A mother, a daughter, ‘A legacy to civilization’

Keeping restorative justice in the family

Two of the books published by Living Justice Press. Photo by Courtney Conk.

Two of the books published by Living Justice Press.

There is no hint that there is a publishing company in this quiet residential neighborhood. The sign on the lawn of the tidy Highland Park bungalow gives no indication; it reads, “Say No to War in Iraq.” The house that doubles as Living Justice Press is home to an improbable pair of book publishers. “Restorative justice is a healing model rather than a punishment-based one,” said Denise Breton, Living Justice Press executive director.

Breton, 54, is a former writer and college philosophy instructor. Her mother, Mary Joy Breton, 83, is retired from careers as assistant to the governor of Delaware and as national Audubon Society vice president. Along with a couple of other volunteers-no one, not even the Bretons, is paid-they run the six-year-old nonprofit publishing company, which has published four books about restorative justice and community peacemaking and has two others in the works. The Bretons work at it more than fulltime. “We live off Mary Joy’s pension,” said Denise Breton frankly. The other volunteer staff, Loretta Draths and Deborah Feeny, need day jobs to make ends meet.

Book work
Living Justice Press is more than a profession for the Bretons. Restorative justice is their defining passion. “This is our legacy to civilization,” Denise Breton said. “These are really profoundly culture-changing ideas. A movement needs a press.” And not just any press, she said, but one that publishes books that are affordable to the average consumer. Breton said that many of the publishers who tackle subjects like restorative justice price them along the lines of textbooks: $50, $100 or even more. In contrast, Living Justice Press’ most recent book, “Building a Home for the Heart” by Patricia Thalhuber, B.V.M., and Susan Thompson, retails for $15.

The Bretons thought that incorporating as a nonprofit would allow them entree to foundation funding, but they have been able to access only a few small grants. “Foundations seem to prefer to fund direct services,” Denise Breton said. Because they have to pay as they go, Living Justice can publish fewer books, which has led to a Catch-22 situation in getting their books distributed: Most distributors require that a publisher have six books in print before agreeing to work with them. Because they’ve had to handle distribution on their own, Living Justice’s sales revolve around their website and word of mouth. On the bright side, an order of 200 books by a tribal college is cause for celebration, and they have built personal relationships with book buyers in a way that larger publishers do not.

The personal side
The Bretons seem unflaggingly dedicated and are determined to continue making the personal sacrifices necessary to keep Living Justice going.

“I’m 83 years old, and being a pensioner, I have time to do this,” said Mary Joy Breton, whose roles include serving as Living Justice’s treasurer and handling research and marketing. “I’m trying to write my autobiography on the fringes.” Like her daughter, Mary Joy is herself a published author; her book “Women Pioneers for the Environment,” published in 1998, was critically acclaimed, and is still in print in paperback.

“It is overwhelming, the amount of time it takes,” Denise Breton said. “Sometimes you just work seven days a week till 10 or 11 at night. … I can do this because I don’t have children, I’m not married.”

How is it for the mother and daughter to live and work together? “We have always been close. We work as good friends as well as family,” Denise Breton said. “Not that we don’t get frustrated, but we have an extremely easy relationship. We really depend on each other to make this work.”

What is restorative justice?
The growing restorative justice movement is an international one; it uses a model of bringing together all affected by crime and human rights violations to resolve conflicts in a peaceful, community-based way. Restorative justice has its roots in indigenous societies worldwide. Contemporary examples range from peacemaking circles in schools and prisons to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “We can’t afford to just toss people out of the community,” Denise Breton said. “If there’s a harm that occurs, the community is out of balance. We shouldn’t scapegoat the one who’s acting out.”

Building a Home for the Heart by Patricia Thalhuber, B.V.M., and Susan Thompson
Restorative Justice: How it Works by Marian Liebman
Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways by Wanda D. McCaslin (editor)

www.livingjustice.org Living Justice Press’ website includes information and links and is an online store.
www.restorativejustice.org Restorative Justice Online, a website operated by the Prison Fellowship International, is a wealth of information about international efforts.
www.mnmrsc.org The Minnesota Restorative Justice Coalition is a statewide organization.