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'Talking stick' helps facilitate restorative justice response to destructive behaviors

Sep 16, 2009

from Barbara Bradley's article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Getting to know the neighbors took on a new dimension recently at a gathering of residents at a Southeast Memphis apartment complex. Summoned as part of a neighborhood watch program, they were asked to form a circle and pass a "talking stick." They were told to speak only about themselves, and only the one who held the stick could speak. As if by sorcery, the talking stick drew out stories so painful several people burst into tears and another fled the room.


Little was said until the stick, actually a Native-American-made, beaded baton, was passed to Bonita Brice, 47, who had brought her two young grandchildren. Brice said her mother died when she was 4; she was passed among relatives and endured mistreatment (including once being made to drink a bottle of turpentine, she explained later). She had lost three sisters to heart disease and had had open-heart surgery herself two years ago.

Pressing one child to her breast, she said she had never been out to meet anyone there. "I miss my mama and I don't even know her," she said, breaking into sobs.

"I don't have nobody to talk to where I can say just what I feel."

Brice's story quickly spurred others. A woman said her father was murdered; another, like Brice, lost her mother as a small child and felt like an outcast in her family; a truck driver fought pneumonia alone in a hospital for months, lost his apartment and lived out of his truck for a year.

Before the evening ended, one woman in the circle gave Brice her phone number and Brice, in turn, gave the woman who felt unwanted a bear hug.

"It was so great I found somebody I could open up with," she said later. "I've been holding it back so long."

Read the whole article.

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