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“Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What do you mean by seizing the whole earth; because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor”. City of God, St. Augustine
In another lifetime, my day job involved working with “special populations.” Initially I taught Welfare-to-Work and Career Development and over time moved on to work collaboratively within our community as a planning unit supervisor, designing and delivering programs that served refugees, at-risk youth, foster youth, and ex-offenders. Such programs are meant to assist in assimilation of refugees and in the transition from foster youth programs or incarceration to integration into the mainstream population.
These programs involved a range of services – General Education Diploma, English as a Second Language, vocational training, case management, mental health counseling and support groups. Because early in my career my work included training, I had first hand contact with clients, including at one point going into prisons to do some preliminary work toward successful transitions and lower recidivism rates. Later, writing grant applications and assisting in the development of Requests for Proposals required hosting focus groups with stake-holders, which included our prospective clients.
This experience was quite enlightening for a kid who was raised and educated in convent schools. I was equally appalled and inspired: appalled by the ways in which our culture and government and even well-meant social programs can entrap and inspired by the depth of faith and courage I witnessed in people who had crushing barriers to successful and sustainable employment and integration. Many of these barriers were artificially created by ill-informed perspectives and biases and sometimes cruelty on the part of the general population and by lawmakers.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
There were certainly a lot of clients who clearly had exercised poor judgement or simply (often devastatingly) had no idea of the impact their actions had on the lives of others; but, there were those many whose incarceration was born of poverty, lack of education and opportunity, lack of parental guidance and presence, racism, learning disabilities and mental illness. Among other things, the great lesson – and the great disappointment – of that period in my life was that the U.S. justice system was rife with injustice. That was true all those years ago and never more so than it is now.
Today, one of the great travesties is the move from publicly run prisons to corporate management and exploitation. You will often see prison management companies advertise the provision of education, training and other services meant to make the general public believe they act with good conscience. If you review stockholder materials, however, it is blatantly obvious that recidivism rates are a selling point. Privately managed prisons have a vested financial interest in high prison populations and a high percentage of returns to prison. Hence, the way prisoners are treated IS CRIMINAL. All things considered, this is a modern-day example of the view St. Augustine’s pirate held: “I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.”
© 2017, Jamie Dedes
As published in the July 2017 issue of The BeZine. Read the whole magazine HERE.
The video below provides an overview of the corporate prison complex.
If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to watch the video.
July 15, 2017
This month’s publication focuses on Restorative Justice. This is a topic that is dear to me. I am the Director of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition. I have been working with incarcerated folks and those touched by incarceration since 2003. I have seen the ripples of harm that have come. There is harm to the victim, of course. But there is also harm to the person who committed the harmful act, harm to their families, and harm to the communities that encircle all of these people.
Restorative Justice is an en vogue term. Everyone wants it but we don’t know much about how to do it. Most of us look backwards at the ancient ways of first peoples such as the Māori people of New Zealand or the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation people of the Yukon. We lift their practices and bring it forward into a defined court case.
This somewhat misses the point.
The circling process that the first peoples used far pre-dates the term restorative justice. At the same time, restorative justice has become a term to be used by the justice system. And so we create another circling process that is set aside for the courts, jails, and prisons to use.
Circling or Peacemaking Circles, the process given to us by the ancients, is to be used everywhere and with anything: healing, sentencing, discernment. And it involves the entire community. The entire circle of ripples affected by an act. It is a big process. And that’s why we relegate it to the justice system.
Because if we don’t relegate it to the work of the justice system, that means we will have to change and do better. The first principle of the circle: You can only change yourself. As long as we make restorative justice the property of the courts, we don’t have to change. We don’t have to be more welcoming, giving, or inclusive. We don’t have to mentor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. But I have news! Great news of good tidings! Restorative justice, Peacemaking Circles, is, as the ancients say, the wisdom of the universe. It belongs to no one person and is there for all for the healing and transformation—not of the world, but of each one of us.
This issue about Restorative Justice and new forays into restoration is explored by our core team and guest writers. Each brings their own wisdom to the topic.
Writing on aspects of justice and restorative justice are: Myself, James Cowles, and Chris Hoke. Justice oriented creative writers are Lisa Ashley, Carolyn O’Connell, Paul Brookes, Rob Cullen, Charles W. Martin, Marieta Maglas, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Paul Brookes, Jamie Dedes and a short stories by Joseph Hesch, Lisa Ashley and Rachel Barton. Gail Stone offers a video that speaks to her faith and hope in restorative justice. I have also offered a moderated discussion that I led regarding zero incarceration for youth. Denise Fletcher teaches us how to put together Comfort Kit Baskets for the incarcerated.
We hope this issue will give you pleasure even as it provokes you. Leave your likes and comments behind. As readers you are as import to the The BeZine project, values and goals as are our contributors. Your commentary is welcome and encourages our writers. As always, we offer the work of emerging, mid-career and polished pros, all talented and all with ideas and ideals worth reading and thinking about.
In the spirit of peace, love (respect) and community and on behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines,
Terri Stewart, Guest Editor
How to read this issue of THE BEZINE:
Do You Hear What I Hear?, Terri Stewart
Justice the New Old Way, Terri Stewart
Hearing Voice Underground, Chris Hoke
Refuge, Reconciliation, Recidivism, James R. Cowles
Of Pirates and Emperors, Jamie Dedes
Comfort Kits, Denise Fletcher
Room at the Table, Terri Stewart
The Boy in the Park, Rob Cullen
Oscar Wilde in Prison, Marieta Maglas
Except where otherwise noted,
ALL works in The BeZine ©2017 by the author / creator