Impacting Legislsation

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by Genevieve Hunt

Last Thursday, Janet Connors, respected restorative justice advocate and the main subject of our film, joined Julie Mallozzi and me to screen CIRCLE UP for Massachusetts state legislators and their staff at the statehouse in Boston. It’s easy to be cynical about politics, but as we waited under ornately decorated archways and gilded columns and watched a group of people animatedly discussing their issues as they left our meeting room, I thought to myself, “This is how change happens, this is how we make things better.  We bring our ideas, our passion and our desire to solve problems to places like this and hopefully, we prevail.”

The screening was hosted by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan together with Senator James B. Eldridge and Representative Sean Garballey, who are co-sponsoring legislation incorporating restorative justice as part of a criminal justice reform package. The legislation is currently being debated in the Legislature. Sen. Eldridge and Rep. Garballey said they wanted to share our story of Massachusetts’ first Victim-Offender dialogue and the profound impact it had on both parties. Both spoke about how often the justice meted out by courts often fails the victim and falls short of repairing the harm that has been done to them and the community.

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  From left to right: Rep. Garballey, Janet Connors, DA Marian Ryan, and Julie Mallozzi

From left to right: Rep. Garballey, Janet Connors, DA Marian Ryan, and Julie Mallozzi

DA Ryan pointed to the intimate nature of restorative justice in which successive, face-to-face dialogues between victim and offender tend to produce a more personal sense of accountability on the part of the offender for their actions and a desire to return to their community with a feeling of forgiveness and belonging. “My goal as a prosecutor is to put ourselves out of business,” said Ryan. “When you have to do that soul searching and accounting, we don’t see them again, they don’t come back.”

After you see this film, you will get the sense of how restorative justice changes people and there is no better way to spend our time.
— DA Marian Ryan to the MA statehouse audience

That change tends to be deep and robust in offender behavior. Studies comparing criminal punishment with restorative justice find that that punishment imposed from outside the offender is less powerful than personal accountability from within the wrongdoer.

Every time I watch CIRCLE UP, I am amazed at how Janet is able to put the pain of losing her son aside and offer AJ, one of her son’s murderers, not just forgiveness but a chance to begin again in their community. Offering forgiveness for a vicious harm done isn’t for everybody; that makes what Janet and AJ have achieved through the restorative justice process even more extraordinary. During the discussion after the screening, Janet spoke movingly about how helping offenders find productive ways to return to the community helps them let go of the destructive behaviors that trapped both them and the community in a cycle of despair and violence.

There is so much injustice around race and class and this is our chance to do something about it.
— Janet Connors, CIRCLE UP subject

On the train ride home from the screening, I thought about how gratifying it was to see something we had all worked on – Julie, her production team, Janet, Legacy Lives On members and the high school students – help change our laws and the way we think about crime and punishment. I am glad to know that victims, who often feel silenced in the criminal justice process, might someday feel validated and supported.  I am hopeful for young people who feel caught up in street violence, to know there could be an alternate path away from revenge that would still feel like true justice to them. I’m also glad to see our film be used to illustrate the potential of restorative justice in criminal justice reform and spark change in how we treat victims, their families, and offenders.  

This legislative screening has energized us to expand on the restorative justice resources we offer on our website – not only for legislative advocacy but for schools, criminal justice settings, faith-based organizations, and community groups. 

 Rep. Garballey talks with Janet Connors

Rep. Garballey talks with Janet Connors

Chicago, Philly and Beyond


A flurry of screenings have just been scheduled.  Here in Boston, CIRCLE UP will screen at the Statehouse for legislators and their staff as they debate criminal justice reform; at the Social Law Library for judges, prosecutors, and other legal folks; at Suffolk University for students and the general public; and at the Museum of Fine Arts for art-lovers and more.

In March we're traveling with the film to Chicago for the Peace on Earth Film Festival, to Madison for a screening hosted by Dane County Time Bank, and to Pennsylvania for the Philadelphia Restorative Justice Conference and the Advoz Mediation and Restorative Practices at Penn Cinema in Lititz.

Just as it warms up in April, we'll be heading to Cape Code for a morning with the Sisterhood at Cape Cod Synagogue's Annual Interfaith Event co-sponsored by Church Women United and Grandmothers Against Gun Violence.

You can see the latest postings here or request a screening at your organization here!

Inspired by Survivors

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What a moving evening last night!  The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery co-hosted a free screening of CIRCLE UP in honor of Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month (SHVAM) Nov. 20-Dec. 20.  The event at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester included a community discussion with filmmaker Julie Mallozzi and subjects Janet Connors and Charmise Galloway.

The conversation ranged from the uplifting – including a teenage trauma survivor who voiced her commitment to helping others avoid the pain she went through – to the tragic as Carla Sheffield cried out at her inability to heal after her son Burrell was shot and killed by a Boston Police officer during a routine traffic stop.

At one point an audience member asked others to raise their hand if they had lost someone to violence.  About half of the room raised their hand.  It was chilling to me to see that with roughly 90% correlation, the  people of color were the ones raising hands and the white folks weren't.  We have a lot of work to do.

After the screening some audience members contributed to our ongoing social media talk-back at #CIRCLEUPdoc with one-minute testimonials about the film and #forgiveness, #accountability, and #justice:

Thank you to the Peace Institute and the Center for Violence Recovery and Prevention for sponsoring this meaningful event!




Best Feature Documentary Grand Prize!

It was great bringing CIRCLE UP to the screen for the first time at the Rhode Island International Film Festival on Friday. It felt pretty intense and meaningful having film subjects Janet, AJ, and Charmise there on stage for the Q&A. Several audience members were crying and hugging them after the show.

We just got news, too, that out of 295 films screened at RIFF, the film won Best Feature Documentary Grand Prize!

I thought the film fit very well with the two shorts that preceded it: The Geneva Connection, a French fiction piece by Benôit Martin about a group of young people heading towards conflict over 40 euros owed to one of them, and Revolving Doors, a documentary by James Burns about the struggles of father who is recently released from prison to stay clean and support his family. Both films take a restorative approach to societal harm, as does CIRCLE UP.

Kudos to RIFF Program Director Shawn Quirk for the thoughtful programming!

P.S. While we were there, my daughter Maya set up an Instagram account for CIRCLE UP - follow us @circleupdoc.