[My last post reflected on my training in Reintegration Support Circles. This post continues to track my experience, especially in role-plays where we practiced how to conduct a Reintegration Support Circle with a returning citizen, his or her family members, and perhaps a clergy person or a community member.]
After reaching consensus on Guidelines, a Keeper asked us to write on 3 x 5 cards a Value that we wanted to bring to the Circle and explain why the value is important to us. According to author Kay Pranis*, values “help people remember who they want to be in their best selves before they want to work together.”* I wrote “generosity.” Others wrote honesty, compassion, commitment, and authenticity. And so on.
The process deepened my engagement. I knew I was on to something very special and different from my experience mediating.
Next came Story Telling: Beginning with the Keeper, participants shared stories about a life experience. Examples ranged from what it was like to return home after a long absence to a how we felt when someone gave us unexpected but needed support.
Imagine how this process was intensifying: From identifying ourselves and sharing our feelings about taking part in the circle, to our relationship with the RC, to suggesting guidelines and sharing values, to telling a personal story, I felt an ever deeper connection with those in my circle. (And this was only a role-play!)
A Co-Keeper led off the story telling round by recounting when she received support from someone she hadn’t trusted. Others told of similar events. Some revealed very moving periods in their lives. A few seemed superficial. I felt almost immersed in a pool of commitment and sincerity.
After two rounds of story telling our commitment to the circle was unquestioned. Next, a Co-Keeper asked us to reflect: “Where do you imagine the RC being in five years?” Another Reflection might have been: “What strength do you bring to the Circle?” From there we addressed topics, such as “What ideas do you have for ________ (the RC’s name)? What challenges is she likely to face? What practical suggestions do you have for a support plan for the RC? A Keeper recorded our ideas on the easel. In time we created a plan and reached consensus about it.
Keep in mind that before convening a Circle, Circle Keepers talk with the RC to determine whether he or she is psychologically and emotionally ready to engage in a Circle. Similar calls are made to other Circle participants to learn whether they wish to take part. (This is referred to as “Prep.”)
This process normally stretches over several weeks and can consist of two or three separate Circles. After completing the Circle Process – from preparing participants prior taking part in the Circle to reaching consensus on next steps for the RC – follow up Circles inquire whether the plan is working, and explore ways to improve it. Having completed the process participants celebrated their achievement with snacks, a meal or a party.
During the training and in discussions with others in the field, I learned that as the circle process proceeds, persons who were once estranged are reunited, frayed memories are re-woven, and relations that were fraught are reintegrated. Most importantly, the RC has a consensus-driven direction and a support network to aid him to follow it.
*Kay Pranis is author of The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking. Published by Good Books, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. Delaware. 2014. Her work is an excellent introduction to Circles, be they used for restorative justice, reintegration support, conflict resolution, or policy making.