been an incredible community. I would say that's a really incredible community journey, because it really straddles some system involvement, but really enough community ownership and empowerment, and they've done some pretty incredible things over the years. And that's been running since 2013. So over eight years, just about nine. 

Erika Sasson  
And that was really like a standout. And it became a bit of a model for how to do things. But it was in a really a really boutique court like in a small neighborhood small court. You know, for New York, it felt very boutique. And in the last couple of years, we've been thinking about how do you take cases from the downtown boards? How do you take case you know, we've a million court cases a year in New York City, I think Don't quote me. But we have a lot. And what does it mean to work in Manhattan work in the Bronx work in Queens work in Brooklyn, like in their downtown courts, which are incredibly busy. And that requires a whole different set of skills. And but we, you know, we have managed to get cases diverted from those systems using restore and including cases of, you know, violent felonies. One homicide working on another homicide, but serious cases, and you know, serious is in the eye of the beholder. So I don't always take the idea that a misdemeanor isn't serious, it's not true. But we've taken cases that are serious both to the system and to the people involved, and resolve them using a circle process using Most importantly, I would say, is making sure there are supporters in the room from their actual lives, we're going to help them manifest what they're trying to manifest. So it not be this just professional facilitator model, but a model that either brings in community members or supporters for others to hold a broader space than just the conflict or just the incident. And that's really,

David (he/him)  
The reason that I became aware of you and your work is because of Red Hook. You are someone who is in it, helping construct it with community, can you walk people through, like what the process of going a case being referred and like how that case, is, is handled. 

Erika Sasson  
So in a, I'm going to do a generalized case, that has come through our doors, so um, let's say two people have a fight. And this is the can be the different level of the fight, it can be a fight that's like, you know, breaking a bottle and a punch in the face, or it can be, you know, quite serious with a serious injury, or, you know, really up and including what I'm going to leave the homicide to the side for a second. But let's just say to people who are both still living who have a very serious fight, including serious injuries, one or two get arrested. So let's just say a situation in which sometimes both people get arrested, if it's if that's how it's called into the police. But let's say one person gets arrested, that person goes through the courts. And then the either the prosecutor or the defense lawyer, has had some contact with my team or has had some contact with restorative justice and understands that maybe this defendant feels incredibly remorseful and the defense attorney is able to, it's really important that it be a strong case, if there's a legal defense, if there's somebody else involved, if it's not clear what happened, if it didn't happen, the person didn't do it, it's incredibly important for restorative justice process under when I was when I was leaving it to say, we're not doing that case, we're not just going to take it out of the courts for you, we're only going to use a restorative justice process, when people need to face what has happened and find a way to move forward, not when they want to deny what happens, which is a very legitimate thing that they can do, but just not with us.

David (he/him)  
Right now, in here into restorative justice, like if you're not going to take responsibility for what has happened, or if you deny that it happened, right? Like, that's gonna cause more harm in the process

Erika Sasson  
It's gonna cause harm in the process. Sometimes what happens, which is really complicated for people who do diversion work or work alternative to the courts is you have people coming in who need an out from the courts, and they're like, well, you're my out. And you think the court is too punitive, I don't want you to go through courts. And you start to feel bad, and you say, oh, maybe I could be this person out. And, and that's the moment where I say, like, I want to help that person, but I cannot. And it's a really hard moment where you're denying somebody an out that you want them to have. But it won't have integrity in the process. And as you say, it'll cause harm, both to them to their end to the person maybe who has been harmed if you start to do that. Now, one more tactical thing, which is that people acknowledge responsibility, but they often have a very different version of events than the other person or than the police. 

Erika Sasson  
And in my practice, it's okay to have a different version of events, it's okay to have your 10 justifications, it's okay to say they punched me first. Do you acknowledge having done that punch? And do you wish you could have done it differently? Not Do you have a story for why it happened? Because everybody has a story for why they do things and and we got to work through that. But I don't expect people to not have a story and to come like, fully ready to say I you know, no expectations on that front. We're really just dealing with cause harm and you want to talk about it. And or did you cause some harm or some of the harm that is alleged? So that's the person comes to us so you say okay, David, you're, you're my guy, you you threw that really serious punch and that person has injuries and I say, okay, David, you want to attend that event? And you've told your defense lawyer like I feel terrible about this. I actually just don't know what to do. 

Erika Sasson  
And the defense lawyer maybe raises that with the prosecutor or more often The prosecutor calls the victim who's like, I don't want to proceed with this, I, I know he did this thing, but I don't want him to go to jail. And I want to find another way to work through it, he lives on my block, and we're going to have a fight again, if you don't work through it, I don't want to look over my shoulder, if he gets a jail sentence, he's gonna be mad when he gets out. Because, you know, he's whatever he's gonna come from me again, and I want to understand what happened. And I want to stop it from happening. Again, I think that those are almost the most key things I I'm the person who was harmed, I just want to understand what happened, I want to understand why they came from me and the way that they did. And I really don't want it to happen again, neither to me nor to somebody else. And if those are the feelings that are percolating in the people who are directly involved, and those ideas, find their way to the lawyers, sometimes the lawyers will seek me out or somebody on my team and say, is this something that you can handle? 

Erika Sasson  
And then the case would come, they would kind of agree on what would happen if we were successful. So the lawyers would say, if you're successful in restorative justice, either we will reduce the charge or we will have a dismissal, right? Like there will be some kind of drop in the sanction from the criminal legal system. We tell them all the time, please do a straight dismissal whenever you can, because that's what our goal, but then we would do a process and the process is, as you said, it's really hard. It's definitely not an easy way out. It involves sitting with the person, you know, at its best, and it's not always like this, but at its best, you're inviting someone, David, you're inviting a friend in your life who was out there, who knows you, I'll say to you, can you like who in your life like really loves you, really supports you and tells you when you're wrong? Who's that person? Like, that's the person who I want you to invite into this, someone who you fundamentally trust but isn't afraid to tell you. This isn't, you know, what you're doing isn't isn't awesome. And those people are the key to a process being successful, because often they will interject on behalf of the other person and be like, No, you know, like, it won't be and this is also really important. It won't be two teams meeting and duking it out, then I think that there that is not a way that I would recommend ever doing this kind of process, what you want is to prepare the people and their supporters. 

Erika Sasson  
And if you can get community members, I always think that that also helps to, for everyone to imagine what it would mean to move forward for everyone to imagine like, what is prevention look like? What is healing look like? What is what would you have done differently if you could have and then you bring everyone together. In Red Hook, we always do food. But I'm it's been so often virtual world that we can't be physically together and do food. But we would bring food and let people relax. And then we would eventually set up a circle to take a lot of time. Again, we're like, book three hours, please don't you know don't have anywhere to go for three hours, eat together, sit together in a circle with no in a circle of chairs with no tables in between, with a talking piece, which I'm sure your audience knows what that is. But if you don't like it's a some kind of special object that the person who is speaking gets to use without interruption. So you get to say what you have to say when you're done speaking, you would pass it and pre COVID you would pass it and then I don't know what you're doing. Everyone has their own

David (he/him)  
... pass it around or whatever

Erika Sasson  
 Keep going. But you say what you have to say got in a guided conversation. And this is also really important. It's not a free for all I tell people when I'm preparing them, I'm going to let you know when you have to, especially if the stakes are very high. So if it's like a low skill community conflict words, you know, you know that people aren't going to go off or or if the loss isn't so big or you know, whatever, depending on the stakes, but the higher the stakes, the more I prepare people to say, I'll let you know when to speak, don't worry, there will be a structure there will be a container for these feelings. There will be a break that right like all of these things that help people become there will be values depending on again, on the stem, sometimes in a peacemaking we won't do values, if it's not that kind of folks don't won't like it or they don't, you know, don't want that kind of thing. But if the stakes again, are really high, I will do values and make sure that everybody understands why we're here

Erika Sasson  
And then you move through a conversation that is again guided. In my practice, it's very organic. It's not necessarily you know, what happened who was impacted and kind of scripted, it's often more organic, but again, the higher the stakes, the more tight I keep it and give everyone a chance to speak one however many times that we need take a break And then at the end come to some kind of agreement on how to move forward. Sometimes we can't get to an agreement, and you can just feel it in the room. Like, it's just there is no agreement here. So then what I suggest is like, let's take a step, what's our step forward, and let's meet again in two weeks. And that's kind of how it works until you get to a final agreement. And then everyone will write an agreement might be, we live in the same block together, and we're going to say hello, when we see each other, or I'm going to not step on your this or I'm going to not use that derogatory word, whatever, whatever people need to have had their situation acknowledge, it could be restitution, in some cases, if there was property damage, right. It can be whatever the conflict requires. But I will say one more thing, which is that sometimes the Minister of Justice, we talked about, like people's needs, and the people in the conflict kind of coming to consensus or coming to a decision, I think that that's really important. And it's true. But I also like to include other there's a but there, which is that I like to include other community members and supporters and kind of a broader perspective. Because there there's other you know, there is this sense of like, what is the collective harm? What is the collective responsibility, and sometimes you do need to pull people out of their narratives into the bigger picture. And it can't just be kind of like one day one type of outcome. So

David (he/him)  
thank you for that walk through. For people who haven't thought about the intensive nature of working through all of this. And thinking about like restorative justice being like, Oh, this passive, like, slap on the wrist, say you're sorry, move on, like, that's really, really, really not what this is. Even the processes to have those conversations about, like, Are you willing to take responsibility for the things that you've done? Right? Like that, in itself is a tough conversation to, you know, have to face the harm that you've caused with someone else who like is trying to help you out? Much less doing it in front of somebody who you've caused harm? The criminal legal system, as it traditionally exists? Like, doesn't allow for any of that dialogue? Right? 

David (he/him)  
You talked about how it takes away the voices of almost everybody involved? Right? It's left up to lawyers to, to present a case, right? And then, you know, you have victim impact statements, or, you know, statements after after sentencing, or at sentencing about, you know, trying to influence, like the way that sentencing goes, but no, in this way of seeing each other as you know, having responsibility to each other being collected, being like, members, like mutual members of a community, like this really does allow us to, if not get back into like, sunshine and rainbows, right relationship, like you shared with agreements, how can we live together? Right? preventing this harm from happening?

Erika Sasson  
Or how can we live separately, but have said what we needed to say, so that we can move on personally, like a lot of people don't need to live? You know, so I appreciate what you're saying about, you know, it's not Kumbaya, it's not gonna happen, you know, that's not what's happening. But, you know, do you get how many how often do we sit in conflict with people in our own lives? I mean, for people who are like, you know, maybe this does sound like a slap on the wrist of so easy, you just go you say sorry, like, Think for yourself, like, do your listener have a conflict in your life that just sat on your back or sat on your heart, and you never told the person how you felt you never felt like you had an opportunity to explain what you had done? Or, you know, like, what was going through your head and you felt really misunderstood? 

Erika Sasson  
And I'd say for this part, like, why, why does it matter, it's like, getting that, that the idea of getting something off your chest, it really feels like a foot on your chest. Like if you have not expressed your version of something or you've been blamed for something that didn't feel like it happened that way and you or something happened to you and you were harmed that you didn't get to ever understand like the way that those stories sit with you. One of the things we're really trying to do is give people a reliefs be able to share what happened to you be able to say those things and we don't do it naturally. So again, to your listeners, like imagine a family member that you've never properly figured out why there's that that strange dynamic between you it's hard to do on your own and we don't have spaces that literally facilitate us being able to say The difficult thing say the truthful thing without flying off the handle slamming the door you know, all of the things that we do or you know that's that's more my version when you're like an extroverted kind of, but like or you say nothing, retreat, isolate from family, and friends and all of the things that happen when we when we don't deal with conflict, and so that's why I get why it's needed and why it's hard is because like we don't do, because it's really hard. It's really, really hard. 

Erika Sasson  
And I recently sat through I mean, watching, I don't think I've ever seen accountability that that bravely, as I saw in the spring, when I facilitated my first homicide case, you know, he, the man who had done this, he had never had to face what he had done, like facing the daughter of the person who was killed. And it was the most, and I have permission to share this, it was the most brave space I've ever seen in my whole life. It was so difficult, I was exhausted after it. Because we really were holding something for the most tender conversation, the most awful conversation to take place. And this is the part you know, specifically that I have permission to share the person whose father had died, said that she slept for three days after it was done. And she had been waiting to meet the person who had done this. And she said difficult things to him. Again, it was not Kumbaya, she said the truth over and over and over until he got it. And when she left, she slept for a number of days. And then she just felt like 1000 pounds was lifted off of her. And she shared that her kids felt that her their mother was returned, like there is so much that comes from this and it is not easy.

David (he/him)  
The follow up question that I had when I initially asked you to describe the process is how in the world is this scalable? Right, because you just talked about like, what does it look like to bring in cases from in the city? Right, much less thinking about, you know, dismantling the prison industrial complex abolition. It's as much about the dismantling as, like building these structures and systems. I don't know if scalable, is the right word. But how do we, in from your perspective, increase our collective capacity to do this work? I think I think there's an answer that talks about, like, you know, individuals and communities, just having these skills to be able to navigate conflict and harm in a better way, we do still live in a world with an enormous criminal legal system that is dealing with all kinds of harm, in ways that aren't necessarily giving people those kinds of, quote, unquote, results. 

Erika Sasson  
I mean, when we, when I did this project in Brooklyn high schools, I did a large scale trial of restorative justice and five Brooklyn high schools. And, you know, so that was the beginning of I would say, That's not scale at all, because there's 1700 schools in New York City. But it was like, Okay, we have this kind of bigger budget and bigger ability and more staff, we kind of had all that, but but one of the things that was really glaring was how we're trying to do this in an area that's so resource poor. And the bigger picture, like the social picture behind it, that causes so much conflict is not being addressed. So here we are trying to put like all these band aids and all these kids who really need, they don't need to talk about harm, and they don't need to talk about conflict they need after school programming and tons of food in the in the school, and they need to be not treated as small prisoners when they walk in. And you know, there needs to be light in the classrooms, and they literally don't need what we're offering. And they got a lot out of what we're offering. But they need these like real basics. And I feel the same way about New York City. I feel the same way. 

Erika Sasson  
When I hear this question about scale. And like the scale. I think restorative justice could be scalable in a world in which we had healthcare, which we had housing, and we wish we weren't constantly having to recover from systemic harm. And but to ask restorative justice and community based restorative justice to you know, it's like there is this gaping wound. And you're asking these tiny little practitioners to scale something up, I think I'm slightly allergic to the question, because I've got I've obviously gotten that a lot. And, you know, I think it's, I end up thinking that it's a trap for people in our movement to have to answer because we we certainly cannot fix what is happening here with just restorative justice, and everything else stays the same. Even if you invest in restorative justice, but you left everything else, we magically got tons of new money, and we were able to really build, you know, these cadres of people across the city doing this work, we can't do that because people don't have what they need to feel like they are in community and that they are connected to one another. 

Erika Sasson  
And we certainly don't have any environmental catastrophe that we're facing. And we're not thinking preventatively about anything. And so if we're just going to be reacting to, you know, all of the environmental catastrophes and not build any, you know, I'm thinking like a like a metaphorically, if you think about like what's happening with our climate, and we're just responding to the latest crisis, constant crisis management, without any long term visioning, like your crisis management is just not going to keep up. And I feel that way about restorative justice, like we can't keep up. It's there's there's too much harm happening all the time harm that is preventable. Unnecessary, malicious, you know, and I speak specifically about systemic harm that is malicious and racist. And, you know, it's so and so unnecessary. And so I don't want to set up for sort of justice practitioners to be, you know, having to undo all of that. It's like, no, I say, no, we're not doing it. I'm not doing it.

David (he/him)  
Right. It is like, thinking about what are the things as much as it is about like being able to respond harm, like, what are the things that would have prevented harming the first place, right, and all of those things that you shared, some of those things can exist within the structures of a school, or like a small community. And those are things that we can put on. I hesitate to say this, those are things that we can put on, like individuals to collectively come together and take responsibility for. But when we're talking about lack of health care, house lessness, lack of resources for mental health, right, among all these other problems, like the prison industrial complex doesn't go away, just because folks now have tools to deal with how exactly 

Erika Sasson  
No, I actually feel this way about, maybe it is, but so many years in restorative justice, and like repair harm, like, is that what we want to be doing? No, we want to be prevented. We want to like what do I use restorative justice for to really listen properly understand what needs are, and then respond in a much bigger picture way about preventing future harm, harm, you know, this, I know this, whatever harm we've endured in our life stays with us, and we move through it. And we create scars, and we don't walk around with open wounds anymore. And we need help to create the scarring and to move out from the open wound. And that's beautiful. And I support it, and I will continue to do it. But it's the scars never going away. And, you know, we're never erasing harm. And so I think a lot about like, in a way, how do we just move forward from, we need to prevent more harm. And we're smart enough to know how to do that. But we need collective thinking we need collective, we need to understand that we're interconnected, if we don't have a fundamental understanding of interconnectedness, this whole thing fails. And so I know I do, I want to repair harm all the time that is just caused over and over that was really evident to me in the school. And that's in the context of a school. It's just like, over and over and over and over and over. And you're like, I'm out of band aids. So just please stop causing this gaping wound, and we can move forward.

David (he/him)  
Like speaking specifically to the school context, some of the things that many people, many adults in buildings face or like, I'll just categorize them as, like power struggles with young people, right? That's where a lot of conflict happens, like, what is your orientation towards that young person where you think that you have power over? Right? And how do we switch that to something where there is, you know, shared power, thinking about yourself as being interconnected, I know, everybody has roles to play as far as keeping people safe and facilitating learning, right. But that doesn't necessarily have to come at the expense of seeing the other person is like, fully human. We take it out of schools, and we think about something like, like domestic abuse, assault, right? Like, what is the thing that we have to prevent, to make sure that those things aren't happening, right? What are the economic factors that people who are experiencing this kind of harm are facing? How can we alleviate those things? And so it's not just as simple as like, we've we repair it when it happens. It's like, what are the societal factors? 

David (he/him)  
Oh, my gosh, so much, and we're already over an hour. So the process that you described at Red Hook is one of the projects that you worked on at CCI. I know that you weren't saying this. But that is not the only way that restorative practices, restorative justice can happen. You just described the model that, you know, you helped construct, and that program is still running slightly modified because of COVID, I imagine. But there are people who are still at the Center for court innovation in that peacemaking program, who are doing that and so we can drop links to connect folks with That folks at CCI, you're not at CCI anymore. Well, at the time of this recording, you are in your last week at CCI, by the time this airs, you're not at CCI anymore. What is next for you? 

Erika Sasson  
Um, thank you for asking that. I'm really excited. I, you know, I finished 10 years at CCI, it was it felt like, you know, we haven't even talked about, we started talking about intimate partner violence. But we did a lot of work over the years, around intimate partner violence around having the actually using restorative justice to have the conversation, having a like a deep and loving conversation with people who work and domestic violence and intimate partner violence, to understand what are they afraid of when it comes to sort of justice? And how can we move forward with them, not against them, but with them in making these options available for survivors of that kind of violence. And that has been, I want to say that like, there's a lot of work with Red Hook, peacemaking, there's a lot of work with the major courts, in our system, but there has been a ton of work that that we've done on having that conversation with policymakers, with advocates, with survivors, to understand what they need, that I really do want to highlight, because it can get as it in a way used restorative justice for the pursuit of the conversation, which I think has been healing for a lot of people. 

Erika Sasson  
And so I do want to drop links as well, to the to the work on that front. 

David (he/him)  
Is there anything that you want to like further highlight right now. 

Erika Sasson  
I mean, we we did a blueprint for New York City, we did to think about how to use restorative justice and intimate partner violence, we did a national study, we just really tried to lay the foundation for having a good conversation and opening up these options, which can be very much closed. And people get very defensive around them. And I understand why they're defensive, because we've had a lot of meaningful conversations that have hopefully started to open some of these pathways and, and participated in that with people from around the country that have just really led the way. So I'm very proud of that work as well. I'm proud of the work in addressing harm and proud of the work in our schools that we did, and we have a great podcast on our work in the school is that I'd love to drop the link that to that too, because it talks about structural racism and what we saw and how we dealt with it and our journey as a team on that front. 

Erika Sasson  
So there's, you know, we have schools, intimate partner violence, we're starting something on re entry like we, I felt at the end of this decade, like we have really just kind of built, I work with incredible people who are still leading, they're a body of work to understand, you know, how far to go on this work? And what can you do with it? And how can it help shift things in different arenas of our lives. But I felt like I had to reach this kind of point where, you know, it's time for me to think, more personally on how I'm going to live my time and how I'm going to be in the world. And I got really excited with the idea of leaving a really large organization. So that brings its own type of work. And so I wanted to consult on my own and see what that would feel like. And so I'm working with individual clients and individual organizations that are trying to design programming, trying to understand what restorative justice is, what are people talking about? What does that mean? Can I use it in this particular case of harm. So working with different organizations, people who want to build out new programming, and I'm also going to continue to facilitate complex processes, like in the aftermath of homicide, so just keeping my own practice going and trying to kind of connect with myself, you know, I've done I wonder if my team will be hearing this. But you know, I've, I love to mentor for and I love to be in relationship with very particular the people who were on my team. And I poured a lot into them. And I'm really proud of like, the pathways that they are on. But it's like, you know, it's part of being a mother as well, and stepmother where you're like, you're thinking of others a lot and wanting them to grow and succeed. And I felt I was at this point in my life where I said, Okay, you're here too. And let's, let's take that, pause that reflection year and pour into self as well. So I'm trying to do that for myself right now.

David (he/him)  
The theme of taking pauses, has come up a lot. And you know, by the time this airs, hopefully I'll be in the middle of one of those. So, total advocate for that, and really excited to see all the things that come out of one year rest. Because not only are you coming out of these 10 years you're coming, but we're all like, you know 18 months now into this really traumatic, life altering time. So excited for the rest in and of itself for you and for the people that you'll get to work with moving forward. 

David (he/him)  
As you think about doing this work in the body that you're in all the intersect Have your identity acknowledged one of those is a white person largely working in a system that of both the criminal legal and school systems with people of the global majority, specifically, black folks in Brooklyn? How do you like what do you see as your role in the skin in the body that you're in?

Erika Sasson  
It's been so ever present in the work. Specifically, you know, it's like the specifics, the generalities. I mean, working in public schools in Brooklyn, and working in a criminal justice system, this is largely affected black populations. And again, moving, as you say, in a body that is white by American standards, is incredibly present to how I understand it's just it's, it's given me a lens to understand what's happening around me. 

Erika Sasson  
I think the piece of native peacemaking that's about ancestry has been really important to me. So like in, you know, a lot of like, going back understanding where we came from, as individuals as part of clans, or as part of groups, or ethnicities, or as part of races, like understanding our history, is something that I learned through native peacemaking as being incredibly important to the healing process moving forward. And understanding context that you are not just this one being you are part of something, you are part of this interconnectedness. And you are part of the history and that history is, you know, back to the death and dying, like, what is our relationship to time. And what happened before is present today. 

Erika Sasson  
And so we've done a lot of, you know, in our work, especially in the last three years, in the podcast that I mentioned earlier, we talk a lot of about where racism and restorative justice intersect. And can racial justice come from restorative justice? Or can restorative justice, help racial justice, like these things are so intimately connected? And I do think they have to do with bringing our histories to the fore and facing them and truth telling around them? I mean, that is what I have. I mean, I think you're asking, you're asking about me personally, like moving as a white person in black communities? And I don't want to avoid that question. So I will answer that question. But the part to me that, that I think we can, like also bring forward is our sense of like truth telling around history, truth, telling around the present truth, telling a rent all the time, truth telling that that is the beginning of undoing some of what is around us. And it is the avoidance, and it is the minimizing and the excusing that we see individual harm. And we see it in collective harm, constant, like a default to minimization and a default to victim blaming and a default, like those are the things that are like causing so much harm, but I think talked about the schools. And I was like, you know, they could just undo some of the general harm, we could stop putting band aids on things. And I feel that way, also about racial justice, like there is no moving forward without truth telling on what happened. This country, it's like we cannot keep putting, we shouldn't be putting restorative justice in schools before we're putting racial justice in schools. Like, we can't move in any direction without truth telling around the past. And around the present. Like, that seems really vital to me. And that's what I get from restorative justice, as regards racial justice. 

Erika Sasson  
And in terms of moving through the world. I've had a position of privilege. I think a lot about you know, I've moved, we've talked about this, I've moved through different cultures, I like to be around people who are different from me, I like to learn from people who are different from me. So I've, on the one hand, absorbed and listened and learned as much as I can. But in terms of like, running in America with a position of power and seeing it happen over and over again, and kind of starting to really understand the implications of that. I think a lot about Okay, what Okay, so So, you know, there's kind of things like huge systemic problems that we see with our kind of infinite consciousness. And then we have like our finite abilities. It's like we're talking about right at the beginning around who am I I'm like, I'm a finite person facing this kind of huge harm. And one of the things we started to do in the schools work, because we would get really demoralized by huge harm is just kind of like block that out of your mind and say, Okay, what can I do not what needs to be done? What is stopping us from getting things done, but what can I do? And, you know, it's was very clear to me as somebody who was a manager who was hiring, I can hire black people. This is an issue in black community. I can hire black people. Okay, well, then you look at the roster of candidates, and there aren't a lot of black people with restorative justice experience. And this has been tradition, like there's been a, there's a lot of white people coming to me, doesn't matter, I can hire people who are going to have specific connections to the communities that they're going to serve. And I can train them on our agenda, they don't have to come with that training. Right. So you have to like, think about what can you do to not kind of fall into perpetuating things.

Erika Sasson  
 And then, and this kind of came up recently, and it has to do with my transition, I'm really excited to be passing the baton to the people that I did train and hire, who are black to run this, and to do this work on their terms and with their analysis, and to shape like, shift and change and shape the work in a different way. So for me, it's like, Who are you bringing in? Who are you mentoring? And who are you passing the baton to? That's what I can do with my privilege. You know, I can't say that, you know, sometimes you want to do a whole lot more. One of the things that I did in my time was like, find the funding so that we can research ancestry, and we can spend our time looking at history. So our team went to Alabama, right before pandemic, to go to the Montgomery Memorial, and, and really like touchdown in that way, because it felt really integral to our work in black communities. And that was a majority black team.

Erika Sasson  
 And to be you know, and to be clear, these were people with incredible experience and incredible resumes. They just didn't have the restorative justice experience. And that was something that was access that I could provide. And I mean, you know, it goes back to what you were saying right at the beginning, David, about when did you come to restorative justice, but didn't know name a lot of those people that we hired, they, they were here for the work, they just didn't have the name for it, I remember this one, completely brilliant candidate, I had to stop myself from hiring him on the spot. His whole essay was about his name, and about his story and about who he was, and breaking all of that down as a way of showing how he wanted to be part of this work. And if that's not restorative justice, then I certainly don't know what it is what is. And then he learned, you know, he learned some of the the technical stuff, and he learned several practice down the road, but it was really exciting to hire him and not overlook, because we're looking, we're looking for certain resumes that look exactly like our own. And we're just trying to, like, repeat what looks like yourself. And so those are the things I can do. I can't necessarily do more, but I can value the voices of people who are directly impacted, I can find my ways to empower them and to support and to pull back when I need to. And that's I think, really, really important. It's something that you do learn and circle is mine to be quiet. When to and when to, again, pass the baton.

David (he/him)  
Yeah. Thank you. And there's no right answers, right? It's, it's your answer. And I'm appreciative of you going there. The balance of like, using leveraging privilege and power in the spaces that we're in, and then giving it up, right, is, is a tricky balance that like, I think about a lot not as a white person, right. But as a cis man, right as someone with a certain level of education with a certain level of like economic privilege, certain level of ability, those things like constant worry, but thank you for going there. We've talked around the ideas, but for you, define restorative justice.

Erika Sasson  
I see restorative justice as highly relational, you want like a full definition, it is a way of connecting through good and through bad that is prefaced on our interconnectedness, and on the sense that we all matter. And that the best way to move through good and bad is to come together, make agreements and move forward together. The best I can do today,

David (he/him)  
for sure. What has been an oh shit moment and what did you learn from it? 

Erika Sasson  
I feel I feel like I have an oh shit every time I do a very complex circle. I have an oh shit moment where I think it's too hard. People are gonna freak out. So I've had it like really many times, like, honestly, every time we sit down and you bring people together and it's very charged and you think you're never gonna make it through the tension. You know, people come into a complex circle and they're like, opposite ends of the room. You'd think like, what am I? What am I cooked up here, this is just, you know, crazy. And you again, like I bring myself into the structures, I always say like I, you know, you got to, you got to stack the deck in your favor. So you know, get that food out, get the seating, right, get people use the talking piece, like don't cut any edges, don't cut any corners, and often we'll move through it and it'll be they'll be those two people who came separately will literally leave together and I'll watch it happen, but I almost don't believe it. Every time I like, again, don't believe it. I'm like, muscles never gonna work this, you know. So that's my, my real, like, I get really nervous that people can't move through stuff. And then I remember that they can.

David (he/him)  
Sure. There's like this balance of follow the steps follow the process? Has there been a moment where like, Oh, no, this is not. We need to, like we need to do we need to adjust.

Erika Sasson  
 I mean, just recently, I did a again, a very serious case. And I'm putting up at the top, the centerpiece, and the person who had been accused of the harm looks at it and just start you just see the panic. He's He's like, What is that, and I realized I hadn't told him what those things were going to be. And I just looked at him look down, packed it all up, put it away, I was like, we don't need this, right? Like, this is about you, this is about you being comfortable, like, you don't need my centerpiece, nothing that's gonna make everything should be in service of the good communication. And my, all of the things, the tricks that I use should not be against the good communication. So for example, I've had, I've had cases where people break that talking order, we use an order to speak. So I have the talking piece that I pass to you, and then you pass to the person next to you. And it's supposed to be very orderly and orderly helps the good communication. But every once in a while, the two people who are really at the heart of the project, that the issue just need to speak to each other. And that's why you have a talking piece is to help them get to that point. So they are dropping the talking piece, and just having that moment of back and forth that they really need.

Erika Sasson  
 And again, I'm not going to be like no, no, no, you know, like we are here in service of all of those things are in service of this being harmonious. And if you are getting there on your own, and I certainly don't impose the structure, right. 

David (he/him)  
It's, quote unquote, knowing the rules, knowing the structures, breaking them when it is in service of the intent of the structures, right? Absolutely. Beautiful. You get to sit and circle for people living or dead. Who are they? And what question do you ask the circle?

Erika Sasson  
I mean, I definitely my grandfather who passed and I'm six has got to be there. I get anybody I want. If I want the Dalai Lama, um, I want cardi B. Um, who else do I get? One more? Maybe my son.

David (he/him)  
What's the question. You asked your grandfather, His Holiness, cardi B, and your son.

Erika Sasson  
I will say I didn't even know who cardi B was five years ago. And I'm completely gone on the other on the deep end there with her. 

Erika Sasson  
What is important to you?

David (he/him)  
If you were asked that question in a circle, how would you respond in a circle with those people? How would you respond? 

Erika Sasson  
And with those people, I would say that facing my mortality is important.

David (he/him)  
 In what way?

Erika Sasson  
I'm, i'm i'm afraid of I'm afraid of dying without coming to terms with what that means or having it sprung up on me. I'm afraid of living in a way that doesn't include knowledge and comfort around dying

David (he/him)  
I feel like that's a whole nother conversation that is hours long that we're going to save for another time. Thank you for sharing that though. You know, you've thought about, we've talked mostly about how this work plays out in your professional life. How has this way of being impacted the way that you move through the world? As Erica?

Erika Sasson  
I mean, I think mostly a lot. I wouldn't say most I want to generalize but I think a lot of people come to work on something. Right? Some people think that you do this kind of work. You must be some like super peaceful person who never fights with anyone and I tend to say like No, I understand conflict. I live conflict and I'm I'm first of all comfortable with it, which means that if I'm around it with other people, like I can be there. But on the other end of that is like, I'm just trying to understand how to be with others in this world. And how to understand myself and how to understand my own ways of moving in the world. Like, if you develop a sense of self awareness, I think if you're in circle a lot where you, you know, and if you develop good relationships with people who can give you real feedback and give you give you your own path for moving forward, like you can't ask anyone in a circle, something that you wouldn't be comfortable answering yourself. And so that constant placement, that it's not about others, it is about, you know, it's about us as together, it's about me as an individual, it's about you as an individual, you know, we are not the same, but we are connected.

Erika Sasson  
And so just trying to live that in my life and, and be better and, and understand myself more and have compassion for myself. And for others, you know, I'm trying to work through all that stuff. And I want to do it all the time. I don't want to do it, you know, back to the death and dying. I don't want to do it just when I'm like on my deathbed. I want to be working through like here in real time.

David (he/him)  
Coming to the last couple questions, what is one thing you want folks listening to this podcast, to walk away with whether it's a mantra or affirmation, or maybe something else?

Erika Sasson  
I want the, I guess I think a lot of, you know, I think about the people working so hard. In this in the world of social justice, and again, it's can be really demoralizing. And the thing that I I took so strongly from my time at CCI, and specifically with our RJ team is like build strong relationships with your team, have fun support each other, but like, have fun together. It's it you know, there's so much darkness you know, move towards the light. Don't stay there.

David (he/him)  
Yeah, wonderful. This one comes with homework after who's one person that should have on the podcast. And Bonus points if you can help me get them on. Because you can say obama but unless you have the connect, like, you know,

Erika Sasson  
I'm just gonna look up I don't want to mispronounce his last name, but I have an idea. We're gonna have to wait. Richard Cruz. He works at the Ahimsa collective.He's brilliant. 

David (he/him)  
Beautiful. We'll make that connect. And then finally, how and where can people support you your work in the way that you want to be supported? As far as like your upcoming work? I know you said like, no website yet.

Erika Sasson  
 Maybe by the time this podcast airs, 

David (he/him)  
maybe by the time this podcast airs. We'll keep people updated with the links in the show notes for connections on

Erika Sasson  
on program design. And, you know, deep thinking on restorative practices on facilitating complex harm. I'm here for it.

David (he/him)  
Beautiful, linked in the future show notes and will be updated when eventually that does happen. So come on back. Thank you so much, Erica, for your time, your your stories, and the wisdom that's come through that. I'm sure that people who have listening, have learned a lot I definitely have. To everyone else who's listening. Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. We'll be back with another one next week. Until then, take care


Meet Erika
Experience in the courtroom
Living restoratively
Law experiences
Working in schools
Unpacking privilege