Sabbaye Mcgriff 2014-05-09 05:03:49
Quest for restorative justice propels alum’s career and life work In 1985 at the age of 18, John Lash was convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison. Today, he holds a master’s degree and serves as executive director of the Georgia Conflict Center in Athens, Ga., where he teaches conflict resolution skills to high school students and teachers at community-based programs serving high-crime areas and at the Clarke County Diversion Center for non-violent offenders. What happened in between is a decades-long pursuit of what works best to set people mired in conflict and crime on the path to wholeness. After years of self-study and immersion into the work of scholars in the field, Lash is convinced that an approach called restorative justice holds more promise than the prevailing punitive approach. A 2013 graduate of Kennesaw State’s Master of Science in Conflict Management program, Lash is emerging as a thought leader in the area of restorative justice, an approach that places responsibility on offenders to determine what they can do to restore the damage done to their victims, families, communities and themselves. Articles and columns he has written weekly for the past two years for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) and Youth Today — both published by the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State — are showing up on national justice websites like the National Council on Crime & Delinquency, the Illinois Justice Commission, and on corrections.com. NetCare, a 20-year-old family group training practice and consultancy in Ireland, recently redistributed Lash’s writings on restorative justice on its website. Search for alternatives During his incarceration, Lash threw himself into the study of alternative ways of dealing with conflict and mitigating criminal behavior. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Mercer University. For five years until he was paroled in 2009, he joined other older “lifers” in mentoring younger offenders, using an approach that placed personal growth over violence and other habitual responses to conflict. Upon release, Lash did a stint in a halfway house and got a job fabricating architectural fiberglass. Not satisfied, he started looking for a master’s program. He says he chose Kennesaw State because scholars like Tim Hedeen, professor of conflict management, were already working in justice policy and restorative justice. “There is a huge body of expertise at Kennesaw State, when you consider the master’s program, the Center for Conflict Management and now, the Ph.D. program. The master’s program starts with the big picture view, with heady theories of conflict, but then works you all the way through the methods and skills of communication, mediation and negotiation — how these apply interpersonally, in the workplace and to the world. Lash moved a step closer to his life’s calling when Susan Raines, professor of conflict management, recommended him as a graduate assistant for the Center for Sustainable Journalism and the JJIE, which focuses on information exchange about the juvenile justice system and policy. Working with JJIE ultimately led to an internship with the Georgia Conflict Center and to the weekly column that provides Lash a platform to discuss his experiences, views and ideas of restorative justice. He became GCC’s program director in 2012, taking over as executive director in April 2013. Renewed sense of peace In the training and classes he conducts for GCC, Lash employs some of the techniques he has studied over the years, such as using community conferencing, communication circles and other supportive dialogue processes, to help youth and adults communicate more effectively, handle conflict and change behavior. “Working with the Georgia Conflict Center has given our school a renewed sense of peace and safety,” says Kelly Gritz, principal of Classic City High School in Athens. Another client, Joan Prittie, executive director of Project Safe, says GCC training has provided the survivors of domestic violence in her program “the confidence to peacefully approach disagreements, both in the workplace and at home.” Lash would like to see the use of these methods and skills expanded in the cause of restorative justice, and he questions how effective the punitive approach to justice has been. “Most people end up leaving worse than when they come in,” he said. “We want them to behave differently. In non-violent communication, offenders and people in conflict situations learn that they are responsible for their own actions and needs. We use the motto: ‘Conflict is inevitable, but violence is not.’ We’re working to create options for people.” Lash is on a mission to prove the methods of restorative justice can work for anyone. “I have been transformed from an angry and hopeless teen into a man who is pursuing work that is not only personally meaningful, but also has the potential to contribute to many others,” he wrote recently in a column published by the Center for Juvenile Justice at Georgetown University. … “I have not been condemned; instead I have been restored. The same is possible for the other kids involved in the criminal justice system today.”
Published by Kennesaw State / Kennesaw State University Magazine. View All Articles.
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