Cause – Restorative justice can be fun!
May 31, 2012
The morning began standing in a circle with about 15 grimacing faces with heads hanging low to the ground. Interspersed among these glum beings were about five overly positive adult volunteers excited to get an early 8 am start in the garden. What a combination of folks; those who were forced to be here by their probation officers and those who were volunteering their precious time to offer growing food as an alternative to picking up trash, so these, seemingly ungrateful, teenagers could earn mandated community service hours.
....On this particularly cold and overcast morning, I notice a young man who seemed more than annoyed about being in the garden. As we begin explaining the rules of the garden, such as no cursing and no smoking, he whispers, “I don’t give a #!*&” and proceeds to light a cigarette. If only he knew how typical it was to be given a rule and then defy it. I can tell he believes that he is doing something unique and specific to him.
.... I immediately jump in with my “I could care less voice,” and say “look Tyson, do whatever you want, we can’t stop you from smoking and we can’t stop you from cursing under your breath. We are heading to grow food for people who are starving at this very moment that we are wasting time talking about your cigarette. I know you are an intelligent young man and you will decide what is right for you…By the way…I was really hoping that I could sign off on a FULL day of community service hours for everyone to bring back to their probation officers, but if you choose differently, I can respect that.”
....After digging in the dirt and planting a few seeds, laughter begins to explode spontaneously from these heads now being held high. Tyson decides to join us, his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his sagging pants as he is walking around the garden looking over the shoulders of our newly converted gardeners. He then kneels down next to a male volunteer and says, “My grandfather had a garden and I would help him sometimes. We grew tomatoes.”
Thank goodness the volunteer is savvy enough to know that this is an opening to bring Tyson into the experience and he responds, “can you help that group over there, they are trying to plant tomatoes?” The volunteer leans in closer to Tyson and whispers, “between you and me, I don’t think they know what they are doing.” Tyson’s chest puffs up as he nods silently and walks swiftly to the tomato-planting group. He immediately kneels beside the tomato bed with the others and begins to explain how deep the holes will need to be for the tomato sprouts to grow properly.
....At the Create A Path Program, the group of participants are given $4000 to develop and implement a community service project that has the potential of serving their community long-term. Through the development and implementation of this project, the participants learn entrepreneurial skills and organically practice working collaboratively as a team to improve their community. In addition, they earn court-mandated community service hours and have a good time while doing it!