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Azim and Tony

Monthly Musing: Using the Tenets of Restorative Practices to Transform Society

Having recently returned from the NACRJ (National Association of Community and Restorative Justice) conference held in Chicago, I am still feeling the high vibrations from that experience. The TKF team, which included Tasreen, Benita, and Tony, proudly presented on TKF’s Safe School Model. I was their surprise guest speaker! It was one of the most inspirational meetings I have attended and it gave me tremendous hope for resolving our most serious challenges in social justice and education.
I could not wait to come back and share this important work with my readers and audience as we have been collectively searching for solutions to many of society’s troubles. Not only was it ground-breaking in the obvious sectors of society, but also in creating effective solutions to our climate challenges, solving the vast division in our country, healing our national history towards a society that respects diversity, equality, and inclusion in education, prison reform, institutions, the corporate world–and yes, indeed–in all aspects of our society!
NACRJ was introduced to the public on June 19th, 2013, at its 4th conference in Toledo, OH which was attended by a modest 40 participants. The recent 2022 Chicago Conference attracted over 1,700 participants employing the tenets of restorative practices in solving the above-mentioned challenges. This has given me much hope as it should you!
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice (RJ) is an alternative to our current criminal justice system which, as we know, is broken and rarely delivers true and humane justice. We inherited the criminal code from our pilgrims, most of whom came from Europe living under a monarchy. In a monarchy structure, the King or the Queen owns both the people and the land. When a crime is committed it is always the Royal Highness against the offender. In the USA we do not have a monarchy, so the State takes that role. In my case, for example, in the murder of my only son, Tariq, it was the “State of California against Tony Hicks” the now-reformed man who took Tariq’s life.
Restorative justice takes a totally different view. The genesis of RJ comes from the aboriginal cultures of New Zealand and Australia. Their view is that crime happens in the context of the community, and it involves the victim and the offender. In their view, justice is not fully served until these three mandates are met:
(a) the victim must be made whole;
(b) the offender must be returned to society as a functioning and contributing member;
(c) the community must be healed.
So, you can see now how the TKF story which started in 1995 – long before the RJ movement – is the US “poster boy” of the movement. Nothing can bring Tariq back to life, but working with Tony and his grandfather is so meaningful and fewer children are ending up dead like Tariq or ending up in prison with life sentences like Tony. We have saved Tony and he is now back contributing to the work of TKF as someone who represents the tenants of RJ. He served a prison sentence and was rehabilitated after being forgiven by myself and my family. Then, he went on to learn multiple skills to contribute to society when he was released–and most notably–he has chosen to take my offer to work with the foundation as a volunteer, spreading his heart-felt and appalling story to help prevent violence from happening. He attended and presented the NACRJ conference with us–and did a stellar job!
TKF is active in our schools saving the lives of children and we are indeed healing the community! Over the past 27 years, my own international work as a speaker and teacher of forgiveness as a path to creating peace in oneself, their family, their workplace, and their community is helping many to heal and embrace these tenets. Evident from these personal examples, RJ is a substantially fairer and more humane approach—which has the potential to positively transform not only the perpetrators but the entire society we live within. It was incredibly encouraging for me to see the robust growth of RJ in a short couple of decades.
How do RJ tenets work?
RJ has morphed into “Restorative Practices” (RP) as it evolved from social justice to impact other social sectors such as education and some of the areas I addressed earlier.
The RP process essentially follows these 5 steps:
1) What happened?
2) What were the thoughts and emotions of the people involved in the altercation or crime?
After an appropriate hiatus, when specialists work with the victim, the offender, and the community, often through restorative circles, they are brought back together and the remaining questions asked are:
3) What are your thoughts and emotions now?
4) Who was harmed and why?
5) How do we make it better and make sure it never happens again?
Often, after the involved individuals go through these steps there is remorse, apologies, and a coming together. I have always maintained, having done this work personally, that when you add forgiveness to RJ and RP it is RJ and RP on steroids! With the grace of the Universe, the results produced by TKF in schools and the social reach of my own forgiveness work are beyond stellar! My own personal experience having spoken to millions worldwide is that our children, youth, and adults are hungry for solutions that promote healing and deliver unity. The audience at our events and workshops is transformed and many soar into their future no longer stymied by grief, anger, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness.
How do Restorative Practices work in the other social challenges?
When you address climate challenges, it is important to acknowledge that we have abused Mother Earth for millenniums, so WE collectively are the offenders and now have fallen victim to the severe climatic conditions which are hurting us and our global community. The same 5 steps above can create effective solutions and they do exist. So, each of our actions needs to be done with an understanding of the impact based on the 5 questions above. Many examples like stopping the use of plastic bottles, recycling waste, conserving water, growing your own vegetables, hydroponics, reducing carbon footprint, and promoting these and other ideas widely.
I say the same about our gun control issues. We regulate automobiles – as they can be a weapon as well. For example, you need a driver’s license, to register your car, take a driving test, carry insurance on your car, you need to be a certain age to drive a car – we could do the same for guns. Effective solutions exist in many other countries like Australia, Japan, Switzerland, UK – the question I ask is, “does the political will exist?” In 2022, we have had over 300 mass shootings!
The same tenets can be used to create unity in management teams – wherever there are people, there will be conflict. I like to look at conflict as an opportunity to create love and unity using these RP tenets. In fact, I have done this successfully in corporations, in education establishments, in prisons, and yes, even saved some divorces. Try it in the conflicts in your life and learn how freeing life can be in the aftermath.
Where do we go next?
I believe that restorative practice tenets now need to be promoted to be used in the mainstream in all aspects of our society, economy, politics, learning institutions, prisons, social justice, and wherever we see there is division, conflict, or altercations. Having the right attitude that augments RP with empathy, compassion, and forgiveness can stitch our country and the world back together and lead us towards peace, love, and unity. We all want this, and it is possible! I know this intimately from my own journey.
Peace and many blessings!
Azim Khamisa
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