The Heart of Conflict:
Using the Energy of Conflict
Nineteen years ago a man named David
stabbed his best friend Josh 22 times*.
As Josh lay dying in David’s arms, his final
word was “Why?” The same question
had haunted Josh’s family since the
crime, even after David was convicted
and sentenced to 66 years in prison. An
attempt to answer that question was
the heart of a victim-offender dialogue
I facilitated between David and Josh’s
mother and cousin in 2014 under a
pilot restorative justice program for the
Colorado Department of Corrections.
Five years ago I was mediating misdemeanor and
low-level felony criminal cases at a local neighborhood justice center and was asked to co-create a
restorative justice program for the Colorado Springs
Teen Court system. The goal was to hold juveniles
accountable for their criminal behavior in a way that
addressed the needs of the victim, the community,
and the offender. Instead of focusing on punishment
and blame, the program would employ alternatives
to traditional power- and rights-based approaches,
so that offenders could accept accountability,
understand the impact of their actions, feel and
express remorse and an intention to never repeat
the offence, and repair some of the harm they
caused. The ultimate goal was to restore trust and
rebuild their relationship with the community, their
families, and the victim if possible.
In order to do this the traditional judicial conver-
sation of blame, shame and punishment needed to
change to one of curiosity, understanding, account-
ability, and choice making. Instead of speaking to
juveniles we needed to speak with them. Victims
also wanted justice, which meant having a voice
in the process and having the offender hear the
impact of the crime. They wanted validation of their
feelings and point of view, including vindication that
they had indeed been harmed. The process had to
honor the dignity of all parties, even when offender
behavior had caused deep harm.
The Colorado Springs Teen Court restorative
justice program has engaged over 4,000 youthful offenders and their victims. Overall recidivism
among program participants has decreased to 6%
compared to a national average of over 50% for
first-time offenders. I am currently applying the
experience and knowledge gained from this program to a new Colorado Department of Corrections
program for adult victim-offender dialogues. My
experience in these dialogues, including the one
involving David and Josh’s family, has been foundational in years of work studying the energy and
language of conflict.
In the course of this work I found a discernible
pattern of energy in conflict. Once I mapped this
pattern, it was easier for me to identify specific
opportunities to support, empower and engage
these parties in one of the most powerful conversations of their lives. Through a delicate re-direction
of energy and specific language bridges, I’ve been
able to mitigate negative emotional energy, support
deeper party introspection, increase opportunities
for empathy and peace thus returning conflicting
parties to a baseline of vulnerability, understanding,
and connection. The observations and successful
tools explained in this paper came from observing
and participating in 432 mediations and facilitated
conferences. I’ve found these ideas could be
applied to juvenile and adult victim offender dialogues as well as most mediated or facilitated
conflict conversations. When I began researching
this topic I wanted to explore three questions:
1 Was there a pattern to the energy
flow of a mediated/facilitated conflict
2 What causes energy to move or
3 How could it be altered by the
*I have changed
the names to
privacy of the
About the Author
is the principal of
and Colorado Restorative Justice Inc.
in Colorado Springs.
She provides training, program design,
and the courts.
She is adjunct
faculty for Univ.
of Colorado-Colo-rado Springs and
School of Law.
Kerri Schmitt M.S.