Apr 17, 2019

Family Gets on the Same Page

Leo and his parents, Leo Sr. and Bridget, were referred to family mediation at CCR after Leo was suspended for an incident across the street from his school. When the family met with the mediator, Leo began by explaining some things to the mediator and his family. Before the incident, his ex-girlfriend Sandra had moved away to a different school. Sandra loaned some shoes (sandals that held personal significance as they'd been given to her by her grandmother) to a friend of hers, Laura, and was having trouble getting them back. She had been texting Leo asking him to help her. Leo said he'd mentioned it a few times to Laura, but had no luck; Laura always claimed she couldn't find them or had left them at home. Leo grew tired of hearing about the shoes from Sandra, and he wanted to be done with it. One day when he saw Laura with the shoes on, he approached her in the cafeteria to ask for them. She said no and walked away. After that, Leo left school and spotted Laura across the street standing with her boyfriend, Robert. He went over to her and tried talking to her, but Robert would not let them talk. Leo didn’t know what else to do and he knelt down and pulled the sandals off of Laura's feet, causing her to lose her balance and fall backward. Leo took the shoes and ran home. Robert and a group of Robert’s friends followed Leo.

Leo Sr. saw the teenagers approaching the house and went outside to find out what was going on. He brought Robert inside and Robert said that Leo had stolen his girlfriend's shoes. Leo then rushed to explain that the shoes were actually Sandra’s. Eventually, Leo Sr. told Robert to leave. Bridget, Leo's mom, came in to say she just got a call that Leo needed to go to the police department to give a statement about what happened. Bridget took her son to the station and when they got there, Leo was taken to a different room and the police officer from the school instructed Bridget to go home. While she was gone, the police called her and asked if they could read Leo's rights over the phone. Not fully understanding the implications, Bridget agreed. Later, she spoke with a lawyer and began to feel like she and her son had been taken advantage of. Six hours after entering the police department, Leo was allowed to leave.

During the family mediation all the members of Leo’s family expressed regret about what happened, and also felt that Leo been treated unfairly by the police. Leo felt his reputation and relationships with classmates had been damaged. Leo’s father encouraged him to focus on his own goals, and not to get involved in friends’ conflicts. Bridget became teary-eyed while talking about how she felt she let Leo down by not staying with him at the police station. She felt afraid for her son. Leo was apologetic about what he had put his parents through and emphasized he didn’t want to get into more trouble. He told the mediator and his parents that he has a dream of owning his own business someday, hopefully a car dealership, and that he understood that this kind of run in with police would hinder him in achieving his goals.

Leo was disappointed in how things had impacted his parents and the family spent time in the mediation planning for how to handle similar situations in the future. Leo expressed that he realized that fighting someone else’s battle was not worth the trouble. Leo Sr. and Bridget shared that they wished they had better understood what was happening for their son. Leo seemed especially remorseful for causing his mother anxiety at the police station. After discussing the incident and its aftermath with the mediator and thinking about how to work together moving forward, the energy in the room was lighter; the family understood each other, and had a common goal in helping Leo manage his responsibilities to his friends and meet his future goals.

Mar 22, 2019

Art Not Eviction

Mike is the landlord of a small apartment building. Ben signed a lease with Mike in the Spring of 2018. When they signed the lease, Ben was a client of a social services program which payed his rent. Ben has fibromyalgia, which leaves him in constant pain and is unable to work. Six months after they signed the lease, Ben was notified that the agency would no longer be providing rental assistance and that his placement in the program would be discontinued. Ben did not know there was a limit to how long he would be served by the program and was very surprised by the news. Ben was unable to pay his rent for three months. After the third month, Mike filed a case in eviction court.

In court, the judge referred Mike and Ben to mediation with CCR. During the mediation, Mike said he had no problems with Ben as a tenant, adding that this was business, not personal. He mentioned as a single parent he was dependent on the income he made from the rent to care for his children. He stated he had given Ben many extensions to pay his rent to no avail. Finally, about three months ago, Ben told Mike that he would move out, but the date for him to leave the apartment came and Ben did not move. Mike felt he was completely stuck and had no choice but to file the court case.

Ben explained he knew that he was behind in rent, and it was not his intention to take advantage of Mike situation and live rent free. He explained his financial situation and said he had been looking for additional assistance after the first program ended, but had been unable to find any help.

The mediator helped the men have a focused conversation about their situation, helping them identify that they had a number of common interests. They both agreed that Ben needed to leave the apartment and that they respected one another. Ben said he had arranged to move in with friends, but had been unable to do so because he could not afford the costs associated with moving, like a truck and movers. After further discussion, Mike asked, “If I can get a truck and a couple of guys, can you move out today?” Ben said he could, so Mike made a few calls on his cell phone and arranged to have his brother and a friend come to the apartment and move Ben that evening.

It seemed like the parties had a clear plan, so the mediator began drafting an agreement. While the mediator was completing the paperwork, Mike expressed a bit of ambivalence. When questioned by the mediator, he stated dissatisfaction with the terms of the agreement, asking “I’m doing all of this for him, but what am I getting?” The agreement did not require Ben to pay any of the past due rent, but was simply a plan for Ben to move out with Mike’s support. Mike pointed out that he thought he had been very generous and that he was insulted that Ben had not offered to give him anything. Ben agreed that Mike was very generous, but pointed out that he could not pay. “You could have offered me a painting,” Mike said. The mediator had not heard about paintings before and asked Mike to clarify.  Mike replied, “His paintings. He paints. I saw a lot of paintings in his apartment, and they’re beautiful!” Ben responded that he does paint, and has many of his paintings in his apartment. He was flattered that Mike was interested in his paintings and grateful to be able to offer something in exchange for forgiving the past due rent. Ben said, “You can have 10 paintings! Any ones you want.”

The mediator helped the parties discuss the paintings in more detail and they came to an agreement about the specific pieces Mike would take. After the mediation the parties presented their agreement to the judge and left court together - a plan in place that would benefit both of them.

Jan 18, 2019

Repairing Harm and Relationships

Zhang came to mediation because he had been arrested for using a BB gun to shoot out the windows of his old elementary school. Zhang and his mother, Li, met with Patricia and Bernice, the principal and dean of students of the school. Patricia and Bernice had helped Zhang through some behavioral issues when he was a student at the elementary school, and so were familiar with Zhang and his family.

When the mediator convened the session, he first met with both sides privately to ensure everyone understood his role and to hear their concerns. During this initial phase, Zhang and Li expressed that their main desire was to apologize for the incident, take responsibility for it and resolve the issue so it could be put behind them.

Patricia and Bernice were both deeply hurt and angry. This incident caused physical damage to the school; it was fear-inducing incident for students and also for administrators in the age of mass school shootings; and it also felt like a personal betrayal because of all the energy they had invested in Zhang already. The fact that Li had not offered any acknowledgement of the incident for months was even more galling.

When the mediator brought the parties together, he started by giving Zhang a chance to speak and explain what happened from his perspective – the incident was unrelated to his old elementary school, but due to personal frustration about the fact that his mother and father had separated a few years ago and he felt things had been deteriorating in their home life ever since. An uncle had given him a BB gun and he had been using it to shoot out his frustrations on bottles and cans in a back alley near the school. On his way home, he just kept shooting things and happened to be going by the school. Some other kids were around and it developed into some sort of dare and a way to impress the group.

Once Patricia and Bernice heard this, they were relieved to understand that it wasn’t something more sinister or dangerous to the future of the school and its students. However, they still felt betrayed, disrespected, and disappointed that Zhang would do something like this after all they had done for him and his family. Furthermore, they expressed frustration and confusion about why Li never approached them to address the issue or try to make it right. As the mediator helped summarize and clarify the detailed reasons behind their emotions, it became clear that they were primarily looking for respect and acknowledgement that they had been damaged both physically and emotionally by this incident.

 Li was able to address this by describing how she had been angry at Zhang for having the BB gun in the first place and embarrassed that she hadn’t been more aware of his behavior. Because of her shame around the issue, she had avoided the two administrators as much as possible. Additionally, she was told by the police that she should hire an attorney and not talk about the case until she had done so. Since she couldn’t afford that, she felt her only option was to wait until the courts decided the punishment and try her best to swallow the consequences.

By being given the opportunity to tell their story and have it heard by the school representatives, Zhang and Li were able to express remorse about their actions while providing context for them. This allowed Patricia and Bernice to mitigate their fear and anger around the lack of communication and to begin to focus on restoration rather than punishment.

After guiding the conversation to this point, the mediator then helped the parties craft an agreement that outlined a specific schedule of service work that Zhang would do at the school on a weekly basis until the cost of the damage had been worked out. They also agreed that Bernice would communicate with Zhang about his grade reports and if he received good grades, it would reduce his number of service hours by a certain amount. When the mediation was over, they all hugged and promised to stay in communication should anything change or need to be adjusted.

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