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.