Restorative Justice is a different way of justice that brings the victim, offender and community together to resolve the harms of crime and understand its impact on our lives. This is the second article in a series that looks at the people involved with restorative justice programs in Winnipeg.
One group of teenagers play guitars, drums, or sing in the recording studio. A few kids edit a short film. Some lounge on the couches in the common area eating home-cooked stew, working on their scripts, songs, or homework.
Just TV provides youth with a safe environment to express themselves through music and storytelling, which helps youth stay out of conflict with the law, gangs, and drugs.
The Just TV program is a refuge for some of the youth, like Renae Monkman, who go there.
Growing up in foster care, Monkman was scared to write stories – the only thing her foster parents allowed her to write was her homework.
“Anytime I tried to write a story that I’d make up, I’d get a consequence for it,” Monkman said in the basement studios of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. “When I joined Just TV, they let me write, which helped me release a lot of emotions that I didn’t deal with when I was younger.”
Monkman joined Just TV three years ago.
“At that time, I was going downhill,” said Monkman. She was fifteen years old, living in the North End, and severely depressed. “I was addicted to drugs for a solid two years, where I had to have something in my system. Pretty much anything I could get my hands on, I had to take. It got to the point that I didn’t know how much longer I would have. I was trying to sober up but I couldn’t. Then I saw Just TV’s booth at my school.”
“It took me almost a month to persuade my social worker to sign the form (for the program) because CFS kids aren’t allowed to be in front of a camera and broadcasted. It turned into a big argument, so I told her ‘I know that this is a good outlet for me, and if I go to this program it will help me sober up. If you don’t sign this paper, I’ll probably end up back on the street doing god-knows-what.'”
Around the time she was joining the program, Monkman and friends were arrested for car hopping – checking cars to see if they’re unlocked and stealing small items. Monkman was charged with multiple counts of theft and mischief, and was restricted from being within 200 metres of a friend – a problem since both she and her friend were accepted into Just TV. Her friend offered to drop out of the program so Monkman could attend instead.
Paul James, a technical instructor at Just TV, put Monkman in contact with Onashowewin Inc., an aboriginal restorative justice program, to help her with her criminal charges.
Monkman completed the program at Onashowewin and all the charges against her were dropped – but she kept going back to the agency. It was through Onashowewin that she started learning about her culture.
“I kept going to talk to the cultural advisor there to get him to tell me stories,” Monkman said. “They took me to my first sweat.”
Her cultural experiences with Onashowewin sparked the stories for two of her videos at Just TV: The Dream Catcher, and The Little People. Each project took about one year from storyboarding to filming. Monkman wrote and directed the pieces, and had help from James to put it all together.
The Dream Catcher tells the true story of Monkman’s spiritual struggle and awakening. Her story begins when she was six-years-old and her foster brother gave her a dreamcatcher – which her foster mother threw in the garbage because she didn’t want Monkman to believe in her “nonsense” culture.
“The Dream Catcher is about events in my life and about coming in contact with the more spiritual aspect of my culture, which helped me get through a lot of hard times,” said Monkman. “The Dream Catcher was my first experience talking about my life and how things were difficult – it helped me cope through multimedia.”
Without the support and guidance from the staff at Just TV, Monkman would never have made that video.
“It makes me happy that I can write, and having people support me in something that I enjoy doing is one of the greatest feelings ever. That’s why this program is really good, because whether you’re a musician or storyteller, they support you.”
Monkman says the staff at the program are like a family. Laura Johnston, executive director of Just TV, says the program is magical.
“We’re really giving the youth a voice – so often our kids don’t feel heard. When a probation officer or a social worker comes to one of the shows and sees the videos that the kids have done and their messages, they’re amazed and feel like they get a more intimate look at the kids lives and how they feel than they ever have before.”
Just TV runs a summer showcase and a final showcase takes place at the West End Cultural Centre in December. The graduation-type event is an opportunity to invite friends, family, and the community to see the music videos and short films they’ve been working on. It also helps the youth work on their public speaking skills through emceeing the show and thanking funders.
“They’re seeing themselves in a different light for the first time. A lot of youth have said that when you get your first charge or somebody’s labeled you, that’s what you believe your life is going to be. But suddenly they’re a public speaker and somebody wants them to come tell their story at Red River College, for instance,” Johnston said. “They’re shifting their future. They’re repairing their relationships with the community, and the community is showing them that it’s okay.”
“I’ve been doing this program for the last six years, and I go home and go ‘Honestly, we made a difference in these kids’ lives.'”
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/120678247″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Through the multimedia skills the program teaches and internships opportunities with the City of Winnipeg, the youth can build their resumes and get their foot in the door for a job in the media industry. A job like that would benefit people like Monkman, who is turning 19 soon and finishing grade 12 at an adult education centre, but is still under care of Child and Family Services because she can’t financially support herself.
“I’m looking for a job, and this program is going to help train me to use a camera and how to edit film, so hopefully around this time next year I’ll get an internship – or maybe sooner, which would be awesome.”
Although this is the last year Monkman will be a participant at Just TV, she’ll be back.
“Next year I’ll be mentoring people who come into the program and I’ll be helping them if they want to learn to film or script write.”
Restorative Justice Week runs from Nov. 17-24, 2013.
As part of Restorative Justice Week celebrations, you can attend a free event showcasing work from Just TV, a talent show, and chili cook-off on Nov. 20, from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. Call 204-336-3600 for more information.
Other articles in this series: