Monday, 11 June 2018

Sawbonna: Sacred Spaces & the Farm Where Victims, Offenders, Community Meet.

The compelling call that is Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens continues to invite relating and relationships in varied and sundry places and spaces. What continues to keep the fire in my belly burning, burning, burning, is the promise I made to my Father, Theodore, moments before the lid to his casket was closed, and I bent over, kissed his dark hair and whispered through salty-saline eyes, "I promise you Dad, your death will not be for nothing."

In this month of June, as my teaching at Centennial College writhes and resounds with the voices of students committed to conversations about voice, agency, choice, and excitement, debating, relating, I weave the other calls that Sawbonna makes to plant seeds, literal and figurative.

Yesterday, June 10, at Trinity United Church in Cannington, Ontario, I had the privilege of being the speaker at their "lunch and learn." Invited by a young man with whom I shared time in my brief sojourn at a theology school. Daniel MacDonald, like the handful of individuals with whom kindred connections have been maintained from that time, asked if I would go to this congregation, and engage in conversation about Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens, sharing my story of meeting Glen Flett, now a dear friend; as well as sharing how the workshops on poetry and prose I engage in with victims, offenders, community, staff in prisons, colleges, universities, etc. creates Sacred Space for safety and trust to invite surrender to speak. To write. To draw. To dig deep. To hear. To be heard.

As we drove, Daniel, spoke about his final project for his Masters of Divinity which was about Sacred Spaces. His explanation was one in which I could viscerally feel the essence of Sawbonna's call: I see you and shared-humanity. Feeling the raw authenticity of his yearning for a world in which relationship continues to be understood to be as vital to our lives as air, as water, I knew that in his little red car, driving and speaking, we were in Sacred Space.

And, later with the community who came to the lunch and learn, where conversation, laughter, tears, and more laughter, along with abundant questions flew, I could feel my Dad's smile embracing the room. I breathed the scent of utter gratitude.  I phoned Glen directly after the amazing two hour sharing, to say, "Thank you." He, answered from another Sacred Space, Emma's Acres, the pulsating and life-giving, life-infusing farm, where victims, offenders, and community come together to plant literal and figurative seeds of hope, of healing; where chickens roam freely, where honey begins to drip and drizzle, dazzling with its sweetness, where the Totem Pole raised last year holds the heart of resilience, of restoration, of reconciliation. Emma's Acres where our Long Table Dinner will be served, June 26.

"I promise you Dad, your death will not be for nothing." In the journey from "murder to meaning," in all manner of cell of sombre sorrow, llano of freedom's call, graveside, road-side, mountain-top, and hill, Glen Flett and I, along with those who have journeyed and do journey with us, share in the Sacred Space that is Sawbonna's generous whisper of: shared-humanity. I see you. I am. We are.

Margot/Raven Speaks.

Sunday, 11 February 2018


Teaching GNED 500 at Centennial College, shatters, sculpts, shapes, strengthens my resolve to voice. The privilege of sharing in conversation with over sixty individuals, students for the purpose of our roles in the college setting, is a powerful invitation to engage. Engage. Engage. Each of us brings knowledge, lived-experience, biases, stereotypes. And a longing to understand. To be understood.

On day one, I shared about Sawbonna. On day two, I did the same. On day three, it will be done. And day four. And so on and so on and so on. WHY? Why do I do this? My reasoning is simple. Straight-forward. Content and context situated in a crucible of possibility, informs conversations of all depth and degree. Informs them with the salient and necessary knowing that when we begin with "I See You," and "Our Shared-Humanity," we can begin to voice, to listen, to challenge, to be challenged, to be made raw, to make raw. To critically analyze. To bring our reflective selves and our lived-experiences to the table. And at that table, with many voices and with diligent focus we can step into what and how transforming justice via articulating injustice can mean. And we can plan the actions we will take. Seeing that some actions have not worked well. Or at all. But we do not stop.

I live and work for, "Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens."
I do so because "us versus them" insists that I tease out, tear apart, struggle with, and again address what it means to live the change I want to be in the world.

Restorative Justice is defined in many varied ways. The two that inspire me most are: process and social movement. Both ally themselves in the crucible of Sawbonna. Both highlight: respect, responsibility, relationship.

"How long?"
"How long?"
"How many more murders?"
"How many more deaths?"
"How many more hateful acts of racism?"
"How many more acts of sexual violence, harassment, abuse?"
"How many more conversations?"
"How many more reports?"
"How long?"
"How long?"

Sawbonna came for me thirty years after my Father, Theodore, was murdered. I am now a Grandmother of four. I share a deep and authentic friendship with, Glen, who murdered my Father.

NOW is what we have.
AND after I have died, NOW is what my Grands will have.
AND their Grands after them.


Sunday, 18 June 2017


CBC, The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti: Sawbonna-Restorative Justice. Therapeutic Writing. And An Unlikely Friendship:

When Glen Flett and I had the beautiful privilege of being interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC's, The Current, in mid-March, Anna Maria asked Glen and I what it is that we offer in our talks with victims-survivors, offender-survivors, and the communities of professors, wardens, guards, teachers, healers, etc. Glen said something that resonated to the very core of who I am, of what I Mentor in my Therapeutic Writing Courses and Workshops. He said, "We must look for the gold."
      My partner  is a gifted Geologist who uses his wisdom in the Mining Industry to both literally and figuratively "mine" for gold, by inviting conversations about: respect, responsibility, and relationship, in a terrain which can cause all manner of joy and grief.
     I continue to be struck by the powerful and prolific potency of what is mined as I live with words, with story, with myth, with mindfulness about in-forming, re-forming, and trans-forming the justice system. Doing this in community of people who live with and for and because of love's vast and voluminous expressions.
     My Father, Theodore, is ever near. My partner, Andrew, is ever near. And like Sawbonna, the nearness, the constancy of the togetherness, both literal and figurative, means that we are ever in relationships that challenge, nourish, and liberate us into our own capacity to find gems. Gems of utter possibility, even when and if we are grief-sodden, soul-seared, bone-weary.
     Today is Father's Day.
     Because of Sawbonna's yearning to be present to finding the gold, to mining for the nugget, I celebrate the fact that love is the reflection, the expression, and the healer upon which Sawbonna rests. And, I celebrate the fact that how we express  love within the crucible of: respect, responsibility, and relationship, buoys us and holds us dear and near - even as we may be judged, criticized, maligned as can often be the case by those outside of our experience, those who wish to proscribe, dictate, or harangue because they wish to the "right."
     Death nor distance denies us our right to love.
     Death nor distance prevents us from both mining and finding the gold.
     Death nor distance prevents us from being the very nugget we seek.
     Death nor distance denies our right to be loved." (Gerry Ayotte, Mentor, Inspiration, Friend).
     Sawbonna's vision of shared-humanity of seeing and being seen, of hearing and being heard, is a vein which we mine because our blood, our tears, our quest for justice, teaches us to trust the very value of our prospecting for justice as a lived and living f/act.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017


Powerful interview. 
Lesley Stahl: You don't think they turn into savages even for the act?
Benjamin Ferencz: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.
For me the word "war" is crucial. Historical and cultural horrors are part of our very bones. And create wars literally and figuratively. Listening to Dr. Gabor Mate, in Alberta, in 2010, he presented a talk after Glen and I gave our talk, Gabor said his family left Hungary when he was two. AND that the chaos and fear and anguish of living in an environment of war and oppression, lives in his bones to this day. To the benefit of each of us, I would state that from those horrors of what the bones live, Gabor writes books and does work that unravel the bones, and that speak compassion. That engage the heart. 
Yesterday after our BBC interview, Glen Flett, said to me that he learned something about me, something he did not know until that interview. What he said is (to precis): "When you said that you were not angry or vengeful at me and the others who killed your Dad, but that you were angry and rage-filled about the horrors of life, that is how I felt as a child." I thought about "voice." 
I do not know how our very lenghty interview, with some truly potent questions, will be edited. So, I will share further, that when I was 18 years of age, I tried to end my life. Pain so deep was sucking my very life away. I was reading three books which underscored that as humans we are all capable of any amount of acts. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer; No Man is an Island, by Thomas Merton; and, Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl. 
When I put those books down and decided to swallow a large bottle of Tylenol, I did not know then, what I learned a few hours later, what I know to my very core, which is that love is the essence of our very being. My Mom standing next to me after my stomach was pumped. Saying, "Margot, I have lost Daddy. I can not lose you too."
At that time it did not occur to me that the act of writing was and is itself an act of love, of hope, of possibility. That the act of reading, of sharing our voices, is an act of love, of hope, of possibility.
Sawbonna, for me, for my vocation, is of and about shared-humanity and our capacity to love and be loved. Sawbonna the word I learned from the man who, if I believed in easy scripts, I am not supposed to love. But I do. Even as I might not belong to a religious group or community, I cherish what I know of those people who inspire us: Rumi, Jesus, Sophia, Hildegard of Bingen, among others. Three other humans for whom I hold respect and gratitude, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Like Gabor, their work Mentors us to continue to grapple which shared-humanity. With Mystery too.

Thursday, 16 February 2017


Not one of us is independent. Each of us is forever in relationship. The tenor and tone of each relationship is as a hue, a shade. Each hue and shade speaks to us via our emotions i.e. the emotions of the heart and the emotions of the intellect, engaging us in a vast array of conversations. Some conversations simple and gentle, several cumbersome and challenging. When I knew that my colleagues in South Africa worked diligently and succeeded in getting me into Pollsmoor Prison, where Nelson Mandela lived for a time, to share with a group of pre-release young offenders, I was filled with gratitude. And, I was filled with fear. I began to doubt that sharing my journey of powerful and authentic healing with Glen Flett, who killed my Father, Theodore Van Sluytman, mattered. I began to question what I have lived and believed for most of my life, which is, stories can and do save and honour lives. It was in those moments of deep doubt that I did what it is that continues to nourish and free me. I contacted my trusted and respected community of friends, allies, colleagues. I told them my fear. They reminded me of what I had momentarily forgotten about my vocation. They reminded me that the colour of justice is hope. That the hue of hope is our shared-humanity. That shared-humanity sits in the crucible of relationship and resilience. And, further with their love and support, they reminded me that hope does not have a specific locale, does not wear a particular mantle, does not take sides. Hope, I began to remember is sitting in companionship whereby I and Thou speaks. Sawbonna is I and Thou. Sawbonna is not Us vs. Them. Sawbonna is the gift of reminder that not one of us is independent. That each of us is forever in relationship. The ripple effect of relationship, is often resilience, reaching far and wide and deeply into our shared-humanity. And Sawbonna is about: respect, responsibility, relationship. Sawbonna is the colour of hope. The colour of justice.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


When I sat down to be interviewed by Marina Cantacuzino, Founder of The Forgiveness Project, I did not know what I would discover about my journey; that journey I call: murder to meaning. I did not know that in sharing with Marina, I would come to the realization that I did not choose to use the "F" word, but rather that the "F" word chose to use me. I discovered that the intention I carried in my heart from the day my Dad, Theodore, was murdered, March 1978, to that very moment in November 2016 being interviewed, the notion of forgiveness was as a constant companion. On the cover of Marina's book, The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age, are actor, Emma Thompson's words, "...probably one of the most important projects in the world today." Yes. The project of sharing stories is an important one. After my conversation that stunning, sunny November day in London, UK, I left the tiny office where stories are sought, found, written, shared, and I walked down the street with a deep and profound awareness that it is indeed stories that sculpt us; stories that inform what constitutes our communities; stories that invite us into conversations with our very own selves about our meanings, our ethics, our morality. Our madness. Our joy. It is my belief that we are not naturally vengeful, rather that we are naturally protective and more times than not fear-full. Fear-full of rejection. Sawbonna offers acceptance. Sawbonna: I see you. Please see me. Sawbonna underscores and highlights our shared-humanity; Sawbonna reminds us that our lives, which are a fine and full fabric of stories, are scripts we can not always control, though our attitudes to those scripts can be proof-read, can be edited, can be re-storied. And in the re-storying we can infuse our relationship to Sawbonna/Restorative Justice's three values: Respect. Responsibility. Relationship. Sawbonna reminds us that our stories are part of a vast web of relationships, in which our script matters.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016


"You have to be still and quiet for these things to happen; you have to release your expectations; you have to stop thinking you already know things, or know how to categorize them, or that the world has already been explained and you know those explanations. You know nothing. You understand nothing. You have only what your own body tells you and your own experience from which to make judgments," Sharon Butala.

Sawbonna means "I see you." It means "I see our shared humanity." In October I had the joy of time with one of Canada's most poignant writers, Order of Canada recipient, Sharon Buatla. Sharon's book, among others, The Perfection of the Morning, continues to inspire each and every step I take with my vocation. Sharon and I shared a wonderful time in Downtown Toronto, when she came to be on a panel of other amazing   writers from around the Globe.

Sharon reminded me of the importance of authentic friendship, of vocation-ing whereby love underscores the why and the how of the journeys we take. Unfortunately, many people forfeit and forget that money is not the essential driver of the how and the why of the work we do, of the vocations we accept.

When my Dad, Theodore, was murdered on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978, I thought that my life had ended too. Standing at his casket, the last time I saw his body in this world, I promised him that his death would not be for nothing. It is not for nothing.

Daily, I honour the fact that love and love alone informs how it is we choose to engage in life. Those who would destroy, diminish, deny, and denigrate love and choice as ways in which love informs justice, are those who are dry, lonely, hungry for attention, fear-full, and so very, very sad. 

Sawbonna, offers a way to live from a place of our interconnectedness, of our deep need to be respected. AND, of the fact that we must be brought  to justice for our betrayals, our crimes. I have said it time and time again, I have only one "boss." That boss is beholden only to love, only to: respect, responsibility, and relationship.

My Father, Theodore, my friendship with Sharon, and my love for Sawbonna nourishes me even when tyranny feels to rise. No election, no brutality, no banality can eradicate the love my Father, Theodore, taught me as a child. I will never betray him. Never.