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By Rebecca Weiker and Rita Chairez, guest contributors

As Restorative Justice practitioners, we strive to bring healing and transformation to everyone impacted by violence. We have both lost siblings to violence, and our journeys have taken us to a place we never imagined we would go to find our greatest healing: inside prison walls. We teach restorative justice classes in prisons, and also hold days of healing in the community for people who have lost loved ones to homicide. We have accompanied many survivors as they have shared their stories with the men and women inside who have committed to a path of accountability and amends.

2019 National Crime Victims' Rights Week

2019 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 7-13. This year’s theme: ‘Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future’ celebrates the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed. Learn about CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services here at https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/

Last year, when we learned that the theme of National Crime Victim’s Rights Week was “Enlarge the Circle, Include All Victims,” we realized that we wanted to recognize all of the survivors we work with, both inside and outside of prison. In the Restorative Justice class we teach at CSP-Los Angeles County, the participants are all serving life sentences for serious violent crimes. Over the many weeks of the class, as the men worked to “connect the dots” between their early experiences and later violent behavior, we realized that virtually every member of our circle had lost a loved one – a cousin, brother, best friend – to homicide. These losses had rarely been acknowledged, let alone mourned.

We approached Ericka Lake, the Community Resource Manager, about holding a Day of Healing that would allow survivors from the community to come together alongside incarcerated survivors for a day dedicated to self-care and healing. With support from Ms. Lake and Warden Asuncion, on April 13th 2018, twenty-five men incarcerated at CSP-LAC on Facility B, a level 4 yard, joined nine survivors from the community to spend a day together mourning, healing and honoring their loved ones.

The day included wellness practices to heal trauma, a guided meditation, writing letters to our loved one, sharing in small groups, and a shared meal. There were tears and deep sorrow, but also much laughter and connection.

The 2019 theme of National Crime Victims’ Week is “Honoring Our Past, Creating Hope for the Future,” and we will once again invite survivors, both inside and outside the walls, to come together for healing and connection.

Here, in the words of those who attended, is what the 2018 day meant:

  • “Until the Day of Healing, I had never once stopped to write down or even express myself to my dad who I lost 28 years ago. This one activity – when we wrote a message to our loved one – provided me with the courage strength, comfort and security to write my dad a letter of what I have been holding in for 28 years.”
  • “During the exercise where we were asked to close our eyes and imagine a safe place, I thought of my mother. As I listened to the speaker guide us, I felt my mother’s presence, which brought feelings of warmth and comfort. The gift I imagined my mother giving me was advice. She told me how to deal with life’s struggles and encouraged me to stay focused on the things in life that really matter, and practicing patience.”
  • “The activity that impacted me the most was when we broke into smaller groups and spoke about who we lost. The friend I lost was also my victim. As I spoke, the emotions overwhelmed me – shame, guilt, regret. But I also took accountability for my actions.”
  • “My deep thanks and kudos to all of you who participated. I have never experienced an event that brought together those who did harm and those who have lived through harm in the same space based on the commonality of their loss of a loved one to homicide, and it’s a brilliant idea. Please count me in for future such events.”
  • “I sat among inmates/brothers I never met before and I was open and receptive. One person’s story affected me to the point that I asked this brother if he ever needed anyone to talk to he now made an eternal friend. In prison, we don’t have very much of those.”
  • “Thank you for including me in such a powerful space and place. The guys were great respectful, insightful, and spoke from their hearts. It blessed me like never before in my healing journey. The guys shared how I blessed them so yes it was a great and meaningful day.”

This program was supported by a Long Term Inmate Program Grant from CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs. With thanks to Ericka Lake, Community Resource Manager, and Warden Debbie Asuncion, CSP-Los Angeles County for their support. For more information, contact Rebecca Weiker, Program Director at Re:Store Justice rebecca@restorecal.org and Rita Chairez, Program Coordinator at Healing Hearts Restoring Hope for those affected by homicide rchairez@hhrh-la.org.

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