In 2001 when I cofounded Living Justice Press (LJP), “a movement needs a press” was the motivation behind starting a non-profit press devoted to publishing books on restorative justice.
In the twenty years since, many publishers have devoted all or parts of their publishing to restorative justice, giving evidence of the vitality, breadth, and momentum of the global restorative justice movement.
The different publishing efforts that quickly emerged freed LJP to focus on two areas: the peacemaking Circle process and its uses; and applying restorative justice to addressing harms between Peoples.
Personally, I came into restorative justice and Circles through a book by Euro-Canadian Crown prosecutor, retired, Rupert Ross, Returning to the Teachings: Explorations in Aboriginal Justice. This book—about the Hollow Water Community near Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba as well as other First Nation communities across what is now called Canada—changed my life.
I learned mostly Ojibwe and Cree approaches to repairing harms in communities and the wider philosophy of interconnectedness undergirding these approaches, especially Circles.
I would not have chosen the road that led to Living Justice Press without having read Returning to the Teachings. I believe in the power of books. Once they leave our homes or LJP’s warehouse, books go all sorts of places—places the author(s) could never go.
LJP has always donated books to prisons and those inside them, for example, yet we now receive letters from people inside places I cannot recall donating books to. I have no clue how these books found these readers, but their letters tell of LJP books’ impact on their lives. Their words bring us back to what we’re doing beyond all the administrivia and details of publishing.
As I grew in the restorative justice and Circle thought, philosophy, and practice, a question formed in my mind that equally drives me in the publishing work. Given our US settler history of mass racial, settler harm, I ask myself: How can we hold youth accountable for stealing gum or a backpack if we, the adult citizens devoted to RJ, do not hold ourselves accountable for stealing a continent of land through fraud and genocide or stealing the labor over centuries from Indigenous and Black people through violence and cruelty?
I cannot see how we can stand in this RJ and Circle work with integrity and authenticity if we ignore or “disappear” the First and Second Harms, as Dr. Edward C Valandra terms them. Yet the real-life consequences of these mass harms are ongoing—they inflict harm now.
All of us settlers living on Indigenous land benefit from the First Harm every day, while Indigenous people suffer from the losses every day. And the wealth gap and power imbalances instituted by white supremacy through slavery and systems of racial oppression continue to dominate US society. Our silence and inaction perpetuate these harms and secure our ability as white settlers to benefit from them.
Where can we start on a path of repair?
Building awareness is a key first step. In June 2017, the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ) held its biannual conference organized by Indigenous, Black, and Brown RJ communities, led by Fania Davis, the founder of RJOY, RJ for Oakland Youth, and a survivor of the racial violence in her home of Birmingham—“Bombingham”—Alabama in the 1960s.
In August 2018, Restorative Practices International convened an equally ground-breaking conference led by Indigenous, Black, and Brown people. With these pivotal moments in the RJ movement, the intersection of RJ with racism and settler colonialism was on the table and not leaving.
Excellent books have followed, especially Fania Davis’s Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice and Jodie Geddes and Thomas DeWolf’s Little Book of Racial Healing.
In March of 2017, I was on the phone with Dr. Valandra bemoaning the fact that, on the Circle side of LJP’s publishing, we had only white women authors. On the “harms between Peoples” side, we had an equal number of books and all by Indigenous authors. In that moment, Dr. Valandra proposed what became Colorizing Restorative Justice: Voicing Our Realities (CRJ).
In CRJ, twenty authors of color share their experiences in the RJ movement and their passions for what RJ can be if the movement develops a critical race lens and racial awareness that frames and guides RJ practices. Colorizing RJ promises to evolve into a series, because the subject is, we believe, so critical to RJ’s future—to RJ having integrity and authenticity as a discipline and as a movement.
Denise Breton, Living Justice Press, co-founder and executive director
A White settler living in occupied Dakota homelands, Denise Breton directs Living Justice Press. Denise also coauthored, among other books, The Mystic Heart of Justice.
Her current book is Harm-Dependent No More: Who Are We—Winners and Losers or Relatives? She is posting chapters “open source” on LJP’s website: www.livingjusticepress.org. She can be reached at