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Not Our Home

By Anne Dalke

November 2, 2019

Halloween 2019. My entry has been easy tonight. I have finally found the right bra, one I can wear to get through the metal detector without setting it off, having to go through again and again, then be wanded—until, eventually, the C.O. shrugs and lets me through. Tonight, though, I am wearing my L.L. Bean duck boots; the grommets also set off the alarm. I take off the boots, throw ‘em through the scanner, pass through myself--and am in. I am here to help with the extended introductory workshop. Abdullah and Rich are facilitators. We are missing the other outside volunteer, Pastor Leslie (not sure why). So it’s me and twenty men in brown. Two are missing (not sure why). It’s a good session, about values—what they are, who we learned them from, how to learn new ones, when the ones we were taught don’t serve us anymore. Especially what happens when values are in conflict. How to sort out the confusion, for example, when the injunction not to snitch (= the value of loyalty) runs up against the need to protect a member of your family who has been harmed? A participant says, “If you don’t live by your values, they aren’t your values.” But it isn’t that simple. We can have values that don’t align with each other. Someone else speaks of how he’s been wrestling with the question of his responsibility. It’s hard. “Is this alright?” Others affirm his struggle. Another participant says that his crime was the result of his trying to protect his family. Says how angry he is, angry a lot of time. Values in conflict.

When we close, I remind everyone that they have “homework for next week: read The Little Book of Restorative Justice. A participant, who goes by the name of Justice, says, “Anne, you can give us an assignment. But you cannot give us homework. This is not our home.” I am stunned. Of course this is not your home. I know this. And yet, in this group—gathered, sharing, being vulnerable, supporting one another as we struggle—it feels so much like what home is—being connected, being held, being heard, being attended to, claiming your voice and having it received—that I’ve lost touch with how fleeting this is. How temporary this home. And then: a return to prison.

--Anne was born and raised in the rural South. Crossing the Mason-Dixon line was the longest and probably the most important trip she ever took, because it enabled her to live, work and raise her children in the urban north. She was a college English professor for thirty-five years and now, in retirement, tutors writing at SCI-Chester and helps facilitate writing and Restorative Justice workshops at SCI-Phoenix. Writing is how she makes sense of what is happening to her and those round her.

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