After Eight Years . . . Eight Days of Gratitude - Part 3

Here’s the third installment of my “8 days of gratitude” for the people who have been part of this journey, as I wind down my 8 years as Director of the #RMOforReturningCitizens:

Today I’m grateful for the many churches, colleges, civic groups, conference organizers, book clubs, libraries, and others who have invited me to speak about Grace Marie Hamilton’s work in the prisons, restorative justice, prisoner reentry, trauma, the maze of the criminal justice system, and related topics over the past 8+ years, and all that I’ve learned from them.

Despite my initial resistance to doing any public speaking, as the publication date for Grace Goes to Prison approached back in 2009, I realized that getting Grace Marie Hamilton’s stories out into the world was going to REQUIRE me to do some public speaking.

So, I cooked up a crazy scheme for a national book tour. Now, I’ll admit that I fantasized about what a “real” book tour would look like: upscale hotels, expense account meals, limos, and large audiences in national chain bookstores.

Instead, for ten weeks in early 2010, I drove a tiny camper van 8732 miles across the United States, stopping in 30 cities in 16 states to carry the message of restorative justice to 40 audiences. No fancy hotels or restaurants. No expense account beyond my own bank balance. No national chain bookstores. No red carpets or adoring fans or limos. Just 74 days of meeting and talking with people at colleges and churches and civic groups about a different kind of justice.

(here’s a link to my e-book about that experience: “The Grace Tour: 74 Days and 8732 Miles for Restorative Justice”)

Since the 40 speaking gigs on that 2010 book tour, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of being invited to speak to over 200 additional groups across PA and around the US. Some have even invited me back multiple times.

Getting up in front of all kinds of audiences, talking about crime and harm, punishment and retribution, justice and forgiveness – issues that were highly controversial and for some, deeply emotional — felt really risky at first. I second-guessed myself constantly and kept changing the content of my presentations.

Sometimes peoples’ eyes glazed over when I got to the “cold, hard facts” about our criminal justice system. Sometimes they seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems I described. Some didn’t believe that the statistics I quoted could possibly be right. Some expressed strongly opposing views of what we should do with (or to) “those people” in our prisons. A few times, people even got up and walked out.

But mostly, people listened . . . and then they shared stories and experiences and ideas of their own. They asked big questions – questions that were often beyond my realm of knowledge or experience.

They taught me the importance of asking challenging questions in our restorative justice efforts.

Often there were people in these audiences who were already involved in restorative justice work and they talked about their programs, challenges, what works and what doesn’t.

They taught me the importance of learning from and supporting each other in this work.

There was at least one person in every audience who had been a crime victim or survivor, a prisoner or returning citizen, or a family member of any of those. Some shared that openly, but most approached me privately to talk about their own experiences with the criminal justice system. They seemed to desperately need a listening ear, someone “safe” to talk to.

They taught me about the healing power of simply having someone who will listen to our story without judgment.

At one church where I spoke, the entire audience was wrestling in a deeply personal way with the message of restorative justice. Their congregation had a long-standing commitment to peacemaking and justice. But one of their own members, a 13 year-old girl, had recently been brutally murdered. They had just dedicated a memorial to her a few hundred yards away from where I spoke.

They taught me how painful and long the journey can be from harm to healing.

I have learned so much from the observations and responses of audience members, from the insightful questions people have asked, and from the stories they’ve shared of their own experiences and knowledge.

And I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities each of them has offered me to learn from them and to engage in thoughtful dialogue about these issues.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice book tour rmo

Next: After Eight Years . . . Eight Days of Gratitude - Part 4

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