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"This is a gift - pain": Honouring Jim Mandelin

In my life path, I have been lucky to bump into a number of inspirational and generous individuals, who acted as signposts for the direction that I have taken. Despite being raised within a family of lawyers, their narrative just did not fit with my core, and, early in my teenage years, I felt that I had to try and find what makes me happy by taking risks, and releasing myself to the world. In this search, I would sometimes go one step forward and two steps back, losing myself and those who were supporting me. I even reached a crossroard where the path on the left would lead me to a career of offending and hurting, and the path on the right ... where I am today.

I now ask myself what were the forces that led me to the right path, and what was the shared denominator between all these influential figures?
Each life path is different, but I believe the answer to this question is the same for everyone. And that is the gift that we are all given to be able to transform ourselves through a process of constructive pain that sometimes can be so unbearable that can lead us to even hurting ourselves and those closest to us.

I felt that pain many times and indeed wrote about it (Gavrielides, 2013, 2021), elevating it to becoming the very philosophical foundation and justification of restorative justice - I called this "the restorative justice pain". Drawn from the Greek tragedy concept of catharsis, this pain initiates a process of self-reflection that gradually leads to transformation and happiness. This is not the place to repeat what I have written elsewhere. I write this article with the sole purpose of honouring one of those special figures who helped me identify this pain, learn to respect it and use it to my advantage: Jim Mandelin.

Vancouver 2012
Theo, Jim, Brenda, Evelyn and friends - 2012

First encounters

I first met Jim in person in May 2012, when I was invited by Professor Brenda Morrison to visit Vancouver to give a lecture on restorative justice and riots. It's been over 11 years, but I still remember joining Jim on a walk in a Canadian forest. I first found out about Jim's suffering and how he used it to become who he was during this walk. It was too much for me to process at the time, but deep down I felt I knew Jim. I also felt that what he was passing onto me that day was just the trigger for a new life-path. As I was processing this feeling, we bumped into a field of totems. We both looked at each other in silence ...

Jim and Theo's walk
A picture I took during our walk

The power of story telling

Jim said: "The purpose of telling my story is to show that people can and do change their lives and that I was a victim long before I ever became an offender. My story includes the trauma I endured as a child, the extreme isolation and loneliness that ensued. I explain how the trauma and paralyzing isolation created overwhelming pain for me, warped my critical thinking and how all that pain advanced my need to self-medicate. I describe the exact point at which I started to hate and what event precipitated this spiral. I recount my association with the different violent criminal associates I became involved with, their importance to me and their subsequent influence over me in my varying states of intoxication. I dare to share my near death experience and how it cast me into recovery and out from underneath my grim existence. I want to show how important kindness and compassion was and continues to be in my life. I explain what I have had to do to rebuild my life and how I have had to restore my broken relationships wherever possible, before I could heal and especially the relationship with myself."

The power of story telling in reconciliation and healing processes, such as restorative justice, is well documented. What isn't is the shared denominator between these stories, i.e."pain".

Jim and I met again in November of the same year, as I was invited to go back to give the memorial lecture for the late restorative justice pioneer, Liz Elliott. By a strange coincidence, my lecture was about the pain that I now write about, and Jim was also talking about. During this time, I also met Jim's wife, Alison Diesvelt, an artist and an educator

Jim said: "The truth is that the process of healing and of finding out why I had gotten so wreaked was a slow and sometimes a lot more painful than I could have ever imagined. However, very early in my recovery, I made myself a deal. I said to myself and to the people around me that if I had to crawl through broken glass on my bare belly for five years to make it through to the good side of life, I would do it. I had nothing to lose. A lot of times I really felt that I was crawling through broken glass. However, the determination was fierce and I told myself every day that I was going to make it. I said to people I wanted to change so bad that nothing else mattered"

My interview with Jim: Offenders no More

In November 2017, I interviewed Jim after many exchanges and a successful publication of his story in the book I edited in 2015 "Offenders no More". The interview was published in this forum, giving me further inspiration and determination. Jim's chapter can be downloaded from the link below:

Offenders No More
Download PDF • 8.36MB

In both his interview and chapter, Jim reminded me: "I have realized through all of my self-reflection, probing, studying and reading that there was one main pertinent idea about my offender behaviour.

I saw how fear was my constant companion and I have come to believe that fear was the foundation to all bad things that we humans do to each other and our environment. I also believe that fear is the opposite of love. You give me the toughest guy; I will give you the most afraid guy. The more afraid I became, the harder I had to work at rising above that fear. The more violent I became, the more fear took hold and so the more violent I had to become."
Offenders no More
Jim & Theo's books: We are not offenders

This is a gift: surrender to fear, pain and kindness

Life then took the best of me, and I lost touch with Jim. I was getting his updates from our friends, reminding myself to get in touch. This week, I was told that Jim passed away after years of fighting cancer. Yet another battle for Jim, an enemy that I have also got to know, as my father was taken by it.

I am still shocked and, until this morning, also angry with myself. Angry because I never sent that email to Jim to give him my thoughts and wishes. My anger was replaced by gratitude and humility when Alison wrote to me "When Jim was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer I remember my shock and my tears, and then Jim holding my face tenderly in his hands and saying with utmost conviction,

“This is a gift”. He always saw adversity as something to learn and grow from. At that point I couldn’t see the gift in all the suffering he had already endured and that which he was yet to endure but I see it now, and maybe more clearly in the end, than he did."

How could I be angry, when all that my friend wished us to do is love ourselves, and surrender to our pain, learn from it and use it as the best ammunition against the temptation that leads to harming ourselves and others? To top this off, Alison told me that she and Jim spoke regularly of the work being done by myself and others in the restorative justice community and that they had a stuffed mouse in their car that was named after me, "Little Theo". She said that the mouse was a daily reminder of all the caring work being done around the world to make this a better place, particularly for our youth.

Little Theo

Over to you

I admitted many times that I find comfort and order for my nebulous ADHD brain by writing. Take this article for what it is, as we all try to be the best version of ourselves.

My condolences, huge admiration and gratitude to Jim's wife, Alison and his children Seth, Sirus, James, Jason and Lindsay.

If you have read so far, please take it as a sign that Jim's work is calling you, and please make good use of his videos, book and material.

  • Jim's work can be found here

  • You can purchase his book from here

  • You can write a memory or tribute to Jim on the memorial website prepared by his daughter here

  • You can access the first 3 chapters of Jim's book here

One of Jim's favourite quotes is “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ― Albert Einstein

Family and friends have set up the Jim Mandelin Education Fund - please consider supporting this cause. More information can be found here

Bumping into "Bamby" on our walk


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