Renewed

After a hectic couple of days with 3 speaking gigs in 36 hours, I had a chance to regroup in Myrtle Beach, where I visited my parents at the condo they’ve rented for a month. What a treat to catch up with them for a few days, before setting off on my own again! Sharing stories with them of the people I’ve met and places I’ve been in the first week of this journey has helped me to process all of it, and their perspective and encouragement have been invaluable.

And they’ve spoiled me! They’ve put their vacation schedule on hold to accommodate me. Yesterday, they drove me all over town to take care of errands I needed to get done. Dad washed my RoadTrek and helped me get the propane tank refueled. Mom fed me well, washed the stack of dishes that had piled up in the RoadTrek sink while I was traveling and packed a bag of food for me to take on the road. I was able to do laundry, catch up on emails, voice mails and correspondence. As a special bonus, I got to spend some time with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Larry, who are also vacationing here. All of this, combined with balmy weather, a comfortable bed and long, hot showers have been good for body and spirit.

And I continue to be uplifted by the people I meet, their stories and their response to the message of restorative justice.

On Tuesday, before heading to Myrtle Beach, I spent hours at the Campbell University Law School in Raleigh, NC, where Jon Powell, a former criminal defense attorney, has created the Juvenile Justice Project, an innovative restorative justice program within the law school. He teaches Campbell Law students about restorative justice and victim offender mediation as part of one of their regular classes, then the students become mediators in the center he’s set up on campus. Judges refer young people who have committed crimes to the center, and Jon and the Campbell students work with the young offenders and their victims to see whether they’re willing to meet face to face for a mediation. Their program has been recognized by the Governor’s Crime Commission of North Carolina.

Before my presentation to the students, Jon gave me a tour of the law school, including the courtroom within the Campbell University Law School where Gregory F. Taylor was exonerated last week after 16 years in prison, through the work of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only state innocence commission of its kind in the US. Jon said it was a powerful and moving moment, to see an innocent man finally set free, and as we stood in that now-silent courtroom, tears sprung to my eyes.

I met with his students over their lunchtime. We had some terrific dialogue as I shared a few RJ stories from my involvement with LAVORP back in PA, and from Marie Hamilton’s mediation work with Pennsylvania’s Dialogue Program for Victims of Violent Crime, run through the Office of the Victim Advocate. It was helpful to compare notes about funding and referral sources, training, certification and qualifications of mediators, and processes and procedures for these various programs.

In addition to his students, Jon had invited Scott Bass to attend my talk at Campbell. Scott and his wife run Nazareth House, a Catholic-worker hospitality home that offers lodging, meals and support to families of death row inmates when they visit their loved ones at the nearby Central Prison.

Scott is also the North Carolina Co-Coordinator of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, a national organization of family members of victims of both homicide and executions who oppose the death penalty in all cases. Scott has been on the front lines of work against the death penalty for years and his heart and passion for this work was evident as we continued our conversation over lunch.

Here in Myrtle Beach, I spoke at the Wednesday evening Lenten series at Trinity United Methodist Church. Few audience members had ever heard of restorative justice, but the topic was relevant for their congregation, since the United Methodist denomination has designated RJ a priority focus area for their global justice ministries. After I shared some stories about Marie’s programs in the prisons, a few people expressed strong dissent with spending money on such programs. This led to a lively debate on the costs and benefits of rehabilitation and education versus incarceration.

A former school teacher stressed the importance of teaching conflict resolution and anger management skills to kids at a young age, something she’d done during her 30 years of teaching, but which she said often is not taught now due to pressures to focus on teaching subjects that are part of the standardized testing.

One woman suggested that if more employers were willing to hire people coming out of prisons, there would be less recidivism. A man across the room said he’d had bad experiences hiring people with criminal records, but a woman sitting nearby said she’d hired a number of people who’d been in prison and had not had problems.

Other discussion topics included whether legalizing marijuana would have a significant impact on the prison population and what should be done about “white collar” criminals like Bernie Madoff.

A former prison guard who had worked on death row at the women’s prison in Raleigh, NC, told of how the women there had been eager to participate in any program that allowed them to still have some purpose in life. He said many of the women on death row had taken great joy in being able to knit baby blankets and clothes for preemies. He encouraged others in the audience to remember that, though they’ve committed crimes, people in prisons still deserve to be treated as human beings.

All in all, it was a lively and wide-ranging discussion. Pastor Steve Brown closed the evening by inviting anyone who’d been touched by the stories I’d shared to consider how they might respond in some way here in their own community. I feel hopeful that he will keep the conversation going here and encourage those who may be willing to take action.

So, with that, it’s time to get back into my rig and make my way further south, first to Beaufort, SC, to visit one of Marie Hamilton’s favorite people, Bill Love, former superintendent at the Huntingdon State Prison. Marie and Bill worked together for years and Bill helped to get many of Marie’s programs into Huntingdon and elsewhere. What a joy it will be to meet and talk with him!

Then, it’s on to Hilton Head, where I’ll be speaking at the Providence Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, before heading back north to Charlotte, then Asheville for the Execute Art Not People events to commemorate Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Awareness Week.

Until next time, peace and blessings,
Melanie

QUESTIONS OF THE DAY:
What stories of injustice or the suffering of others have touched you? How might you help?

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

Next: Troubling the water

Previous: Shine a Light

Comments