Happy Day, Happy Spring!

Personal Narrative

Happiness is neither a frivolity nor a luxury. It is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family. It should be denied to no one and available to all.
~Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Today is the International Day of Happiness! On June 28, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming March 20th the International Day of Happiness.

While acknowledging that happiness may have different meanings for different people, the UN chief said that all could agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of human beings live.

Read more about the International Day of Happiness Day here.

The mega producer Pharrell teamed up with the UN to to help lift lift spirits and spread good cheer. Videos featuring his hit song, Happy, have been making the rounds in commemoration of the day. You may have seen the one above featuring the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. Even Congressman John Lewis got in on the act. It’s not progressive policymaking, but it’s fun. And just for a few minutes, it brings us all a little closer to restoration, away from society’s overreliance on vengeance and punishment.

Today was International Happiness Day, and here in the northern hemisphere, it was the first day of spring. Although it was a gorgeous, sunshiny day in Atlanta, I know we aren’t quite out of winter’s grip just yet. We’re expecting a mild 72 degrees Saturday afternoon, with lows below freezing by early next week. Still, I’m encouraged by nice days. I know more are on the way soon.

Spring marks the beginning of running season for me. I’ve been keeping fit indoors with DVDs for weight lifting and cardio, but I’ve missed the fresh air and and scenic views of the Greenway runs. Even more than those things, I miss think time. Doing choreographed exercise is fun, but I truly enjoy the creative thinking, reflection and problem solving I accomplish while pounding the pavement.

As always, I have a couple of projects in the works, and the arrival of spring (any time really) is a good excuse time to pause and reflect on where I am, where I’d like to be, and what steps I want to take to close the gap.

Wishing you a happy day, and a happy spring!

The undoing of schools as prisons

Abolition & Justice, Education, Love

I have a post in draft form that pulls together a couple of recent articles related to schools as sites of love, but I didn’t want to let the day pass without sharing this piece from the Atlantic.

Last year I wrote for The Atlantic about a notorious North Philadelphia junior high school known for years as the “Jones Jail.” Its rambunctious students wreaked such terror on the neighborhood that the police put the streets surrounding the school on lockdown every day at dismissal. Nearby shop-keepers locked their doors and porches as 800 of the city’s poorest kids streamed out the doors, often reportedly climbing over parked cars in their unruly rush to get out of school. When the John Paul Jones Middle School was taken charter and reopened as the Memphis Street Academy, the new administration decided, to the mystified dismay of the police department , that they would strip the school of metal detectors and window gratings, get rid of the security guards, and instead utilize nonviolence based restorative practices.

The number of violent incidents dropped 90 percent in a single year.

Since Memphis Street Academy initiated restorative practices, the police department says they no longer need to send the 11 patrol officers they used to send every day to oversee the hectic and potentially explosive dismissal time.

The writer, a social worker with experience in schools and criminal justice, makes the case that punitive measures sans restoration can serve more harm than good. Restorative practices, which are designed to repair harm rather than cause it, are mentioned in new guidelines released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice (.pdf). I’m excited to read them and I’ll share my findings here. My goal is not simply to report on schools as sites of love, but also to advocate for their creation.

Read the rest of Jeff’s piece here. Don’t miss his original piece on “Jones Jail,” the Philadelphia school that bet on restoration over retribution, and won.

Schools as sites of love

Abolition & Justice, Education, Love

Love is one of my favorite topics. Especially love as it plays out in society. Since it’s something I speak about and highlight often, even without provocation, I’ve decided to write more about it this year.

Love is a broad idea, so I’ve been brainstorming ways to approach it in meaningful slices. Given my professional background, it seems a good place to start would be schools as sites of love (or not). With my concurrent interests in prison abolition, the school to prison pipeline, and restorative justice, love is perhaps a natural lens through which to consider those intersections.

To that end, I’d like to share this piece from yesterday’s Washington Post. School leaders in Alexandria agreed to implement a restorative justice program this school year. The school year is halfway over, and the program has yet to begin. Students are upset. They believe school is a place of learning.

“I think school can be a place where you learn from your mistakes,” said Ana Diaz, 16, a junior at T.C. Williams. “We should be taught how to be a better person and how to do things better. [It should not be] a place where you did something wrong and so you got kicked out.”

Restorative programs focus on healing and repairing harm done. They provide an opportunity for all involved in a given incident – the offender, the victim and the community – to participate in justice. Everyone can learn. Everyone can grow. This premise, that students and teachers are human and may benefit from healing rather than payback or vengeance, is loving.

Such approaches are not quick fixes. They are not “off-the-shelf” programs one can just disseminate in a school. They do require research and professional development. According to officials, this is the cause of the delay this year:

Kelly Alexander, a spokeswoman for Alexandria schools, said officials agree with the principles of restorative justice and are committed to introducing it at the high school. “We are attempting to gather good information before we take the next steps,” she said.

Read the article in full here. Beware of the comments.

At dusk, I’m thinking

Feminist Thought, Politics, News & Notable

It’s Wednesday and the sun is setting. I’m enduring a rare headache. It has not drowned in water nor drifted away in sleep, despite my best efforts. I guess it’s here to stay a bit. I’m due to stay up this evening and watch American Horror Story. I’m not normally a night owl, but I’m doing it this one time in solidarity with Sojo and Ms. Smart so we can do one of these. Just this one time though…

I’m thinking about compassionate capitalism. I imagine such a thing exists. I want you to imagine it, too. I aim to find it, and write about it, as to expand our understanding about what’s possible in a loving society. 

I’m thinking about practitioners of restorative justice, especially those in Georgia or in the south. I want to know more about what they do and what impact it has in their respective communities. I want to interview them and document their stories. 

I’m thinking about abolitionists. Those who would abolish the death penalty as well as those who would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Although some states still murder prisoners, others are slowing and/or stopping the practice.  Meanwhile, budget cuts are forcing states to question caging as the default response to nonconforming behavior. In many states it costs more per year than college tuition. With no restoration and no education. Just revenge. I want less revenge. More evolution. More solutions. More healing. More love.

I’m pondering the ways these elements are interwoven. And the fact that any discussion of these ideas must eventually include public schooling… from the zero tolerance policies leading to the school to prison pipeline, to the capitalist ideals underpinning school policy and curriculum.

Things I’m thinking about this Wednesday evening. What’s on your mind?

More on Restorative Justice

Abolition & Justice

Today a girlfriend said, people are never going to operate from a place of love 100% of the time. I agree. But societally and individually, we could strive for it more often, yes? We can choose compassion over fear and closure. We can choose restoration and transformation over revenge.

If there’s a reaction to every action, what happens when every choice is a punitive, vengeful one? How can we break the chain of spite? I think about this quite a bit, but it’s pretty theoretical. What does it look like to make such choices? This is where the idea of restorative justice comes into play.

“Restorative justice recognizes that crime hurts everyone – victims, offenders and community. It creates an obligation to make things right.”

For many, the righting of things involves a violent response – be it in word, thought or deed. Imagining more ways of righting things becomes the work of restoration.

Restorative justice does not privilege one voice (survivors) at the expense of the others (community members, offenders). It encourages a union or exchange of voices, and action steps that encourage healing.

“Three hallmarks of restorative justice are encounters between victims and offenders, the obligation to repair harm, and the expectation that transformation may take place.”

All parts are critical, and are well-suited as a way of building the caring community required to make decarceration and excarceration viable options. It’s a great example of praxis: engaged theory and practice. It’s not just a way of thinking about things, but also a way of doing things.

Importantly for me, it’s a theory grounded in the transformative potential of people and circumstances. It assumes that people have agency. People can make choices that result in hurt, but that those same people have the capacity to make choices that move toward healing. Similarly, survivors may have been wounded by offenders, but survivors have the opportunity to move toward wholeness. In both cases, people are viewed as fully human, endowed with the ability to grow and evolve.

This sort of primary belief – in the ability of people to change – seems absent from criminal justice discourse. The focus is on punishment: round them up! Get those {insert derogatory word} off the streets. But where is the healing in that? For the survivors? For the offenders? For the community?

It bears repeating: we have to start from a place of love. Believing that all people are indeed fully human is a radical act. But it’s an act grounded in love.

Restorative Justice and the Caring Community | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice

I’m at a conference, so I’m on and off the grid this weekend. While traveling, I had a short, but productive bout of writing-as-thinking. I decided not to push myself to finish either of the two pieces I started, but they are definitely seeds, firmly planted.

One of the pieces was a follow-up to my post on a caring community. Even now, I’m still thinking about it. It all goes back to love, methinks. I sometimes wonder why love is such a revolutionary act. But why wouldn’t it be? We are submerged in a world of violence. We see violent images on our televisions. We use violent language with people we love. Sing songs with violent lyrics. Think violent thoughts. Send violent energy with looks and gestures.

And then we are surprised when violence appears in more tangible forms. We demonize the perpetrators for choosing violence. For succumbing to violence. For mirroring it.

My statement is not meant to absolve aggressors of their responsibility. I simply would like us, as a community, to acknowledge our complicity.

I believe much begins with a theory and practice of love. I wonder if we can ponder such a thing, rather than dismiss it out of hand. After all, where have hardened hearts and an appetite for revenge gotten us?

That brings us again to the caring community. How to we go about creating it? Or how do we enlarge the caring spaces that exist? Mikhail posed a question this afternoon:

Do abolitionists have an alternative vision for how to respond to harmful behavior? That’s what restorative justice does.

As a newbie, I cannot speak for the community of abolitionists. I’m still investigating at this point. But the idea of restorative justice holds promise:

I will continue to share as I continue to learn.