Experience, in reverse chronological order:
Life #3: Joining the bureaucracy:
- In 2008, I started to build and run a non-profit, Youth Restoration Project (YRP), that trained and implemented Restorative Justice Practices in schools and their communities.
- While viral internationally, the RJP movement here in America was nearly unknown. RJP’s techniques work on getting to the root of problems, civilizing unwanted behavior without the convenience of punishment, since no evidence shows that punitive approaches grow community-appropriate behavior or communities, for that matter. After years of working in schools, doing something really good for kids was thrilling.
- Thrilling, but deeply countercultural. Naïve me was shocked at the resistance to embracing alternatives to humiliation, suspension, ostracism, etc.
- In 2015, YRP and its partners, got a multi-million-dollar grant to implement restorative “conferencing” in specific RI secondary schools
- We hired a staff most of whom were young, of color, and/or bilingual. They were the joy (and sometimes bane) of my existence during those years.
- But punishment kept winning out. Internationally, whole countries have been working on transforming their public services – schools, police, child protection – to Restorative Practices because it pulls communities together, repairs relationship and insists on making amends when harm is done. In this country it has been a mighty struggle to take root in spite of changes in leadership, funding priorities, scheduling. Only in small pockets did RJP become a priority.
- Sadly, during Covid, our emerging faith in the value of RJP waned as everyone went into survival mode. The valiant pressed on with zoom circles, but the Covid challenges left no time for pivoting from retribution to restoration. Instead, blood lust for retribution has flared up across political spectra, neighborhoods, families.
- In 2019, I began transitioning YRP to a next-generation leader.
- In 2021, I suspended my decade-long relationship with the Mental Health Association of RI – the last of my own institutional connections.
- I’m back to writing as my main work.
Life #2: Advocating for kids
- In a total fluke, a lame duck Providence mayor appointed me to the Providence School Board, at the start of the infamously corrupt Mayor Cianci’s second term.
- The 4 years on the Board were a rude, if riveting, immersion in the Kafkaesque landscape of urban education. Shockingly little attention focused on the kids.
- Overnight, my interest in children’s advocacy became zealous.
- For the first couple of years, I read Education Week cover to cover, only to discover a failure of imagination and persistence. A surprisingly small number of education strategies, big and small, were recycled, renamed, allowed to languish no matter how good they were, or ossified in laws, regulations, labor contract provisions, and laziness, no matter how bad.
- A Cianci henchman got me tossed off the school board because, as he put it, “We couldn’t get nothing done with her there.” I note that with some pride.
- Within months, the Providence Journal engaged me to write a weekly column called “EdWatch,” although the topics morphed beyond schools to all things kids.
- I also did bureaucratic copywriting work, public speaking, and consulting.
- Lives two and three gave me a detailed view of the Escher-like functions of so-called public services, bureaucracy, the functions of law, policy, regulations and labor/management contracts.
Life #3: Working in theater arts
- I was trained in playwriting, dramatic literature, directing, writing, dancing, singing – skills that served me well in my later lives, especially doing training presentations, making complex information stick with the audience.
- My long list of awards and productions – both for directing and playwriting – were mostly awarded by or staged in places that probably no longer exist.
- This life was fun but utterly impractical when I needed to help my husband support 3 sons, an old house and challenging families of origin.