Deb Hejl, co-clerk of the Legislative Policy Collaborative, submitted the story below about healing circles at the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project (YSOP). February is a good month to focus on our nation’s problems with incarceration, because there is still time to get informed and ready for FCNL’s Spring Lobbying Sessions.
The school to prison pipeline, and ongoing inequalities faced by persons of color within the policing and judicial systems are things our society must face. Behind the large problems, though, are human hearts and minds that bear witness to the impact on children who have been sentenced to prison for a ‘lifetime of punishment.’On February 13, 2021, Gwynedd Friends Meeting hosted an afternoon Zoom presentation for the wider community entitled “Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project (YSOP) and its Inter-generational Healing Circles”. It was part of Gwynedd’s efforts to bring Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) education to our community through regular workshops and presentations.
In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that giving a life sentence to a juvenile is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and US law was amended at that time. Four years later the law was further altered to be applied retroactively. These critical changes allowed those who were serving life sentences received as juveniles to apply for resentencing hearings and be considered for release.
Gwynedd was honored to partner with YSOP in inviting formerly incarcerated men to share their stories with their membership. Their YSOP guests proved to be vivid storytellers who left a lasting impression.
The adults who spoke were former juvenile detainees who had been given a life sentence for crimes committed as youths. They were recently released as adults after years of incarceration as a result of a change to United States law due to a Supreme Court ruling eight years ago. They shared their stories, and also what returning to life as fathers, partners and members of the workforce is like for people who had been severed from families, friends, and life chances while juveniles.
Guest speakers shared about the positive community they’ve built in the men’s Intergenerational Circle at YSRP, focusing on the beauty of the support they offer one another without the necessity of mentoring.
They said there are limited spaces in which they can honestly talk about their lived experience, and share what reentry into the outside world has been like for them. Through YSRP support and programing they’ve learned to develop agency as a group and as individuals. All of this is important to life success post-incarceration.
The meaningful work of this YSRP Client-Partnership group is based in important values. These include: Self-Determination, Integrity, Dignity, Transformation, Learning, Healing and Wellness. The Gwynedd community greatly benefitted from learning about the impact of and recovery from juvenile life incarceration. Hearing first-hand from individuals who have experienced adversity was beneficial. Monthly meetings interested in Gwynedd’s positive experiences are encouraged to invite them to speak.
Meetings interested in hosting speakers from YSRP, can contact the organization to create a YSRP event in their community.