Restorative Justice: Insights and Stories from My Journey
Interviews with and essays by Dr. Zehr — plus, for the first time, details and photos from his personal journey.
Here, Howard Zehr offers his most complete view of Restorative Justice as an approach to all of life. Zehr made his initial contribution in the area of criminal justice by pointing out that victims are sidelined in the Western justice system. He emphasized, too, that society’s laws for handling crime have often resulted in increased violence, more prisons, and unresolved human cost.
In this book he:
- Distills his pioneering and influential work in Restorative Justice as a game-changer for the criminal justice system and conflict of all kinds.
- Joins his RJ work with what he’s discovered in his additional career as a professional photographer and gatherer of people’s stories.
- Demonstrates how RJ practices can extend to all of human interaction—through Respect, Relationships, and Responsibility, along with Humility and Wonder.
- Shows how RJ can change our personal lives, as well as our communities.
This collection of Zehr’s seminal thinking is approachable, convincing, and inspiring. A powerful guide to sustaining our life together.
About the Author
Widely known as “the grandfather of Restorative Justice,” Howard Zehr began as a practitioner and theorist in Restorative Justice in the late 1970s at the foundational stage of the field. He has lectured and consulted in many countries. A prolific writer and editor, speaker, educator, and photojournalist, Zehr has actively mentored other leaders in the field.
In 1996, Dr. Zehr joined the faculty of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. He continues to hold the position of Distinguished Professor of Restorative Justice and is involved in the field through the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University.
Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Tributes and Endorsements
Howard Zehr’s dedication to peace and Restorative Justice cannot be overstated. He has been a critical voice and intellect on the issue. His teaching, mentorship, and guidance have indelibly marked my work and my journey as a war survivor of one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars.
I was privileged to spend four days with Howard at the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary as part of our course work in 2007. I saw his compassion and respect for incarcerated men and their opinion on justice issues.
Our world, our journey as peacebuilders, and the global community are a better place because of this great man’s service to humanity!
Inside a 30-foot-high concrete wall is where I met Howard. That was in 2009. I was fighting a death by incarceration sentence and had just cofounded an RJ project based largely on his writings.
Through the years we would become colleagues, friends, and brothers. And while his impact on the movement is clear, it’s his humility and quiet wisdom that continue to infect me most.
That’s as true today as in that prison classroom thirteen years ago.
Howard has long resisted talking about himself, despite proddings from those of us who cherish what he personally brings to the field of Restorative Justice: his loving, open, principled heart, his vast experiences with amazing people, and his dance between deep reverence for the human condition and playful irreverence for its foibles.
I’m thrilled that he’s finally written something that shares his very human journey to his profound contributions to our field.
This memoir of Howard’s life lifts the curtain on a humble, faithful prophet who has given the next generation one of the greatest gifts: A justice that heals and transforms!
Howard has always been both extraordinary—and extraordinarily humble.
He has taught so many of us—directly or indirectly—but so much of what distinguishes his brilliance is that he has also learned from so many people in the movement for so long. This continuous learning, rooted in his unending regard for the value of other people, is as much the spirit of Restorative Justice as all the other work he has developed and led through his lastingly impactful career.
More Tributes and Endorsements
Howard’s classes were legendary; his students were always profoundly impacted by his philosophy.
As a teacher, he epitomized the Indian concept of “guru” and remains my most loved and respected mentor. Thank you, Howard.
I can’t think of anyone other than Howard who gets the nuances of Restorative Justice and distills them so simply and clearly.
Howard is a steady pioneer with a sustained vision, a unique combination of opposites that characterizes true leaders in all social movements.
These are the gifts that he has brought to the Restorative movement—both the vision and the spirit to sustain it.
To our generation he has taught that the struggle for justice is long and hard, and thinking that it can be won within a lifetime is thinking small. He has also taught us that for our vision to be credible we have to walk the talk, and for it to be shared, we have to walk it with others.
This absorbing and creative book is a treasure-trove of personal reminiscences, historical tidbits, and seasoned insights into the philosophy and practice of Restorative Justice by its most influential pioneer.
It also bears testimony to a mind and a life lived so graciously and generously in service of others.
This book is such an authentic window into who Howard is beyond the reflectors and titles:
- a loving husband of Ruby;
- a passionate traveler and photographer with a great sense of humor;
- someone bright, with a sharp curiosity for history, people, life, and knowledge;
- with a humble and generous heart.
The first time I met Howard, he happened to mention that he was a Morehouse College graduate (I later found out that he was the first white man to graduate from this historically black institution). At that time, I had no idea about Howard’s significance in the Restorative Justice movement but, as a Black woman who grew up in an HBCU community, I wanted to know about his time at Morehouse!
As an RJ practitioner, I developed a deep appreciation for Howard’s writings. I am certain his words on Restorative Justice will guide the careers of future generations, as well.
In order to understand a certain social movement, you need to comprehend the original vision and history of the movement.
This book is about the what, why, who, and how of Restorative Justice. “The Grandfather of Restorative Justice,” Dr. Zehr, gently recounts to us his personal, social, and spiritual journey.
As his former student, I admire Dr. Zehr, not only for his teaching and guidance, but also for his devotion and humility in pioneering a new paradigm and new practices. His work and legacy will be carried on by his comrades and followers around the world, including myself.
This is a great book for anywhere, because it tells you things you didn’t know about Howard and about Restorative Justice. It gets even seasoned practitioners of RJ thinking!
Howard’s contribution to thinking and learning about justice issues can’t be overstated. It is immense.
Following an early visit of Howard’s to Aotearoa, New Zealand, I wrote that we saw him as a “prophet of justice,” a term that I meant in both religious and non-religious senses. That is even more true now that I have read this book and seen what he has done with his “retirement.” Such a word doesn’t seem to apply.
He has been on a continuous curve of teaching and mentoring. Well done, Howard!
Rarely do we encounter such powerful capacity to transform worldviews, institutions, legal procedures, curricula, communities, and the lives of thousands of people.
As a human being, he embodies the values of Restorative Justice, which we today acknowledge as a philosophy and an art of living.
My peers and I somehow always felt trusted by Howard. This was not because of traits of ours, but instead because of his unique ability to see the best in people, and to gently and graciously bestow upon those around him the responsibility of leadership.
His innate trust in others led us to trust ourselves — what a gift!
Who is he? A person, a journey, a teacher, a pilgrim, a sceptic, a mystic, and a scholar—who has ever so gently upended the dominant paradigms of the modern criminal justice system.
A visually delectable, lucid recount that can be heard and conversed with, it fills up one’s senses with the beauty of a life lived in wonder.
I had never heard of Howard Zehr or Restorative Justice at the time, but if JMU was willing to pay, I’d try it. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, and I met a teacher, a role model, a mentor, and a wonderful friend.
From the very beginning, Howard made an impression on me. For a man who was so well known, he was so humble, unassuming, and, more than anything else, lived restoratively.
I learned more about Restorative Justice just watching Howard and how he carried himself than from all the books I would read on the subject. For a man so famous, he always took the time to help me, push me forward, and connect me with people who could help my career. If it wasn’t for Howard I never would have connected to Restorative Justice and been able to implement Restorative Justice practices at JMU.
When years later I was thinking of writing a book on Restorative Justice, Howard was there—supporting me, encouraging me, and writing an amazing endorsement. Howard has inspired me to live a life dedicated to justice and peace, just like him.
I am excited for this book’s publication!
This collection of Dr. Zehr’s writing and art reflects so much of what I admire about him—his deep humility, gentle and generous spirit, abiding capacity for awe and wonder, accessible communication style, and ever-deepening reflection on the profound sources that have shaped his thinking—such as his Anabaptist Christian faith and his education at Morehouse.
This book may be the next best thing to sitting in the audience of the lectures Howard delivered in classrooms for my students. Or being on the other end of the phone listening to his amazing—and often hilarious!—stories.
A number of years ago, Howard invited me to co-write the preface for a new book. Through this collaboration, I bore witness to Howard’s generous leadership, discerning attention, and boundless web of relationships.
In sharing from his own Christian peacemaking roots, Howard helped me (and countless others) to recognize the power and responsibility of reclaiming my own.
I believe this not because of his many impressive teachings and writings. I say this because of how Howard demonstrates these teachings through his life. Those who have met Howard know that, through his humility and humanity, he makes you feel special. Nowadays, it is hard to find true visionaries, or indeed get inspired. I am grateful I got to meet Howard during the early stages of my career and see through his lenses, feel special, and get inspired. I have now learned to observe my own reality and through this view find the strength to rise to the challenge that he is leaving us with.
Howard has shown to many, worldwide, how we can fundamentally re-think our understandings of crime and justice.
He has done so by linking practice to theory, by confronting social systems to the daily world life of people.
In a prison cell, I first read The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr.
At the time, I was unaware of the impact of that moment.
In class, at EMU a decade later, I listened as Dr. Zehr expounded the history and theory of RJ. In a series of meetings and engagements that semester, he became a mentor and a friend.
In 2017, Howard was the commencement speaker when I became the first graduate with a Master’s Degree in Restorative Justice. Like others who follow in Howard’s footsteps, mine is a story of transformation and the healing power of Restorative Justice.
The book is equally instructive and enjoyable for both the RJ novice and the seasoned practitioner. Howard’s reflections on his decades of experience remind us of the humanity in our work and guide how we may maintain hope when facing the challenges of integrating love into our most powerful judicial institutions.
I knew that I was “stepping into the unknown” by adapting Restorative Justice principles in federal death penalty cases.
One of Howard’s incredible gifts is that he encourages the path unseen in both his students and in society, with a wink to what is possible. The principles that Howard honed remain a beacon for those working in the field.
His contributions to creating a more healing legal system are profound and enduring.
We are grateful to Howard for the way he helped us see and understand how to build our practice on a bedrock of values and principles.
This personalized account of the creation and development of the Restorative Justice movement offers fresh and illuminating insights.
This is indispensable for anybody interested in the history of contemporary Restorative Justice, or indeed for anybody curious about crime and how we might handle it better.
When I first read one of Prof. Howard’s books, I found many similarities with my indigenous system Jirga.
The next day I went straight to his office to discuss. Prof. Howard encouraged me to take his RJ class, and the journey started.
I loved this book, a summation of Howard Zehr’s life’s work, developing a truly revolutionary movement. It has given me a vision as a lawyer/mediator about how to practice justice—but also, as a human being, how to live restoratively.
Howard is the “Real Deal”—he returns phone calls from a campsite in Canada, is always open to critique, and wary of unintended consequences; he lives as a photographer with wonder and awe, with an earthy sense of humor (which got me through Covid), and he drinks espresso while communicating with Morse Code!
In 2008, Howard generously agreed to travel to Denmark to speak at a hearing on victim offender mediation at The Danish Parliament.
Many were new to the ideas of Restorative Justice, and Howard spoke to the large, inquisitive audience in his always gentle, inspiring, and encouraging way.
To this day, almost 15 years later, I still meet people who tell me that it was then that the notion of Restorative Justice became comprehensible to them.
Nearly 40 years ago, as a young Black man growing up in the shadow of Rikers Island, I first encountered Howard Zehr when I was a college transfer student. All these years later, I am now a professor of religion and African & African American Studies.
I found this book inspiring. But the thing that truly enlivens it are the narratives of human striving toward justice to which Zehr testifies by way of the all-too-human stories he tells and the living portraits often accompanying them.
Howard has a scientific and artful heart, deeply determined to imagine the human condition beyond retribution—indeed, striving (as much as possible) to “put things right” for victims, holding offenders accountable within inclusive communities of restorative care for all persons impacted by wrongdoing.
I was privileged to be one of Howard’s students and to get to know him and work with him closely.
He’s an amazing scholar with beautiful human qualities (humility, a sense of humor, respect, a great listener, community connector, etc.)
I define myself as a Restorative Justice practitioner.
One of Howard’s strengths, in spite of his world-renowned work, is to not make the story of Restorative Justice about himself.
So, I find it exciting to see some of the “story of Howard” in this book—how his generosity, kindness, critical thinking, clear communication, and willingness to be accountable have shaped the movement known as Restorative Justice.
Within these pages, readers everywhere can benefit from Howard’s lifetime of experiences, living and teaching Restorative Justice.
Thank you, Howard.
Howard generously shares of his personal life, offering a glimpse into his hobbies, friendships, and family. It is the lessons from when Howard is not being the “grandfather of Restorative Justice” that stand out to me: embrace your inner geek, savor a good cup of coffee, and return emails promptly.
Little did I know that that experience would begin to define a good deal of the rest of my professional life. Profound thanks, Howard!
For Howard, the word humility means having an understanding of what you don’t know and listening to the wisdom of others. And, he, more than anyone I know has lived that out.
I remember as we started talking about the values of Restorative Justice being something we also needed to practice in our own lives…and are still figuring out and practicing…that he would sometimes say to me, “If I haven’t told you lately, I really do appreciate working with you.”
Changing Lenses, Howard Zehr’s seminal work, is a revelation.
The idea that we are witnessing a paradigm shift from a justice that reproduces harm to one that heals harm was — and still is — startling, welcome and generative.
Today, the need to re-imagine justice is ever more urgent. Indeed, in the aftermath of the public lynching of George Floyd, we live in a time of reimagining new justice futures.
My friendship with Howard formed over art and photography.
He helped me design and set up my first darkroom and talked me into buying a couple of very sketchy Russian-made cameras. He’s accompanied me on projects, and we’ve done plenty of catch-and-release photography together.
After photographing, sometimes, we share an espresso right there in the field that he’s made using his customized portable espresso kit and served with an Andes mint.
Everything Howard tells us about himself in this book comes together in those small steaming cups: an expression of communion shared over the hood of a pickup.
He validated our belief that all people have a right to be heard, to be seen and respected; that people need to leave traces of themselves and the meanings they generate in their lives. They need to give expression to all that has happened to them, to say “We are here,” and to create beauty.
I am grateful to Howard for underscoring the importance of recovering meaning and finding justice through art.