I recently learned the term ‘spark bird.’ For bird watchers, the ‘spark bird’ is the bird that first ignited their interest in birding, that first grabbed their attention and interest. If you meet an avid bird watcher, ask them about their ‘spark bird’ and watch their eyes light up! It is much the same in the restorative justice world. It is common for circles of restorative justice advocates getting to know each other to share the stories of how each person came to the work of restorative justice. This prompt is a treasure trove of restorative justice ‘spark birds.’

In order to generate more momentum for restorative justice … we need to achieve broader understanding and buy-in for restorative approaches …

In the stories told, we often hear about an experience (participating in a restorative justice case or seeing a different, more restorative outcome to an incident of harm than they ever could have imagined previously). What is often the case is people talk about a time that they really felt the impact of restorative justice through witnessing it or personally experiencing it.

This raises an important question relevant to our collective pressing need to communicate restorative justice effectively to wider and wider audiences: Do you have to feel it to get it?

In order to generate more momentum for restorative justice implementation and policy-change, we need to achieve broader understanding and buy-in for restorative approaches among the general public. It is not feasible for every person to experience a restorative justice process directly; so we must investigate other ways to generate the feeling of a restorative justice encounter. In this piece, I will suggest three methods for generating that feeling that deserve greater exploration and creative efforts: experiences, stories and art.


In investigating ways to help people get restorative justice, we need to look to experiences beyond participating in an actual restorative justice process — experiences that are quick and accessible to large groups that we can weave into a variety of different contexts.

Ideally, these experiences will generate that emotional resonance necessary to till the ground so that the seeds of learning about restorative justice can take root.

I often like to begin talks or workshops on restorative justice (particularly when delivered online) with a simple activity from Restorative Teaching Tools. In this activity, I pose three questions, pausing after each question to get responses from the group (either in a Zoom chat box or through speaking up to share), distilling a few themes, and sharing my own experiences.

  • Think back on a time that you, as a community member, became aware of a crime having been committed — what did you need?
  • Think back on a time that you experienced harm — what did you need?
  • Think back on a time that you caused harm — what did you need?

Normally, I debrief this activity and, as a group, we talk about how these common human needs are met and not met in different approaches to justice-making.

What this activity does is efficiently generate a degree of emotional resonance with the experiences of responsible parties (offenders) and harmed parties (victims) and with the common human needs generated by harm and crime that we endeavour more effectively to respond to within restorative justice processes.

… that deeper feeling of being connected to each other that often emerges from restorative encounters.

Circles practice is often used as a way for a group of people to experience the type of space and communication that is made possible by restorative justice processes as well as that deeper feeling of being connected to each other that often emerges from restorative encounters. I am personally of the opinion that circle practice should be integrated into restorative justice educational opportunities whenever possible because of the experience it can provide for those looking to better understand restorative justice.

In The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools (Pointer et al., 2020) as well as the website, you can find a collection of games and activities for teaching restorative justice. Games and activities provide an accessible (and often even fun!) way to experience restorative justice. Games have a power to decrease resistance to new ideas by drawing us playfully out of our normal ways of interacting and into a space of more possibility and creativity. This power of play makes it a great way to bring people into a state of emotional resonance with restorative approaches.


“The day they came face-to-face with the teen who accidentally shot and killed their son, Bradley and Meagan Hulett confirmed, in their minds, that prison was the last place the shooter should end up.”  (Moore, 2022)

Many news stories and features on restorative justice begin much like this, with a piece of a story that draws you in and immediately generates the deeply emotional experience of picturing an unimaginable horror and an unlikely response.

We see this reliance on stories everywhere. Stories are ancient human technology and are central to how we learn. Stories create a sense of connection, build familiarity and trust and help to create an openness to learning. Good stories contain multiple meanings; they can convey complex ideas in a way that is much easier to grasp. And, above all, stories are engaging, they draw us in and spark our interest.

It is no wonder then that stories have dominated our methods of communicating and narrating restorative justice. Collections of restorative justice case studies are often used in restorative justice education efforts. A number of outstanding documentary films have been crafted to share the stories of particular restorative justice cases.

We are also increasingly seeing restorative justice stories in popular media. My colleague with the National Center on Restorative Justice (USA), Avery Arrington, has a passion for identifying and collecting examples of restorative justice encounters in popular culture. One such example is from season four of the TV show Queer Eye in which Karamo Brown brings together the subject (or ‘hero’) of the episode, Wesley, and the man who shot him for a dialogue. In the conversation, Wesley has an opportunity to have his questions answered and both men reach a point of greater healing and resolution. While not called restorative justice in the episode, dialogues like this in popular media help to expand the public imagination of what is possible in a justice response.

I am particularly excited about the potential of fiction to spread stories of restorative justice. There are many great examples including recently Wayward Creatures (Lorentz, 2022) and Play the Game (coming January 2023). My own children’s picture book on restorative justice, Wally and Freya, was published in 2022 by Good Books. The intention of the publisher is for this to be the beginning of a ‘Restorative Justice for Kids’ series that will help to introduce restorative justice to young people and their teachers, parents or caregivers. If you have an idea for a story, I encourage you to submit a manuscript.

I am particularly excited about the potential of fiction to spread stories of restorative justice.


Stories are, indeed, one form of art and art more broadly holds immense potential for communicating restorative justice.

A tagline of the Center for Artistic Activism is ‘Affect creates effect.’ Art moves us and when we are moved by what we see and experience, it can spark change.

My own interest in art as a method for creative communication in restorative justice was sparked by Brunilda Pali’s work and deepened by the EFRJ’s REstART Festival. In 2020 and 2021, the National Center on Restorative Justice issued a call for artistic representation of restorative justice, which generated a gallery of visual art poetry, and short stories.

The upcoming special issue of The International Journal of Restorative Justice on Advancing Restorative Justice through Art, co-edited by myself and Brunilda Pali, documents many ways that art is being drawn on to communicate and strengthen restorative justice. If you are interested in learning more about creative approaches to communicating and practising restorative justice, I encourage you to check out the special issue.

One of the great treasures of restorative justice is the creativity of the process. It allows for the previously unimaginable to emerge.

In our efforts to communicate restorative justice to the public, it is imperative that we tap into that same force of creativity that drives restorative responses and draw on the possibility of art, stories and facilitated experiences to generate a feeling of restorative justice that will drive greater uptake. We must approach the problem like artists.

Lindsey Pointer is an Assistant Professor, Vermont Law School,  (USA).
Contact: lpointer@vermontlaw.edu


Lorentz, D. (2022). Wayward creatures. New York: Clarion Books.

Moore, W.A. (2022). For a child who killed their child, parents chose restorative justice. The Crime

Report: Your Criminal Justice Network. (https://thecrimereport.org/2022/03/29/for-a-child-who-killed-their-child-parents-chose-restorative-justice/)

Pointer, L. (2022). Wally and Freya. New York: Good Books.

Pointer, L., McGoey, K. and Farrar, H. (2020). The little book of restorative teaching tools: games, activities, and simulations for understanding restorative justice practices. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.