Peacemaking circles become a way of living on Chicago’s South Side
Oct 12, 2012
“Four friends of mine were killed this summer,” Jonathan Little tells a group of college students visiting Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a kind of peace zone in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. The young man’s voice is somber but composed, as if he has taken the full measure of this abyss of suffering. He has decided that it’s his duty to honor the dead by methodically pushing on with the work — the quest, really — of finding a way out of the storm of violence that bears down on the young in the precincts of poverty and institutionalized racism on the South Side of Chicago.
....Nowhere is the importance of a transformed story more alive than in the flurry of Peacemaking Circles that Jonathan and others lead virtually on a daily basis at the center. A Peacemaking Circle is a practice of restorative justice that seeks an alternative to the traditional approaches of the criminal justice system. It seeks to address and repair the harm that has been done to the victim and the community, but also to not give up on the perpetrator. It does this, as the ministry’s website says, by reaching out
to the victim, the wrongdoer, and the community to create a safe space where healing can begin and where people can find the support and encouragement needed to begin reconciliation. We strive to be a resource to the community to find restorative ways to heal and rebuild after violence and conflict.
This approach stands in contrast to the official U.S. criminal justice system. While the courts often call on the victim to corroborate the charge, she or he is not offered means of healing. Peacemaking Circles offer a way to focus on healing for all.
This, however, is not easy. All parties have to be willing to touch the pain of violence. But the payoff is the possibility of creating a new collective story together, one rooted in “who we are” before getting to “what we did.” As Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation director Fr. Dave Kelly, C.P.P.S., stresses, good does not come from tragedy, but “good can come out of us when we wrestle with disappointment and suffering … good comes out of us in spite of the tragedy.”
The power of the Peacemaking Circle lies in fostering an environment of respect, confidentiality, listening and truth telling. Composed of victims, wrongdoers and members of the community, it creates a container designed to hold anger, frustration, joy, truth, conflict, opposite opinions and strong feelings. The Peacemaking Circle process maintains that no one has the complete truth and strives to create a bigger picture. It does this using shared agreements, rituals, symbols and a talking piece held by the person who asks to speak. A Circle Keeper — what we otherwise might call a facilitator — guides the process. (For a summary of the Peacemaking Circles method, click here.)