Wow… What a week.
Last Thursday, Theresa and I were inside the San Bruno County Jails, running our weekly Training of Trainers program. Just another day.
We were training the men to present the “Violence Is” activity, and as part of it we were having a discussion about the various forms of violence and harm. We recognize that violence is not just a physical act that you do to someone else. The deepest pains in society are the emotional scars that we all carry inside.
Then, one of the men spoke up. This young man had been one of the quieter, less engaged men in our group since we started this program over two months ago. Typically, he would just sit back and not really say much. He even told us later that he was thinking about leaving our group. But on that day, he shared with us the pain that he had been carrying, something he had not had the space to voice before. And his courage, his pain and his tears opened up the entire group in a way that transformed the entire room.
Soon, almost everyone inside that room were sharing their stories, showing their courage by being vulnerable in an environment where tears and vulnerability are seen as a sign of weakness and shunned.
But as we say in the world of nonviolence, “hurt people hurt people,” and unless we can all find ways to release our internal hurt, we often end up taking that pain out on ourselves (alcohol, drugs, low self-esteem) or on others. And in a world with so much pain, tears are great medicine to heal. It was a humbling honor for us to sit in circle with these men.
The next morning, with these men’s stories still fresh on my mind, I headed down to Southern California with Gandhian Nonviolence trainer Chris Moore-Backman to conduct a two-day Gandhian/Kingian workshop for the women of A New Way of Life. Calling A New Way of Life a “women’s transitional home” doesn’t nearly do them justice. Not only do they provide a home for women coming home from prison, they provide a family and a sense of purpose. Run entirely by formerly incarcerated women, they operate several homes, a distribution center that provides free household goods of all kinds, and empowerment programs so that these women can become the leaders of a movement that ends mass incarceration.
That night, we got to the retreat center just outside of LA and walked right into a healing circle that they were holding by a camp fire. And there, the women were sharing their stories. And their struggles. And their tears.
From going to the healing circle inside the men’s jail to the healing circle outside for formerly incarcerated women in a matter of 24 hours was quite the trip. Again, I just felt humbled to be in that space and to witness such courage.
We had an incredible time the next two days with these women. I had known Susan, their founder, for over 10 years now, but had not connected with her in years so it was great to see her and meet some of the women who are now part of her program. And after the workshop, we got to see a tour of some of the homes they run.
It was an incredible, tiring, humbling and healing week.
I remember saying during the Oscar Grant protests that unless we find ways for young people to release their legitimate anger in healthy and safe ways, their anger will be spilled over into the streets. I am so glad to see these spaces being created where people can express their grief, and be held in community so that their pain can be transformed into a commitment for social change.
Next up: Nonviolence training for youth at Street Academy High School. Onwards.
Check out more pictures from our workshop with A New Way of Life