After the brutal slaying of her teenage son, Janet Connors reaches out to her son’s killer to offer a chance for forgiveness. They team up with a group of mothers of murdered children to help young people in their community break the chain of violence and revenge.

“Possibly the most moving moment you’ll see on screen all year” 

–Peter Keogh, Boston Globe
Synopsis: 

CIRCLE UP tells the powerful story of a group of Boston mothers who seek true justice for their sons’ murders.  For these women, justice is not about revenge or mass incarceration but about healing, accountability, and community peace.

This documentary speaks to the practice and power of restorative justice. After the brutal slaying of her teenage son, Dorchester mother Janet Connors reached out to her son’s killer to offer a chance for forgiveness.  She lobbied the Department of Corrections for a year to become the first person in Massachusetts to hold a Victim-Offender Dialogue.  The film opens a rare window into the reconciliation between a murderer and the survivor of his victim.  This story is unique in that the perpetrator now works with Janet and other mothers to help prevent further violence.  Their form of community-based restorative justice is a welcome alternative in a time when hate and retribution have become state-sanctioned.

CIRCLE UP is a call to action for reframing approaches to crime and punishment through the lens of restorative justice, forgiveness, and accountability.

Reviews

“This groundbreaking story shares the true experience of what restorative justice looks and feels like – as few media pieces have.  Janet Connors and her fellow survivors light the path towards a positive future where violence is addressed and prevented rather than simply punished.”

–Mika Dashman, Restorative Justice Institute

“This is a documentary about the power of circles to bring healing not only to individuals but also to communities fractured by chronic racism, poverty, mass incarceration and violence.  It’s a film about the uplifting power of circle to heal the deepest loss – and about the power of love to heal individuals and their communities.“

–Prof. Carolyn Boyes-Watson, Suffolk University

"Circle Up" shows the power of restorative justice programs.” 

–Holly Henschen, Isthmus
Director's Commentary: 

As a person of mixed heritage, I am fascinated by the ways cultural practices are hybridized or “repurposed” far from their original context to address social issues.  When I first learned that Native American-inspired peacemaking circles were helping prevent and respond to violence in multi-cultural, urban settings, I was intrigued.  I spent five years researching circle work all over the country and then met my primary subject, Janet Connors, right near my home.

I was drawn to this Irish-American woman with a huge heart who learned to forgive her son’s murderers and work for personal and community healing.  A lifelong community activist, Janet responded to her own trauma by drawing on what she had learned from native elders about restorative justice.  Documenting her journey has been one of the great privileges of my life.