By Orlando "Pete" Melendez
June 21, 2016
I am sitting in a circle on a Friday morning in a prison class room, room 106. I am surrounded by strangers I've never met and have no connection to at all. In my psyche, I rationalize my being here only to receive a certificate to show parole. So, I ma not wanting to show much interest in this restorative justice workshop.
I am looking around and I see the nervous half smiles of multicultural diverse group of recently reincarcerated individuals. Some facial expressions are saying to me, I have nothing to contribute, so don't look in my direction
The workshop begins and the facilitators introduce themselves, and a small spark ignites inside of me. I say to myself, Hey, this might not be as dreadful as I initially thought. As the workshop moves from one experience to the next, I realize something unexpected happening. Individuals are letting loose and a free flow of voices and ideas fill the room.I am in awe of how this experience got so many guarded men to let down their defenses. Here we were, strangers to each other, but engaging in dialogue that is extremely personal and highly sensitive. These topics many of us have never shared with even our closest friends, but ere we were at a restorative justice workshop being interpersonal with people we didn't previously know.
By the end of the workshop, we formed a communal bond that only deeply personal dialogue could forge. And I realized this circle thing works. It heals and brings an awareness to the individual that everything he does affects another. From that self-realization, I have become a devoted practitioner of the restorative justice philosophy.