How did you identify community resources to help resolve the conflict? How did you use them?
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
How were you able to identify which
community resources to use?
Most the time the parties themselves think of it in the context of our mediation because we
need some of these things done or certain areas addressed. They create some approaches to it
and identify resources that I wouldn't be familiar with at all. Like the one I mentioned this
morning about the attorney justice professional.
So were you always receptive to those community resources that they highlighted or
emphasized, or who had the final say?
Oh it's their agreement, it's not mine. For example, they may want to write into the
agreement this office, this program will be established or developed utilizing such and such a
resource by all means. If both sides agree to it doesn't matter what I think or what I might prefer,
if I see some danger in it, I might mention it, had you thought of this, but essentially I would not
feel that I had any veto power.
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they understood how their behavior was influencing the
wrong kind of population, were they willing to change?
Yes. Through education and law enforcement. Because
law enforcement was ticketing them and costing them thousands of
dollars in fines, and confiscating whole boatloads of shrimp that
were caught illegally. In this community the Klan had announced
a huge rally, and we helped the community get together to have their own
rally so that they would be protected and not get retaliated on.
We had spokespeople for the business community, the clergy, the educators and other sectors.
When we had the community rally there was a lot of protection, we had plainclothes
police officers and uniformed police officers. It filled the school auditorium and the Klan was
there with their sympathizers. After the dialogue, discussion, and presentations,
the city council voted to pass a resolution. It got coverage,
and the citizens took the town back. I just helped the community
to use all of its elements.
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The Italian American
groupís support came from Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners (LAMP) from the
University of Minnesota law school. LAMP had students who would provide assistance to the
culture group. Every other week, this very attractive young law student in a mini skirt would sit
with her legs crossed while a dozen gawking, very light-haired and light-complected Italians with
names like Smith, and Larson, would sit and listen to her talk about Italian culture or give Italian
lessons. This got them out of their boxes. They werenít making any trouble for anybody, but
they obviously didnít have anything beyond that which bound them together. So we interviewed
the corrections officers. We interviewed each of the ethnic groups, and the leadership of the
groups. Many of them came together and we spoke to white inmates as well. Also the stateís
Ombudsman for Corrections and the director of the St. Cloud Human Rights Commission.
And what were you asking?
We were trying to get a fix on the place. We wanted to know why were they still in lock up.
The guards were saying tensions were too high, that it was too dangerous to end the lock up. But
that was not our perception when we talked to the residents. When we met with the American
Indian group, as I said, they were mostly well behaved within the institution. They avoided
overtures, they said, from the Black Brotherhood Development and Cultural Organization
(BBDCO), to partner with them. They wanted to be left alone.
The BBDCO was another organization within the prison?
Thatís the black group. This is the American Indian group. And they were just concerned
that their people be taken care of and they wanted no part of the violence. There were half a
dozen, 5 or 6 Hispanic inmates, Mexican American, and they too, would align with the American
Indians. They didnít want any part of any violence.
And, in fact, hadnít been part of it earlier?
Probably not. I donít remember, but probably not. There were only a few and they stayed
to themselves. There was a segment of the white population that was overtly racist and would
attack the blacks. The blacks were quick to respond. Keep in mind, virtually everybody in that
place was there for a crime of serious violence. Murder or serious assault. Otherwise you could
get out and work a community program.
And these were teenagers, I gather?
Up into their early 20's
So after you talked to them all what did you decide to do?
Well, then we had to sit down and see what we could come up with.
It was difficult to get in to see the black inmates. They were a Muslim group. I was the "white devil", (which they later called me in their newsletter) who could not be
trusted. They verbally abused me. You know, you expect some of that. The BBDCO said "we
canít end the lock up," and it became apparent to us that they were using the lock up, as
leverage against the institution. Nobody in the reformatory wanted to be in lock up,
but the BBDCO was using it politically. Creating a scare by saying it wasnít safe. It wasnít
clear why they did this, but perhaps it gave them some power. As I
walked out of the room I remember a BBDCO leader pounding on the table and waving his fist at
me and saying, "there ainít going to be no mediation in this place and if there is, itís going to
be in front of television cameras.Ē So that told me that the only question we had to resolve
ultimately would be the openness of mediation to the press.
I had the good fortune some weeks earlier to meet a women named Gwen Davis who ran
the Antioch Minneapolis Communiversity, an affiliate of my alma mater, Antioch college in
Yellow Springs, Ohio. We coincidentally met on an airplane. I remembered that she had told me
that her husband, Syl, worked with prisoners. I called Syl from St. Cloud, told him what I was
doing there and he came out to the institution with Raymond Johnson, an ex-offender, who
regularly worked with the BBDCO.
And were they black?
Yes. They were also teaching courses at St Cloud. When they agreed to support ;the
mediation effort, it gave CRS credibility with the inmates. Eventually the black inmates agreed
to come to the table. There were conditions, but basically everyone finally agreed to come to the
table. I also enlisted the help of T. Williams, the Ombudsman for
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In the joint sessions did you do
something to try to get parties to listen attentively to each other and talk civilly to each other?
If I felt that somebody was really not participating, if somebody was overtly making
obstacles, I would try to correct that on the site gently, but as firmly as necessary. If that wasn't
working, we'd go into a caucus on the subject. Folks were pretty well engaged with each other
and with the point. Of course I think a common problem all mediators face is sticking to the
agenda and dealing with one issue at a time. I had no hesitation on insisting that we had agreed
to an agenda and problem statements, it had been agreed to and I would insist we take up one
thing at a time.
I thought of a couple of other cases where I had some community resources. I seem to be only
talking about Native American cases, but there were a few others. I thought of two examples.
One was a tribal hassle. In Arizona there were serious difficulties between two main factions to
the point where an election was in serious contest or they needed to have another election. It
didn't look like it could come off without violence. I think BIA called on us to see if we could
be of any help. We went down and talked with an Interior Department attorney who was helping
BIA on this and who analyzed the scene for us. This is before we got out to the reservation at
I'm not clear on detail, but the resources aspect was how to pull this off. BIA will not supervise
a tribal election. We didn't see that we could directly do that and so somewhere in the course of
the discussion somebody got the bright idea, "Hey, what about the League of Women Voters?"
The idea came up and we all grabbed it. We got in touch with the city and the state heads of the
good old League of Women's Voters and they said sure, they'd be glad to go out and supervise
I went on-site and discussed it with the tribal folks in advance, obviously. There was advance
agreement to it. We didn't want to just let the ladies go out there by themselves. I don't pack a
gun, but I went too. There were provisions for security and we had assurances for all kinds of
things, but it was still a potentially volatile scene. The balloting went on all day and then there
were a few characters who wanted to make some problems, but they got eased out. It was in the
community hall of the reservation. Folks sat around while three women from the League
counted the ballots. I hung around until late that night, until the result was reached and it went
off all right.
Then it was successful then.
Yes. The other resource example was an community in California. An intra-community
conflict arose over an election of leadership of a major organization in the Samoan community.
I had a helper who was on the staff of that county's human relations commission and he had
excellent understanding and background in the Samoan community, which I didn't have, and we
conducted a pretty difficult mediation in one or two sessions with quite a few people around the
table. There were some high tensions in that scene. Apparently one of the cultural givens with
Samoan folks is that you handle a lot of things physically. Some of that practice was threatened
in the course of the mediation. It happened that the little man who was the long time president
of the community organization had a very small build but every other male Samoan present had
a line backer physique. We finally reached an agreement as to how the election would be
conducted with the help of the county human relations commission. It did take place and it came
off with relative peace.
Did you seek out the human relations person?
I don't recall whether they initiated contact with us, or we with them, or we read about it in
the papers and called them. We had great respect for the staff director of the commission who,
I'm happy to say, is still on the job.
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What were some specific trust-
building strategies or activities that you used when either race, ethnicity, gender, or CRS
affiliation was an issue?
I would find someone from whatever the community it might be and in this particular
situation it was in the black and the white community. I knew that if I would involve the
community in this process it would be helpful to have people within the community who knew
me, to introduce me to people and become a bridge and to be a patron of what was happening.
And in that particular case there was a prominent State Legislator that I had known for many
years and he was well loved in the community and became my bridge into that community.
There were parts of the community that I needed to have some access to. It was also true on the
other side that we were going to want the business community leaders in particular cities to be
committed because in this particular city nothing happened unless a "blue book business" leader
was being alarmed. So again, it was through someone I had met in the city, in another case, that
became the bridge into that organization where I could go over there and speak and talk about
what I was trying to do. I could win their support that if we could reach an agreement it was
going to be something the business community was going to support.
In this particular case, this wasn't a community that you lived in. How did you cultivate
networks of people that you could call?
I had other cases in this community before so I knew individuals here and there, and that's
one of the real things. In that case it was a blessing because so many times you may go into a
city and you have no context at all. That really makes it even more difficult.
In those instances where you don't have any networks or any people to intervene for you how
do you build networks, or find them? How do you identify the resources?
Well, I think mediation is a lot of work. I think you have to be willing to just talk to a lot of
people and as you do, you're not only introducing yourself to people in the community, but
you're receiving information that might help find a solution. And so it's just a lot of work and
talking to people. I think by helping parts of the community become involved in finding
solutions, sometimes what CRS has done is understanding the problem. For some reason the
parties never seem to come together, or when they do come together it never goes anywhere and
CRS, when it works well, helps things come together and if you can do that, then that in itself
gives you a new standing and gives you a credibility that you are able to do something. You
were able to bring talks together and just by being able to do that, it adds something to your
name. Then you have to continue and show the parties that you're committed to helping them
find a solution.