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11 03, 2021

Guest Blog: Sawbonna is Shared-Humanity & Community of Care

By |2021-03-11T02:12:32-08:00March 11th, 2021|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Guest Blog: Sawbonna is Shared-Humanity & Community of Care

by Bob Russell

Margot Van Sluytman and I met about 5 years ago at an International Institute of Restorative Justice Practices Canada conference in Ontario, when she was there to give a talk about Sawbonna, her award-winning model of restorative justice. While having an enjoyable meal with her, I soon discovered in our engaging conversation that I had heard her story on the CBC Radio show called The Current. It is a national current affair show played right across Canada from Monday to Friday. It was about the 1978 senseless murder of her father, Theodore Van Sluytman, in an armed robbery in Toronto. I had a similar story to share with Margot. I told her that while I was working as Correctional Officer in 1980 as METFORS at 1001 Queen Street in Toronto, a nurse I had worked with on a midnight shift had been murdered after our shift. I had worked with another nurse and male nursing assistant. AKA: PA. To this day, this is still an unresolved murder mystery and posted on the Toronto Police Service website.

After she finished her session on Sawbonna, victim-led restorative justice, I asked Margot if she would consider in being a Keynote Speaker for a non-profit organization I was involved with, the Bridge-Hamilton, which is a transition house for ex-offenders that offers programs for those discharged from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, also known as The Barton Street Jail. I had the pleasure in introducing and thanking her on behalf of this non-profit organization. Margot spoke at this fund generating event sharing 20-minute presentation on Sawbonna victim-led restorative justice. Her sharing was well received by those in attendance that evening, with many questions about victim-voice and victim needs being posed. The respondents were deeply grateful to hear from the daughter of a murdered man, whose committed to shared-humanity did not preclude support for offenders. Margot was well-informed and deeply caring the Bridge-Hamilton at-risk clients; aware that many have also been crime victims.

I support Margot’s dedicated and tireless work as much as possible by sending out her information sent to me to over 30 of my networking contacts of mine developed over the years regarding Sawbonna, as well as other forms of restorative justice, criminology, and victimology.

When I started to work within Ontario Corrections in 1977 as a young Correctional Officer just out of college, the involvement of victims of crime was extremely limited. It is has expanding very slowly over now including victim impact statements, notification when offenders are being released from custody, attendance at parole board hearings, and the development of victim’s services agencies right across Canada. It still has a long way to go and personally feel Sawbonna, as well as other forms of restorative justice are important to this deepening conversation. Not everyone buys into the use these principles, as some within policing and Crime Stoppers view this process as being “soft on crime”. However, as we know that such processes are often more difficult to get involved with than going to jail.

In my early retirement from Ontario Corrections in 2006 as the Program Co-ordinator doing staff training at the Ontario Parole Board (OPB), I developed a keen interest plus passion regarding restorative justice. I attended a 3-day training course on this topic conducted by the Metro Toronto Police Service, 12 Div. I have attended restorative justice conferences in Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa, Ontario. In the USA in Rochester and Buffalo, New York. I even visited a restorative justice lead crimes of crime unit in the West Midlands part of England. In 2012, I met with Program Co-ordinator for a 1:1 conversation for 2 hours. The area of restorative justice, which is unfortunately still offender-focussed, continues to expand and to grow, with many victims of crime engaging in important research, development, and policy changes. Not the least of which is continuing to insist that the government address The Victims Bill of Rights, and entrench mechanisms for implementation of each of the significant elements therein.

Since I met Margot 5 years ago, she is now the Executive Director of Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, which is a virtual healing home for crime survivors where abundant resources are available. www.theodoresplace.org  Theodore’s place is contextualized in the framework of Sawbonna, Victim-Led Restorative Justice, with shared-humanity and human-rights core principles.

I have a lot of respect for Margot’s work. Her advocacy for Sawbonna, for shared-humanity, and for human-rights, does not falter.  It has taken her a lot of courage and guts on her part in telling her own personal story to others. I am sure the senseless murder of her loving father in 1978 is still fresh in her mind and the motivation to keep her going each and every day.  Sawbonna!

Bob’s contact info: E-mail bob55russell@sympatico, Cell # (289) 952-1234, Faceb

29 01, 2021

Guest Blog: Sawbonna and Forgiveness by Dr. Reinekke Lengelle

By |2021-01-29T09:04:40-08:00January 29th, 2021|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Guest Blog: Sawbonna and Forgiveness by Dr. Reinekke Lengelle

To Forgive is Not a Verb: A reflection

Reinekke Lengelle

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” Rumi

In my book about grief and spousal loss, I talk about unfinished business and anger, but I don’t talk about forgiveness. It’s not because of my more secular approach to spirituality and bereavement, but because “forgiveness” is not do-able.

To forgive is technically a verb like “to swim” and “to jump” so we are hoodwinked by the concept. We believe we have to do something, which, of course, we don’t know how to do.

You can conjugate “to forgive”, but it is not actionable. My friend and colleague Margot Van Sluytman calls it, “The other F word” which I think fairly describes the frustration that its implications evoke. Van Sluytman speaks instead of Sawbonna:  “A recognition of seeing and being seen. Shared-humanity.” This doesn’t mean we have to like or condone or accept the behaviour, in the past, present, or future.

As long as we are trying to do forgiveness or get forgiveness, it’s frustrating and adds insult to injury. The concept seems to imply that if we can’t or don’t do it, we’re not loving, especially when it involves someone close to us or a person we would like to forgive, even for our own freedom. If to forgive is a verb, it’s a passive one: it happens to you as a result of other processes.

Forgiveness, if the word serves at all, is the outcome of a process of feeling and reflection where we give up on our goals and notions of goodness or badness. Colleague and grief scholar Robert Neimeyer describes it this way, “If forgiveness applies at all as a description it seems to be a side effect of something deeper and more complex—seeing the other’s essential humanity, practicing deep compassion and empathy, and deconstructing our own moralism and rhetoric of contempt.”

I can explain what I mean best with some more examples of other verbs that are not actionable.

After my spouse’s death, in moments of deep sorrow, well-meaning others gave me advice like: be strong, keep your chin up, remember the good times, and be grateful for what you have. Now imagine yourself in a moment of deep authentic sadness. Notice how unnatural it would be to try to do any of these things. Imagine how exhausting and pressuring the very idea is!

What others wanted was for me to be okay; what they were saying is that they hoped I might bypass how I felt by doing or intending a wise-sounding action. This is a kind of magical thinking – it implies that we can transport ourselves to desired states merely by doing something. People who say these well-meaning things may believe they are wishing us well, but usually they are wishing away their discomfort.

A friend who listened to my utterly water-logged heart and did NOTHING and advised NOTHING gave me some of the best help I got from anyone. Interestingly, after such moments, I would always feel stronger. My chin would rise of its own accord; I was likely to remember a sweet or funny moment with my spouse; I would naturally fill with gratitude again.

Likewise a friend who said, “you don’t have to forgive anything; you can be angry, because you are,” did more to move me towards understanding, than anyone who was trying to bring me understanding.

So, to be with our anger or our sorrow, and let it be there without our resistance is the start of a kind of grace. After being with feelings, a dialogue about our humanity and the perspectives at the heart of the trespass can be useful. The space that opened up as a I accepted that besides sorrow, I also had unfinished business with my beloved, was the ground on which I could start exploring his humanity and my own. From this place of not-having-forgiven but accepting that fact, I began to see my own perfectionism and my insistence on a different past and the impossibility of that. I started to be open to questions like: what human needs were at the heart of our painful patterned responses?

The paradox should be happily obvious now: in accepting our resistance to forgiveness – and our willingness to be with what we didn’t want but has already happened – is to free the way for peace.

The idea of forgiveness actually starts to become redundant.

There is only one useful thing about the verb “forgive” – the moment the concept arises, we can use it to pinpoint the hurt.  We can shine a light on what is yet unresolved and formulate a wish around it, “I wish I’d been heard in my fear around…” and “I wish I’d known how to speak my boundary.”

I didn’t forgive. Instead, I wrote. That was actionable. I wrote a dialogue between me and my deceased spouse. I told him what I was mad about. I added the voice of a really good counsellor into the mix, so we would be accompanied, and I’d be heard, and my love wouldn’t be able to get away with his old tricks.

You can try it too. You begin with words like, “Tell me what was going on for you when you shouted…when you didn’t talk about… when you told a half-truth…when…” and let yourself write back from their perspective, from their vulnerable humanity.  I got some very good answers, even things my spouse had already said when he was alive but which I could hear better now. I could see he had a point. He seemed to think my points made sense too.

I saw him. He saw me. It wasn’t too late. I saw that we had trespassed because of our fear and pain, not because we were right or wrong or needed to figure out some ultimate perspective on what our unique perpetual problem had been.

There’s the paradox. To forgive is to give up on the idea of doing anything, either “for” yourself or someone else.

And any thoughts I had about making myself lower “to be forgiven” or any thoughts I had about making the other lower, so they would become “worthy of my forgiveness” was futile and vain. It was okay to feel humbled, but there was no need for a winner, loser, good, bad, or ugly. Likewise, Sawbonna is without such moral labels.

What advice would I give myself now, looking back: See if you can hear each other without a clench. See if you can listen without defending yourself. There is usually a nod to our own foolishness, our moralistic thinking, or an acknowledgement that there were things we did not know until the moment we knew them. Any lamenting about what could and should have been is just a form of reverse vanity. To smarten-up is another unactionable verb; we can begin instead with “to listen”.

When we have met others in their humanity, there may be some tears, or a silence, or a grunt of recognition, and likely a sigh, or even a smile. Or as Margot Van Sluytman reminds me, “Perhaps a smile. Perhaps not smile. Either way, a recognition of seeing and being seen.”


© January 2021



Reinekke Lengelle’s new book,

Writing the Self in Bereavement: a story of love, spousal loss, and resilience (Routledge, 2021)



In Writing the Self in Bereavement: A Story of Love, Spousal Loss, and Resilience,

Reinekke Lengelle uses her abilities as a researcher, a poet, and a professor of

therapeutic writing to tell a heartfelt and fearless story about her grief after the death

of her spouse and the year and a half following his diagnosis, illness, and passing.

This book powerfully demonstrates that writing can be a companion in

bereavement. It uses and explains the latest research on coming to terms with

spousal loss without being prescriptive. Integrated with this contemporary

research are stories, poetry, and reflections on writing as a therapeutic process.

The author unflinchingly explores a number of themes that are underrepresented

in existing resources: how one deals with anger associated with loss, what a

healthy response might be to unfinished business with the deceased, continuing

conversations with the beloved (even for agnostics and atheists), ongoing sexual

desire, and secondary losses.


As a rare book where an author successfully combines a personal story, heartrending

poetry, up-to-date research on grief, and an evocative exploration of taboo

topics in the context of widowhood, Writing the Self in Bereavement is uniquely

valuable for those grieving a spouse or other loved one, those supporting others in

bereavement, and those interested in the healing power of poetry and life writing.

Researchers on death and dying, grief counsellors, and autoethnographers will also

benefit from reading this resonant resource on love and loss.


Reinekke Lengelle, PhD, is assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at

Athabasca University, Canada and a senior researcher at The Hague University,

The Netherlands. She is a poet, a playwright, the co-creator of Career Writing,

and a symposium co-editor with the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling. www.writingtheself.ca.




14 01, 2021

Victim Needs and Services in the Emerging Area of Sawbonna: A New Model of Restorative Justice

By |2021-01-14T11:25:17-08:00January 14th, 2021|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Victim Needs and Services in the Emerging Area of Sawbonna: A New Model of Restorative Justice


Expressing the need for organized healing spaces for victims of crime in Canada within a framework of her Sawbonna model of (victim-led) restorative justice, Van Sluytman calls attention to a gap in human services. Van Sluytman’s recent construction of the virtual Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is a step in meeting this need, as she works towards the establishment of ‘bricks & mortar’ day centres starting in Toronto then being built across Canada. Van Sluytman states that, ”Though Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, is not a healing home for offenders, it is not predicated upon negating or dismissing the need for healing homes for offenders, as well”.  Van Sluytman’s virtual centre welcomes those who have themselves been or had loved ones affected by a specific criminal action.


Because relationship is our way of being in the world, an us versus them manner of addressing important societal issues proves flawed. In the paradigm of justice systems and legal frameworks, a poignant error occurs when it is assumed that victim and offender, and working with and for them and their communities, presupposes a binary notion. Trauma and injustice are not in the purview of specific definitions, organizations, associations, or status symbols demarcated by diplomas, degrees, or employment record. They are, in fact, commonalities distributed far and wide. Ubiquitous as computer screens and keyboards.

In this article, I will be discussing why we need healing homes for crime survivors and that those healing homes are not to be in-place of nor in opposition to healing homes for offenders. Within the context of Sawbonna, which is an award-winning model of restorative justice, shared-humanity and human-rights, are foundational. Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice is predicated upon building bridges and fording chasms. Predicated upon shining a light on the fact that we all matter; indeed, are on the same team whether we acknowledge that or not. A team that is focused on, tenacious about, and driven by not relegating justice to one camp or the other, fully aware that services available to those who have been harmed by crime and those who have harmed are necessary to address their specific needs.

Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors, currently in virtual iteration, is a healing home that addresses a particular kind of victims’ needs. Victims’ needs, not from the perspective of the heinous and pernicious injustices that have occurred in society because of colonization, because of race, gender, and income barriers that swell prisons here in Canada and internationally. Swelling those prisons with humans that are treated in often the most inhumane manner. And though the line is oft-time blurred between who is the victimized and who is the criminalized in light of the demarcations of: victim and offender, Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is for those who have been or had loved-ones affected by a specific criminal action.

The fact that it is impossible to have persons who have been harmed share a space with the person who has done the harm, is clear. Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is for those who have been harmed. In days of yore, penitentiaries were so named for they were supposed to be a place for those who caused harm to go to address their crime, in order to know penitence, in order to find a manner to restore their self-worth, and if possible to understand and be accountable for the harm their actions caused. A place to be penitent. A place where restoration of and understanding of shared-humanity and human-rights could occur. This paper is not about addressing penitentiaries and the work that must be done to affect change in those places. I note it here because another question arises. Arises not in opposition to the need for prisons to be places of healing and support. A question that arises from the fact that no places exist for victims.

The question then is this: where do those who have been victimized go to find restoration of their understanding of their human-rights, care and support for their savage ache, anger, and grief? To have their trauma addressed? No such places, yet, exist. In my recently published paper, *Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice, commissioned by The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime under the auspices of The Department of Justice Canada, I address the fact that victims’ services must include bricks-and-mortar homes where crime victims can go, where services specific to their needs are offered.

Getting this to occur means forming relationships with like-minded people who know that choosing a side means dishonouring and disrespecting our very humanity. My admiration stretches out to those who choose to be allies in this work. And though feeling at times as a slow-moving possibility, a growing and powerfully inspiring list of individuals who do not articulate justice from an us versus them dynamic, grows. To be a victim attending a justice conference, particularly a criminal justice or restorative conference, is akin to what my Argentinian cousin, Laura terms, “a cucaracha/cockroach on a chicken farm.” The humour of these words assists in understanding that at both criminology and restorative justice conferences, expectations and understands are often pre-set, and if not adhered to, assumptions, if not downright disrespect, can be levelled.

It, therefore, behooves each of us to ask what our understanding and expectation is for our research and policy decisions; for who, how, what, when, where, and why they are being addressed.

Victims must be included in policy-making decisions at every level of government, as well being included in academia and each of the contexts where decisions about their needs and rights are being discussed and designed. Because Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice is clear that retribution and revenge are unacceptable synonyms for victims-services, meaning a foundational ethics for victim needs is unwavering.

That the government must address the creation of healing homes across Canada for victims of crime, is a must. The prevalent focus is, as yet, on building more prisons and punishing offenders, rather than shifting focus on how to not only offer more humane focus on healing of offenders, but to address in concrete ways how to build and support healing homes for crime survivors, which is trauma-informed justice within the crucible of Sawbonna. Those who have been victimized and those who have been criminalized must receive support, bearing in mind that those services and supports offer to society, as a whole, deep and profound richness and possibility for human dignity to be maintained.

The flawed view that unless a victim forgives, unless a victim chooses the side of the offender, they do not care about human-rights, about shared-humanity, is limited, limiting. And wrong. Those who work with and for and because of justice are called to continue our commitment to challenge entrenched presuppositions. To continue to change the narrative. The simplistic narrative of needing more jails, considering this “victim services,” considering this “justice served,” denies human-rights and ignores the fact that one of the services that victims require are healing homes which offer a wide range of supports.

This is what Sawbonna: Victim-Led Restorative Justice calls for. The model I have developed, and upon which the virtual Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors is based, is explained in my recent publication by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

10 10, 2019

SAWBONNA: What is the meaning of “ally”? & Senator Kim Pate.

By |2019-10-12T04:34:54-07:00October 10th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on SAWBONNA: What is the meaning of “ally”? & Senator Kim Pate.

This morning at Centennial College, I had the joy of sharing the stage with Senator Kim Pate.

Senator Pate is an ally.

What exactly is an ally?

In the framework of Sawbonna, which is both a new model of social justice & a new model of restorative justice, an ally  is someone who does not choose an us versus them dialectic when it comes to justice as a lived and living experience.  An ally is someone who does not choose offender over victim or victim over offender. No matter the relationship to either or both.

An ally does not want to be known because of titles or awards.

An ally wants to know what you stand for.

And as the saying goes, if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

Part of the sharing this morning addressed a pressing issue.

The issue of: choosing a side. The side of the offender or the side of the victim.

Sawbonna addresses the fact (shown in the very act of Senator Kim Pate and me standing side-by-side, witnessing and supporting each other) that empowerment within the context of Sawbonna: shared -humanity, is not negated by anguish, life-long grief, or trauma. Sawbonna is work for and with and because of justice that cries out to be lived.

Empowerment is certainly not negated by being accepted into spaces where by reason  of a title before or after one’s name, a person is somehow deemed more worthy to be heard than another. To be seen. To be Sawbonna-ed. To Sawbonna.

The complexity of being human, means that to live with paradox, is to walk the liminal spaces, the frontier places, where it is not necessary to be forgiven or to forgive; not necessary to eradicate anger, anguish, and volcanic rage, just to look nice.

Sawbonna means we are in shared-humanity. And humanity includes the gamut of our emotions, our thoughts.

Anger is not revenge. Wanting revenge is not revenge.

We may not be able to, and we should not be expected to, do anything but see ourselves to another day, particularly after brutality faces us and wears our body, flesh, soul; however, allies do not pick a side. We walk with paradox. We hold our responsibility to speak truth to power with a focus, commitment, and tenacity that wills a new way of being in the world.

Empowerment is key. And no one gives it to us. We must decide how we want it. And why.

Sawbonna invites us to come to know our allies.  To be an ally. Because shared-humanity matters. It is a very practical choosing. And you do not have to be forgiving. Nice. Accepted into any system.

Sawbonna carries the paradox. Of all that it means to be complex human beings.

29 07, 2019

Sawbonna: George Elliott Clarke. An Apology is Not Enough.

By |2019-07-29T06:18:10-07:00July 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sawbonna: George Elliott Clarke. An Apology is Not Enough.

Recently on CBC’s Cross Country Check-Up, the wonderful and inspiring writer, George Elliott Clarke, said two brief sentences, which moved me in a profound manner.

“Apologies are not enough. Empowerment is.” 

I took these words with me to my Social Analysis to Social Action (GNED500) students at Centennial College, as we discussed voice and agency. We discussed the pressing importance of  unpacking words and ideas. Doing so to strengthen our own relationships with social analysis and social action. Choosing to be informed in our capacity to be decisive agents in  own meaning-making, we spoke of, is essential. And meaning making is symbiotically linked to the personal and the political of each of our actions. And inactions.

Not only is it incumbent upon us to unpack what an apology means. It is incumbent upon us to follow the lineage and the trail  of who is saying those words of apology  and why. Learning about the connected web of relationships, tied to specific choices, can reveal many hidden facts. Facts that press us to ask if an apology holds any merit at all.

Seeking and creating opportunities for empowerment with community and allies, is crucial.

Theodore’s Place Virtual Healing Home for Crime Survivors is a response of victims’ empowerment.

As well, it is an act that underscores that “apologies are not enough.” There is a growing recognition and redress to the urgency that though restorative justice is supposed to be victim-entered, it is not.

Sawbonna, a new model of restorative justice, resting comfortably side-by-side with George Elliott Clarke’s exquisite wisdom, underscores that voice and agency insist on both equality and equity. Victims  being used as pawns by researchers, agencies, government, institutions, offenders, following their own inflamed egos or bending to the will of funders, will continue to work for empowerment. Never being side-tracked from Sawbonna: shared-humanity.

And Sawbonna thrives on and by and because of empowerment.  An apology is not enough.





23 06, 2019

Sawbonna: Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors

By |2019-06-23T09:38:08-07:00June 23rd, 2019|Theodore's Place|Comments Off on Sawbonna: Theodore’s Place Healing Home for Crime Survivors

Today is the day! Theodore’s Place virtual healing home for crime survivors is now live.

Forty-one years and a promise being kept. A dance with love, with life, in the crucible of Sawbonna.

Sawbonna a new model of social justice and a new model of restorative justice.

Please do enjoy the content, including the poetry and the list of resources.
Each name on that list is an ally, a friend, a mentor of mine, and so many of us.

Please do feel invited to share widely.

I invite each of you to contact me to share your ideas and thoughts about how this community can continue to move forward with a focus on building a bricks and mortar healing home for crime survivors.

Margot/Raven Speaks