In an effort to curtail incarcerations, district attorneys in some of California’s largest cities are opting to divert offenders away from jail time and into restorative drum circles. The practice is aimed at reducing taxpayer costs while soothing the criminal impulses of participants in the program.
At a downtown San Francisco park, a dozen men sit cross-legged on the ground holding their percussive instruments.
“Let the drums speak to you,” says Hippie Larry, a drum circle facilitator with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. “Let the rhythm of the drum transform the rhythm of your life. What is the drum telling you, Sweaty Mike?”
A young sweaty gentleman named Mike listens intently to the beating of his drum, carefully considering the subtle message contained in its rhythms. “It’s saying, I shouldn’t have knocked down that lady and stole her purse,” Mike says, while Hippie Larry bounces to the rhythm and nods in agreement.
“Groovy, you are becoming,” Hippie Larry intones. “Internalize the vibrations. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Prepare to skip into a new groove and emerge on the other side of time.”
The program is called Bongo Fury and it’s just the latest weapon in a whole arsenal of restorative justice programs progressive DAs are deploying to reduce incarcerations and repeat offenses.
A man named Sam, sporting a showing scalp flat top, bangs violently on his bongos, nearly beating the cover off them. “The music is thud-like,” Sam shares with the group.
Hippie Larry is excited to see that Sam appears to finally be making a breakthrough. “That’s the kind of progress you like to see. Now if we can just keep them from pawning all the instruments,” Hippie Larry says.