I attended high school in a small gas-stop of a village southwest of Houston, Texas. At that time Houston was fast encroaching and the growing population of suburbanites resulted in a transition from a rural to an urban community. While in high school I became acquainted with several students whose families were longtime residents of the area with ties to its agricultural roots.
As is the custom in small town Texas, high school boys with strong backs and an overabundance of bravado are welcomed commodities to farmers and ranchers. I had no problem finding employment hauling hay, throwing calves, and doing the grunge work rejected by those possessing more refined sensibilities. I was somewhat of a loner and the secluded environment of wide open spaces provided the solitude yearned for by my psyche and soul. So much so that farming and ranching became my vocation for more than twenty years.
Regrettably, the bravado of youth did not yield to the sound advice of elders and eventually my body succumbed to the constant abuse of breaking young horses and lifting heavy loads while relationships faltered due to my unrestrained ego. Ranch work is a hands-on endeavor and after multiple surgeries to restore joint function and relieve impinged nerves I was faced with the prospect of permanent paralysis if I continued life as a cowboy. I had grown fond of walking so I elected to leave the only life I’d known and ever wanted.
My elder brother chose a different life path. Academia and education was his area of interest. He invited me to convalesce at his home in Austin,Texas as I healed from my last back surgery. I had worked in agriculture since I was sixteen years old and any learning I experienced subsequent to high school was a result of observation, experience, and self study. The prospect of pursuing higher education at my age (I was 42 at that time) seemed implausible if not impossible. I was clueless as to what life had in-store for me.
During my career in agriculture I had not developed many skills marketable in an urban setting, other than manual labor, and back surgeries had removed that prospect from my list of possible vocations. My brother coyly suggested I take a few community college courses, since I had nothing better to do at the time, and see if academic study interested me. After protesting his proposition as ridiculous and wholly not doable, I eventually acquiesced and cautiously matriculated into higher education. Seven years later I graduated from law school as a doctor of jurisprudence and soon thereafter was awarded a license to practice law in Texas.
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I gained employment as a legal assistant with a criminal defense attorney while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin. My first exposure to the nomenclature and philophy of restorative justice occurred at a continuing legal education meeting I attended with my employer. The presenter was the Director of Victim Services for the local District Attorney’s office. She shared a harrowing story of being brutally attacked in her home by an assailant who dropped through her bathroom ceiling dressed in a Ninja outfit. She was raped and left for dead after her attacker hammered a screwdriver into her skull. She related how life after her assault seemed not worth living. Her journey of healing led her to the process of restorative justice which, according to her, literally saved her life. Restorative justice intrigued me. I dove head first into its philosophical basis and historical origins. Knowledge, however, did not result in learning.
Most practitioners I’ve met testify that understanding restorative justice is an experiential phenomenon. As luck, or some other mystic force, would have it, at about the same time I became interested in restorative justice the local sheriff’s office was devising a pilot restorative justice project to be administered in the county jail. Volunteer facilitators were used and I was one of the first to be included.
My participation in the circles at the jail changed the course of my life. That was eleven years ago and I have since served as circlekeeper hundreds of times in jails, prisons, schools, churches, and communities. I’ve collaborated with practicioners to develop restorative discipline programs for schools and community building circles for at risk neighborhoods. I’ve given numerous presentations to schools, community organizations, attorney seminars, and law enforcement. I’ve lectured at The University of Texas – San Antonio, The University of Texas – Arlington, and St. Edward’s University. Recently, I was part of a team of restorative justice experts that headed up community participation in the Drug Marketplace Intervention program used to address an open air drug market in a historically high crime area of East Austin. Additionally, a colleague and I are about to launch the Austin Peace Circle (APC). APC is a semi-monthly circle introducing local communities to restorative justice as stakeholders use the process to address personal, community, and social justice issues with an emphasis on activism and peaceful problem solving.
I’ve been practicing adult and juvenile criminal defense law in Texas for over six years and have yet to see the current adversarial retributive system produce an outcome I would describe as justice. I’m currently pursuing the practice of law as a means of being placed in the lives of those who have experienced both sides of harm so I can offer a vehicle of justice that affords opportunities for peace and the restoration of wholeness.
I became a restorative justice true believer after my inaugural experience in a county jail. I have witnessed healing and restoration facilitated by the application of simple ancient practices. I’ve experienced personal transformation and growth as a result of my ongoing presence and participation in the restorative process. Pursuit of restorative justice has became my way of life.
When I'm not practicing law, I enjoy exploring the area by taking long walks, riding my bicycle, and engaging the diverse and interesting people who make up Austin and Central Texas.
And, I express my love for music as a singer and songwriter.