Monday, 29 October 2018


This blog is dedicated to Senator Kim Pate, who invited me to stay and listen to her closing remarks at the International Corrections and Prisons Conference in Montreal last week. She ended with Lilla Watson's words. I begin this blog with them:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Last week's time at the International Corrections and Prisons Conference in Montreal was a time of deep learning; deep letting in. And now, deep letting go. When I spoke what can be called, what is, "my victim voice," after the deep and harrowing dismissal of my Dad, Theodore, I was not berated. I was not shamed. I was not relegated to desperate "trauma-infused shrew," which is how victims of crime are most often treated.

In a moment of sheer Grace, a young PhD Candidate, who has received funding to study the trauma of offenders, said to me, "Three years ago, after listening to your speak, I would have thought, 'Go get some counselling.'" She went on to say, "Your rage is good. Is necessary. You feel. Your Dad was murdered; even as you support the work of his murderer, he is still a murderer. And Theodore is dead. Of course your have trauma, it gives you a way to make meaning of your life. Thank you."

Another individual who gets funding to work with, for, study, and treat offenders, placed a note into my hand. The words, "Thank you for making the room uncomfortable. Thank you for speaking truth to power."

Indeed, I have been traumatized since the age of sixteen when my Dad, Theodore was murdered in a callous and selfish act of greed. From then to now, I have walked with poetry, walked with finding a way to have a voice. A voice that does not denigrate humanity. Does not denigrate Human Rights.

At that conference, what I learned in a flash, is that corrections and prisons focus on things I can barely get my head around. Places of power. Places of diminution. And, I have come to learn that indeed as many of my colleagues in this life-long work of Human Rights, have known for so very long, that when you are a murderer, a rapist, and person who has committed a heinous crime, you are owned.

Owned by a system to which you know-tow and bend, even if it means selling your soul for a second or third time. Even if it means another murder. A murder of Trust. Of Grace. Though, no amount of being owned by a system, can brutalize Faith. Not mine.

When Jane and Faith chose to speak to me, Margot the victim, when I allowed myself to forgive myself for being a victim, a victim of brutal murder, I broke. As if in two. Broken now, with a new voice.

Forgiveness is not absolution.

Sawbonna is not for sale to the highest bidder.

Sawbonna is a New Model of Restorative Justice; and, as I prepare for my Keynote at Bridges to Hope, Grand Valley Institution later this month, and my return to Pollsmoor Prison early next year, I begin it with meditating on my newest poem:

I wake, wee hours of the morn,
And silence befriends my ennui.
One by one, my words pile up,
Dancing a steady rhythm of surrender.
Even as I am drenched in chaos,
Your voice prays its very Faith into my
Open and awaiting heart. I have not
Been abandoned. You are the poet.
Your are the poetry.
Copyright Margot Van Sluytman/Raven Speaks.

Friday, 12 October 2018


When they become the family member that is charged with murder,  with rape, with assault.

Then we ask why did they do that?  Who is going to help them?

Until we actually recognize that the very face of every inmate we think we know is the face of a family member that we mourn, love, choose to hold on to hatred towards, because we are loyal, that is the time that we're going to see that when we choose to become the very thing we hate we continue generations and generations of  brutality, belittling, bites, and bruises.

That many believe mental illness is somehow situated with them out there,  or that those we love matter more than those loved by others (who too are loved) and that trying to understand, caring for, at times befriending, the person who has committed the crime against us (our family, friend) is somehow a betrayal -  this is something to give us all pause.

Waiting until the next slap the next bruise the next generation wears  the hatred that we have allowed to keep us loyal,  is a loyalty that serves only  our most pressing arrogance. Unaddressed fear. 

Sawbonna says, "I see you." I may not like you. I choose boundaries of safety for myself, my children, my 
grandchildren, all whom I love, yet, I see you.

Our shared-humanity of complexity, in which to be offered love 
and when possible to give love, means we are not alone. 

"Do your walk your way, Margot," Arch (Archbishop Desmond Tutu), told me two years ago.      


Raven Speaks.

Sunday, 29 July 2018


Reading the inspiring Washington Post article, "In which the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran dreams of a better world -- through literature,"  moved me in a profound manner. Close to the end of Azar Nafisi's piece she writes," Too often we conclude that we are practical creatures, essentially political animals. But in us there is a far greater impulse -- a longing for the universal, a desire for a shared humanity." 

I believe that "shared-humanity" is practical,  is our essence. Relationship, whether good, bad, ugly, beautiful, is how we know ourselves as being human. In Mark Sakamoto's book, a poignant evocation of "shared-humanity", Forgiveness: The Gift of My Grandparents, he addresses this very thing i.e. that no matter the type of relationship, we know ourselves to be human by being connected.

When Glen Flett ended one of his emails to me with the word, Sawbonna, explaining to me its meaning, "I see you - our shared-humanity," I was as if transported. The reason being that as a word lover, a poet, one image, one symbol, can catapult me into the deepest and most vast connecting with meaning, which in-turn offers me new-seeing eyes. As if blinded by the notion of "forgiveness", I relearned to see. Fine hues of re-worded possibility extended themselves to the very heart of my intellect. "I see you."

And when my studies at Athabasca University culminated with my Masters Thesis: Sawbonn-Justice as Lived-Experience, I knew that the word "forgiveness" was less and less of a trial, a tribulation, a test. Victims and offenders are often taught that to forgive and to be forgiven are the panacea of justice. For some it can be, for others it resounds as a brutish and brutal ultimatum of what makes you "good", "acceptable", "worthy". 

Sawbonna shares kinship with forgiveness, with restorative justice; and, it invites a way to address relationship from a place of shared-humanity i.e. messy, non-linear, generous, fraught, fulminating, joyful, challenging, process not product.

One of the most precious aspects of my daily relationship with the word and concept of "forgiveness", is to remind myself of what Azar Nafisi so eloquently addresses in her piece of writing, and that is our stories, our language, our leaps of imagination "bind us." And, we are all bound together. Word binds us in all manner of relating and relationships.

Diarmuid O'Murchu, the author of powerful, Quantum Theology and Transformation of Desire, says, "I get my identity from the sum of my relationships." 

And we do. Sawbonna, the word, the process, the act, attests to this. "I see you."

Monday, 11 June 2018

Sawbonna: Sacred Spaces & the Farm Where Victims, Offenders, Community Meet.

The compelling call that is Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens continues to invite relating and relationships in varied and sundry places and spaces. What continues to keep the fire in my belly burning, burning, burning, is the promise I made to my Father, Theodore, moments before the lid to his casket was closed, and I bent over, kissed his dark hair and whispered through salty-saline eyes, "I promise you Dad, your death will not be for nothing."

In this month of June, as my teaching at Centennial College writhes and resounds with the voices of students committed to conversations about voice, agency, choice, and excitement, debating, relating, I weave the other calls that Sawbonna makes to plant seeds, literal and figurative.

Yesterday, June 10, at Trinity United Church in Cannington, Ontario, I had the privilege of being the speaker at their "lunch and learn." Invited by a young man with whom I shared time in my brief sojourn at a theology school. Daniel MacDonald, like the handful of individuals with whom kindred connections have been maintained from that time, asked if I would go to this congregation, and engage in conversation about Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens, sharing my story of meeting Glen Flett, now a dear friend; as well as sharing how the workshops on poetry and prose I engage in with victims, offenders, community, staff in prisons, colleges, universities, etc. creates Sacred Space for safety and trust to invite surrender to speak. To write. To draw. To dig deep. To hear. To be heard.

As we drove, Daniel, spoke about his final project for his Masters of Divinity which was about Sacred Spaces. His explanation was one in which I could viscerally feel the essence of Sawbonna's call: I see you and shared-humanity. Feeling the raw authenticity of his yearning for a world in which relationship continues to be understood to be as vital to our lives as air, as water, I knew that in his little red car, driving and speaking, we were in Sacred Space.

And, later with the community who came to the lunch and learn, where conversation, laughter, tears, and more laughter, along with abundant questions flew, I could feel my Dad's smile embracing the room. I breathed the scent of utter gratitude.  I phoned Glen directly after the amazing two hour sharing, to say, "Thank you." He, answered from another Sacred Space, Emma's Acres, the pulsating and life-giving, life-infusing farm, where victims, offenders, and community come together to plant literal and figurative seeds of hope, of healing; where chickens roam freely, where honey begins to drip and drizzle, dazzling with its sweetness, where the Totem Pole raised last year holds the heart of resilience, of restoration, of reconciliation. Emma's Acres where our Long Table Dinner will be served, June 26.

"I promise you Dad, your death will not be for nothing." In the journey from "murder to meaning," in all manner of cell of sombre sorrow, llano of freedom's call, graveside, road-side, mountain-top, and hill, Glen Flett and I, along with those who have journeyed and do journey with us, share in the Sacred Space that is Sawbonna's generous whisper of: shared-humanity. I see you. I am. We are.

Margot/Raven Speaks.

Sunday, 11 February 2018


Teaching GNED 500 at Centennial College, shatters, sculpts, shapes, strengthens my resolve to voice. The privilege of sharing in conversation with over sixty individuals, students for the purpose of our roles in the college setting, is a powerful invitation to engage. Engage. Engage. Each of us brings knowledge, lived-experience, biases, stereotypes. And a longing to understand. To be understood.

On day one, I shared about Sawbonna. On day two, I did the same. On day three, it will be done. And day four. And so on and so on and so on. WHY? Why do I do this? My reasoning is simple. Straight-forward. Content and context situated in a crucible of possibility, informs conversations of all depth and degree. Informs them with the salient and necessary knowing that when we begin with "I See You," and "Our Shared-Humanity," we can begin to voice, to listen, to challenge, to be challenged, to be made raw, to make raw. To critically analyze. To bring our reflective selves and our lived-experiences to the table. And at that table, with many voices and with diligent focus we can step into what and how transforming justice via articulating injustice can mean. And we can plan the actions we will take. Seeing that some actions have not worked well. Or at all. But we do not stop.

I live and work for, "Restorative Justice via a Sawbonna Lens."
I do so because "us versus them" insists that I tease out, tear apart, struggle with, and again address what it means to live the change I want to be in the world.

Restorative Justice is defined in many varied ways. The two that inspire me most are: process and social movement. Both ally themselves in the crucible of Sawbonna. Both highlight: respect, responsibility, relationship.

"How long?"
"How long?"
"How many more murders?"
"How many more deaths?"
"How many more hateful acts of racism?"
"How many more acts of sexual violence, harassment, abuse?"
"How many more conversations?"
"How many more reports?"
"How long?"
"How long?"

Sawbonna came for me thirty years after my Father, Theodore, was murdered. I am now a Grandmother of four. I share a deep and authentic friendship with, Glen, who murdered my Father.

NOW is what we have.
AND after I have died, NOW is what my Grands will have.
AND their Grands after them.


Sunday, 18 June 2017


CBC, The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti: Sawbonna-Restorative Justice. Therapeutic Writing. And An Unlikely Friendship:

When Glen Flett and I had the beautiful privilege of being interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC's, The Current, in mid-March, Anna Maria asked Glen and I what it is that we offer in our talks with victims-survivors, offender-survivors, and the communities of professors, wardens, guards, teachers, healers, etc. Glen said something that resonated to the very core of who I am, of what I Mentor in my Therapeutic Writing Courses and Workshops. He said, "We must look for the gold."
      My partner  is a gifted Geologist who uses his wisdom in the Mining Industry to both literally and figuratively "mine" for gold, by inviting conversations about: respect, responsibility, and relationship, in a terrain which can cause all manner of joy and grief.
     I continue to be struck by the powerful and prolific potency of what is mined as I live with words, with story, with myth, with mindfulness about in-forming, re-forming, and trans-forming the justice system. Doing this in community of people who live with and for and because of love's vast and voluminous expressions.
     My Father, Theodore, is ever near. My partner, Andrew, is ever near. And like Sawbonna, the nearness, the constancy of the togetherness, both literal and figurative, means that we are ever in relationships that challenge, nourish, and liberate us into our own capacity to find gems. Gems of utter possibility, even when and if we are grief-sodden, soul-seared, bone-weary.
     Today is Father's Day.
     Because of Sawbonna's yearning to be present to finding the gold, to mining for the nugget, I celebrate the fact that love is the reflection, the expression, and the healer upon which Sawbonna rests. And, I celebrate the fact that how we express  love within the crucible of: respect, responsibility, and relationship, buoys us and holds us dear and near - even as we may be judged, criticized, maligned as can often be the case by those outside of our experience, those who wish to proscribe, dictate, or harangue because they wish to the "right."
     Death nor distance denies us our right to love.
     Death nor distance prevents us from both mining and finding the gold.
     Death nor distance prevents us from being the very nugget we seek.
     Death nor distance denies our right to be loved." (Gerry Ayotte, Mentor, Inspiration, Friend).
     Sawbonna's vision of shared-humanity of seeing and being seen, of hearing and being heard, is a vein which we mine because our blood, our tears, our quest for justice, teaches us to trust the very value of our prospecting for justice as a lived and living f/act.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017


Powerful interview. 
Lesley Stahl: You don't think they turn into savages even for the act?
Benjamin Ferencz: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.
For me the word "war" is crucial. Historical and cultural horrors are part of our very bones. And create wars literally and figuratively. Listening to Dr. Gabor Mate, in Alberta, in 2010, he presented a talk after Glen and I gave our talk, Gabor said his family left Hungary when he was two. AND that the chaos and fear and anguish of living in an environment of war and oppression, lives in his bones to this day. To the benefit of each of us, I would state that from those horrors of what the bones live, Gabor writes books and does work that unravel the bones, and that speak compassion. That engage the heart. 
Yesterday after our BBC interview, Glen Flett, said to me that he learned something about me, something he did not know until that interview. What he said is (to precis): "When you said that you were not angry or vengeful at me and the others who killed your Dad, but that you were angry and rage-filled about the horrors of life, that is how I felt as a child." I thought about "voice." 
I do not know how our very lenghty interview, with some truly potent questions, will be edited. So, I will share further, that when I was 18 years of age, I tried to end my life. Pain so deep was sucking my very life away. I was reading three books which underscored that as humans we are all capable of any amount of acts. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer; No Man is an Island, by Thomas Merton; and, Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl. 
When I put those books down and decided to swallow a large bottle of Tylenol, I did not know then, what I learned a few hours later, what I know to my very core, which is that love is the essence of our very being. My Mom standing next to me after my stomach was pumped. Saying, "Margot, I have lost Daddy. I can not lose you too."
At that time it did not occur to me that the act of writing was and is itself an act of love, of hope, of possibility. That the act of reading, of sharing our voices, is an act of love, of hope, of possibility.
Sawbonna, for me, for my vocation, is of and about shared-humanity and our capacity to love and be loved. Sawbonna the word I learned from the man who, if I believed in easy scripts, I am not supposed to love. But I do. Even as I might not belong to a religious group or community, I cherish what I know of those people who inspire us: Rumi, Jesus, Sophia, Hildegard of Bingen, among others. Three other humans for whom I hold respect and gratitude, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Like Gabor, their work Mentors us to continue to grapple which shared-humanity. With Mystery too.