top of page

The Rules

By Janice Lion

I am listening to a narrow-faced man wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a stiff white buttoned-down shirt with a black and white name badge pinned on tell me there’s nothing he can do, he’s sorry, those are the rules, he has no power to override them and let me in.

Today, I’ve had it with the rules. I’m talking back to him, aggrieved, not knowing what plaintive or pissed-off words are spewing from my mouth. (Knowing it won’t make a difference either way- what I’m saying isn’t strong enough to get me in trouble, and it’s certainly not going to get me in.)

I turn on my heels and stumble-storm toward the wall of windows and glass doors, blurring past a crowd of people sitting in rigid rows of hard plastic seats. (Waiting for their turn to follow the rules and be ejected if they can’t.)

I burst back out into the bright summer evening and float across the gravelly pavement parking lot to my car.

This is the third time in two months I have been turned away, and this time I am feeling the deep loss, and the anger and fear of it. My hands wouldn’t clear the ion scanner, a machine set up to detect dangerous substances and keep them out of the prison. The first time, it was “volunteer appreciation” night, and my being turned away felt comically ironic. And anyway, it was my turn—I had seen others turned away for various reasons. The second time my hands failed, I took it more personally. I was baffled and frustrated—what was I doing wrong? Was it the gas I pumped the day before, or the Wawa order screen I touched? Did I handle money? Half a dozen other guesses run through my many conversations on the subject.

This time, I had tried all manner of keeping my hands from touching anything suspicious, avoiding even the soap dispensed in the visitor waiting room bathroom, and still came up contaminated.

This time, I’m missing one of the most important sessions of the advanced RJ workshop, about circle processes. I was really looking forward to circling up to learn with and from my colleagues and fellow participants. I know the guys inside are now wondering where I am, and missing me. I am missing the group, and missing from the group.

The rules aren’t working for stated purposes— I am bringing in nothing illegal, I mean no harm. I am here as a volunteer, a rule-follower. This is just one little way the rules designed for public safety, for accountability, are just not working justly.

--Janice is the Haverford College coordinator of Let’s Circle Up, and a member of its Steering Committee. She serves as associate director for the Haverford College Center for Peace & Global Citizenship. In her early career, Janice worked as a legal advocate for domestic violence victims/survivors, which is when she first learned about and felt drawn to restorative justice, and became committed to social justice movement building led by people most directly impacted by structural injustice.


Recent Posts

See All

Waking Up

by Sophia Abraham-Raveson I am entering a room I have never been in before. The lighting is bright and harsh, and the eyes that I see look energized and awake, unlike my own. It is 8am, and I have bee

A Moment of Joy

by Bobbi Smisko I arrived at Phoenix Prison on November 29, 2018 at 5:30 pm to volunteer in my weekly restorative justice program. Once one arrives inside the program services wing, finding a guard a


by Bobbi Smisko I walked down the ramp as I left the prison last evening, my walker rumbling before me on the uneven cement.. My fellow volunteer walked down the steps. As we met at the bottom and w


bottom of page