October 29, 2010 - 6:37 PM
Traditionally, Inside-Out classes represent a single experience. Students, both from the university and from the correctional institutions, take a single Inside-Out class. They complete group projects together, go through an entire term of dialogue and group building, and then continue their lives, although often in a renewed and transformed way.
But transformation is a hard thing to contain, and students who have had experiences like this are rarely able to be contained and contented to go back to life as usual. So there is a great revolution within the Inside-Out Program, creating new ways for students to participate beyond that single class.
In Oregon, this means first that people are able to take multiple classes. Some of the inside students have already taken four classes. They are incredibly valuable classmates because of their previous experience and resulting comfort level in the classroom. So a single class has expanded to allow for multiple courses, all of which the inside students can receive credit for. This also means that the inside group is working on creating an Education Club on the inside, allowing for fund raising, event holding, and other privileges.
Then there's the Turned Inside-Out project, that included both inside and outside leadership and contributors.(http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/turned_insideout_magazine_complete) I hope that there will be future versions of the magazines, as well as future projects that allow for collaboration.
Last Friday, Sister Helen Prejean conducted an Inside-Out workshop on writing autobiography. All members of the workshops were previous Inside-Out students, both from the prison population and the University of Oregon group. The workshop was incredible: the twenty-four participants had a chance to dialogue with one another about writing, to do a brief writing exercise, and to work together to critique and praise one another's writing.
On the University side of things, we have been conducting a book club at the Serbu juvenile facility for four months. ( http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/book_club_pilot_project_concluded ) This is a unique and exciting opportunity for UO students to interact with youth, and to create a new and innovative program.
All this activity in Oregon has caused quite a stir in the national Inside-Out community. I am a part of the national Inside-Out Alumni steering committee, and we are working to advance alumni involvement on a national level. This includes not only encouraging new groups to form, but also in setting protocols and parameters for the new groups. There are thousands of alumni nation-wide, now, both on the inside and the outside. The outside group includes individuals who are still at their universities, and those who have graduated and moved on. Some are centered in states or regions that are extremely active in Inside-Out, and others are more active. Some, including Oregon alumni, have graduated and moved to other countries, let alone other cities. But everywhere there is an energy and desire to apply what we learned in the classroom into action in the wider world. The examples of Turned Inside-Out magazine and the book club are two new ways for students to stay involved, while maintaining the values of inside and outside involvement and ownership, as well as the overall rules and desires of the program.
Most exciting, for me at least, is the thought that we are part of something larger. Inside-Out happens across the country, and alumni groups are starting to demonstrate this. I have the opportunity of working with amazing alumni in Philadelphia, and to put protocols into place for future alumni action. Once we develop a working document of guidelines and best practices, I will be involved in encouraging and empowering other groups of students to take action in the places where they live.
We are not creating groups of "activists" in the sense of lobbyists or political advocates. Rather, we are empowering the direct encounter of individuals, and the exchange of ideas on a level that promotes dialogue and personal transformation.
I am so proud of the role that the University of Oregon is playing in this effort. I am excited about the future projects and current progress. There is so much to be done, and by enabling Inside-Out alumni to create and enact, we are developing the lasting structures to continue the transformation.
October 28, 2010 - 8:01 PM
I want to post a few of these pictures form the September trip with No More Deaths. Please check here (http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/no_more_deaths_fourth_trip) for stories of the week.
I wanted to share some of these pictures of the beauty experienced during this intense week on the US/Mexican border.
October 25, 2010 - 9:42 PM
During her visit to Oregon, Sister Helen Prejean attended four University of Oregon classes, held four major speaking events, was interviewed by four different film groups, and met with various local groups of activists and campus groups. I arranged these events, recruited for them, escorted Sister Helen to them, and was present as she delivered her message again and again. It was an amazing week, and one that involved an incredible range of emotions. I am exhausted and inspired by what I have seen.
As with her last visit to Eugene, a full appreciation for Sister Helen's visit will take several weeks to sink in. There was so much in the last week: the power of her stories, the depth of her knowledge, and the constant surprise of her humor. In the two-hour drive to Portland I heard more "nun puns" than you would believe. She shared Cajun jokes and an endless gentle teasing to all of us who worked with her. It was a joy to be with her, and a constant challenge to balance this joy with the strong sense of second-hand pain as she described her experiences with death row prisoners. This woman has witnessed the deaths of six men on death row, and carries the stories of many others. These are not statistics for her, but the vibrant faces of human beings. I can't tell you how many times I felt close to tears during this week, or how powerfully I feel now that I need to continue on this path toward a life of social justice activism.
I'm going to include here a homework assignment I've just drafted. It's for my "Perspectives in Conflict Resolution" class with Professor Jane Gordon. Sister Helen visited our class, and so of course I decided to the assignment of a "reflective response" to work through my reactions to Sister Helen's visit. Let me know what you think.
In addition to hearing Sister Helen speak in our class, I had the great good fortune of spending the week arranging her schedule and escorting her to events. I therefore was able to hear her speak about her life and work close to ten times during her six-day stay. I am fascinated by this woman who has dedicated her life to ending the system of state-sanctioned killing. I have rarely met someone who approaches her life and work with such joy as she does, despite of recognizing the trauma and horror of the things she has witnessed. I think that her approach to conflict resolution is something we should all aspire to. She has a deep and persevering passion for her work, and a belief that she is changing the world through her work. This passion arises both through a spiritual pursuit and from a sense of moral outrage, which informs her energy and maintains her efforts. She does not do her work in isolation, but as an essentially community-based individual, in her work and in her spiritual life, she viewing her work within a larger cause of social justice and morality. Most importantly, however, she views her life and her work as a narrative, and a story that must be told in a way that invites new understanding and reflection, rather than imposing a viewpoint. Her series of perspectives on conflict resolution, in her individual life, her work, and her approach to ending capital punishment in the United States, seems to be a vital and sustaining one: a way of approaching the field of ADR and the living of life in general.
Sister Helen responded to a query about her grief in a profoundly telling way. She talked about the horror of witnessing the deaths of the six death row prisoners she has served as spiritual adviser. She quoted Dorothy Day to the class, saying "Don't morn for the dead. Organize!" She said that she feels a deep and abiding sense of outrage, and a demand to witness and take action in response to what she has learned. She takes the time she needs to mourn, and then acts, because "if we don't act, we become complicit with the system we hate." There is no neutral position on moral issues in a democracy. She speaks to the deep need to be at action in the world, working to end the systems of injustice which kills in the name of retribution. This response and the power of her work is deeply informed by her own religious faith, and by the moral compass she holds. At the Interfaith Gathering this week, Sister Helen evoked the image of the burning bush, of the call to lead people into justice and away from oppression. She believes herself to be called: first to witness, and then to act. This idea of a calling, and the accompanying demand that we put action into passion is a profoundly troubling and empowering concept, and one which she has embodied to the fullest.
Sister Helen is a member of a community of social justice activists, living in community and working within a history of those who work to end oppression. The community nature of her faith is one essential factor in how she is able to accomplish so much. But she couches every argument against the death penalty in a larger complex of injustice and oppression, from racism to militarism. She sees capital punishment as both symptom and cause of so many other social ills, from the poverty that causes crime and results in poor representation to the racism that demands outrage when white victims are killed, but looks the other way when black Americans are the victims of crime and structural violence. She sees her work in the context of others who were called to do social justice work, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day to the local leaders in social justice and peace movements. She spent a good deal of her visit to the University of Oregon working to support local social justice movements, from those directly working on death penalty issues to those focused on peacemaking and youth empowerment. This broad view of conflict resolution is essential in my mind: that we see our work within the larger contexts in which we live and participate. Our efforts are linked and our passions can serve to feed and reinforce each other's. Sister Helen is a living example of a woman so connected to her own cause that she can use it as a lens for understanding the structures of violence all around us. Because of this broad view, I believe that she has a better chance of succeeding in her cause, as well as changing the world in the broadest and most essential sense.
Sister Helen was not called to this work at a young age. This is part of her story, and a corner stone of the journey which she invites her audiences and readers to join. She admits to her own ignorance, and the "waking up" that occurred when she was forty years old. She says "it doesn't matter when you wake up, but that when you do that you act immediately." She quotes the Latin American idea that we make the road by walking, beginning before we are prepared and continuing through mistakes and ignorance. Sister Helen stumbled into social justice, and was called into wakefulness. She invites her readers to receive the same awakening. Then she shares the accident of her involvement with a death row prisoner, and again invites us into the fear, the prejudice, the enlightenment and the pain of this experience. Through her, we become witnesses in turn, called to action by our understanding. She admits her errors, and portrays them vividly in each new form of narrative she utilizes. We believe her story because it is so human, so very recognizable as the result of a powerful passion and the imperfect understanding of her new path. In discussing the various forms her story has taken over the years, she reveals the power of narrative and the centrality of story telling in inviting change in the world.
After this week with Sister Helen, I feel called. Profoundly, inescapably called. I have had a passion for social justice work for years, and a deep desire to create change in the world. But now, again, I see this one individual perspective in this work, and one that arises both from a certain knowledge that neutrality is impossible and from an abiding joy and hope. Outrage is an essential motivating force, both in responding to crime and in living as a witness of injustice. But Sister Helen tells jokes. She wants to swap funny stories and tease her friends. She takes the time for joy, always, and for the smallest of celebrations. Twice we were nearly late to engagements because we stopped to look at the world: at flowers or at paintings. Sister Helen is not a woman consumed by anger, but rather by purpose. She is a member of her world in the deepest way: in a way that inspires joy as well as a lifetime of labor. I feel so privileged that I was able to spend the week working with this amazing woman. I also feel that ambivalence she mentioned, the stealthy call for comfort and for a personal narrative that does not pull me so close to the suffering of the world. But she mentioned, again and again, the humanity she sees in the individuals sitting on death row, and the intimacy of one human being looking into the face of another. This is a certain call, and one that demands response from people of conscience. Her face, so full of joy after twenty-five years of doing this most heartbreaking of work is a testimony to what can be done in the world. Sister Helen said that when we are called, we must act. Somehow, stumbling along the trail I will make by walking, I will follow that call.
October 24, 2010 - 8:38 PM
Finally, a chance to calm down a bit. This term has been so incredibly busy. I've had some amazing experiences and some really exciting opportunities. There are all these ideas stacking up for future plans, and all these fabulous stories I'm compiling already for this fall.
But I've been busy. So very, very busy.
I love my classes for the most part. They are really challenging, and I've learned an incredible amount, both in a theoretical and a practical sense. I have a much better grasp on the background of conflict resolution programs, and also have a good deal of practice in mock negotiations. It has been such a joy to be in class with my peers in the cohort, and to meet these new professors and dive into the field of Appropriate Dispute Resolution, and the folks who work in ADR at the University of Oregon.
But, friends and readers, I am tired. I am tired down to my bones after this wonderful week with Sister Helen. I'll write more about her visit soon, with the reflection it deserves. But right now I can't imagine much beyond a pillow and some tea. A novel, maybe. I have been working straight for months and months to arrange for Sister Helen's visit. Everything went so amazingly well, and resulted in this past week, which was so full of inspiration for myself and many other people. Sister Helen spoke to hundreds and hundreds of people in the past week, as well as meeting with small groups and individuals. She helped raise money for the University and for her work in social justice.
Except when I went to class, I spent all of last week with her. I took her to the events, attended the events, got her meals, and attended to last-minute event details. I soothed hurt feelings when the schedule didn't go according to everyone's desires and I fixed last-minute changes and needs. I learned a huge amount about event planning, in addition to everything I learned from Sister Helen.
But when I dropped her off at the airport on Friday, I was in desperate need for a moment to my self. So that's what happened. I didn't check my email until this evening. I stopped returning phone calls. I didn't open a school book (hopefully that doesn't come back to haunt me later). I watched movies, went to a used book store, and took long naps. I hydrated. I took care of my cough. I watched leaves fall and the rains come in to start the Oregon fall.
It is a rare, rare thing that I take a weekend completely for rest. Weekends are busy times for me: prepping for the week ahead and reviewing the week previous. But this weekend I rested. Took a breath. Even if this week proves a busy one (which it will) and I could have used the extra time to prepare (which is inevitably the case), I will be happier for this moment of self-care in the midst of a crazy schedule.
So here I am, writing from Sunday. Wish me luck with this coming week, and congratulate me for my brief vacation. It's been wonderful.
Now, back to work.
October 19, 2010 - 9:34 PM
What a whirlwind of a day.
Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking, has returned to Eugene and the UO campus for a week-long visit. This series of talks and events is the first in a series of three years, each of which will see Sister Helen returning to our city for continued interactions with the community, youth, and the University of Oregon.
Part of my GTF this year is arranging her visit: creating, advertising, and running events; doing outreach for the UO in the community; and doing everything I can to make sure Sister Helen's Eugene stay is a satisfying one for all involved.
Today was the first day of events for this October visit.
The highlight of the day was a youth empowerment event with Sister Helen. The three-hour program included community building, getting-to-know-you exercises, a presentation and question-and-answer session with Sister Helen, and short dramas invented and acted out by the youth. It was a wonderful event. Sister Helen is an amazingly engaging speaker, and is willing and enthusiastic about meeting new groups, and about communicating her story with youth. The high schoolers and UO facilitators had a good deal of time to ask Sister Helen questions, both about the system of capital punishment in the United States and about Sister Helen's own journey into this work.
I have now heard some live version of Sister Helen's presentation five times. Each time I have been deeply moved, both by her dedication to her cause and by her amazing power of connection with an audience. She is both inspiring and deeply humble. Today what stuck out to me most is the idea of a calling. That one day she was asked to write a letter to an inmate on death row--an inmate who never responded to mail. So she wrote her letter, and he wrote back. Two and a half years later, they met face-to-face for the first time, and her life was completely turned inside out by the humanness of the face before her. She has since worked tirelessly for the abolition of the death penalty. She accompanied that man, Patrick Sonnier, and five others to their executions. She believes profoundly in the dignity of every human being, despite what they have done in the past. And she has acted on this conviction with decades of labor, although she set out on the journey without any idea that she was doing so, and without the experience to be fully "qualified" to do so.
If she can be called to such work, such dedication to the cause of social justice for the "least, the last, and the left-out," then can't we all? This is a dangerous and powerful idea: a challenge she presented to the youth and which I now present to you all. A letter can change a life. A single, unknowing act can lead to a complete transformation. I suppose it's a risk you take every day, a risk that is inherent to the human condition.
But I challenge you to open yourself to this risk, to this calling. Come to one of the events this week, no matter how you feel about the death penalty, and listen to one woman tell her story of struggle and transformation. Be a witness for now. You never know what might come next.
Sister Helen will be speaking at the UO Law School in a public presentation and book signing open to all members of the UO and Eugene community. She will discuss her work against the death penalty and will take questions from the audience. All are welcome.
Date: Tuesday, October 19
Time: 7:00 pm
Location: University of Oregon Law School, Room 175
PANEL DISCUSSION: RACE AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
This event will include presentations by several Eugene community members discussing various aspects of the criminal justice system as influenced by race. The Ethnic Studies Department is hosting this event, and should provide a unique window into this complex issue. Other panel members include UO Professors and Eugene community members.
Date: Wednesday, October 20th
Time: 4:00-6:00 pm
Location: Honors College Library: 3rd floor, Chapman Hall
INVITATION TO INTERFAITH GATHERING with Sister Helen
You are invited to an interfaith gathering with Sister Helen Prejean. This evening will include presentations from Sister Helen, anti-death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking. She has dedicated her life to a call to work for social justice, and will be joining groups from Eugene's faith community for an evening of conversation and inspiration as we discuss the implications of a social justice calling in the context of spirituality.
Please come prepared for respectful dialogue.
Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
Location: Temple Beth Israel at 29th and University: 1175 E. 29th Ave Eugene, OR.