I was at a complete loss as how to respond. Since I volunteer with a court referred programme, I didn’t want to stop the conference with his refusal to answer the question. This would not have gone well for him with the courts. At the same time, a part of me wanted to hold the court “stick” up to force a response. Yet, I knew that it would only make matters worse and further shut down the conversation (if that were possible).
At this point, the only sounds to be heard came from the air conditioner in the window. I looked from mother to son completely blank on a strategy for moving forward. I watched the young man bend over and stare at the floor. It felt like he was completely closing himself off.
As I sat stunned, I noticed the young man look at me from the corner of his eye. He was backed into a corner and needed a face-saving way to come out of it. Then, I looked at his mother and asked, “Why did you ask the question?”
Although her response of “I want to know if he’s sorry,” wasn’t very different from the original question, I asked out young offender if he could respond. Surprisingly, he did. Not only did he answer, he added a little more commentary than we had heard from him before. From that point, the conference proceeded with the other participants telling their stories and sharing their hopes for our young offender.
I was completely amazed at how well the conference ended. It was also a reminder of how a facilitator’s response to an issue can affect a conference. My initial impulse to force a response would not have been helpful for open, honest sharing. It would have only caused more negative shame forcing the young man to (in my opinion) withdraw even more from the groups sitting around him. But a simple question allowed him to maintain his pride while connecting with the others. This could be seen as his body language became more relaxed and he listened to those around him tell their stories and separate him from the behaviour.
I remain amazed at the power of respect and creativity to create space for communication.
Have you had a “what do I do now moment,” in a restorative process? How did you respond?
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