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Walla Walla prison restorative dialogue

October 18, 2011

… As my conversations continued over the months with each person, I listened and we talked about anything they wanted. Eventually the idea of forgiveness came up with Colleen.

The word forgiveness triggers many emotions for people. It means different things to different people. While some restorative justice practitioners and trainers reportedly advise facilitators and mediators to, “Never mention the F word” to people they work with, I openly discussed forgiveness with Colleen.

Initially she explosively said, “I can never forgive for this!” I explained my understanding to her. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting Bob or dishonoring him. It is never right to condone bad behavior. Forgiveness can simply be taking the energy it takes being resentful and angry, and instead putting it into something positive that you want in life.”

… The meeting occurred on a dark cloudy day, and took about 4 hours. They were some of the most intense hours I have ever witnessed. The dialogue and outcomes were “unbelievable” according to prison staff and other observers.

At the end of the meeting Colleen said she wasn’t “ready to forgive,” but she sobbed and tightly hugged William. Earlier she has said, “You seem like a nice guy.” “I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances,” William replied.

Many of us cried during the dialogue including some strong looking men with many years experience as correctional officers. After Colleen hugged William, so did Melissa, and so did I. “It was the first time I was hugged in seven years,” said William afterwards.

I have kept in contact with Colleen, Melissa and William since the restorative dialogue and plan to indefinitely. Each one of their voices sounds stronger, they are more cheerful, and they are more hopeful about the future. “My life is completely changed for the better,” said Colleen. “It’s like my mom’s back” said Melissa. “I can sleep better,” said William.

Read the full article.


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