Interviewer: Marcela Torres
Language of interview: Spanish
Country of practice: Colombia
Profession: Restorative justice facilitator at YMCA Bogota
Bernardo Castro works as a restorative justice facilitator for the juvenile justice and crime prevention unit at YMCA Bogota. The Colombian YMCA project works in collaboration with the national government in programs for the prevention of children experiencing homelessness and youth sexual exploitation. Their participants have been charged criminally under the Colombian law of childhood and adolescence, and have been ordered by a judge to participate in a restorative justice process.
During our conversation, Castro explains how in the Colombian context most offenders have been victims themselves, and their behaviour is part of a cycle of injustice. Due to systemic violence, youth have no sense of belonging and live repetitively in environments of domestic violence; for this reason, providing youth with opportunities to participate in restorative processes is a priority for the country. Further, Castro talks about his restorative work experience of over twenty years and the diverse spaces used for such practices: institutional and religious sites, community places, public parks, and purpose-designed spaces.
According to Castro, empathy requires unconventional spaces to recognise the humanity of the offender. He describes YMCA’s main restorative space as a non-institutional house in a traditional neighbourhood in Bogotá, with great lighting, private and communal spaces, and a psychological counselling office for intervention processes. The house has a fireplace, a patio and a front garden, and offenders are often encouraged to paint the rooms, prune the bushes and decorate the walls, helping them feel a sense of belonging with the space. For Castro, one of the most important spaces is the communal kitchen, because it allows to foster a bond between all participants. In addition, he describes the perfect space for restorative encounters, and explains his preference for non-virtual practices due to the lack of bond formation between participants, and issues such as anxiety and attention deficit prevalent in youth.