Breaking the Cycles that Lead to Violence

In March, Changemakers Alliance hosted a discussion at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. Sixteen speakers voiced solutions to address gender-based violence and protect bodily autonomy. The next step is to have deeper conversations about solutions, with statewide engagement. Here are a few voices that will be engaged in that process with us.

Michele Braley: The Restorative Justice Model

Michele Braley. Photo Sarah Whiting

While I’ve been working in the restorative justice area for about 20 years, it is not a new idea. It comes from Indigenous wisdom around the world. Gwen Jones and Alice Lynch, a dear friend and colleague who has departed from this world — both strong women from North Minneapolis — mentored me in this work.

In the 1990s, a group of people traveled to the Yukon to be trained in peacemaking circles. They took what they learned and brought it back to Minnesota. I’ve learned from these traditions that mistakes are learning opportunities and that individuals might have done the action, but ultimately it’s about involving family and community in solutions.

We’re seeing a resurgence of interest in restorative justice, because it resonates, I think, at the core with so many of us. It brings back wisdom that’s within all of us.

My experience with the model started with giving youth who had broken the law the opportunity to go through a restorative process, rather than a punitive one. As director of Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice, a lot of my experience is with youth who have been accused of shoplifting, theft, and property damage.

The legal system asks: “What law was broken? Who did it? What punishment do they deserve?” Using a restorative approach is asking: “What happened? How did it cause harm? What will you do to make things better?” It is asking different questions.

An important piece of restorative justice is to bring in community. We acknowledge that these things happen within a community and the community has a responsibility to make things better. That community piece is missing in the legal system.

It is a different approach with gender- based violence, which is perpetuated by the patriarchal, sexist, misogynistic system that we live in. When I work with someone who has caused direct harm — stealing a person’s purse, for example — people around them do not imply that the action was is okay. Yet when a person has been hurt by gender-based violence, there might be people who [dismiss it as simple masculine energy or believe it is a private matter].

Those of us who may feel comfortable in restorative justice spaces have to be cautious about whether we’re ready to address gender- based violence. It requires remaining vigilant, with good mentors, with good accountability, otherwise we might perpetuate the racist, sexist, and misogynist lenses that minimize gender-based violence issues.

In March 2017, folks from Outfront Minnesota contacted me wanting to learn more about restorative justice. They were getting calls to their crisis line saying, “I don’t want to call the police, but I do want some accountability for this person who harmed me.”

Six years ago, we started having conversations with a coalition of people about how we don’t have the resources in our community for people who are asking for restorative justice instead of the legal system.

Not every survivor wants a restorative approach, and not every survivor wants to have a personal conversation with the person who harmed them. But we need to be able to ask survivors, “What do you want?” — and then we need to be able to provide what they need. That requires paid, trained moderators.

I want us to be in a position where every caller can be offered a restorative approach. We’re not at that point. We are getting the calls, but we are beyond capacity to serve. This is largely pro bono work, because we don’t ask survivors of violence to pay for services for their own healing.

Leah Robshaw Robinson: Friends for a Nonviolent World

Friends for a Nonviolent World (FNVW) has been putting the principles and practices of nonviolence into action since 1981. We are a volunteer-driven organization. One of the longest-running programs we have coordinated is the Minnesota chapter of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), which provides conflict transformation workshops in prisons, jails, and the community.

AVP got started in 1970 by a group of people who were incarcerated at Green Haven prison in New York State. These folks had witnessed the Attica prison riots, where inmates and correctional officers were killed and injured. They also recognized the revolving door that exists within correctional facilities, in which young people come in with relatively minor offenses, only to return later with more serious and violent crimes.

Inmates and a group of Quakers worked together to develop nonviolence workshops. Word of AVP’s effectiveness spread across the United States and internationally.

These workshops are an example of how patriarchal norms can be shifted — they allow for change to happen in relationships, over time, and within the context of a supportive community that is grounded in simple values of respect, cooperation, affirmation, and trust.

Workshops are led in a non-hierarchical model. Prison sessions are co-moderated by both incarcerated leaders and facilitators from the outside. As more people outside of the prison system got exposed to AVP, community-based and youth AVP programs arose. The exercises we do in workshops are for all people. Everybody can grow skills for connection and healing.

AVP Facilitators: Developing Healthier Masculinity

Photo Sarah Whiting

Alternatives to Violence Project hosted a series of conversation starters for audience members to connect in one-on-one discussions, as they do in prisons..

David Islam: We lose trust sometimes because we have been hurt. AVP helped me to start trusting again, after losing trust in a lot of people. AVP helped me recognize that not everyone is out to hurt me.

Shea Holt: I was incarcerated for a number of years. AVP showed me empathy. It helps you to understand other points of view. That helps to break a cycle. Then you can help fix something that you have broken.

Not only have I been a victim, but I have victimized. If I see somebody else able to change their thoughts around things that they might have thought growing up, true change can form. As a child, I was sexually abused. [Later in life], I participated in a murder.

To really understand that things start somewhere, and where they started — to do that true self-reflection — is when things change.

Tom Levi: I came into AVP as a facilitator in 2015 thinking that prisoners are closeminded and won’t open themselves up and be vulnerable in a group setting. During my first night as a volunteer facilitator with AVP, I experienced quite the opposite. These were people who realized violence had gotten them into prison over and over again. They wanted to change.

Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr., who was affiliated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., drafted a lot of the exercises that we use. He trained the freedom bus riders, the people who sat at white drugstore [counters] while people poured coffee or milk over their heads.

How to be nonviolent is our whole goal. We do role playing, and the guys love it. It builds community. It’s been remarkable.

For me, it is about realizing that we all are one. There is no separation. A separate self is an illusion. In the groups, people realize their brothers are there with them, working together to try to do something different.

Mike Texler: We typically conduct three-day workshops with incarcerated people, but we’re moving more into community events. Those include transforming power — the idea that you’re not powerless in the face of violence, that you can correct situations. Exercises and discussions help examine your own behavior and way of interacting with people, to build positive relationships. They help examine how you can deal with conflict creatively.

Maria Musachio: I’ve been doing AVP work since 2002. I remember a comment that somebody made in the prison. He said, “The difference between being in here and being out there is 10 seconds. If I had waited 10 seconds, I never would have done what I did.”

Another facilitator says AVP is a quiet revolution. I love that idea that, if we change how we interact with the people around us, we change the world.

Some design students at St. Catherine’s University added some graphic details to a few of the May stories


“How a Peacemaking Circle Program Born in the Yukon Became a Key Element in North American Justice,” CALLYukoncircles

Friends for a NonViolent World,

Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice offers a monthly online discussion group, and a May 4 fundraiser featuring performer and Rep. María Isa at Hook and Ladder,