284 – Restorative Justice, with Steve Kim and Project Kinship

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Sandie is joined by Steve Kim, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Project Kinship, an organization that provides services, healing, and hope to individuals who have been affected by incarceration, gangs, or violence. Steve Kim discusses what is restorative justice and their work in the Orange County collaborative courts.

Steve Kim

Steven Kim is the Co-Founder of Project Kinship where he serves individuals impacted by gangs and incarceration, with the aim to successfully re-integrate them back into the workforce, schools, and community. His dedication to breaking cycles of incarceration, gang membership, and community violence stems from over 15 years of working with traumatized and abandoned youth throughout Orange County.

Key Points

  • Multiple marginalization occurs when a person is marginalized in multiple aspects of their life, from resources, employment, housing, and so forth.
  • A felony conviction can lead to potentially over 46,000 collateral consequences on someone’s life.
  • Restorative justice addresses harm through restoration of broken relationships and accountability.
  • Collaboration between the Orange County Collaborative Court, Project Kinship, probation, and the district attorney’s office has seen success in providing healing, resources, and reintegration to young adults.
  • Serving versus saving: If we try to save people, we will burn out. But if we serve people, we walk into each day renewed and have the opportunity to be served in return.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 284 Restorative Justice, with Steve Kim and Project Kinship.

Production Credits [00:00:10] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:29] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today, we’re so glad to welcome the executive director and co-founder of Project Kinship, Steve Kim. Steve is the co-founder of Project Kinship, where he serves individuals impacted by gangs and incarceration with the aim to successfully reintegrate them back into the workforce, schools and community. His dedication to breaking cycles of incarceration, gang membership and community violence stems from over 15 years of working with traumatized and abandoned youth throughout Orange County. Steve, welcome to the podcast.

Steve [00:01:17] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Sandie [00:01:19] I saw Steve really recently at our Priceless annual event where he accepted the Outstanding Nonprofit Diamond Award for Project Kinship. And our Diamond Awards are not just about we want to give somebody an award, but we want our community to see people doing this work well. And Project Kinship has done such an excellent job. We’ve been partners with our Live2Free student. They are part of our community. Steve often speaks at Ensure Justice and we’ll put some links in case you want to hear more from him in the show notes. But we especially value the achievements of Project Kinship in our schools and in our community. And I want to start our conversation with a quote from you, Steve. You said about Project Kinship, “the heartbeat of Project Kinship holds compassion and inclusion. It is a place where hope lives and people are reminded they are not a mistake. Something powerful happens as this truth is embraced and people feel their worth.” I’m curious, when you co-founded Project Kinship, did you have such a succinct idea of the vision for Project Kinship?

Steve [00:03:04] I did, Sandie. I think I wasn’t able to articulate it in such words at that time, but I think what I realized is for many years, carrying the heavy weight of shame, being multiple marginalized, and then being with folks in the community who carry similar burdens. And so I think carrying that for so much of my life and then seeing other folks in the community who’ve also carried encounters, the challenges I think I’ve lived with it. And then when Project Kinship started, give an opportunity to birth and to life an opportunity to heal together. And so we looked at Father Greg and Homeboy Industries, and they’re our mentors and our heroes that pioneered this work before us. And the way Father Greg and everybody at Homeboys is to carry the heartbeat of kinship, love and compassion gave us language and gave us a visual on how to do the work. And so I think over the years, we’ve found the language to wrap around our pain and our healing.

Sandie [00:04:11] So not all of our listeners know what Project Kinship does. And it’s probably going to be faster for you to tell us what you do than for me to do that.

Steve [00:04:23] Okay. I’m still working on my elevator pitch, so I’m going to try to do it and try to do it quick. We’re in Orange County and we’re a sister organization to Homeboy Industries, part of the Global Homeboy Network. And we have lots of programing. We’re in, I think 32 schools. Four school districts doing something called restorative practices. And so we work with many of the kids who often fall into the school to prison pipeline, kids who are homeless, who experience significant amounts of trauma. So we do that programing there. We’re in the juvenile hall doing similar work with groups and individual programing support with the adult county jail. We have a team right outside the door, so every person who gets released, we get to meet folks and greet them as they come out and get their first breath of fresh air. We offer services to do a little bit of advocacy work and the Christmas home base in the city of Santa Ana where folks to come and we have an array of services. But I think the services are great. But what we really do is we have created a beacon of hope in Orange County where folks who have experienced significant trauma, violence and incarceration, even generationally, can call home. And so I have a quick story. One of my mentors, Ruben, who I look up to, got a juvenile life at 16-years-old. And I think he spent over 20 years. And at that time, juveniles could go to adult prison. And so you can imagine how traumatic that could be. A 16-year-old in a prison cell with 40-year-olds. And so he’s out now, heavily tattooed from head to toe. And we move into a new building and they wanted me to write a quote on the wall. And so, you know, I was honored and I usually have a lot to say, but I got writer’s cramp and had difficulty writing something on the wall because everybody was going to see it when they walked in. And so probably about 15 hours later came up with something like, ‘In your darkest moment, never give up hope, blah, blah, blah.’ And the day before it goes up, I asked Ruben what he would write on the wall. I told him my quote, and he was like, ‘That’s all right,’ you know? And so I laughed and said, Well, what would you write? And in 15 seconds, he says, “Welcome to kinship where your judgment and pain are left at the door, you are home.” And I thought, holy cow, how did you come up with that in 15 seconds? And he said, Whenever people look at me, it looks like they bit into a sour lemon. And when I come to kinship, I feel like I’m embraced and I’m welcomed and I feel like my life holds value. And so the reason why I share that is really become this place for folks like Ruben and myself and hundreds of others, if not thousands of others, can call home to be able to connect and rehabilitate our lives.

Sandie [00:07:22] And it’s such a powerful story. And I have gone through those doors and I’ve seen that writing on the wall and the concept of knowing that you’re valued when you walk through those doors like it’s your home, people hang out there. They don’t just come in and wait in line to find out, how do I get this kind of service? The services are not the culture. They’re part of how we take care of each other. And so every time I go to Project Kinship, I feel like I belong. And I think when we started out, you use the term multiple marginalizations. There’s so many things that create barriers for people, especially when they are linked to some kind of incarceration, their parents, a family member, or themselves. Those kinds of challenges, can you give us a little bit of an idea of what multiple marginalization might actually look like?

Steve [00:08:41] Sure. I first heard that term from an individual named, actually a mentor as well, Dr. Diego Vigil. I was at UCI when I took his class and it talks about being multiple marginalized. And so it’s not just being marginalized in one area of life, but multiple areas. So, for example, maybe the neighborhood you live in, the type of jobs that are available, school that you go to, community resources. So it becomes very difficult to navigate those barriers. And so when you think about a lot of folks that we work with, there’s poverty, there’s intergenerational violence, generational incarceration, mental illness, lack of resources, criminal records. That impacts somebody. I just learned about two years ago, as we’re doing some advocacy work, that due to a felony conviction, there’s potentially over 46,000 collateral consequences that can impact somebody for reentry or employment. And so I know for myself, many of us, we felt that, but I didn’t realize there was a number attached to it, which now we know is over 46,000 collateral consequences.

Sandie [00:09:55] The first time I heard you say that, I couldn’t conceive of 46,000 of anything. And to know that in my mind I saw a series of endless hurdles that a track runner was trying to jump and would eventually just be exhausted and never get to the end.

Steve [00:10:23] It’s a great visual. I love that Sandie.

Sandie [00:10:26] Feel free to add it to your repertoire because you have great stories.

Steve [00:10:31] That is good.

Sandie [00:10:33] So give us like some of the the lowest barrier hurdles in that 46,000 and some of the largest. Just a few examples.

Steve [00:10:44] I’ve heard things like baber licenses. I’ve even heard things like dog walking licenses now that that’s a thing. But even things like being able to go on field trips at your kid’s school. And there’s employment barriers, financial aid barriers, multiple barriers. I mean a lot of it has to do with employment, housing.

Sandie [00:11:09] So, wow. And then if you have children, family members that are depending on you, you finally get out and then powerless to figure out how to get back in and reintegrated. So let’s talk about what you mean by restorative justice.

Steve [00:11:32] Yeah, restorative justice, we wrap it around healing. And so in our work, when we think about restorative justice and restorative practices we utilize as a theoretical framework on how to address harm. And so I know one approach is to be punitive. I think people have mistaken our our approach as not wanting to keep folks accountable. That’s not it at all. It’s being able to address the harm in a way where it restores a relationship back. And so, you know, I’ve never met somebody who was healed or got better with more pain. And so, you know, whenever there’s a relationship that’s harmed, it’s finding an approach or a way to have both sides be heard. And also coming to a resolution to repair the relationship or at least to address the harm in a more meaningful and positive way. Also, I’m very sensitive to victims as well. I think where I was really challenged with this was when I was doing death penalty work. And, you know, I was working with folks who had caused harm and oftentimes unthinkable harm. And that work was very powerful to see how harm was addressed and folks were kept accountable.

Sandie [00:12:49] So accountability is part of the healing process. And at the same time, the healing process will, in my understanding, prepare someone to become a part of my community, my city, my society, and not have barriers that reduce their ability to be part of, to belong as we all want to belong. So what does that look like on a daily basis at Project Kinship?

Steve [00:13:33] Yeah, it’s pretty crazy at Project Kinship every day in a good way. And so I think at our schools with our kiddos there, our staff are running around busy as heck working with folks who are having challenges going to school, when they’re at school having challenges, and just caring for them, also providing tools and strategies to soothe, regulate themselves, but also being able to just finish the school well while providing basic needs for them. And so school work all day long, our staff is running around working with kids. And our offices folks are coming in all day as well. And so it’s a combination of providing resources and providing the care and love for folks to the community who are carrying more than they can bear when they come into our offices.

Sandie [00:14:28] I’m always concerned about people who care about the kids, but when they turn 18, it’s well, they’re an adult, so they’re dismissed or they seem dismissive in any case. And when in my work with child victims of human trafficking, there is so much compassion for these kids. But then when you bring adults to the conversation, then there’s lots of judgment: “Well, she should have known better. That it was the way she was dressed.” All of those kinds of things. And I constantly tell them when they were lured into this, when they were groomed, all those this was the path they were on, their brains weren’t done. And when they turn 18, we have science that shows their brains still aren’t done. And so you were part of a recent project in adult court to bring healing the cycle of incarceration. That was kind of the title when you and the Honorable Maria Hernandez presented at Ensure Justice in 2021. Can you talk about your role and why that brings so much hope to young adults?

Steve [00:15:58] Yeah, our work has been amazing with Judge Hernandez and also Justice Motoike. It’s been awesome to be a part of because it’s been a true collaborative. And so folks from probation communities or the county district attorney’s office have all come together to communicate and really see the kid. And so a lot of effort has been placed on each unique individual, and we’ve walked with them. And when challenges come up, we’ve gotten together as a team and figured out what can we do more of? And we’ve collectively brought our efforts and our resources to help the individual. And so it felt really good. The outcomes are I feel like a positive and in a way where youth are coming out, they’re successfully reintegrating back and others oftentimes bumps and challenges. But I think what’s been important is also the use of peer navigators. And so Project Kinship, we’ve also included folks with lived experience and trained them and brought them to be a part of the solution. Many of them spent years and decades terrorizing the community, and now they get to heal the community. And it’s been really cool to watch them do it through some of this court work where they could also mentor and provide support within the community. And so every collaborative effort has been good. And I think that for youth it wasn’t just a one time deal where we come in and say, Hey, let us help you? It’s been an ongoing process to say, Hey, even as bumps come up in the road we’re still going to walk with you to ensure your success.

Sandie [00:17:37] And most of the young adults that are in this collaborative court and let me just pause here. Our last episode of Ending Human Trafficking was an interview with the honorable Judge Motoike. And she explained really well what a collaborative court looks like in a juvenile justice context, and it’s fairly similar to an adult court collaborative. Lots of partners. It’s not just someone sitting on the bench deciding what your punishment will be, but it’s about people coming around you, the support that a person needs. And when you think about young adults that are 18, 19, 20, 21, we know their brains aren’t done. We have science that shows that they’re still developing. And it’s much easier to convince the community that there’s an opportunity for another pathway forward. So in that program, what’s the process for a young adult to be admitted to that collaborative court?

Steve [00:19:03] My understanding is their name will come up in the collaborative talks about the youth and then collectively they’ll allow the individual then. And then from there, we hit the ground running. Now, in the course, the individual has to accept. And then we all get together and figure out what the needs are. And really, it’s as simple as that. And then we just start running and provide services and start the journey.

Sandie [00:19:29] And here’s the part that makes me really admire your team. Not every case has a great ending. And the individual’s commitment to this is part of the process. And I want to know how you take care of your team when those situations are– You get really vested in the people that you serve. So how do you care for your team?

Steve [00:20:06] Yeah, we have this thing called serving versus saving. And early in my career, you know, I can’t help but want to save people because they’re going through things that are unthinkable. And what I found out was it’s easier to let God or the Coast Guards do the saving and if we try to do, it, will burn out. I think there’s moments that we do save people, but it’s much better to serve because when we serve, we do the best that we can every day and we start fresh the new day. And service also allows us to be reached back. That’s the important part. It’s not a hand down. It’s a mutual service to each other. And so when you serve folks on the margins and you stand with them there, you get reached back and you stand in awe as Father Greg talks about of watching folks carrying more than they can bear and teaching us about resilience, love, care and compassion for each other. And when it does that, something changes within us as we serve folks. This past month or actually this year, our team has experienced significant loss in the community through gang violence and drug overdoses. And these are folks that we’ve been working with for years. And oftentimes with these funeral that we go to we’re crushed by the weight and pain of such tragedy, of losing lives at such early ages. And then we sit back and we think about all those moments when we saw individuals come to life and experience their worth. And we remind ourselves that our lives are better because of them. And they were also able to experience their true identity and value as we were able to reflect back to them their goodness. And so what I’m learning in my life now, life is so fragile and short and there’s so much trauma, but there’s also so many moments of healing if we’re able to recognize them in the present moment.

Sandie [00:22:06] So how would you advise someone to get connected with either Homeboy’s if they’re in L.A., or Global Homeboys, or here in Orange County with Project Kinship?

Steve [00:22:21] I would say just call, call or email. Both have volunteer opportunities. Yeah, I would just say call, call or email and maybe even show up. Yeah.

Sandie [00:22:34] Just show up.

Steve [00:22:35] Just show up.

Sandie [00:22:38] Okay. So last question, actually, kind of a conversation about young people getting involved with young people. One of the most profound experiences we had pre-COVID was partnering our Live2Free college students with Project Kinship in an embedded club on a high school campus in a more compromised community. The impact for the participants from that school was significant, but I think the lives of our students were transformed forever. Can you kind of speak to, I think you did a little bit of that with the reach back, but how would community members begin to learn how to do that more?

Steve [00:23:35] I think it’s finding opportunities and places to be a service. And so I think ideally, one, if somebody has a passion for a certain area of work or service, I’d say just jump in and go for it. Find organizations and areas that will fuel their passion to give. Let’s say if one does not have that, let’s say explore. Find opportunities to connect, to volunteer, and to be of service to the community. I think that when folks do engage, the magic is in the connection and the magic is in the service and also being open back to being served back. And so it’s as simple as looking around, finding what your passion is, calling, connecting and just jumping right in.

Sandie [00:24:23] So the restorative practice trainings that are offered a couple of times a year are open to the community. Can you describe what happens in that?

Steve [00:24:35] Yeah. We got multiple trainings. But I think the exciting one has been our partnerships with the local universities. We’ve done one with UCI, Cal State Fullerton, and most recently in Chapman. And so in these trainings we’ve mixed academia with practitioner based experience and knowledge. And so it’s really cool to see both worlds collide together and make something beautiful of it. And so it’s a lot of strategies, a lot of tools and techniques, a lot of knowledge, a lot of theory mixed in with a lot of interaction and group process with the students.

Sandie [00:25:15] That’s why we loved working with you because I could see the theoretical framework with the practical application of valuing another human being and creating a space where it’s safe to serve together. I do have a quote from Judge Hernandez about you that I want to read. She said, “Steven Kim has an amazing capacity to make a person feel powerful. He’s got to be one of the most understated leaders in Orange County.” And I feel that way, too. And I want to learn more from you, from your team. And as we close this, can you tell us one more story of what happens when a person feels that power?

Steve [00:26:17] Okay, let’s see. First of all, I really thank you, Judge, for that quote. She’s one of my heroes and Sandie you are as well. So I want to put that shout out that I really appreciate the work that you’ve been doing in leading us in Orange County. And so that’s important. I think that’s important to share. I’ll go with the story. So we recently had a graduation at Chapman University and it was our Community Intervention Workers Pacifica Program and oh, it’s the great Ruben again. And after giving our certificates, he went home and he called me and said, ‘Hey, thanks for letting me go to the program.’ I said, ‘Well, it was our pleasure and I’m so proud of you.’ And he said, ‘When I went home, I gave my dad my certificate.’ And he said, ‘I’ve only seen my dad cry three times in his life. And the third time was when I gave him the certificate.’ It said Chapman University on there with Project Kinship. And he says as I as watching my dad cry, I asked him, ‘Why are you crying?’ And he said, ‘Remember, son, when you were in your twenties and kept going in and out. I saw you in prison.’ And he said, ‘Remember when you’re getting all those tattoos all over your face and I told you to stop getting that, and you said, This is my life here and I’m going to be in here for the rest of my life.’ And he goes, ‘I never stopped believing that you were going to be somebody and never stopped believing that your life held a lot of worth.’ And he said, ‘All these years later, you’re out in the community, you’re serving the community and look, you got a certificate from Chapman University.’ And he said son, ‘I knew that I was always right.’ And what I took from that is everybody needs somebody to believe in them no matter what their past mistake is, and everybody needs somebody to walk with them. And for myself, Ruben, dozens of others to come through our doors of Project Kinship who’ve lost knowing their worth, something powerful happens when folks come besides you to walk with you and remind you that your life holds tremendous value. That God did not make a mistake on you when he created you and that that will walk with you. And so that happens every day. And we get to be a part of it. And so it really is an honor and a privilege to also walk with you Sandie and all the other work that you’re doing as we’re trying to heal our community.

Sandie [00:28:43] Wow. Powerful. I feel more powerful. The judge is right. But for our listeners, I want you to know you can continue this conversation with Steve and Project Kinship. We’ll have links to workshops that he’s done. You can get involved, go to ProjectKinship.com. Is that right? Oh, it’s  .org.

Steve [00:29:12] I think so.

Sandie [00:29:14] Okay. Well, we will make sure we get it right in the in the links, but there are wonderful stories that empower us to see the worth in someone that maybe our community has dismissed. And we need all the help we can get to have a thriving community and support our kids, support families and see people heal. The healing part of Project Kinship is a mystery to many of us. But your team is so well connected that every time I visit I want to think about how do I transition someday to where this is my this is my part time job and retirement. I absolutely encourage listeners to learn about Project Kinship, find out how you can get involved and how you can learn the principles. We are serving, not saving, and we value and have a worth for every single person. Thank you so much, Steve, for being with us this morning.

Steve [00:30:30] Thank you, Sandie.

Dave [00:30:33] Steve and Sandie, thank you for this conversation. We’re inviting you now to take the first step, go online and download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll give you the five critical things Sandie’s identified in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. We’re also building and expanding our community of advocates. You can become a patron over at endinghumantrafficking.org through our membership, through Patreon. Just go to Endinghumantrafficking.org, click on the Patreon link and you’ll get access to additional content and resources. It’s simple and affordable, and it continues to help support the work we’re doing here in the Ending Human Trafficking podcast and of course more broadly through the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University. And in addition, if you’re online, you may want to find on the website more information about the Anti-Human Trafficking Certificate program. It’s a comprehensive program that will help support you in your learning, in a more formal capacity to learn about how to best come alongside and support our efforts to end human trafficking. All of that at Endinghumantrafficking.org. And Sandie and I, of course, will be back in two weeks for our next conversation. See you then, Sandie.

Sandie [00:31:59] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:32:00] Take care, everybody.

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