Co-creating a Restorative Community

Part 9 in a blog series exploring a community-based response to our criminality crisis

Curator’s note: Peterborough Dialogues welcomes Ralph Gutkin in a blog series exploring an alternative response to the criminality crisis which currently strains society financially and emotionally. His blogs will move through the depths of the concern into what can our region can do about it.

People commit crimes for many reasons. There is a high correlation between criminal acts and unemployment, poverty, under education and substance abuse. Hugh Segal has written about it in his work on guaranteed income. It is acknowledged in the publication of the Fraser Institute, the bastion of Canadian conservative values, which I mentioned earlier in this series. People who work in the field deal with it on a daily basis. Spend any time inside prison walls or talking to those who have offended, as I have, and the connection is glaringly obvious. Crime is a societal phenomenon — our response ought as well to emanate from the collective will.

In approaching this social phenomenon of crime, it is important not to view it as a problem to be solved. Instead, we can respond by examining the ameliorative possibilities we can create together.

In approaching this social phenomenon of crime, it is important not to view it as a problem to be solved. Instead, we can respond by examining the ameliorative possibilities we can create together. This focus on possibility is an approach Peter Block, noted author and community builder, maps out in compelling terms. In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging Block encourages us to shift away from the pattern of “defining, analyzing, and studying problems” as the way of making a better world. Doing so, “may actually limit any chance of the future being different from the past. The interest we have in problems is so intense that at some point we take our identity from those problems. Without them, it seems like we would not know who we are as a community,” he writes.

Block says that this focus leads to a retributive approach which is “based on a culture of fear, fault finding, fragmentation, and worrying more about taxes than compassion; it is more about being right than working something out, more about gerrymandering for our own interest than giving voice to those on the margin.”

Retribution by its nature serves to fragment community and reduce social capital.

His solution is restorative community which, “is created when we allow ourselves to use the language of healing and relatedness and belonging without embarrassment. It recognizes that taking responsibility for one’s own part in creating the present situation is the critical act of courage and engagement, which is the axis around which the future rotates.”

Restoration begins when we think of community as a possibility.

Restoration begins when we think of community as a possibility. What is the declaration of the future that we choose to live into? The communal possibility rotates on the question, “What can we create together?” This question is at the intersection of possibility and accountability and our willingness to care for the whole.

There is growing interest in the principles of restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on addressing conflict and crime in a way that enables the person who caused the harm, affected parties, and the community to co-create meaningful healing. Its aim is one of repairing damage, restoring relationships, promoting accountability of former offenders and the involvement of citizens in creating healthier, safer communities.

There is an obvious intersection between Block’s restorative community and restorative justice principles.

I don’t know how one can expect damage to be repaired and relationships restored if the seeds of the social phenomenon that incubate violence and crime are not addressed. What I have proposed is very much part of Block’s vision — a collaboration of community stakeholders, who, regardless of their contribution to the situation are prepared to step forward and participate in the creation of a viable possibility they have every reason to believe can work. This includes:

  • The person who had offended who steps forward and takes responsibility to apply themselves and commits to the success of the enterprise and to follow a new life path, and who is given the guidance and support to do so
  • Those private and public visionaries who are prepared to support the venture financially until it can be self-sustaining
  • Social agencies who can offer counseling and support
  • The business community that can offer its entrepreneurial expertise and leads generation
  • Members  of the public who offer their patronage.

Do we continue to spend/forfeit millions and millions of dollars, public and private in connection with crime and our response to it? Are we prepared to perpetuate the revolving prison door phenomenon? How many more generations of children are we prepared to sacrifice — who don’t stand much chance of reaching beyond the plight of their birth circumstance — their lives of poverty, under education, violence and exposure to drugs and alcohol?

We can co-create a model in Peterborough that can serve as a template for other communities and other marginalized people.

We know how crucial employment, financial stability, and hope are in the rehabilitation/reintegration process. In 2013, Pope Francis reminded us that “work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation”. The co-op model goes well beyond the promise of a job. It holds out the possibility of turning lives around — of fulfilling the declaration of a future that surely all of us would embrace. We can co-create a model in Peterborough that can serve as a template for other communities and other marginalized people.

I am working with a small group of interested citizens to establish a multi-stakeholder, bakery, co-operative to bring the energies of possibility, restorative justice and community, and co-operative economics together in Peterborough.

In the coming weeks we will be inviting citizens, agencies, and businesses to join us in partnership and in community dialogue to uncover the abundance and possibility lying beneath the surface of our community to bring this restorative enterprise to life.

Please Join Us:

Contact me to explore the possibilities of your involvement further. I can be reached at ptbocoop@gmail.com

Please consider joining the Peterborough Dialogues mailing list to receive invitations and communication about our progress.

Part 1 — Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis

Part 2 — Understanding Systemic Contributors to Crime and Recidivism 

Part 3 — Successful Reintegration Requires Community Support

Part 4 — The Rehabilitative Impact Of Social Enterprises

Part 5 — A Co-operative Approach to Reintegration

Part 6 — Worker Co-op Model Proving Supportive of Rehabilitation

Part 7 — The Resilience of and Success Markers for Worker Co-ops

Part 8 — A ‘Delicious Idea’ for a Worker Co-op In Peterborough

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