Empowering youth, strengthening families, and engaging communities through mediation.
We sat down with Alice Shikina of Shikina Mediation and Arbitration to talk about her volunteer work with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.
For more than 30 years, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) has encouraged the collective strengths of individuals, families, and organizations to help improve communication, community engagement, and conflict resolution throughout San Mateo County. PCRC originated as a small group of concerned residents who wanted to help their neighbors resolve disputes. Since then, the organization has grown to serve thousands of residents across the county, each year.
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Good morning, SF. We are here with Alice Shikina, and she is going to talk to us today about the peninsula conflict resolution center. What can you tell us about their mission?
They do a great job of helping people all over the peninsula in the bay area. They offer various services, including mediations for people who need mediations, restorative justice programs for kids in school, and help juvenile offenders stay out of jail.
They also have a conflict transformation program that I’m a part of. I’m one of their conflict transformation instructors, and we go into the jails and teach conflict transformation, but it’s like communication 101; it’s all the basics of communication. How to properly communicate to having an improved life while they’re there and beyond when they get out of jail.
Hopefully, it will keep some of them out of jail because they’re relying more heavily on their communication skills rather than their fighting skills or what have you when they get out.
PCRC also does a lot of work with businesses; they do a lot of training with people in business and partner with various cities on the peninsula to do facilitated meetings. For example, San Mateo may want to find out what their citizens think about the new housing projects they plan or the traffic changes. So, we show up as facilitators and help put together a program where about a hundred of the citizens come to the table and give their feedback. That feedback is directly given to city council members to use the data to implement and plan future projects.
They do a lot of different work on every single level.
Can you tell us about the incarcerated group that you’re working with this?
I am one of the instructors, there are several of us who are instructors, and the program is a 10-week program. It’s once a week, for I believe it’s an hour and a half, so we go into the jails, and then we do the training. Pre-COVID, I would go there, and I would be in a conference room with about 20 incarcerated men and deliver the programming.
Post-COVID, we did a couple of different things. Right now, it’s just on hold, but previously I would go to the jail and sit by myself in a conference room. They would zoom in from a different conference room in the same building, and they probably had about six uh people in one room and six people in another room for a total of 12. we just had fewer numbers because they didn’t want to put everybody into one room.
They had me going into the jail instead of zooming from my own home to protect my security and safety, so they brought me into a conference room where everything is neutral. There’s no identifying my personal information.
That sort of your mediation, I’m assuming this is different than your everyday mediation work.
Very different. Yes. The instructors have to do day-long training. Even though that sounds anyone can do it, most people who do the day-long training already have a 40-hour mediation certification. We’re already pretty advanced in communication skills. The curriculum has already been built out for us by PCRC (Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center).
PCRC trains us in the curriculum and then gives us that curriculum, and I go in, and I teach. Because I’m already a trained mediator, I can take all those skill sets and translate them into my lesson planning.
If they have random questions or go off-topic, or want to dive even deeper than what’s in the curriculum, I can handle all those questions because I’m already a trained mediator. It’d be much more difficult to take people who are not trained in mediation skills and give them a curriculum because they know the surface. The curriculum is really to use as a framework, but my knowledge and skillsets as a mediator come into play when teaching the class.
And these sessions are to help these individuals develop skills that they can use on the outside?
How long has the program been running?
That program started a long time ago, and it was always informal, so it was never an actual program run by PCRC for many, many years. I think like 12 years.
it was just a lot of the volunteers feeling like, “Hey, we have the skill sets; we’re mediators.” We have a connection inside the system. The connection was that at the time, the sheriff was one of the board members.
For other organizations to implement something like this, they need to have a connection inside the whole jail system. Because there was a sheriff on the board, they were able to get that approved relatively quickly, and the sheriff had the ins and outs to say talk to this person and talk to that person to get the programming done.
Then, maybe eight years ago, they formalized it into an actual program, and they’ve been doing this since then, where they have real trained facilitators. Over the years, there has been a reduction in re-entry – people coming back into the system.
What are some of the other impacts of having this program?
Interestingly, not only has it improved their lives while they’re in jail, but they also become kind of like mediators themselves inside the jail. Because the people who take the class learn these skills, they implement those skills to help other people involved in the conflict. Most conflict can be resolved verbally if you understand the strategies and the tactics of negotiation mediation and that sort of thing.
Most of those people who are in jail don’t have good communication skills, which is why it landed them in jail to begin with. What may have started with a verbal altercation escalated into something physical. The cops were called, and then they went to jail.
Once they become like the mediators inside the jail and they help other people, then once they go out into the real world, of course, it helps them. Many participants have reported that they have better communication with their children and their spouses while in jail because they’re talking to them on the phone and communicating.
One participant commented that he used to fight with his wife all the time on the phone, and after he started taking the class, he learned how to listen. He improved his listening skills. He conscientiously tried to listen more because that’s what he was studying in the class. He came back and reported that fights with his wife were less frequent. He didn’t fight with her any longer, and that his wife even said, “I want to talk to you every day because we’re having such a good conversation.”
You mentioned restorative justice. Can you talk about that program a little bit?
It’s a type of a process or procedure whereby people who are guilty of something and victimize somebody could be in the school system, sit together, talk about what kind of harm was done, and how the action of this person harmed the victim. The victim talks about how it felt to them so that there’s a greater understanding of their actions’ repercussions.
It’s intended to be anti-punitive and more about getting to a deeper understanding of each other so that the person who harmed understands what they did to someone else. That deeper understanding starts to facilitate you know people feeling empathy towards the person they hurt, and that way, they can apologize or say, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.
It provides a deeper understanding instead of one where when there’s harm done to someone else, there’s a punishment that’s delivered, and there’s no conversation. There’s no interaction or closure between the parties.
We bring them together with the facilitator – usually, it’s a restorative justice trained facilitator – to talk about what was done. So this is something that is frequently done in some of the schools.
What are some of the other services that the program offers? Do they offer services – mediation services – to low income individuals to assist them?
Yes, they do a lot with the housing, landlord-tenant conflicts, neighborly mediations where maybe the next-door neighbor is making too much noise. And a lot of tree mediations where people say, “Hey, your tree’s too tall you have to cut it down you’re blocking my view, or it’s dropping all the leaves and branches, and you need to clean it up,” or what have you.
Those damn trees. I’m very familiar with the tree argument.
People typically call PCRC and say, – “Hey, I’ve got some conflict. We need some help with the mediator.” They have a large group of volunteer mediators to assign the mediation case to a mediator. All of the services are supported by volunteers.
PCRC creates these different programs that help the community, and then they also collect a large group of people who would like to volunteer to help the community
and brings those two groups together.
I am a volunteer conflict transformation teacher or instructor. All my time that I give to the program is volunteered.
They have several trainings that they offer. If someone wants to become a mediator, PCC has a 40-hour mediator certification course. I got certified through the san Francisco bar association. I was introduced to the program through a network partner.
The power of networking. What has surprised you most about working with the program?
How deeply they touch the community in every way, from families who have small children to kids going through the juvenile system, businesses, and people who are starting businesses to people in jail.
The outreach to every single sector in the peninsula. The roots they have there, and the number of touchpoints they have with the number of programs is quite impressive. It’s stunning to me.
They have programs that allow local governmental agencies to mediate discussions with the communities they serve.
For example, I was facilitating talks around Half Moon Bay. There had been a lot of different traffic changes proposed.
They were trying to collect public input from the citizens – do you want a traffic circle? Do you want a crosswalk? Do you want an overpass? How do you feel about the traffic in Half Moon Bay?
All the citizens came together with the city council members. Unlike a city council meeting where the council members are doing the talking, they do the listening. Members would pop into the different groups and listen. They were there to listen to the citizenry. People would say, you know what the Half Moon Bay traffic is terrible, or you know we think it’s a waste of time to do a traffic circle don’t do that. We’d like for you to do a crosswalk, or we want you to have a street light.
So, the citizens could give direct feedback, and that feedback went directly into the planning process.
This gives the citizens a voice in the decision process.
Absolutely, it’s fantastic.
What has been the most significant benefit for you as a volunteer?
I enjoy the conflict transformation work that I’m doing. that work is exciting to me. To hear about the justice system and to be interacting with the justice system or two different things. You can learn quite a bit.
It’s always been my view that the victimizers who are in jail were still victims before they became victimizers. To be able to go in to help them. Give them some value that they can take away and perhaps change their lives.
They are reducing recidivism, where prisoners come back into jail again and again. The fact that these programs can change their lives that way is powerful.
To be able to go into those classes with no judgment about who I’m teaching – who these people, are what they’ve done, what kind of crime they’ve committed – but to see them as people just like me and they’ve come upon hard luck. they’ve made some terrible decisions which landed them where they are. to have empathy and compassion for them just like you would for any other
business acquaintance or whatnot.
I think that is the biggest value.
How do you take back into your day-to-day mediation practice?
A lot of the communication skills that I teach I actively use in mediations. The mediation skills are carried over into my teaching as opposed to vice versa. The men I teach are at the basic level of communication and learn how to listen actively.
I help them learn how to mirror people, so I do a lot deeper dive into those same skills and strategies when I’m meditating. Much that it goes from the teaching to the mediation, but it’s more from the mediation to the teaching, and basically, these folks just really haven’t had a chance to experience this.
We very much appreciate you spending some time with us today and sharing your work. It’s some really exciting stuff.
Thanks so much for having me, Mike, and I encourage your listeners to check out the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) online, where you can see all the different programs or if they’re interested in becoming a volunteer.