I’ve always loved this segment on NPR an anxiously tune in on Mondays to hear what it is that people believe. I have almost written this essay several times, but have never quite been able to articulate a succinct statement of belief. That was before…before I spent 3 days with some amazing men in a maximum security prison. Now I can say with every part of me that I believe we are all the same. I am an instructor with a batterer intervention program and have had some interesting experiences as a result. The most recent one involved a restorative justice circle in a prison. The purpose of the circle is to bring victims, offenders, and community members together to talk about the harm that comes from an offense. To say that there was healing in that prison classroom would be an understatement at best.
It would have been more palatable if these men were horrible monsters, but instead I met people. They are sons and fathers and brothers and friends and like me they are people. Some of these men have committed offenses that would make most of us shudder, but we have all hurt people and we all will hurt people again. We aren’t really that different after all. We are all the same. It’s true that I have made different choices in my life that have not lead me to incarceration, but I have also been faced with different choices to make. Many of the men, who I will now always carry with me, will never be free again and even in that place were able to grow and stretch and learn in a profound way. I have never been more challenged by a group of people and knowing that we are all working together in our communities (prison or otherwise) to find peace and solace makes me feel like I am a part of something big.
I am a better person because of this experience. I am changed in a way that I cannot yet put into words, but I feel a huge responsibility to be the kind of person that is always working in my community side by side anyone who is there because we are all the same. And if my path someday again crosses with one of these men I will know that he is my brother.
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