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Articia Harrington: The positive impact of mediation and restorative justice

Five years ago, Articia was listening to music at a public library in D.C. when things turned south. Although she wore headphones, she was singing loudly. And when a library staffer asked her to pipe down, she mouthed off and threw her headphones at him. Her reaction didn’t go over well. The staffer called the police and told her she would be banned from the library in the future.

Before the police arrested her, however, she got a lucky break. A woman named Samantha Simpore also happened to be in the library. Samantha and Articia didn’t know each other, but Samantha had a great deal of experience working with ex-offenders and helping to de-escalate disputes that otherwise could land someone in jail.

When Samantha heard the commotion at the library and saw the police, she stopped what she was doing, introduced herself and asked the police if she could have a few minutes with Articia. The police agreed. Samantha took Articia off to the side and stressed how she could face severe consequences from her behavior at the library. She explained that even if Articia somehow escaped jail, she could be kicked out of the library permanently.

She also explained that Articia could perhaps avoid these consequences if she would:

  1. acknowledge that she had made a mistake and
  2. apologize to the librarian and the police.

She also recommended that Articia offer to do something that would prove:

  1. she wasn’t a bad person, even if her temper sometimes got the better of her; and
  2. she wanted to be productive in the community.

Articia concedes that she wasn’t immediately receptive to Samantha’s suggestions. She says she didn’t see the point of apologizing if she could still end up going to jail.

But Samantha convinced her that she didn’t have anything to lose by apologizing. And besides, Samantha stressed, apologizing was the right thing to do since Artesia had acted badly.

Articia did apologize. And she was sincere when she promised to be more considerate when she worked at the library in the future.

Happily, the librarian and the police took her at her word. She wasn’t charged with any offense or carted off to jail. And she didn’t lose her library privileges.

That’s pretty much the end of the library ordeal. But Articia’s story doesn’t end there. Samantha recognized that Articia’s behavior likely signaled she was dealing with additional issues. After the police left, she urged Articia to call her. She told Articia she could perhaps help her with some other things that had led to her outburst at the library.

There were, in fact, two other big problems in Articia’s life at the time. She had a  rocky relationship with her mother, who was threatening to kick ger out of the house. And she was having difficulty making restitution on a recent shoplifting charge. She knew that if she didn’t make restitution, she’d be in even bigger trouble.

Articia called Samantha when she got home from the library and told her she’d like to take her up on her offer to help.

Samantha told Articia that the first thing she need to do was mend her relationship with her mother — so she didn’t end up homeless. She recommended that Articia produce a list of things she could do to help improve her relationship with her mom.

The approach worked. She continued living with her mom for another couple of years — through the pandemic and until she was in a position to move elsewhere.

Samantha also helped her come up with community service projects that would count as restitution for the shoplifting charge. For one, she hooked Articia up with a group of DC kids who she now mentors. And she arranged for Articia to perform at a film event at American University.

Before she met Samantha, Articia says it never occurred to her that there was an alternative way to solve problems. Previously, she says, she approached disputes defensively. She was convinced that she was always right. But Samantha, she says, taught her the importance of taking responsibility for her actions and looking for an alternative, constructive way to deal with problems. This, she says, has truly changed her life for the better. Today she’s working her way through her associates degree in graphic design at UDC.

Articia Harrington spoke at NVMS Conflict Resolution Center’s Bridging Communities Welcome Breakfast on October 19, 2022. Rita Zeidner, a journalist, volunteered with NVMS to interview with Articia and write this blog.

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