Not About the Book

“How was the book tour?” is one of many questions people have been asking in the last couple of days. There are so many possible responses to that question, so many experiences and challenges and things I’ve learned along the way that I will need to reflect on and process and ponder. It may take me weeks, even months to fully understand and formulate my replies to that question.

But my initial response is this: Though “book tour” was the initial concept for this cross-country trek, it turns out it really wasn’t about the book after all. (sorry, Brethren Press!)

In early speaking gigs, before the cross-country trip, I saw that the stories I shared of real people who Marie Hamilton worked with in the prisons seemed to open people’s minds and hearts. Her stories put a human identity on scary perceptions about prison inmates. Her stories challenged notions of crime and punishment and justice.

And I thought maybe, just maybe, with hearts and minds opened, people might be able to hear a larger message about a different kind of justice. And maybe if they could hear that message, they might be inspired to act. I realized it was idealistic of me, naïve, even arrogant to think anything I might say could accomplish any of that. But I also thought it was at least worth a try.

So I started going beyond just telling Marie’s stories to talking about the statistics, the realities and the failures in our American criminal justice system. I talked about other approaches, like restorative justice, alternatives to incarceration, offender re-entry mentoring. I talked about needed changes in the system.

It 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” stuff. Sometimes people seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems I was describing. Some people didn’t believe that the numbers I quoted could possibly be right. Some expressed strongly opposing views of what to do with “those people.” 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 limited realm of knowledge. I explained that I’m still learning about all of this, still trying to understand, that this is a huge, complex system with many issues and no simple solutions.

But also, that there ARE things that each of us can do. In fact, that became my very favorite question. My heart swelled and I blinked back tears every time someone asked, “What can we do?” Because I believe that is the ultimate question – the question that can lead us to change.

Of course, there’s no way to know where that question might lead anyone who came to hear what they thought was going to be a “book talk” of stories about a kind-hearted lady who volunteered in prisons. And maybe some of the people who came to those events walked away disappointed, because they didn’t really get a “book talk.”

So, if this cross-country trek wasn’t about the book, what WAS it all about?

A dear friend once told me, “Remember that the seed never gets to see the flower, Melanie. So you need to just keep sowing seeds and trust that something beautiful will grow.”

That feels to me like a pretty good description of what I’ve been doing over the past 10 weeks – sowing seeds. Of course, it takes a whole mix of just the right elements for a seed to germinate – sun, rain, air, fertile ground, to name a few. And I understand that some seeds may never germinate. Some may thrust up spindly seedlings, then wither and die. Some may start to take root, but be mowed down or yanked up, either carelessly or intentionally. Some may falter due to drought, flood, lack of sunlight or toxins in the environment.

But when a tiny seed does germinate, take root, grow sturdy and strong, and produce beautiful flowers, it’s one of the greatest miracles on Earth. I believe in miracles. And I plan to keep sowing seeds.

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

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