Last summer I received the gift of invitation to give a talk about Sawbonna for The Ottawa Restorative Justice Network and for Transforming Communities. Besides being a sheer joy to share enriching conversation with so many wonderful people, I have kept in touch with quite a number of them. Michael McIntyre, who works with panache, passion, and deep commitment continues to invite dialogues around the vital beauty and poignant opportunity for justice as a lived and living experience when we both share our stories and hear the stories of others. In a recent conversation, I told Michael that one of the gifts of expressive and experiential writing, is the fact and the act of witnessing and being witnessed. Sawbonna creates the spaces and the opportunities for witnessing to happen. The very first time, seven years ago now, that I shared an expressive writing workshop at The Calgary Remand Centre, after first telling my story of healing after the murder of my Dad, I did something else. I listened to those who wished to share, no pressure, no expectations whatsoever. And then we wrote. Below, is the very first piece of poetry that I chose for this meeting. It was my first time sharing my expressive writing workshop with inmates, and one staff chose to write as well. And the beauty of what Sawbonna invited will live with me until life is done with me. We witnessed and were witnessed. Sawbonna-ed we were. I invite you to read my poem, Let Us Listen. I invite you as well to enjoy your dance with words, for you might be inspired to write. You might be inspired to Sawbonna your very self. And then you might be inspired to "peek" in on what it could be like to listen to the story of another, perhaps another who is less kindred, less of your "cup a java," so to speak. Perhaps you might Sawbonna them too, and try to witness what their particular story/narrative might be. Nothing big. Nothing fancy. A simple act of witnessing. This is Sawbonna, Justice as a Lived and Living Experience.
LET US LISTEN
Listen. It's a mad, mad world,
And I am filled with words.
Words I want to spill upon a page.
Upon pages. And pages.
I can't make any promises,
Well, maybe just one: I will tell my
Truth. I will write my story.
Just listen. Please. I will listen
To your story too.
(c) Margot Van Sluytman
The Other Inmate: Mediating Justice-Mediating Hope
(Available in French Translation as well, thanks to the support of
Correctional Services Canada)