RESTORATIVE FREEDOM INITIATIVE BLOG
United States of America
At the end of April, I traveled to Chicago to encounter a series of organizations, parish groups, and associations that work in prison ministry, re-entry, and restorative justice. I was reminded of these words by Bryan Stevenson – which encapsulates his most revolutionary message – as I met big and small realities that, by fostering proximity with people in need, re-generate humanity in our society.
Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) is an oasis of peace in Chicago’s South Side. An urban farm provides beauty and fresh produce to the neighbors, as well as a place for community building, where anybody can walk –in and participate in tending the garden under the directions of the master gardener, Mary. The complex includes an art studio, a carpentry workshop, three transitional homes for formerly incarcerated men and women, a center for women and families, and the main center (for education and mentorship. The core of PBMR is restorative justice practiced through various forms of RJ circles. As I toured PBMR, shook hands with staff and volunteers, and heard their stories, I realized that “lived experience” is the conduit of change, no matter how little its reach might seem.
Kolbe House started years ago as a ministry to the people coming out of the Cook County Jail complex, just a few blocks away. A door where they can knock and ask for what they need has become a ministry that now brings around 60 volunteers to the county jail. Some of the people they serve have only one interaction with Kolbe House, and others come back to find staff and volunteers waiting for them. It is a front-line ministry, open to a longer-term engagement with the people they serve.
Thanks to Patrick Foley, a board member of Kolbe House, we screened Unguarded at two parishes in town. We convened a meeting at Loyola University with a group of scholars interested in criminal justice from different perspectives (criminology, sociology, and public policies). At the screenings, I met groups of parishioners involved with Kolbe House through One Parish, One Prisoner (OPOP), a ministry that originated out of Seattle that invites teams of parishioners of different churches to write to incarcerated individuals who will be released in two to three years. This model of accompaniment is of great interest to Jim and My Father’s House since his waiting list comprises over 100 men. Emily, from Kolbe House, offered to connect us with the ministry HQ in Seattle to get us started.
During our workshops on the APAC method, Denio often highlights that every APAC is different because it takes shape after the volunteers who are involved in it. This observation rings true, thinking of what I have witnessed in Chicago. As tempting as it is to imagine a one-size-fits-all solution or ‘model,’ it is the personal involvement of individuals with their stories, their spiritualities, and their talents that generates life. ‘Unguarded’ and the experience of APAC have the power to energize and confirm these experiences.
With RFI, we are entering into a new phase: we are planning to convene local conferences – starting with Chicago this coming Fall – where we can create a space for all these individuals and organizations to share their experiences, difficulties, and discoveries. APAC and its adaptation at My Father’s House have energized many, and we desire to combine forces to envision other concrete applications of this methodology across the country.
In June, RFI will conduct a special fundraising campaign on Raising4 to make phase two possible.
This work would not be possible without your continuing support. Thank you. We invite you to consider signing up for a recurring donation this month of May.
Alberto “Desa” De Simoni, Program Manager, Restorative Freedom Initiative
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