Restorative Justice and Conflict Transformation. Member Spotlight: Kelly Rico

Kelly Rico is a member of MBBI Canada and was on their Board of Directors between January 2020 through January 2021. Her experience with Restorative Justice (RJ), community mediation and healing, and peacebuilding through alternatives to litigation are extensive and in-depth. The beauty of her work is clear and without pretense. Personal experiences led Kelly into this field, but perseverance, empathy, and a wide knowledge base, and applicable skill set have kept her there.

Life and Career Background

Kelly came to the practice of mediation via Restorative Justice, a concept which she became aware of in 2009. By 2013 she came upon MBBI through working and helping with a fundraiser in Toronto with MBB Canada founder, Alicia Kuin. She then became further involved in the beginnings of the Canadian chapter, assisting primarily with organizational and administrative aspects. She was then invited to join MBB Canada’s Board of Directors in January 2020. 

The route through which Kelly became involved in RJ was a winding one in which the concepts of group support and transformation were always present. Ending up in RJ and mediation is not surprising given her lifelong dedication to mentorship. Her discovery of RJ began during her work with  Freeing the Human Spirit, an organization that teaches meditation and yoga in prison. Kelly was trained under the tutelage of Roshi Sister Elaine MacInnes and taught basic Zen meditation in two maximum-security prisons between 2004 to 2010. It was at a practitioner training session that Kelly became aware of and interested in Restorative Justice. It immediately that aligned with her own experiences of trauma, addiction, and 12-step recovery: “Because of the transformative changes I saw in my own life and other people’s lives …it has always been a part of who I am and I was always been drawn to human transformation.” Kelly was also a social activist in her late teens and early 20s. It was the combination of these aspects of her personality that inevitably lead her to work in peacebuilding through dialogue and alternatives to incarceration.

Addiction and Recovery Work

Kelly has spent over twenty years of lay work in addiction and recovery and is a trauma survivor herself. Her personal experiences are part of the reason she has been dedicated to mentorship, but she also has a personal belief and fascination with human transformation and the resilience of the human spirit. Kelly has faced some “traumatic, massive, and truncated losses” during own recovery journey. Her consistency and dedication to healing led to her work in community justice and beyond, especially around sexual harm: “It was through recovery that I saw a lot of changes in my own life, in having to confront a lot of things, and it really spoke to the faith that I had in human nature.’

Her prison work prompted her to dive into a diploma in RJ at Queen’s University (Kingston, ON) with a focus on sexual harm.  Coincidentally, she found an internship that fit her interest in working with survivors and those who have harmed sexually, particularly around addressing its root causes. At the completion of the diploma program in 2009, Kelly interned with the Community Justice Initiative of Kitchener-Waterloo’s Revive program. She has since remained an active volunteer-professional, co-facilitating Revive’s peer support, accountability, and reintegration groups for people who have harmed sexually (PWOS), and also facilitating dialogues in instances of sexual harm.  In 2011, Kelly completed a certificate in Conflict Management and Mediation at the University of Waterloo. In 2020, she completed her MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding a Royal Roads University. Her thesis focused on exploring restorative justice opportunities for conflict-related sexual violence in Colombia’s transitional justice process. 

Current Practice

Kelly is currently a Conflict Management Practitioner with the Department of National Defence, Canada for Garrison Petawawa and Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay. She is also a member of the called Courage to Act project – a national initiative to address and prevent gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual harm on Canadian campuses. She works with the Community of Practice (CP) for People Who Have Caused Harm, one of the project’s ten CP’s comprised of professors, researchers, student conduct officers, and campus GBV practitioners who are creating toolkits to assist post-secondary institutions to create more survivor-centered, just, and effective approaches to GBV.  

Fighting burnout and the importance of self-care

All successful peacebuilders have some sort of self-care practice. Kelly aims to ground her professional practice as a foundation her body as the vehicle for practicing peacebuilding and ongoing empathy. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the very practice of caring deeply for oneself means that one is able to focus on others more wholly and without ego. Kelly defines this idea as the difference between ‘presence or no presence… Of course, in practicing mediation, presence makes all the difference.’ For Kelly, caring for herself means daily exercise, quality sleep, nourishing food, and quality relationships with those around her. She also stresses the importance of recognizing burnout and allowing herself to balance her activities in the service of well-being: ‘If I’m not well, what is the quality of work that I’m bringing into spaces that are depending on me to bring empathy? And if I’m not well, how can I be an instrument for this work?’ In order to maintain a balance that does not incur burnout, Kelly recommends choosing an ‘organization that is clear about how it values your labor and supports your well-being, and that what you are choosing to do aligns with the path you want to follow. This follows for volunteer work as well, establishing solid experience that will springboard you into something that will sustain you.

Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer