News Coverage from Peace with Pie

Professor Penny White's Remarks from Peace with Pie  


I am extremely honored and grateful for the opportunity to join you today for the Neighborhood Reconciliation Services Peace with Pie celebration.   I travel a lot, work out of town mostly, but every time I approach that place on I26 where the three lanes narrow to two right past State of Frankly Road, and curve around after passing the bridge and what used to be that giant Pepsi Cola bottle cap, I feel peace.  A sense of restoration of my soul and my spirit actually.  And so it is an incredible honor to be asked to speak today about the work of NRS who works to give others that sense of peace and restoration. 


The media tends to play up restorative justice as a new phenomenon, but restorative justice approaches date back to 2060 BC, when punishment for crime under the Code of Ur Nammu and the Code of Hammurabi focused on repaying the victims, rather than paying the government.  It actually wasn’t until 1066 AD when retributive justice replaced restorative justice, with offenses first being defined as against the king’s peace, and with offenses being no longer seen as injuries against persons, but rather as offenses against the state. 

In modern times, the first noted mention of restorative justice may have been as a result of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, committed to restorative justice among the indigenous cultures in Africa.  Scholars say that the phrase began to be commonly used after its use in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission transcripts in the 1970s. In many ways restorative justice represents a validation of practices that were characteristic to many indigenous groups.  Many nations practiced restorative justice and dwelt peacefully until the Europeans first, and then the Americans, arrived, bringing with them their retributive justice practices.  IN New Zealand, for example, before the Europeans arrived, the Màori had a system of restoration they referred to as Utu that protected individuals and personal integrity, while promoting social stability.  In our country, the Mennonites. Quakers, and Amish are the groups that first embraced restorative justice practices, believing that restorative justice systems are more humane that punitive justice systems. 

More recently, NGOs just like NRS have been the primary force behind the increase in restorative justice practices.  Certainly this is step one in moving toward a more restorative and humane court system, but there is a very important step two.  Government buy-in.  We need to encourage our governmental leaders to alter their thinking about crime and punishment.  We must shift our focus from punishment to restoration.

Our community leaders need to know that we cannot continue to answer the question with the same answers with the wrong answers.  They need to engage with us in a new conversation about what type of justice system we want; about what type of justice system will foster a more peaceful and engaged community. 

By providing new answers to recurrent problems, we have learned quite simply that punishment, shaming ridiculing, ostracizing do not work.  Judging and labeling, do not work.  A focus on how we can get even with those who harm others does not work. 

We know that giving a voice to those who harm and to those who are harmed, humanizes, rather than dehumanizes those involved.  We know that listening, instead of stifling and shackling, breeds respect instead of anger.  We know that decisions based on restorative justice practices are not only more likely to be honored, but more likely to breed respect and change than disrespect and defiance. 

Giving those who harm and those harmed a voice, will allow individuals to own the solution; to take greater personal responsibility for the roles they play in creating and solving the problems.   Opening a dialogue can enhance positive and supportive connections; it simply can foster kindness and a more tranquil and peaceful existence. 

It makes me so proud, to know that this organization in tri-cities is leading the way toward this more peaceful, more effective means of addressing conflict and restoring relationships.  As I was learning about NRS, and studying the history of restorative justice, I ran across a master’s thesis authored in 2005 by a student at ETSU.   I found her summary, written almost a decade and a half ago to be very poignant:  After she surveyed the literature, empirical evidence, and conducted her own empirical studies, she observed that “it seems likely that victim offender meetings will become a common and respected process from dealing with criminal justice issues, and that victims and offenders alike have expressed satisfaction with the process of restorative justice.”   Fortunately, that prediction, has come to pass.  Our community now has a professional organization whose leaders can facilitate restorative conferences and consult with individuals and groups about restorative practices.

But the best organization in the world; the most engaged and informed NRS imaginable could not succeed with the willingness and wisdom of individuals like today’s honoree. 

I have known Judge Sharon Green since the first month I became a lawyer.  She and another female lawyer in JC are the ones that most welcomed me to the profession.  My first inkling that there would be a sisterhood in the law was at her home, at a meeting of female attorneys, which has continued regularly even today, 36 years later.  The occasion for that first meeting was an organization that many of you may have heard of, FAME. Like me, board chair, Trish Patterson sees the similarities between that effort on Lawyer Green’s part and the efforts she makes today with NRS.  As Trish says, “Judge Green saw a need and acted, giving female attorneys a way to connect as a community to enjoy the restorative benefits of fun and support. While not a judicial restorative practice, her initiative in offering that "out of the office" connection helped restore and rejuvenate her colleagues.”

Just as she sensed a need for female attorneys to have an opportunity to relate to one another, so too has Judge Green seen the importance of fostering and healing relationships in court matters.  She understands the need to handle situations differently based on the circumstances; that a cookie-cutter approach does not work; that issues that bring people to court are not black and white so solutions cannot be black and while either.  She assures that everyone’s voice is heard.  In the words of Jennifer Mongold, former NRS director, “Her heart is for finding the right outcome and right avenue for reaching that outcome for each family who comes through her court.” 

And I love the visuality of this description, “I've seen her with one well-placed eyebrow arch completely diffuse a situation with a teenager. In that look she spoke volumes to that kid and taught him respect and to think before he speaks. She didn't preach to him or tell him things he's heard a thousand times.  She simply showed him her displeasure and he changed his tune immediately. She knows those kids and how to react to each one of them individually. To me, it's the way she looks for individual ways to handle the cases that come through her court that exemplifies restorative practices.”

There are some individuals whose pictures should be in Webster’s dictionary as defining a word.  Some people who are the very essence of a word.  In my mind, there is a word that I always think of when I think of Judge Green – and that word is grace.

As a lawyer that was true of Sharon Green or Lawyer Green for me, but I wondered if that was true of Judge Green.  I wondered if she possibly could have continued to be the epitome of grace in a black robe and on the bench as she had been in a lawyer’s suit across from the bench. Now I have known a lot of judges - and many of them I knew as lawyers first and I have seen some dramatic transformations.  Lawyers often refer to what happens to some judges as black robe fever.  It refers to a phenomenon in which a judges seem to humility and humbleness and, at times, humanity.  Judges with black robe fever promote an arrogance, a separateness that is unhealthy for the justice system. 

I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties faced by judges.  Being on the bench is a lot different.  Frankly, it’s hard.  It’s one thing to take a position – a position that you are most often hired to take and to advocate for that position; it’s quite another to make a decision, a decision that impacts lives in the most critical of ways – custody, visitation, paternity, penalties.  While all judging is hard, none I more so than sitting as a juvenile judge.

So I couldn’t help but wonder – having never had the chance to practice in front of Judge Green whether she still was a figure of grace, as she had been as an advocate, or whether the robe, the trauma, the hard decisions that she was called on to make day in and day out had changed her. 

So, I called several people who had tried cases in her court to talk to them about what Judge Green was like on the bench.  Did the word still ring true or had becoming a judge changed her.

Here’s what I learned from talking to lawyers who appear in front of her.  Judge Green is an extraordinary judge.  She, without exception, treats everyone with respect; she is kind, but in control.  She is prepared and attentive.

Now bear in mind these appearances are often under the worst of circumstances – often heart-wrenching circumstances.  But lawyers say that Judge Green is never preachy or condescending.  She schools new lawyers in unembarrasing ways.  She doesn’t postpone difficult decisions, but rules after deliberation but with necessary promptness.  And she is creative in her decision-making, embracing the ideas of restorative justice and experimenting with different approaches.  Judge Green has demonstrated the courage to stop answering the questions with the same wrong answers and try new ones.

So, I thought, perhaps, Judge Green reserves her “ungracelike” moments for her staff.  No, not there either.  When I spoke with a juvenile court staff member, I learned that her most dominant characteristic is listening.  Staff says, she is firm, but extremely fair.  She is always willing to listen to anyone.  How lucky we are she’s our judge.  How lucky indeed!                  

To the person, I learned that Judge Green remains the epitome of the word I had always thought of when I thought of Sharon Green or Lawyer Green – that word is GRACE.

When you look at the various uses of the word “grace,” you begin with an idea of poise and elegance, but grace is far more and while Judge Green is poised and elegant, one lawyer characterized her as “lovely,” she also embraces the full definition of grace.  Grace has elements of dignity, honor, virtue, and mercy – all characteristics that lawyers use to describe Judge Green and her rulings. Moreover, grace embodies kindness; the quality or trait of being considerate and thoughtful.  As her colleagues at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, where she has served as Sunday School teacher and in many leadership positions described her, Judge Green has a “generosity of spirit.”  

Grace is often defined as Assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; as pardon and mercy. 

And this brings me back full circle to NRS, your mission and your work.

You, like Judge Green, assist individuals in regeneration and restoration; you like Judge Green embody grace.  

May we all aspire to the grace and wisdom of Judge Green and the commitment and fortitude of NRS.  Congratulations Judge Green on being the recipient of this award.