1 Tell me a little about Unbroken Circles, what makes it a good guide for building a better behavioral program for kids?
First, I just want to thank you Amanda for having me here. Venues, such as this one gives authors a rare opportunity to connect with potential readers in a meaningful way.
One of the first things the reader will notice is that it’s full color and loaded with charts, diagrams, and other resources. My publisher, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, knew that this book needed these premium extras not typically found in most books on this subject.
A lot of detail has been added to the book to give contrast and meaning. I start with simple concepts and then build up to more complex ones. For instance, Chapter 1.2 gives a history of conflict that one would only find at a course offered at only a few universities. Role playing scenarios reinforce this knowledge and offers a safe way to apply the skills taught in a safe and controlled setting. Meanwhile, the second half of the book offers tremendous insights and guidance as to best run and manage a system once it has been adopted by a school or district.
The key to it all is that the program I showcase is free to use and it is malleable to the needs and demands of the user base. It uses prove,, research-based tactics to improve grades, improve civic behavior, and increase a sense of community-mindedness while lowering absenteeism/tardiness and reducing violence. Best yet, it keeps the children in the schools with overlapping circles of care.
We find that each time a child endures an out of school suspension/expulsion their chances of dropping out goes up by 50%. Every school day, some 7,000 students drop out costing us taxpayers over $209,000 per student in social services payouts. Each year we incarcerate over 2 million youths for trivial offenses – most charged for misdemeanor and felony offenses that no adult would ever be arrested for. And, the problem is that no one benefits. The child is not made better. The community is not made safer or stronger. Ultimately, every facet of our society is torn down by this catabolic conflict. Unbroken Circles for Schools works to fix these issues – not just in our children but also in our communities.
2 Where do you draw your knowledge on behavioral and corrective programs from? Have your years working in the system changed since you first started with them?
It was only by fortune that I happened to get into this field that I am now in. The Supreme Court of Florida was kind enough to train me in mediation. I now hold certification from them as a Certified County Court Mediator and I am also certified and registered with the USDA as a mediator provider as well. During my training to become a mediator, an instructor told me about Restorative Justice. The local university had a professor there who was into that and so I enrolled in a Social Sciences undergraduate program to learn more about this new paradigm of transforming conflict. Part of the advanced Restorative Justice training that I received involved being at a maximum security prison in Alabama that had successfully implemented an RJ-based honor dorm. These experiences became the basis for what would later become Unbroken Circles for Schools.
In my nearly 17 years’ worth of experience working in the Criminal Justice system, we are using the School Resource Officers as the primary source for dealing with issues of conflict and student disobedience. Rather than a 100 sentences we not give a child 100 days behind bars. Pre-K children in New York are being suspended and expelled just because they have bathroom accidents while children in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and other states are being arrested and charged on felony firearms violations for using a french-fry as a toy gun. The madness of it all is stranger than any fiction presently in print.
3 What changes do you feel need to be made in corrective programs or conflict dynamics?
It all begins and ends with what I call a “community of care.” The old paradigm of “community” used to be based off of a similar race/ethnicity, shared history, shared beliefs, similar levels of income, etc. But, today, we are nomadic with many Americans not staying longer than five years at a given location. So, the community of care gives to today’s students what we used to enjoy as children. This ultimately makes them more accountable and more attuned to social protocols.
The programs that I discuss also forces the schools to look at contributing issues. For instance, is there abuse/neglect at play? Does the offender have the means to make amends in his/her current state? Are there resources outside of the schools, and in the community, that can be used as a catalyst for positive change? By addressing these issues, in addition to the initial offense, future harms might be stemmed.
Best yet, what I discuss in my book deals at length with atonement for one’s actions, forgiveness, and reassimilation once a harm has been rectified. We use too much stigmatic shaming in our society – telling children that they are bad people who will never amount to anything. I show a way to use non-stigmatic shaming that teaches the child that they have tremendous value and it is their wrongful actions that need correction. I contend that you can be tough and still loving. Unbroken Circles for Schools shows how to do this safely and effectively.
4 What inspired Unbroken Circles? Would you say that writing the book gave you any new perspectives on your existing ideas?
I grew up a child of the 90’s. More students were arrested in the 1990s than all previous years of US history combined. As I got older, society became more and more oppressive towards our youth. It was only by providence that I didn’t end up like many of my fellow classmates. Instead of dropping out of school, which was my plan, I ended up going to college at age 16. Then I was later made and ambassador to the college where countless applicants were barred from enrollment because of their convictions as a juvenile. Afterwards, I took up the substitute teaching job and saw things were only getting worse. Then in the court system, having to see former students being led away in shackles and chains. It all got to me!
The Supreme Court of Florida’s Dispute Resolution Center and the Restorative Justice program at the University of West Florida gave me focus and insight. They challenged me in ways that I had never dreamt while also offering common sense alternatives to the strife I was seeing daily.
The writing of the book only affirmed feelings in me. The more I wrote about my program, the more I knew that I needed to write about it. Right now, the need for it has never been greater!
5. Who do you hope to reach with Unbroken Circles and its new methods? Is this a program that schools can readily invest in without a large cost?
First and foremost, I want to reach the communities with this book. Unbroken Circles for Schools really was written with a mindset that any meaningful change will have to come from a community that is fed up with what has been happening and wants true change for the better.
An average plan, like what I propose, would typically cost a school system millions of dollars. These costs would have to be paid out to a specific company owning the program, their trainers, etc. However, what I showcase in Unbroken Circles for Schools is free. Aside from any minor royalty payment from the book being sold, I don’t benefit in any other way. From firsthand experience, I knew that schools are always strapped for cash and so this was my gift to America’s future by taking away the millions of dollars that would typically bar a school system from changing over to a less retributive system of handling wrongful behavior. What little startup costs there are to the program involve in-house training – which is often the cheapest and most effective training possible.
In the end, improved grades and civic behaviors in students lowers the operating costs of schools. This puts money back into programs meant to enhance education rather than being siphoned away to handle issues of conflict. So, all in all, the program more than pays for any outlay of cash put into it with immediate returns on investment often seen within the first year.
6. Do you think this program can help at risk kids who may already be facing major criminal charges?
At risk children especially can benefit from Unbroken Circles for Schools. Think about it – they are about to be thrown away by society. If your life, as you know it, was about to be permanently changed for the worse – wouldn’t you be exceptionally attuned to the caring, understanding, and reassimilation that this program espouses? Once you show that you care, once you show that they have to be accountable, and once you show that they can be extended mercy – children pick up on this and become meaningfully transformed.
7.Will there be other books on this and other programs from you in the future?
By nature, I am a writer on culture and conflict. For me, the two are inseparable. So, my readers should expect to see future works talking about these two topics in a myriad of ways. Many people may not realize it but I also have an MBA degree under my belt. Lately, a lot of need for a similar program has arisen in the business world. My colleagues have especially latched onto my ideas of anabolic (good) conflict acting as a catalyst for growth and using organizational architecture as a way to create a community of care.