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.

Dec 26, 2018

Back Rent and Bedbugs - Preserving a Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Back Rent and Bedbugs

Henry and Michael had an amicable landlord-tenant relationship for five years, and after the judge in eviction court referred them to mediation, they both expressed a desire to preserve that relationship. They ended up in court primarily due to lack of communication. Michael failed to pay a couple of months’ rent and when Henry tried to reach out to him, Michael ceased all communication. Henry, frustrated about his money and inability to speak with his tenant, sued for eviction.

During the mediation, both parties were friendly with each other. Michael admitted he failed to make the payment and acknowledged that he cut off all communication with the landlord. Henry was kind and told Michael that he understood, but that he needed to get paid in order to run the building, and his finances had been stressed by some recent necessary repairs.

Over the past five years, there had been a couple of other times when Michael could not pay the rent and would communicate his inability to pay to Henry, and the two would come up with a payment plan. These payments ranged from week-to-week or even day-by-day. Henry was surprised Michael did not inform him about his financial hardships like he had in the past. Michael said that he was embarrassed and for that reason decided to not answer Henry’s efforts to speak with him.

Michael also mentioned that he recently heard from another tenant that there was an issue with bedbugs in her unit. This was news to Henry, and he was alarmed, and glad that Michael had mentioned it. Michael was concerned the infestation would spread to other units, and offered to help Henry look into companies to evaluate the situation.

During the mediation, communication was the main issue. The landlord informed the tenant that the only reason he sued him was because he couldn’t think of any other way to get him to respond. Since both were interested in continuing their relationship, they were able to come to an agreement. Michael told Henry that his work hours had picked up over the past couple of weeks and that he could pay him in cash for the past due rent the next day. He also promised Henry that the next time he thought he might have difficulty paying on time that he would contact him and be transparent about his financial situation. Henry promised to immediately look into and correct the potential bedbug infestation.

When the mediation ended, both parties shook hands over their agreement. Mediation gave them a chance to problem-solve together and provided a venue for them to exchange important information.

Oct 23, 2018

Repairing a Friendship

Jaclyn and Olivia had been friends since 8th grade. During their junior year of high school Olivia got a car and, as one of the only people to have a car, often drove her friends to school and hang outs. Right before winter break, Jaclyn and Olivia were spending time at a friend’s house with a few other teenagers when Olivia got into an argument with another friend. Before long Jaclyn got into the argument as well and insulted Olivia. Olivia was angry, so she got in her car, turned it on, and locked the doors, intending to leave. Jaclyn thought that Olivia was only joking, and assumed she wouldn’t leave without giving Jaclyn a ride home, so she hopped on the trunk of the car to continue chatting with her friends.

Olivia put her foot on the gas pedal and in an instant Jaclyn was on the ground. At the time, no one realized how badly she had been hurt, so another friend gave Jaclyn a ride home and the group dispersed. Later that evening, when Jaclyn’s father returned from work, he found her demeanor strange and, after hearing about what happened, insisted on taking Jaclyn to the hospital. Doctors determined she had a concussion and had injured her arm falling off the car.

Jaclyn’s father called the police to report the incident and Olivia was arrested the following day. Olivia’s case was referred for mediation at the Center for Conflict Resolution. Jaclyn and Olivia participated along with their parents – Jaclyn’s dad, David, and Olivia’s mom, Val. The mediation was held 3 months after the incident had occurred and in that time Jaclyn and Olivia had not had much contact. Their parents had never spoken.

From the beginning of the mediation it was clear that David was very angry. When he had a chance to speak he railed against Olivia’s actions and repeatedly demanded that her driver’s license be taken away. The mediator asked questions and guided the conversation to determine what was motivating David’s anger. Soon they all came to learn the extent of Jaclyn’s injuries. While her leg had healed quickly, the concussion had been quite serious and Jaclyn had missed weeks of school. She was still struggling to catch up on her class work and continued to see a therapist for memory concerns.

The conversation was challenging for all four parties. Olivia insisted that she had not intended to hurt Jaclyn and therefore was unwilling to accept blame for her injuries. Val explained that Olivia had been punished for the incident – she no longer had a car and had been grounded for months.

The mediator used listening and reflective tools to help Olivia process what had occurred, working with her to separate intention from impact. Eventually, Olivia came to realize that although she had not wanted Jaclyn to get hurt her action had caused it to happen. Additionally, Jaclyn accepted some responsibility, acknowledging that she had been foolish to climb on the car.

By the end of the mediation everyone was speaking calmly. Through mediation they had a chance to vent their frustrations, explain their behaviors, and take responsibility. Val offered to contact her insurance to assist in any unpaid medical bills and she and David exchanged phone numbers and made a plan to connect in the coming weeks. Jaclyn and Olivia apologized to one another and agreed to put the matter behind them and move forward in their friendship.

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