On Friday, January 23, Lincoln Academy welcomed speaker Dan Klimov to the school’s weekly Community Meeting. Klimov spoke to the entire school population of more than 600 students and staff as part of a restorative justice process that is helping help him stay out of jail.
Klimov, now 23, was charged with vandalizing a closed Huse School in Bath in October 2014 when he was, in his own words, “black-out drunk.” After his arrest on felony charges, Dan faced the possibility of a significant jail sentence that would take him away from his wife and young children, and likely cause his to lose his full-time employment. With the help of the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, Klimov is working through a process that attempts to repair the harm done through his actions.
Because Klimov’s actions began with substance abuse, a condition of his restorative process is to speak to young people about how he started down such a destructive path.
At the LA Community Meeting, Klimov began his story by describing moving from Ukraine to Boothbay when he was in second grade. “More than anything, I wanted to fit in, to belong. I always felt like an outsider, since I was not born in this country.” When he was still a young middle schooler, Klimov starting smoking cigarettes, then drinking alcohol, and ultimately using and selling illegal drugs. “Drinking and smoking made me not care what people thought of me,” he said.
A naturally good student, Klimov maintained good grades through middle school, but high school was a different story. “My grades dropped, I was skipping school, and I didn’t even realize that what I was doing was classic addict behavior, because everyone around me was doing the same things: drinking, smoking weed, selling drugs, stealing.” His behavior spiralled out of control until the vandalism incident landed him in trouble with the law.
After his arrest, Klimov’s attorney requested that his case be referred to the Restorative Justice Project. Dan said of an early meeting, “After that first restorative circle I was totally blown away by that circle of people who wanted to help me, despite everything I had done…. Restorative justice has done so much for me. I realize now that if you surround yourself with people who want to better themselves, it is much easier to better yourself. But if you surround yourself with people who are stuck in a rut, you get stuck in a rut yourself.”
“I am extremely proud of Dan for sharing his story with the Lincoln Academy community, and the hard work he has done over the past five months” said Kilmov’s Restorative Justice Program mentor Heidi Shott. “The relationships he’s building through his community service, and with the other steps he is taking to make amends for the harm he has caused have allowed him to make strong personal connections across the community. Though not every offender is a good match for the restorative justice process, the transformation that can transpire in a young person is a wonder to behold. I am honored to be his mentor.”
As part of his restorative process, Klimov has done many hours of community service at Bath Housing Authority helping the elderly and others in need.
“The Restorative Justice Program has given me the opportunity to speak to you today,” Kilmov told the Lincoln students and staff. “If I had received this message when I was in high school, maybe I would not have ended up here today. I have put my family’s happiness and livelihood in jeopardy, and I have so many regrets. I hope you will hear my message and not have to make the same mistakes I have made.”
A week before his presentation at Lincoln Academy, Dan was sentenced to a two years in jail with all but 20 days suspended. Because the date set for completion the conditions of his restorative justice agreement, which includes restitution to the City of Bath, is in August, the judge took account the progress he has made so far and granted him a stay that will allow him to begin serving his sentence in September.
Jake Abbott, Lincoln Academy’s Restorative Justice Coordinator, helped organize Kilmov’s visit. Abbott is helping to move Lincoln toward using restorative practices in school discipline, and training faculty members to use community circles within the school day. “Using restorative practices in school creates the opportunity for students to examine their own behavior and look at mistakes as something to learn from, rather than just accepting a punishment and moving on. This type of practice requires extra organization, but in the long run, the value in teaching someone about their impact on their community and how to right their wrongs is worth the extra effort. We are, afterall, shaping the future citizens of our world.”
How did Lincoln Academy students react to Klimov’s honest and personal speech on Friday? “It really opened my eyes to the effects of alcoholism and drug abuse,” said Finn Dworkin, a sophomore from Newcastle.
Alejandro Ramos, a senior from Spain, said, “I learned that my actions, good or bad, affect other people and there are ensuing consequences for every decision.”