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Five Key Elements of Transformation – The Philosophy of Restorative Justice

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Five Key Elements of Transformation

Within The Philosophy of Restorative/Transformative Justice and Transforming Individual and Community Trauma

 “A great many people think they are changing when they are just rearranging their prejudices.”

William James, Philosopher

 “Why must anyone seek for new ways of acting? The answer is that in the long run the continuity of life itself depends on the making of new (paradigms)…The continuous invention of new ways of seeing (and being) is (our) special secret of living.”

J.Z.Young, Biologist

Deep in the core of all that is emerging about restorative justice in its many manifestations is transformation.  Transformation is driving restorative justice up into the consciousness of society.  And, while there are many wonderful outcomes through the efforts of all who are involved in bringing the various forms and processes of restorative justice into the life of society, it is vital that in order for restorative justice not to become mutated into just another fleeting program, pushed out beyond the margins of justice practices, the pure elements of transformation in the context of restorative justice must be explored.

Transformation relates to Restorative/Transformative Justice through 5 key elements:

The first element is Community. The greatest security we can have is a healthy community.  Community is in essence brought to life by relationships.  Relationships bring meaning into our lives. Relationships provide us with identity, purpose, meaning, direction, in essence relationship and therefore community is a life-giving, life-defining, life-nurturing process.  Community is the interconnectedness of everything.  No living organism within the universe survives without relating to the OTHER. We are in a relationship with everyone, our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighborhood, town, city, country, and planet.  Understanding the essence of community immediately introduces us to the exploration of relationships and their meaning for humanity.  When we speak about the person who has come into conflict in life, it is impossible to talk without referring to the absence of healthy life-affirming relationships, conflict on the social level is about the denigration, the deterioration, and ultimately the neglect of relationships. And it is the neglect of relationships that is often a product of retributive justice.

Retributive justice first and foremost is an oxymoron. Retribution does not, will not create justice.  Rather retributive justice pursues the devolution of community. Retributive justice maintains features of pursuing blameworthiness of individuals. Once this is achieved, the process then proceeds to characterize guilt in order to exact some form of punishment. Punishment often takes the form of highlighting an individual’s flaws and deficiencies… characterized by language such as “bad”, “mean”, “offender”. Through these labels we tend to define the entire person… in essence we stigmatize in order to make the person stop committing offences. Finally, retributive justice departs from community by its explicit efforts to isolate and remove the “guilty” person from that community.

Sadly this isolation/incarceration tends to have the reverse impact on addressing crime: the greater the amount of incarceration the greater the likelihood of the person re-offending.

Community at its zenith is about integration not isolation. It is about celebrating capacities not admonishing weakness. Community is about seeking creative compassionate ways to relate with one another… flaws, strengths, and all.

 The opportunity here then is to constantly be asking and demonstrating ways to create meaningful community, relationships particularly in times of conflict and crisis.

The second element is Capacity.  Capacity of any human being is never created, nurtured in isolation. Capacity is in fact created in and through relationships of one being with another.  Capacity has many powerful opportunities to challenge anyone authentically engaging the process of restorative justice.  One opportunity is to let go of favourite ways of thinking.  Another opportunity is to not be prescriptive in the attempt to resolve the issue one is dealing with.  Another opportunity is to invite others into the circle of capacity building. The invitation of others into a restorative justice process must be understood as an invitation for people to contribute their gifts, talents, insights, abilities in ways that can bring about or support the well-being of all involved in the process. When people are invited to participate in this way, true meaningful action, and accountability is created.

The strength of what is created here comes from the very act of everyone mutually developing the process and the outcomes, rather than having the outcomes imposed by a higher authority. This is a strength-based element rather than a deficiency based element. If the goal is sustaining healthy community, then one key is to encourage the capacity of everyone to flourish… especially in times of conflict. In the event of a person hurting another person, the goal is not to hurt the person back. Rather, the pursuit here is to say how everyone draws on everyone’s capacities to help repair the harm that has been done. When capacity is explored there are some immediate outcomes: people are not alienated and isolated, rather they are drawn together to repair harm

People’s’ creativity is explored with the statements of ‘We can…’ or, ‘I am able and willing to…’ People, whether the person who committed the offending behavior, or the one who has been victimized, now have the opportunity to demonstrate strengths rather than shrink under shadows of retributive shame through a myopic focus framed within labeled limitations. Limitations are generated through the imposition of Shoulds.

 Shoulds are the antithesis of capacity. When one is told what they should do, the effect is to deplete energy. The imposition of shoulds has the effect of “shoulding all over the person”. The outcomes of “shouldings” are feelings of: anxiety, incapacity, despair, guilt, low self-esteem.

The outcomes of exploring capacity are the enhanced experience of ability, energy, and enhanced self-worth.  When capacity is focused on everyone is invited to contribute to the reparation of the harm that has been done.  Once again when capacity is explored new and healthy relationships are formed, given that nothing meaningful is ever created in isolation.  Capacity is realized in the circle process when people connect with and to their emotional, cognitive, spiritual level and see these elements in relation to everyone else within the circle.

 The third element is Connection. Disconnection is without doubt the purest manifestation of people in conflict the culture of the Hopi Indians of North America; have a word Koyaanisqatsi which translates to: crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance, a state of life that calls for another way of living.  It would not be too far out of line to suggest that Koyaanisgatsi could be applied to our planet as a whole, in present day experience—just look around, tell me what you see.  Retribution would without question be aligned with “life disintegrating.”

People who harm others often are disconnected from empathy for others; they often do not see themselves as having had a significant impact in the lives of others, and often they are instructed within the criminal justice system to not contact people affected by their behaviour and to not demonstrate empathy to the people affected by their behaviour.

Disconnection is also the manifestation of competition.  Within the existing criminal justice system, the operating paradigm is disconnection through competition. The criminal justice system is often the acting out of a play of US AGAINST THEM. Furthermore, it is not unusual for the person who was victimized to not be present in cases involving a plea bargain, and as a result is left with no closure for the trauma they have experienced. Still deeper, there are experiences even when the person who has gone through a full trial still has come away feeling that they still did not get to the true answer of why they were victimized and that the disposition does little to deal with the trauma they experience.

Connection on the other hand offers us that opportunity to truly explore and integrate “another way of living.”  Through connecting in a circle process there is a fundamental shift from “I” to “We.”  People in the circle process connect with their comprehension of the impact of their behaviour on others, they connect with their capacity to empathize with others, they connect with their ability to create ways collaboratively to repair the harm that has taken place, people are able to connect to the truth of what transpired (the offending behaviour), rather than competing for the proof of what transpired (offending behaviour). There comes a point in the circle process the “a ha”; the realization that everyone is in one form another connected to everyone else,  people are not isolated from one another, people are, thought the circle process moving into a transformative connection because everyone does matter and for that “a ha” to take place, everyone must listen to everyone else.

The fourth element is Voice.   “There is a world of difference between waiting to speak and listening.” The significance of voice in the circle process cannot be overstated.  Voice has two immediate compelling outcomes: 1) People are allowed to express the truth of their experience, and 2) Everyone listens to the person speaking.  Often the most powerful outcome of a circle is the simple experience of being listened to for the very first time.  When a person feels heard, truly heard they also experience acknowledgement.

A person’s experience is validated by having others hearing and therefore feeling their story. It takes great courage to tell a story where you have harmed others and you want to acknowledge the pain you have caused.  One person who had caused others great pain stated: “ you learn on a very deep, emotional level the impact you have had when you hear the voice of each person in that circle, by the time everyone has spoken in the circle you arrive at a place that is much deeper than you would have ever thought possible. There is a voice that comes from within, when you are trying to say you are sorry, not from the surface but from way deep down within yourself.”     Equally it takes great courage to move past a state of being victimized and being in a place to tell others of your experience and to see that you are not limited by a label of “victim” but rather a person with a strong, powerful voice, a voice that is heard by others, felt by others. “As well as being an offender (robberies, aggravated assault, assault with weapons), I have also been a victim (child sexual abuse, neglect).  The greatest feeling I can have is letting go of the hate, anger, pain if feel towards those who had harmed me, l am able to let all that go because I was able to say out loud ‘listen, I am hurting, I am hurt here and I have been caring it for so long and this pain and anguish, it no longer belongs to me. I am letting it go.


Another person who had also suffered sexual abuse as a child had this to say about voice:

“ Somehow, at times it feels like our culture has encouraged us not to speak and say out loud we have been hurt, so we push the pain inside ourselves, and the deeper we push, the harder we push, and the more painful the entire experience becomes and then we create unhealthy self-destructive ways to block the pain, such as fighting, alcoholism, drug addiction, just so that my pain would not be noticeable to me I could drink to the point of alcohol poisoning, I would self-sabotage as soon as I got close to achieving success,  and the reason I would engage in dissociative, self-harming behaviour was I would be transported back there  as a 12 year old boy thinking: “I messed up, the man who sexually abused my was in his 30’s but somehow it was all my fault, therefore I don’t deserve good things.”  And the most debilitating aspect of this was my loss of voice.  I felt that I could not tell anyone about the horror that had happened, I believed if I did I would be seen as someone who was weak, someone who brought it on themselves, someone who no matter how you framed it was in the wrong.  And over the years the loss of voice is more and more muted by behaviour that was excessive: drink to excess, fight, drugs to excess, everything was done in excess.   All because, my pain, was in excess.

 This person went on to say: “When I look back on my story now, I think to myself if I could have had a sense of safety to say that I was hurt, and somebody was there to listen to me, not judge me, not try to fix me, but just let me talk, I think things would have been very different in my life.  I think that is the beauty of restorative justice, the circle is a place of safety, a place of strength for someone who has been victimized, a place where the person is allowed to bring their voice to others in a way that harm is dealt with in a healing fashion.  The circle is a place where a person is not labeled “victim” and therefore is not ascribed attributes of victimization such as being weak, vulnerable, and powerless.  Rather, the person is seen as a whole person, and not a person to be defined and have their entire life defined by the event of victimization.

Voice is a relational experience.  When someone is speaking there is always someone, in the circle, who is listening.  Voice in a circle process is a truth-telling experience. There is not a debate about a person’s voice in the circle experience; rather it is the opportunity for empathy and understanding to find their place in helping repair the harm that has taken place.  Voice nurtures the open space for empathy to surface it does not demand it or demand that empathy be imposed, voice nurtures and provides us a way to create meaningful, powerful, transformative states.

The fifth element is Sacredness. Over the past years of facilitating training, I keep hearing participants say: ‘there was so much respect for everyone in the circle, but I am sure it would not be like this in the real world, this was just a training experience, so everyone was on their best behaviour.’ My response to this view continues to be as follows; in a culture that directly or indirectly supports retribution on a daily basis, there is an assumption that people cannot, will not meet in a circle to explore ways to repair the harm that has taken place.  This assumption goes deeper down to the belief that either people will be insincere or that there will be some kind of outburst, exploitation, in other words the circle cannot happen it is to unrealistic for the “real world.”

My experience has been, however, that people are even more deferential in the “real world.”  Reflecting back on the notion of Koyaanisqatsi, I believe people are very much wanting and seeking another way of living, another way of dealing with the trauma that has come into their lives.  The sacredness of the circle is created by everyone in the circle, because underneath it all people from the very core of their being began their own story from a place of Goodness.  What the circle process does is reinforce the seeking out and experiencing of Goodness.  There is a profound caring for others that takes form as the circle process unfolds.  I have been witness to people coming into the circle as “victim” and “offender” only to leave hugging each other at the end of the experience.  I have been witness to trepidation unfold into transformation, through the circle process.

I believe that when there is a space open enough for the elements of community, capacity, connection, voice, to flourish all of us evolve into the architects, whom together can build a sacred space where true transformation is experienced.

-Arthur Lockhart, Professor, Humber College  & Founder of The Gatehouse 

CTSC in Media

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Links to Articles Featuring the CTSC

Transforming Trauma: Communities Experiencing Violence May 4, 2018 by Maria Barcelos, Executive Director The Gatehouse & Arthur Lockhart, Professor and Founder, The Gatehouse
Humber collaborates with The Gatehouse to create Centre for Transformative Social Change April 03, 2017 by Alanna Fairey

5th Annual Transformative Social Change Symposium

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Transformative Social Change Symposium

Wed. Nov. 14, 2018 – The Centre for Transformative Social Change and The Gatehouse co-hosted the 5th Annual Transformative Social Change Symposium.  Our utmost and sincere gratitude to Humber College School of Social and Community Services for sponsoring the event.

Over 100 persons took part in social justice and transformative community justice discussions on issues including gun/gang violence, poverty, food scarcity, education and child, abuse.

The symposium is dedicated to providing experiential/transformative learning opportunities for students and community members who want to engage in the processes of creating transformative social change. Thank you to the wonderful Centre for Transformative Social Change planning team for another successful event.

Download 2018 Nov. 14 Symposium Handout

To sign the CTSC Petition click here

Thank you to all our guest speakers: Regina Hartwick, Manager Humber College, Aboriginal Resource Centre, Maria Barcelos, The Gatehouse, Lacey Ford, Full Circle Art Therapy Centre, Zya Browne, Think 2wice and Elizabeth Correia, She can She Will, Louis March, Zero Gun Violence Movement, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, Distinguished Professor Ryerson University and Former Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Arthur Lockhart, Professor and Founder of The Gatehouse, Dr. Aqeel Saeid, Professor Humber College, Meshanda Ellison, The Cycle Ends Now Team, Dia Mamatis and Heather Rilkoff, City of Toronto Public Health.

Outcomes of the event:

* A theme from participants-“Transformational Experience”; “Really want to create meaningful action.”

* Elizabeth Correia will be meeting with Humber students and faculty to explore the development of an on-site space at Humber for Womens’ Empowerment

* Marcell Wilson subsequently spoke at 2 Community Justice Services classes 

* Zya Browne is coordinating a 2 day training session facilitated by Arthur on Trauma, Grief, and Community Engagement to take place in December

* Dr. Alok Mukherjee’s book Excessive Force noted as a text to be integrated into the College curriculum

*Meshanda Ellison’s evolving organization to be integrated with the CTSC

* Support is ongoing with Louis March and his incredible work in addressing gun violence

* Support for MPP Chris Glover in his incredible work in addressing gun violence as a Public Health issue

* Support for Lacey Ford in her work for victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse and art therapy as a response to trauma.

* Support of Dr. Aqeel Saeid in his work with children traumatized by work, Syrian Refugees through the New Horizons Healing and Hope Coalition

April 30th Join us for Facilitating Transformative Social Change: A public health response to violence in communities

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“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

“The greatest security we can have is created through healthy relationships.” Arthur Lockhart

“Like the infectious diseases in our history, violence is better understood and more successfully treated as an epidemic.” Cure Violence

MeetingFacilitating Transformative Social Change: A public health response to violence in communities.

Date: April 30th 2018

Panelists: Zya Browne, Elizabeth Correia, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, Chris Glover, Louis March

Time: 10am -2pm


10:00am – Welcome – Arthur Lockhart

10:10am – 11:30am – Panelists

11:30am-12:00pm – Lunch Break (Please bring own lunch)

12:00pm-1:30pm – Open Space

1:30pm-2:00pm – Defining next steps

Location: G Building Humber College Lakeshore Campus.

Parking: Paid Parking available on Kipling and Lakeshore.

Registration Link: Please click to register to attend

Lunch: Please bring own lunch

Questions: Please contact Arthur Lockhart at

Theme statement of the meeting:

In essence the day is dedicated to engaging in meaningful actions aimed at transforming the cycle of violence in communities-

And in order to do this it can be instructive to explore violence not exclusively through the lens of criminal justice but by way of exploring violence as the manifestation of trauma. And trauma is best approached as a relational matter of public health.

  1. Address poverty. Reverse the growing gap between rich and poor
  2. Understand what’s happening. The mainstream narrative is about bad individuals, about guns and gangs. This feeds into a punitive police response. It does nothing to change the survival culture that feeds the cycle of violence. It doesn’t give young men an alternative to picking up a gun in order to get respect.
  3. Empower people in the communities. Programs should be run by people from the communities and inside the prisons. Recruit them as mentors and as peace negotiators.
  4. Address the trauma. Take a public health approach – treat the anger, aggression, fear, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

A wonderful book on trauma and transformative social change can be found at:

According to the author Steve Wineman:

Understanding trauma can help us to articulate what is deeply wrong with the current society.  Personal suffering is the most basic reason for social change. 

Understanding trauma can help us to mobilize rage in the service of nonviolent social change.

There is much less recognition that oppression is generically traumatizing.

Racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and economic brutality all routinely violate people’s integrity and repeatedly render people powerless in the face of overwhelming personal and institutional forces.  The social experience of people of color, gay people, women, workers, poor people, children, and disabled people is saturated with abuse, humiliation, violence, and negation of personal worth.  As Aurora Levins Morales argues, “abuse is the local eruption of systemic oppression, and oppression the accumulation of millions of small systematic abuses.”13

Trauma belies myths that people are immune to destructive social environments, that anyone can emerge unscathed and through hard work succeed, and conversely that those who don’t succeed are to blame for their own failures.  The study of trauma can teach us that ours is a sickening society — a society in which toxic social conditions create psychological and physical illness by routinely traumatizing people.  It teaches that a society organized around domination is bankrupt not only because it spawns enormous material inequality, violence, and oppressive power relations, but also because it degrades the quality of individual lives on a massive scale through the mechanism of trauma.

So the question for all of us to engage is: How to create healthy relationships as a response to manifestations of violence in our society?

Transformative Social Change Symposium March 24, 2018

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Saturday, March 24, 2018 –  60 people gathered at Humber College Lakeshore Campus to talk about social change.

Thank you all to all guest speakers including:
Dr. Alok Mukherjee
Ardath Whynacht 
Marcia Brown C/O Jay Williams for Trust 15
Sue Enberg
Kelly Donovan Fit4Duty
Leonard Benoit
Zya Brown
Elizabeth Correia
Dr. Aqeel Saeid
Professor Arun Dhanota
Professor Linda Hill
Professor Arthur Lockhart
Humber College School of Social and Community Services Students

Thank you to our sponsors Humber School of Social and Community Services, special thanks to School of Social and Community Services Dean Derek Stockley.

Thank you to The Gatehouse staff and volunteers, all event volunteers, CTSC student team for their help at the event.

Thank you to our wonderful photographer Mr. Edison Yao, Unicorn Studios

Event Photos Available on our Facebook Page at Transformative Social Change Symposium 

Sign Centre for Transformative Social Change Support Letter

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Hi Everyone

We need your support. We are a group of students, educators and community organizers, who have connected to pursue a common passion and hope to get your support. We have many goals that can be achieved with your help. Our primary goal is to create the Center for Transformative Social Change (CTSC) that can connect students with existing organizations or support individuals and groups in the process of pursuing their own unique vision for a healthier world.   Sign the support letter here!


Transformative Social Change Symposium Nov. 4, 2017

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Our 4th annual Transformative Social Change Symposium in partnership with Humber College will take place on Saturday, November 4th, 2017!

Date: Saturday, November 4th

Time: 9:00am to 3:30pm

Location: Humber College Lakeshore Campus, Building G

Cost: Free.  We are asking registrants to bring a canned food or another non-perishable food item which will be donated to the local food bank.

Registration required. Sign up at

Presenters include:

  1. Alok, Mukjerjee
  2. Ardath Whynacht, PhD (c)
  3. Robert Clark
  4. Terry Swinton

Parking: There is free parking on campus. Observe all parking signs and regulations. We are not responsible for parking infractions.


Check out The F-You Project Documentary

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Check out this documentary by The F-You Project “When Young People Decide To Forgive.”