Rev. Henry McClendon, pastor of the Berean Chapel in Detroit and the Michigan representative of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), had a big day in Grand Rapids on Thursday, February 20, speaking with the Restorative Justice Coalition, C.L.E.A.R., the pastors of G-RAP, and in a panel on “Becoming a Restorative City” that evening. We are grateful that he was able to speak with us about restorative practices and the differences he’s seen those practices make for people in great conflict.
Rev. McClendon worked for many years in prison fellowship, training men to be mentors to those coming out of prison, helping them make the transition back to society. In ten years of doing this, they didn’t have anyone who graduated from their program go back to prison for a serious crime—and many of the returning citizens had been at a high risk for recidivism.
Traditional Model vs. Restorative Practices
To introduce restorative practices to us, McClendon first outlined the current model for what happens when the law is broken. The tradition model asks:
This process is adversarial: the victim and the perpetrator are separated, and the perpetrator is separated from society. It validates the law.
The result of this model in the United States has been incarceration rate of 716 per 100,000 people. The next four countries’ rates are: UK, 147; Portugal, 136; Luxembourg, 122; Canada, 118. In 2016, 36 U.S. states incarcerated more of their citizens than any other country in the world—and Michigan is in that group of 36. Moreover, our country imprisons more of its African American population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
On the other hand, the restorative model asks:
Everyone here means the victim, the offender, and the community. This process is communal. It cares why the offender did what they did. There are formal questions to ask, answer, and there must be a commitment to listen to the answers. Entering this process doesn’t make the harming action less wrong, but it asks what support the offender might need to make sure they don’t do something like this again. McClendon said plainly,
“Warehousing does not hold people accountable.”
The primary aim of restorative practices is “to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and restoring relationships.” He observed that it takes advantage of something basic to human nature:
“People are happier, more productive and cooperative and able to make change when people do things with them, not to or for them.”
First, McClendon pointed out that there’s one bad question to ask, that most parents know is a question that never produces a satisfying answer: “Why did you do that?”
Instead, he encouraged us to use the questions that the IIRP prints on business cards to make them easy to pass out and refer to: “Stick to these and trust me, it’s transformational.”
RESTORATIVE QUESTIONS I
TO RESPOND TO CHALLENGING BEHAVIOR
* What happened?
* What were you thinking at the time?
* What have you thought about since?
* Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
* What do you think you need to do to make things right?
RESTORATIVE QUESTIONS II
TO HELP THOSE HARMED BY OTHERS’ ACTIONS
* What did you think when you realized what had happened?
* What impact has this incident had on you and others?
* What has been the hardest thing for you?
* What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
(Copyright 2016 IIRP Graduate School)
McLendon described one situation where he was brought in, kind of by accident. He’d done a restorative practices training at a school and was dropping by to check in on them when the principal brought him in to the office because sitting there was a girl and a boy who’d gotten into a physical fight, and the parents were on the way. He agreed, and got the parents to agree to the process, although they were “livid.” The kids answered QUESTIONS I; the parents answered QUESTIONS II.
He said that the real difference in the meeting came when each child’s parent answered, “What has been the hardest thing for you?” The girl’s mother said, “The hardest thing for me is I’m afraid for you because you think you can hit boys and what happens when it’s a bigger and a bigger one?” The boy’s stepfather said, “I’m the only father you’ve ever known and you’ve never seen me raise my hand to your mother and the idea of my son doing to a young lady what you did today...” Before going through the process, the parents hadn’t been calm enough to express these deeper fears and emotions.
The result of going through a restorative practice was that the students came up with better solutions to make things right than the standard suspension rules and, as the principal later told McClendon, “the young man grew up in that meeting.” McClendon said, “Don’t waste a crisis. Conflict is an opportunity to build community.”
When asked by one of the pastors how long after a violent offense is this approach effective, McClendon told stories about gang members who’d taken contracts out on each other who are now brothers, and about a woman who went through a restorative process with the man who’d murdered her daughter 14 years earlier who she wound up forgiving and essentially adopting into her family. His preacher voice came out at the end of our time together:
“It’s redemptive. It works. I want everyone to have this opportunity. An open wound we haven’t allowed to heal is a sin. The power of the gospel is what will transform lives. The blood of Christ is sufficient to heal. The world is desperate. We’ve got to be the light. We’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation.”
The IIRP is a graduate school that currently offers a master’s degree, and soon a Ph.D. in restorative practices; you can also take a one-day training to become a certified RP Trainer. Their website, www.iirp.edu, has several free recorded webinars, as well as a store where you can buy the business cards with the questions on them (in English and in Spanish), https://store.iirp.edu/restorative-questions-cards-pack-of-100-english-or-spanish/.
Please put Thursday, March 19, 11:30am – 1:00pm on your calendars for our next meeting.at the NAACP offices at 1530 Madison Ave SE.
(speakers to be determined).
Please contact us if you are a pastor in the Greater Grand Rapids area who is interested in issues of unity, reconciliation, and justice and would like to be on our email list.