Meeting on a Hill

As we drove up the hill I saw the formidable limestone walls and it was all familiar again.  Beautiful fluffy snow was coming down and the wind was blowing as we walked across the parking lot to the main doors.  Before I stepped through the doors I turned and looked out at the stark openness and felt the isolation.  After getting through security we took the walk down the cold and dark hallways to our meeting room.  We got to our meeting room and started to set up the chairs and sofas in a classic circle based on Aboriginal talking circles.  This wouldn’t be just any circle.  Stony Mountain Penitentiary hasn’t changed much in the 20 years it’s been since I last visited.  But that’s a whole different story.  This visit was very different from the last two but the first and second definitely led up to this.

I have been getting together with a community group twice a month since September.  We get together in “circles” to discuss ideas about justice, truth, family and faith, among other things.  We were all strangers in September from all walks of life and all ages but now we are friends, we trust each other.  But we weren’t just meeting for ourselves we were preparing to meet up with a group of prisoners who have been meeting inside Stony for a year.  I’m not sure if this has ever happened before; “insiders” and “outsiders” sitting in a circle discussing some of the most complex subjects in humanity.  And this was our first meeting.  The meeting is confidential but I can give you insight from my perspective.

We began with a simple circle of our names, where we are from and our favorite dessert.  Throughout the meeting the guys were open and honest with us and we were the same.  It was pretty amazing to realize what we were there to accomplish; to find middle ground on these complex issues.  And there were times when it got a little politically heated but everyone was willing and able to bring it back down.

After a coffee break we came back to the circle to have our first discussion.  Justice.  We each gave our idea of justice.  What had to happen to achieve justice, how it affects each of us from our own perspective.  And is it even possible?  It was a very interesting and engaging discussion.  Two groups from what society would think are opposing sides were able to come to a consensus in the end on justice.  Nothing short of amazing.  One of the most memorable moments for me was when one of the guys from the inside said that he found it so amazing that when we were giving our definitions on justice you couldn’t tell who was from the inside and who was from the outside.

Other than one of the facilitators I am the only “victim” in the group.  I prefer survivor.  And I wasn’t sure of how to handle my situation but I just trusted that my story would be told at the right time.  I have to say that I was hoping that it would be sooner than later just because I felt a bit dishonest, like I was holding something from them.  I couldn’t answer questions as fully as I would have preferred.  So when I was asked by a facilitator what brought me to the group I took a deep breath and decided that this must be the right time.  I told them my story, the short version, and about my Mom and the work that she had done in Restorative Justice in the early 80’s and her influence on my decisions in this.  I was as vague as possible and didn’t give out names or places.  I’ve learned how to tailor my story to my audience over the years.  And I told them how I have never had hate or revenge in my heart only a need for understanding.  They sat with their jaws open and someone told me later that there were tears in their eyes.  I want to show them that there is hope.  Hope for them.  Hope that they can one day meet with their victim’s families, as many of them wish to do.  And I hope that I can help them to understand their victim’s families better.  And I would like to ensure that at these men will remember me when they do leave prison and know that there is another way.  They have choices.

First and foremost I belong to this group to honor the memory of my parents.  I know that this is what both of them would want.  Neither of my parents was about hate or revenge.  They were both about healing and redemption.  I am continuing that legacy for their memory, my freedom and my children’s future.

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