Cole pauses his swimming to catch his breath. He’s outside the bay now and angles for the island, still thinking about Circle Justice. Back in Minneapolis, Garvey explained that all the meetings Circle Justice holds are circles because life is a circle. Cole doesn’t have to go to the meetings, and he can’t go to the ones between the Keepers and Peter’s family. Peter’s family might help decide Cole’s sentence, which makes Cole insist that they’ll hang him—but Garvey points out that Cole already hung himself. On the night of the Hearing Circle, Cole nervously enters the basement of the local library. He’s allowed to enter without handcuffs, and the Keeper shakes Cole’s hand. Lots of people arrive. Cole nervously greets them, but he’s afraid of seeing Peter for the first time since the beating.
Cole’s insistence that Peter’s family will hang him is yet another way for him to blame others for what’s happening and to avoid taking responsibility. If they do send him to jail, it’ll be their fault for sending him, not Cole’s fault for committing a crime that warranted a jail sentence. When Cole is able to enter the Circle without cuffs, it does suggest that in theory, the Circle is trying to give Cole freedom. The program’s leaders aren’t to control him—rather, they want him to genuinely change and show that he can handle life without handcuffs.
Judge Tanner arrives, along with Nathaniel Blackwood and Cole’s dad. They’re both dressed in suits and look out of place. Cole’s dad sits on Cole’s left; when Cole’s mom arrived a minute later, wearing a party dress, she sits on Cole’s right. Cole feels as though his parents are treating this like a social event. His mom looks afraid, and Cole thinks this feels like public humiliation. Peter, Mr. and Mrs. Driscal, and Peter’s lawyer arrive. Then, the Keeper asks everyone to join hands for a prayer. Cole catches Peter staring at him and glares threateningly. When the Circle sits down, the Keeper explains that they’re not here to win or lose—Circle Justice is intended to heal, though healing isn’t easy. She holds up a feather and says that people may only speak when they hold it. People must be honest and respectful.
Because Cole thinks only of himself, it’s impossible for him to see how difficult this meeting probably is for his parents. His parents’ choice of dress suggests that, like Cole, they’re trying to stay strong and look put-together and reasonable, not like awful people who might be somehow responsible for their son’s behavior. It’s worth noting, though, that Cole’s mom looks afraid. Cole shows no interest in why this might be, but it’s worth considering that his mom might also have suffered her husband’s abuse and may therefore have good reason to be afraid in his presence.
The Keeper looks at Cole and points out that he has a history of anger and violence. Peter is still in therapy for his injuries. Addressing the group, she says that they must make both Peter and Cole well. As the feather moves around the circle, people introduce themselves. Cole’s mom nearly cries as she introduces herself. When Cole gets the feather, he squirms. He says he screwed up, apologizes to Peter, and says he wants help getting over his anger. People seem to like what he said. Cole’s dad introduces himself and says that he wants to make sure Cole doesn’t cause problems again. Nathaniel Blackwood insists that Cole should be released to his parents, not put in jail.
When the Keeper insists that the purpose of Circle Justice is to improve both Peter and Cole’s lives, it speaks to the mission of restorative justice: to treat crime like a symptom of things gone wrong in the community and to treat everyone who was hurt, not just the victim of the crime. However, because Cole sees himself as the only real victim here, he can’t fully appreciate the intent and doesn’t see the point of doing anything for Peter. Until he can acknowledge the humanity of those around him, he can’t heal or change his behavior.
When Peter introduces himself, he speaks slowly and haltingly. He didn’t sound like this before. Cole’s hands sweat. He didn’t mean to hurt Peter, but this wouldn’t have happened if Peter had stayed quiet.