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Virginia Center for Restorative Justice



Juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 are likely to make some bad choices.  In Virginia, those bad choices can find them serving time in an adult maximum security state prison.  $159,000 is the average cost of incarcerating one juvenile, for one year.  Though they are segregated from the general population, it is still hard time.

Circle Time at the Men's Correctional Center

John looks just like “Mr. Clean”, muscles, bald head and all! He sat in the Circle at the Men’s Correctional Center but never joined in when he received the talking piece.  Quickly he passed it on to the inmate sitting next to him.  Finally, the last day of class and “Forgiveness” was the topic
for the Circle.  The talking piece came to John and he held on to it for a few minutes before he began to talk.  
  “I think having forgiveness for someone is just the same as trying to understand that person.  Whenever someone dies here in the prison nursing home, even in the middle of the night, the Correctional Officers come and get me to sit with that inmate until he dies.  I know I’m big and I don’t look like someone who might understand and forgive but that is what I’m good at.  I like to sit with the guy who is dying and just hold his hand.  I listen to whatever he needs to confess and I forgive him.  No one should die alone.”   We closed the Circle.  There was nothing more to say.


Correctional Center for Women

It was a Graduation Day at the Correctional Center for Women.  12 women lined up to receive their GED certificates.

 Mrs. Clarke, for seven years I have been in and out of this prison.  I can’t do this anymore.  The tears continued to flow down her face.  She didn’t try to wipe them away.  For her, they seemed to be a badge of courage.  Every time I leave here, I go back to the man who beats me.
  In the Circle, you taught me that I am worth something.  I can have respect for myself and others because I am honest and trustworthy.

Last night, I called my Mom and Dad and asked them to come here Tuesday to pick me up and take me home.  I don’t have to go back to that man who beat me.  My Mom said to thank you!

Family Group Conference

School let out early and Jamal and Mike walked across the street to the big box store and shop lifted two hunting knives and a gun.
As they left the store the Loss Prevention Officer apprehended them and called the police.

 The Intake Officer referred this case to restorative justice and we organized a Family Group Conference at the local church.

The pre-conference with both young men and their parents prepared them for the meeting with the big box store Executive Employee.

  Jamal and Mike were nervous.

  They entered the room with sad, guilt-ridden faces. 

Their heads were bent looking at the floor, each young man apologized for taking knives and gun.

Each had an opportunity to explain themselves and to have an understanding of the conflict. We negotiated the final agreement and just before we all left, the Executive Employee stated,“This is a most amazing process.  I’ve never experienced anything like this. I hope you boys and your family will continue to come to our store.  You will always be welcome."  Young men who had entered the room feeling great shame, left the room having been forgiven and restored.

Virginia State Maximum Security Prison

It was a warm September morning as we entered the Virginia state maximum security prison.  The gathering of violent juvenile offenders behind steel doors and glass enclosed walls was disturbing.  They saw us waiting outside their cells and wanting to scare us, they pressed their faces to the glass, yelled loud obscenities and made obscene gestures. 

Believing in our hearts that we were there on a mission, Glenn, Bradford and I waited until the Guard opened the door.  In quiet humility, we passed by these young men for in the presence of the Guard, there was no respect.  These 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds cried out for attention in the only way they knew how, by screaming.  In order to display disrespect, they took their shirts off and pulled their pants down to show the crack in their behinds. 

 Folding chairs were stacked up in the back of the hallway.  We pulled the chairs out and formed a circle.  We asked the young men to join us, but they were defiant.  It was obvious they didn’t trust us.  Some stood watching the loud TV at the other end of the hall, some went outside to play basketball on a court surrounded by a thirty foot tall cinder block wall.  

Two young men, Larry and Mike, came back and joined us.  “Why are you here, they asked?” 

 We responded, “We are here to lead a Restorative Justice Circle Class called “How to Handle Conflict”. 

Larry asked,” Did you bring food?  We sure would like some of those blueberry biscuits from Hardees.  You know we’re hungry all the time.  We don’t get enough to eat!” 
 I responded, “No, because we are not permitted to bring anything inside this maximum security state prison.” 
After a few minutes, Mike and Larry left us and joined the rest of the young men.  We returned our chairs to the wall and stood at the door waiting for the Guard to let us out.  Once outside the cell area, I noticed a Guard with a metal cart rolling down the sidewalk toward the pod where the young men were housed.  I stopped the Guard and asked to see what these young men were having for dinner.  He swung open the door and I pulled out a tray.  On that metal tray was a section with red beans, another section with white rice and one with a slice of white bread.  They were only offered coffee to drink.

The next morning I called the Warden and told him that if he expected us to come back the next week, he would have to give those young men vegetables, fruits and milk sufficient to satisfy their hunger.   He agreed to make changes to their diet.

The next week, when we walked into the pod, Mike came to the circle with a bag of milk. 

By the end of the two hours, all thirteen young men had joined us in the circle.  They did not care what we knew, until they knew that we cared.

Family Group Conferences

Three Cheerleaders with ponytails and highly polished fingernails sat in front of us with their parents on either side. The Loss Prevention Officer from the big box store sat opposite, the Restorative Justice Facilitator, Co-Facilitator and Community Stakeholders rounded out the Family Group Conference. 

The Loss Prevention Officer explained that this was the third time they had videotaped this group of young girls shoplifting from his store.   He explained, “First they just took small stuff like Chap Stick and cosmetics but then they started stealing cell phones and equipment.  We decided that it was time to bring a halt to the activity of this little group!  We allowed them to leave the store and then called the police and reported their license number.  They were pulled over a block away from the store with all of our merchandise intact.”

 Silently, the three girls began to cry.  It was obvious that each of them felt embarrassed and ashamed.

 “What were you thinking,” asked the Restorative Justice Facilitator of the three girls?

 Karen spoke first, “It was just something to do.”

 Bonnie joined in by stating, “We thought it was funny.”

 Megan spoke up and said, “I thought it would be fun to have a cell phone my parents didn’t know about.”

 The parents commented that they could not understand why the girls had shoplifted. 

Each of them had money to pay for the items they took. 

The conversation with the girls and the Loss Prevention Manager from the store went on for approximately a half hour. 

Karen, Bonnie and Megan realized that they had caused embarrassment to their families, loss of reputation and harm to the community, the store and its employees.

  They agreed to write a letter of apology, pay the entire amount of cost of items they stole and never to do that sort of thing again.

 The Loss Prevention Manager made a great statement, “I hope you don’t let this incident define you for the rest of your life.  Each of you are better than this.
The Restorative Justice Facilitator wrote up the Family Group Conference Agreement and made a note to follow up with the Store Manager and the girls in 30 days to see that the agreement was complete.

About the Center

We are a faith based non-profit organization dedicated to providing cooperative methods of resolving conflict. Our services include training and facilitation of restorative justice conferencing, restorative justice circles, restorative justice values-based programs, and introductory restorative justice training.

Copyright © Virginia Center for Restorative Justice 2022


Virginia Center for Restorative Justice
3601 Seminary Avenue
Richmond, VA, 23227

(804) 313-9596

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