Sarah Nilsson JD, PhD, MAS
Sarah NilssonJD, PhD, MAS

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round . . . . Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.” 


---- Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux


“When I first started the program, I was confused, worried, frustrated . . . . I didn't know what to expect. As I continued with the Circle, I started to make changes in my life . . . . I learned that the world didn't have to come to an end because of the [violent] incident, and how good things can come from the bad.”


---- Applicant, Circles of Peace, Nogales, Arizona


“I have been in restorative justice long enough to know that the process works. . . . No matter what you say we are going to respect what you say. Doesn't matter what your background is. Doesn't matter who you are. We are equal in this circle. That's a powerful concept that is foreign to the Western [community], but is natural to a lot of minority or immigrant, or native communities. . ..I'm from the system.”


---- Sia Lo, Head of Criminal Division, St. Paul.






So, what does circle justice look like? This illustration below describes a fairly typical scenario.


Alice entered the room with trepidation. Around her were fifteen eager faces, all of which appeared to be anxiously awaiting her arrival. The faces belonged to the circle keepers, comprised of the victim, supporters of the victim, supporters of the defendant, a police officer, the school principal, teachers, and students. An elderly woman beckoned everyone to take a seat. The seats were arranged in a circle. Gingerly, Alice took a seat, and the rest of the crowd followed. “Welcome everybody!” the elderly woman said with a kind but authoritative voice. “We are gathered here today to discuss the consequences of Alice’s behavior and to agree upon a solution.” The elderly woman was holding a talking stick, a symbolic sacred object that could just have easily been a feather. After a preliminary introduction, the stick was passed around the circle. People took turns speaking when the stick was passed to them, including Alice. This process emphasized respect, and the importance of speaking from the heart. The tone started out serious yet productive. An hour and a half later everyone had shared their opinions, feelings, or both. The circle decided by consensus that Alice would enter counseling sessions for the bullying offense, as well as volunteer on the anti-bullying committee at school. Circle justice had been dealt, and all left feeling as though they had accomplished their goals.


My Advanced Writing Requirement for Law School on this topic together with the class presentation may be downloaded below.



Adobe Acrobat document [558.4 KB]
Circle justice presentation.pptx
Microsoft Power Point presentation [5.7 MB]

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