The following is a true story of a conflict that was effectively transformed through a community conference.
Kylee, Darla & the Troupe of Trouble
One day in late spring, a frustrated Dept of Juvenile Services worker called about the case of an 8th grader, Kylee*, who had just been in another big fight, one with many other youth involved. Some students had been injured. Kylee and her friends were well-known at DJS. Nothing seemed to be working with these young women.
To prepare for a Community Conference, the facilitator personally speaks to everyone involved and/or affected by the incident. In this case, that included 11 young women, their parents, a County police lieutenant, and the school administrators for two high schools and two junior high schools where the students attended.
All 11 young women were about to be arrested & charged with 2nd Degree Assault by the Lieutenant. This was not the first time these girls had been charged with 2nd degree assault against each other. Whatever happened last time had clearly not dissuaded the behavior. The facilitator requested that the Lieutenant hold off on arresting the youth to give the Conference an opportunity to work. If the Conference was not successful, the girls could always be arrested. The Lieutenant agreed to attend the Conference and hold off on the arrests.
All 11 girls and their families, along with the Lieutenant and an assistant principal, came to the library of the school near where the fight had happened for the Community Conference.
What Happened: Kylee began the conversation by telling the group what started the fight that day. Darla had bumped into her in the hall, and it was the last straw for Kylee. Kylee knew Darla had been saying things about her, because her friends told her so. They had fought over less before. Kylee waited for Darla in the field after school. Kylee ran up to Darla and punched her in the mouth. When the fight was over, Darla went home and got her sisters and their boyfriends. All of them went riding around looking for Kylee. They found her with her friends at the ice cream shop. When they came out, Darla and her group attacked Kylee and her group. Just before the police arrived, someone pulled a knife and began waving it around.
How People were Affected: Everyone was full of anger and hatred. They talked about anger, hurt, betrayal and jealousy. They talked about what they thought when they saw the knife, & what it was like to be called names like slut and ‘ho’ at school. Parents spoke about how hard they work to keep their children in good schools, and how terrifying it is to get a call from the police. What if the girls had been seriously hurt, or worse?
The real turning point came when one of the girls, Bianca, said how she felt stuck in it all. Through tears, Bianca explained that she had been close friends with both Kylee and Darla. In fact, the three of them all used to be very close. They only stopped hanging out so much when Darla’s aunt died and she had to move with her cousin to a different neighborhood, one with much bigger houses. Kylee told Darla that it seemed like Darla thought she was too good for them once she moved. People were telling Kylee things that Darla had said about Kylee being poor. Darla replied that she had never said such things, and thought that Kylee stopped liking her because she lived in the other neighborhood now. Darla talked about what it was like when her aunt died, and how lonely she felt. Almost everyone in the circle was moved to tears.
Kylee apologized to Darla, and Darla apologized to Kylee. The two girls walked across the circle to hug each other. Bianca joined them. All their friends exchanged apologies with one another, and shook hands.
The Agreement: The young people decided on a better way to handle conflict! They agreed to check out gossip with each other if it was really bothering them, or just ignore it if they could. If they felt too angry about what they heard, the girls agreed to get help from someone else, like an adult or a neutral person, in order to speak directly to the person they thought was spreading rumors. The Lieutenant asked that the girls not get into any more trouble for the next 3 months. If they could do that, no one would be arrested for this incident. They all agreed. Everyone agreed that this ongoing feud was over.
The Follow Up: Three months later, Darla, Kylee and Bianca had started hanging out together again. Their parents/guardians helped facilitate this. None of the young people had gotten into any trouble, and the Lieutenant dropped the charges against all the youth involved- 11 arrests avoided!
A few weeks later, the phone rang at CCP. On the line was Kylee. Kylee was requesting another Community Conference. Since the first one worked so well, Kylee wondered if she could have a Community Conference with Fiona. Fiona lived in her neighborhood, and was trying to fight Kylee. Instead of fighting back, Kylee called Community Conferencing. The conference was scheduled for the following week.
*all names have been changed