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Am I A Thug Hugger?

I was giving a lecture on the work I did in a Juvenile Justice center and was trying to persuade the audience on the importance of restorative justice using transformative models of mediation and negotiation. After the lecture a man came up to me and said, “This soft on crime thing keeps more gangs on the streets. You thug huggers don’t help.” I thanked him and started to research what a ‘thug hugger’ meant.

At it turns out there are many reactive articles on the subject with variations of responses. Even President Obama is called a thug hugger which, in my opinion, is ludicrous in that he is using transformative negotiation and mediation to bring about peace.

I have been working with at-risk people, especially youth, experiencing extreme conflict for over 25 years and know that the one thing that will make a difference is to give more chances for better choices. As a mediator my job is to suggest (sometimes strongly) sanity in the session.

I taught drama arts as a tool for conflict resolution to addicted, gang effected teen boys in a RAD (Residential Alcohol/Drug) unit and part of that work was to clarify their position by pointing out they were at a point of choice as to what they wanted to do with the rest of their life. My style of teaching entailed a straight and to the point message that in essence said, “Your choices are BS and society is sick of you!” Yes, I used that language.

They got I was not soft on their crime. The ‘Where Do You Want Your X’ project was fairly effective and their poetry and writing reflected their attitude toward the end of the project. You can find the full explanation of the published research, Negotiating Dramatic Events—and my web site (bottom of this article).

People are sick of crime and feel a need to crack down, become more punitive. I agree that criminals need to be isolated from their destructive activity where they can be given chances to make better choices and pay for what they have done using a restorative justice model. But statistics show without rehabilitation the criminal gets worse. Is this what we want as an otherwise progressive society?

John Huddleston made it clear we have been searching for a just society for centuries. (The Search For A Just Society) The justice system seems to be in a state of crisis. There will be no justice at all if we keep going down the path we are on now. We are losing our children at an alarming rate with statistics stating a 75% recidivism rate. (2008)

There are many reasons why people break the law and become criminals. Extremes of wealth and poverty, violent communication, prejudice, injustice, oppression, lack of education, marginalization and the like suggest we are, as Michael Karlberg suggest, in a culture of conflict. (GR press)

So, all the more reason to explore and implement non-violent communication, restorative justice, transformative mediation, and other models that work toward deeper understanding of ways to bring forms of resolution. If we, who suggest there are more peaceful and balanced ways of approaching what is broken, are called ‘thug huggers’ what then should be understood? What are we afraid of?

When I consider what it took to get us humans here on this planet and I consider the constant conflict around being a human, trying to negotiate our shadows, I suffer because we all are suffering. True justice is linked with appropriate use of power and tempered by love. Love embraces authenticity, understands compassion, uses non-violent communication, and is restorative and transformative in nature. If this makes me a thug hugger than so be it.


Grace Eagle Reed

Grace Eagle Reed has a MA in Conflict Resolution, is a broadcaster on community radio, and founder of MAPS. She has written ‘Needs’ and Negotiating Shadows: Journey to the Sun.  Her next book, “Old Lady Rolling: My Year with Occupy” will be available soon. Ms. Reed has been working with extreme… MORE >

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