Humans of Restorative Justice stories are written and edited by David Levine inspired by real-world practitioners. Today’s story is from an interview with Alyssa of Baltimore, M.D.
The first person that entered the room at the recreation center was a woman in her early twenties, with clear dark skin, long wavy black hair, wearing a bright green scarf. I introduced myself as the appointed mediator. In Baltimore city, when there is a State’s Attorney referred case such as this where charges have been pressed, the parties involved can either proceed to criminal court or they can take the matter into their own hands by choosing to engage in a mediation facilitated by someone from an approved non-profit organization such as ours. We made small talk while waiting for the other women who entered a few minutes later. This woman was older, in her forties, with a short grey hairstyle and a larger build than the younger girl who was now sitting across the conference table under the fluorescent lights of the rec center. We all got settled and began. The goal was to help these two women to communicate and allow them a space to resolve their issue so that we might avoid a criminal case and everything that goes with that.
The protocol requires that I first read a script outlying the process. This includes reviewing the tenants of the mediation and reminding them that this is a voluntary process of their choice. Second, it is made clear that all discussions will remain confidential, except for the cases that I am required to report as a mandated reporter. And finally, I assure them that as mediator I will remain neutral, that I am not there to pass judgement or take sides. After we had agreed and understood the terms we began.
The incident had occurred in the neighborhood where both women live. There was already a history of conflict between the two. On this particular day the younger woman was walking down the street near the property of the other woman who yelled at her to “get off my property!” “This is the city’s property, not yours!” the younger woman protested. The older woman’s son did not like her tone and confronted the girl who stood her ground. Soon the woman also came off the porch and stood yelling with the girl. Soon things turned physical between the two women and they both “put hands on each other.”
We spent about an hour and a half of the mediation just trying to clarify and agree on these basic facts. Both women were a bit resistant to the process, had both gotten lost trying to find the rec center that day, and obviously still had strong feelings of anger towards each other. At one point they stood up and were yelling and I was afraid the mediation might not be successful at all. But I kept acknowledging both women’s feelings and perspectives, making sure they had their chance to be heard and we were able to move forward.
At one point, the younger woman said “You don't know my situation, you don't know where i’m coming from.” I asked her to explain. She slowly untied the scarf and revealed a rather nasty bite mark on the lower part of her face from the fight. “I work at Sephora selling make-up and this really made it hard for me to work.” Her tone was not angry but almost tearful. Around that point there was a shift in the mood. The older woman began to cry. “This isn’t really me. I’m a 45 year old woman and honestly I’m embarrassed by all this. I was actually recently incarcerated and since I’ve been out I haven't been able to find a job. It’s been stressful. But I shouldn’t have acted like I did, and I feel badly for her.”
The younger woman had been sitting rigidly with arms crossed the whole time. But once the other woman broke her aggressive stance and became apologetic, she relaxed and opened up as well. She said, “I can understand that stress. I’m a first generation from Africa here and my family back there relies on me. I’ve been working crazy hours and putting myself through college. It’s a lot.” After that, the two women started sharing about their lives and were both apologetic. At the end of the session, when both agreed the issue had been resolved, they actually exchanged phone numbers so that they could stay in touch. It was an amazing transition from violent anger to friendship, and one of the more successful mediations of which I have been a part.
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