New Creation

Changing the Narrative

By Dave Kelly, C.PP.S.

 

Last week PBMR was invited to participate in a conference of Illinois judges and court personnel.  They asked if we could present on the topic of restorative justice (RJ) and the practice of peacemaking circles.  That, in itself, is not out of the ordinary.  We are often asked to present on RJ.  However to a group of judges is a little different, but not out of our experience. 

Something that a little out of the ordinary, was that many of the keepers of the circles were some of our own staff persons who had spent decades in prison.  Since there were approximately150 judges and court personnel, we opened with a brief explanation of restorative justice and then broke into 10 different circles.

It is ironic that those condemned as a threat to society are now looked upon as keepers of a new way of repairing harm and building community.  Years ago, they stood in front of a judge and were sent to prison; they were each seen as a menace to society.  A number of them were given life without the possibility of parole – unredeemable.  But this day, they were seen differently; they were the keepers of the circle in order to help judges and court personnel understand and experience the power of relationships and ensuring accountability – true accountability. 

Orlando, who himself spent 20 years in prison, tells of his circle and how powerful it was.  Court personnel are often trained in keeping their feelings and their emotions well under control.  If there is expression from judges in the courtroom, it is often frustration and contempt.  Today, in circle, emotions were shared and stories were told, but they were stories and emotions that brought people together.  There was trust among those who sat in that circle and it was truly healing.  As they concluded and readied themselves to go back to the larger conference room, one of the judges came over to Orlando and gave him a hug.  He smiled as he tells the story – “I’ve never been hugged by a judge before”, he says.  “Amazing!”

We have just celebrated Pentecost, where the many different people with different languages and cultures were amazed because they understood one another.  Egyptians and Romans, those from Asia and Persia – all understood one another.  The power of the spirit opened the hearts and minds and they saw themselves, not as strangers or aliens, but as one community, one people. 

Circles, while maybe not a Pentecost experience, are spaces where we intentionally step out of our titles and hierarchical statuses and work to see one another as a brother or sister – a fellow human being on a journey. 

Tito (named changed), a young kid who we know very well and who has been a part of the Center for a couple years, was caught taking some money out of one of the staff’s purses.  When confronted, he admitted he did it and gave the money back.  Because there is more to it than the money – there was the violation of trust on a number of levels. 

Tito and the staff person, from whom the money was taken, chose to sit in circle. That staff person was able to talk about how she felt that he, who she has supported in so many ways, would steal from her.  She shared her disappointed and hurt.  Tito had the opportunity to apologize.  He spoke about what happened and why.  He was able to share about how he was dealing with many issues – the illness of his mom and so many other things – not as an excuse, but as part of the story. 

He was asked to write a “repair of harm agreement”.  Here is what he wrote to the staff person: “I am sorry for the harm I caused you and PBMR. I accept the consequences and this will never happen again.  I know now it was wrong; let me know if there is any more you need from me.” 

And because the theft harm to PBMR as well, he was asked to write as statement to PBMR that would be shared at staff meeting.  Here is what he wrote to us: “Sorry for the harm to PBMR.  This will never happen again and I accept my consequences.  He went on to say, “the Center means a lot to me.  I would not want to do anything to be put out.  I will work at being respectful to everyone here.” 

Restorative Justice allows us to repair harm done by focusing on the harmed relationships.  It allows us to see beyond the crime/issue and recognize the persons involved.  In order to recognize someone, you have to listen to their story, understand where they are coming from, and, maybe, begin to understand some of what they are experiencing as well. 

This is our mission: changing narratives – to move beyond the superficial and embracing the stories, relationships and experiences that make up our lives.   

From Sailing to Filming

 

by Denny Kinderman and Nigel Lee

 

Remember Nigel Lee? In an article “Setting Sail for Change” we had written how we were thrilled with the opportunity for him to train with other young men for an ocean voyage of self-discovery, teamwork and transformation from their criminal pasts. In Sail Future, he was to sail the ocean blue – but it all fell through. That article ended saying we will never give up on Nigel then 16.

Now at age 19 he’s involved in another opportunity. A few weeks ago a large filming crew arrived at PBMR. Pasdal Rudnicke Casting and the production company chose our location for their work creating TV commercials for the “AT&T Believe” Program. While a number of our youth were involved, it was Nigel that caught their attention.

The following week they flew him to Atlanta for a couple days of filming. He quickly went from intern to three positions. He is a production assistant, a member of the cast, and has a third role as influencer – keeping everyone on their toes and enjoying their work.

He is moving away from street life but not forgetting. We at PBMR have circles and workshops focusing on healing and the trauma violence causes. Nigel tells us how it is known in the streets among the youth.

While filming in Atlanta he got into a deep conversation with Jena, one of the producers. After their conversation he recorded a selfie. You can hear and see it on our website; but a transcript is presented here as it was taped adlib. While he is speaking to what the “AT&T Believe” Program needs to know, it is good for all of us.


“Hello, It’s Nigel Lee and I’m on set. So me and Jena we just had a talk and she was saying what she did with her work; and we went into deep conversation, you know. And I had let her know something that I don’t think a lot of people know that I think a lot of people should know.

“And it’s not just in Chicago. It’s not just in Atlanta. It’s not just in Dallas; it’s everywhere. You know wherever there is violence, I know in my neighborhood for a fact, kids suffer from PTSD. And it don’t get dealt with correctly because a lot of people don’t know that kids suffering from PTSD have PTSD because they stay to their self or whatever or whatnot. And even if people do know some kids got PTSD it don’t get handled correctly – you know what I’m saying.

“Like, people get shot a lot as you know in Chicago. People get shot in front of people, down the street, relatives, close friends – it’s anybody, everybody, anywhere, everywhere, you know. And just imagine not only the person that get shot, of course it’s a tragedy, but imagine the person that was right there, you know what I’m saying, even the person that was shooting, imagine them.

“You know what I’m saying; like for real. PTSD is very alive in our neighborhood, and I really don’t know what to do about it myself, you know, but I know it’s people out there that can help. I’ll be glad to help; I’ll be more than grateful to help. I just want to tell you guys I think it is something that should be addressed. Post-traumatic stress, actually it’s not post-traumatic stress it’s present traumatic stress because these kids are going through this stuff as we talk right now.

“I remember a time when one of my friend’s daddy died in front of me and him; we was both right there. And you know what I’m saying I still remember that picture vividly to this day. You know what I’m saying, after that, after he got shot and killed, the area that he got shot in, I didn’t go to that place for Lord knows how long, because I was scared. I, I got over it. But there’s kids that won’t even go back; that’s what I’m trying to say. There’s kids that their mind really gets messed up due to that type of stuff.

“And I don’t want to keep talking and running my mouth, but, yea, something should be done about it. And I hoping you guys will do something about it because I know all you guys got a good heart. You got me out here, got me doing something positive, something good. Let’s help out. Let’s fight this present post-traumatic stress disorder – for real.”

Thank you, Nigel. This year we have titled our fund raising gala “Disrupting Violence.” Funds raised at the event May 1st and on line will help us “fight this present post-traumatic stress disorder – for real” as Nigel encourages. He is an influencer for all of us; and we’ll never give up.

New Creation

Jesus was killed, says Richard Rohr, in a “collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of the day.”

The people of God are confronted similarly today as we strive to respond to the call of discipleship in a society and Church torn by one crises after another.  The moral authority of the Church has been weakened by the sexual abuse crisis and cover-up, but the need for healing and reconciliation are real; the cries of the world still sound.

The cross becomes that location where all those struggles and sufferings collide.  It is as if we are caught in the cross-hairs; exposed in a space that is conflicted, emotional, and without clear definition.  But the promise is that if we are faithful and remain in that space, we will be changed (Resurrection); we will become a new creation. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy vocation; discipleship has its cost.  In addition, it is counter intuitive.  We, naturally, seek to distance ourselves from suffering and pain.  And, yet, as Christians – followers of Christ – we are the visible body (love) of God in the world today.  We are called to be the compassion that is God (Rohr).

One of the greater compliments about PBMR is when we hear “there is something about this place that is so life giving.” People describe PBMR in a host of ways, but hospitality and warmth are always a part of their description.  The art on the walls is part of it; the young and old that can be seen in the corridors and sitting around tables are part of it, too.  But I think the thing that people walk away with is that we embrace the pain and suffering that is a part of life without letting it defeat us or cause us to retreat into ourselves. 

As I write this article, the mothers are gathering in the next room.  If you walk by you will hear their voices that carry a host of emotions.  There is laughter and silent sobs in almost the same breath.   The pain and the suffer of losing a child to homicide or to incarceration are very real – and, in that space, embraced.  But in that collision of emotions, life bursts forth.  They embrace the pain of one another and, because of it, they are renewed and strengthened. 

There are many barriers to making this journey.  Mothers ride buses, negotiate work schedules and childcare responsibilities, and a host of other challenges in order to gather for these few hours.  While touching the woundedness is not easy, they have come to believe that unless they are willing to touch the pain, they will be overcome by it. 

The Church could learn a thing or two from these mothers.  While it is uncomfortable, we need to touch the woundedness – our own and others.  For, if we don’t, if we are unwilling, the pain and woundedness will define us. 

February 14th, a day celebrated to honor love between people, is also the one-year anniversary of the violent death of 14 students and three faculty of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland Florida.  Certainly, there have been other shootings on high school campuses, but the Parkland students are remembering, too, because they did not allow the tragedy to define them, but became the voice and the face of moral courage. 

The Parkland shooting is remembered and mourned, vigils and memorials recall that day and the lives of those lost, but also calls us to a national dialogue. 

Shelly Rambo calls it the Holy Saturday moment – standing in the wake of Good Friday and, yet, clinging to the hope of the resurrection.  She challenges the church to not move too quickly from the trauma of Good Friday to the hosannas and alleluias of Easter.  She cautions us not to gloss over the pain, as though it were not all that serious.  Better to touch the pain, allow the wounds to breathe, and to heal, as we look to the promise of a new creation. 

The image of St. Gaspar with a mission cross in his hand should be the symbol that compels us to go to the margins in our own communities.  Can we stand with those who have been excluded, accused, exploited, and abandoned and embrace the crucified Christ?   If we do, if we stand in that place where emotions collide, we will be changed (resurrection) and become a new creation.

A Brave Space to Move Women Forward

 

 

 

By Karlyn Boens

(PBMR staff and coordinator of the young women’s initiative)

Moving forward is hard. It is especially hard for women who have lost children to incarceration or gun violence and it continues to be a burden to the daughters who face the neighborhood traumas. The truth is, if our mothers are able to muster the courage to move forward, their daughters will be able to move with them.

Last week, grandmothers, mothers and daughters met at the Mother Brunner House as vital voices of the PBMR community. Their wishes were clear; how do we use our strengths to help one another to move forward? These are women from Communities and Relatives of Illinois Incarcerated Children (CRIIC), Women’s Healing Circle and Young Women’s Initiative. For this group of women, moving forward means to find resiliency in hardship and lost. To an outsider looking in, their stories are all different and there is no logical reason for them to be interconnected. To PBMR, their stories all point to the same need: hope, healing and radical hospitality.

“So what are your strengths?” I asked the women and their responses were in agreement. Janice, who recently lost her grandson, Brandon, to gun violence responded by saying “faith… we are strong because we have faith in our Creator and we have a place like the Mother Brunner House where we can pray and uplift each other. Diamond, a young mother of two from Back of the Yards, responded by saying “support…the struggles I face are real but with PBMR’s support, I feel like I can make it”. Cynthia, who has one son incarcerated and one who was taken by gun violence, responded by saying, “we are strong because we have learned how to advocate…we have learned the power of our voice”.

Taking steps forward seems a little bit easier when women are given a space to share their hardship and lost. They are able to glean from one another’s faith, support and voice to begin the healing work that is needed to move forward. 

It takes a brave space. It is not uncommon for women, who are newcomers of PBMR’s Women Forward movement, to feel burdened, guilty and ashamed of their hardship and lost. They feel like no one understands what it means to lose a child to gun violence and/or incarceration or what it means to live in a neighborhood plagued by violence. But when they come into PBMR and join in circle with women who face similar unsurmountable circumstances, bravery takes over and it becomes a space for all women to move forward.

 

 

 

“Get out of the Way”

 

A phrase often used in jails and, to some extent, here at PBMR is “humble yourself.”  In many ways, it means to get yourself “out the way”—to open yourself to something other than yourself.

As the Catholic Church, we are struggling with the sin of church leadership: priests, bishops, and the sexual abuse of minors. It is a violation against the most vulnerable among us and causes emotional and spiritual harm. It is also a breach of the trust.   

Some will leave the Church, and who can blame them, and others will remain. For those who remain, we must strive to reconstruct a Church that seeks to repair the harm done. 

Richard Rohr, an author and lecturer, says that a litmus test for a true spirituality is whether you are the focus of conversion. Is it keeping you listening for God? Is it keeping your own feet to the fire? We cannot deny the pain or wait for better days. Transformation will only happen when we touch the wounds, when we give space to the pain and suffering. Spirituality is about what we do with the pain. 

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were confronted with the sacred wounds that still were visible in the resurrected Jesus. Unless the disciples were willing to touch the wounds of Jesus, they would have continued hoping for and expecting a savior who would dominate and rule. 

The transformation of the Catholic Church must come from the suffering and pain that we have both inflicted and suffered. The response cannot only be another set of policies that are stricter or a more expansive. 

A year or so ago, I was asked if I could help with something that happened at one of the Catholic schools.  One of the students had posted a racist comment on Facebook.  It was shared openly and caused great pain and suffering within the school and the community. The school administration was seeking ways to respond. I suggested discussing the incident using restorative justice practices. The postings made on Facebook merely highlighted what had existed and continued to cause great harm. The school administration took another way and expelled the students involved.  They refused to touch the wounds. They refused to allow the humiliating wound to become sacred and sanctifying.

Transformation never come easily; it is always the result of suffering. It happens only if we are truly willing to get ourselves “out the way” and are willing to touch the wounds and allow them to become sacred wounds.

This should not be unfamiliar to us; it is what we do each time we gather around the table at Eucharist. We celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Paschal mystery, because only when we are willing to touch the woundedness of one another, will we become a new creation.   

Chicago’s Via Crucis

Once again,Chicago is in the news for the violence. It is hard to deny the gravity of the problem when the number of shootings in a seven hour period on a Sunday morning reaches 40 people. As I expected, there were a lot of people weighing in on who or what is responsible: police, community, young men, poverty, gangs, drugs, trauma, etc.

For us here at PBMR, like so many, this is not a theoretical discussion. It is deeply, deeply personal. Last week three of the gunshot victims were part of our family – they were shot getting ready to start their workday in our woodshop. Luckily, they will survive the physical trauma; the emotional trauma, however, is a different story. Trauma is that which we cannot integrate or make sense of; it is that which interrupts our lives and causes deep emotional wounds. It causes outbursts of emotions: fear, deep sadness, and anger. Often it leaves one hyper vigilant and paranoid, and erodes trust, which ultimately leaves one in isolation. A couple hours after the shooting, we sat in circle with a group of young men from the Center. One of the young men burst into tears and covered his face. Everyone understood for each feels the weight of living in a world where young men of color are more likely to die of homicide than anything else. While my heart aches at their pain, I feel some comfort in that we can at least offer these young men (and staff) a place where emotions are not silenced; a place where outrage and anger are given space, where healing can begin. I don’t have the answers, but I know this is exactly where we are supposed to be. This is a sacred place, not because we fill the air with platitudes or have answers, but because we are present.

Some years ago, Sr. Donna Liette CPPS and I were at a retreat center in California – Mater Dolorosa. Walking down the long winding path outside the main building, you stumble upon a series of large statues depicting Jesus on his path to Calvary. One was of the women of Jerusalem meeting Jesus, next was the one of Mary encountering Jesus as he strained under the weight of the cross. It was the pained and helpless look on Mary’s face that really spoke to me. And in the eyes of Jesus was the loving recognition of his mother. Even in her powerlessness there was the powerful presence of His mother – one who would not be separated from her son.

Last week, when our young men were shot in front of our art center. Being so close, many of us arrived well before the ambulance. I held my hand over Dashaun’s wound, pressing hard to stop the bleeding until another staff got the tourniquet around his leg and the ambulance arrived. It was a frightening moment but also very sacred. As I washed the blood from my hand, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. While they were tears of being powerless in the face of so much violence, they were also tears of being connected to a spirituality that embraces pain and suffering and places it in the pain and suffering of Jesus.

Strange as it may sound, as I washed my hands, the song (Song of Liberation, by Joe Nassal and John Winkels) sung so often at our CPPS celebrations, came to mind: “The blood of Christ refreshes our souls, gives us new courage, liberates our lives. The blood of the poor soaks into the land, cries out for justice, yearning for peace. We are redeemed in the blood of Christ. We are washed in love. Sent by the blood, stained by the blood, we are servants of the blood of Christ. The bones of the weary ache for compassion, searching for vision, shout out with newstrength.” We are where we are supposed to be – present to the suffering as we give witness to power ofGod’s love.

Creating a Home in the Love of God

Relationships are hard.  It takes work to maintain a healthy relationship – with God, your spouse, or even your children.  It should be no surprise, then, that it also takes work to transform broken relationships into healthy relationships – creating a beloved community, a community of hope.

In reality, the work of reconciliation is counter intuitive – rather than moving away from pain and hurt, you move toward it.  You move into the pain and the hurt and stand in that muddled mess.  It is not that we are seeking more pain in our lives, but God lives in the suffering of his people.  We are called to stand alongside those who are hurting.

We do a circle every Thursday at the only Catholic school in our area.  It is a small school – serving the many of the poor of our community.    I cannot imagine any of the children paying much of a tuition.  As our last circle concluded, a young girl handed a note to one of the staff.  It was a long note, but the message was simple – she and her family of 9 were recently evicted from their apartment.  They were now living in a hotel – and not the Holiday Inn type of hotel.

I have to admit that, given all that we are already trying to deal with – other families who struggle to maintain a roof over their head, the violence and the daily impact of poverty, I was tempted to say, “What can we do?”   However, in conversation with the principal of the school – a 78-year-old nun – we are working on a plan.

Reconciliation is a ministry that demands that we be willing to be stained by the blood of Christ – to touch the woundedness of Thomas, to walk alongside the harmed on the road to Emmaus or to stand at the foot of the cross.  It is not an easy place to be.  It is messy and at times very

lonely.  You want to say enough is enough!

The ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.  It demands that we go to the margins or stand in the breach and witness to God’s love.  The margins can be the kid who sits in the classroom shunned by other students or the neighbor who never seems to come out of the house.

Whenever I go into the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, I go to two places for sure: intake, that houses the recent arrivals, and segregation, that houses those who have been deemed “bad”.  You never know what you will encounter: anger, fear, loneliness or all of the above.

A young man, who was just brought into the Juvenile Detention Center, asked if I would call his father.  He wanted his father to know where he was.  I assured him that his father knew, but he wasn’t convinced and so I agreed to call.  Before I left the unit he called out again from inside his cell.  I approached and, in a look of desperation, he asked if I was really going to call – I assured him I would.

When I did call on my way home that night, the father was obviously relieved and overjoyed to hear that his son was ok….you could feel the relief in his voice to finally hear some word about his boy.  He was extremely thankful.  “I know you have much to do”, he said, “but that you took time to call means everything to me; you don’t know how much I wanted to hear some word from my boy.”

Nothing really changed in their situation; the young man still was held in the detention center and the father was separated from the son he loved.  But for that very brief moment their isolation from one another was interrupted.

John, the gospel writer, says that it is the love of God that will dispel the darkness. God’s love creates a home in which we reside.

I sat in court for a young man, Joe, from our Center.  I had been in court with him many times before.  He had no other family member there.  As they brought him in, he glanced out over the gallery of waiting families and caught my eye – for that brief moment, he was not alone.

The sentence was 8 ½ years in prison.  That sentence felt like an eternity to Joe.  His lawyer walked over and said that Joe asked the judge if he could say goodbye to me.  The judge allowed it and I approached the front of the courtroom, embraced Joe, and said that I would be there for him through the years.  As Joe was being led back to lock up, he turned and thanked me for being there for him.

Our mission statement says that we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  It is a mission to simply stand in the breach and witness to the power of God’s love to create in us a HOME!

Strength and Serenity: The Women’s Mural Comes to Life

The women of PBMR. Not a phrase you hear often at a Center started by four priests as a safe haven for young men. But over the past few years, the women in the neighborhood have become vital members of the PBMR community. On Saturday, February 3, these women gathered together to christen the new Mother Brunner House – the Women’s Center – with a mural that depicts the strength, serenity, and power of the women of PBMR.

The project included women from three programs at PBMR: the women of the advocacy group Community and Relatives of Illinois’ Incarcerated Children (CRIIC), the women from the Mothers’ Healing Circles who have lost children to incarceration and gun violence, and the Young Women’s Group, the newest program for women.

With the help and direction of PBMR’s teaching artist, Alberto Alaniz, the women gave suggestions of the words and images that come to mind when they think of the women of PBMR. The answers were as varied as the women themselves: unity, strength, love, hearts and stars, peace signs, mother and child. Then representatives from each program consulted with Alberto and together the group came up with the image for the wall. A few weeks later, over 20 women gathered at the Mother Brunner House to paint in the image.

You’d think a room full of 20 women, ranging from ages 6 to 80, painting a huge space with lots of color would be a chaotic scene, but the space had a peaceful, collaborative, and happy feel.

Mrs. Wingard, the eldest and wisest in the group and a member of CRIIC, shared her reflections on the day: “Just to remember that I put a paintbrush on the wall and Fr. Kelly and Julie and Sr. Donna are gonna walk through there and see the mural and I thought ‘Wow, I really feel a part of that’…And then to think about them getting the house and putting something on the wall that actually reaches out to the community. [The mural] shows families coming together and it’s not just one ethnicity. It’s not just black, not just white, not just latino: it’s everyone coming together for a common cause, for our children, for our community.”

Shumeka Taylor, a representative of the Young Women’s Group, said that putting the handprints and quotes on the wall was her favorite part. “The hands was so nice. We all who had been doing the part of the wall and engraving our names and a nice quote and that’s something that’s going to live forever in the house and I like that.” Shumeka added “From the older women to the young women, I truly enjoyed it. The older lady put the French braid in my hair while I painted the rest of the mural because they didn’t want paint to get in my 26 inches. I greatly appreciated everything that went on that day.”

Aldena Brown, a member of the Mothers’ Healing Circles, felt Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much” captured the essence of the day.  “That day of the painting felt good. Everyone working together, good laughs, music, and food! That moment was like nothing mattered. Painting that mural was everything, just being a part of something so meaningful. That gave my heart joy and peace in that moment.  My mind drifted to a great place pushing that paintbrush. Yes, I must say that will be a day I’ll never forget! I was a part of that painting coming to life! I’m very thankful!”

The women of PBMR are leaving their legacy all over PBMR and the neighborhood, from the relationships they make to the steps they take towards their goals to the beautiful mural that will greet all the visitors of the Center. From now on, every person who walks through the doors of the Mother Brunner House will know that the women in the community are an integral part of PBMR: strong, unified, and here to stay.

 

Good Vibes

As PBMR grows, we require more support from funders and grants.  Grants and foundations demand that we demonstrate our effectiveness.  We do what we do because it is the right thing to do, but, I did go to a meeting where I was hoping to get some ideas on how we could build out more solidly our workforce development project – it needs some funding.

The person who met with us was someone who has some knowledge of PBMR and I would say cares for us.  He truly wanted to help.  He asked me from the start, “can I speak directly without offending you?”  I assured him that was the purpose of our visit and would welcome some unvarnished truth.

He responded to the fact that we are mission driven and live within the community with, “so what?”  He wasn’t being disrespectful, but driving home the point that we need data to demonstrate our effectiveness.

I appreciated his direct talk and was comforted with the fact that we were doing just that.  We are committed to better telling our story through real measurements and outcomes.

Later that same day, I got a call from a social worker from Northwestern University.  She was working with a young man who was just released from prison after his case was overturned on a wrongful conviction appeal.  He was falsely accused and put in prison at the age of fifteen for 10 years.  It is part of Northwestern University’s “Innocence Project”.  She asked if they could stop by for a quick visit.

You can only imagine what it would be like to be held in prison for ten years at that vulnerable age for something you didn’t do.  To make matters worse, when he came home to Detroit, Michigan, he was shot.  Apparently, where his mother lives is pretty rough and he was a stranger in his own community.

Because of all that was happening, he decided to move to Chicago to get a fresh start.  He came to Chicago because the only people who really supported him during that time of incarceration was the social workers at Northwestern University’s “Innocence Project”.

He was staying at a halfway house on the south side of Chicago, which provided him housing, but little else.  Due to the status of funding for Northwestern, they have little capacity to help with support outside the lawyers and social workers.

I met them when they arrived and spent about 2 hours talking and, after, gave them a “tour” of PBMR. As we sat back down, Traquan said that “I really like it here; this place has good vibes”.  He went on to share how much he felt comfortable with all the pictures and people at PBMR.  It was a place where people could understand where he was coming from; a place where he was not judged. He said many people, even after they know I was innocently put in prison, think that I got out due to a technicality.  “I get tired of trying to explain to people that even though I was in prison for 10 years, that I am not a bad person.”  He then asked, “Can I come back?  You think I can get involved here?”  Of course, I said yes.

We are definitely going to work on our “values proposition”.  But the real measurement of value for PBMR is that we “have good vibes” for those who feel alone or disconnected.   I am not sure how we measure “good vibes”, but we’re gonna give it a shot.  In the meantime, I thank Traquan for his seal of approval.

 

Changing Narratives

Do you remember December 31st, 1999 when we all waited with fear and expectation of what could be? Some prepared for the worst: would the world come to an end? Well it didn’t, and as the new Millennium began, four Missionaries of the Precious Blood felt challenged to change the narrative of priests and their relationship to community – so they moved beyond their work in parishes to the streets of Back of the Yards. They opened a safe place and PBMR was born!

January is a great time to sit by the fireplace and remember what was and what is becoming, and yesterday I did just that. 2017 was an amazing year of transformation at PBMR! The dream of purchasing and renovating an abandoned house in the neighborhood became a reality and Mother Brunner (MB) House was opened. A few days ago my heart was just bursting with joy as I walked through this beautiful new home (take a walk with me!). There in the first room was Allyson, our social work intern, with a mother searching for affordable housing. In the next room, another mother was working with a volunteer on possibilities for furthering her education; this mother received her high school diploma months ago in our newly created Education Lab with the support of Sister Janet! In the two Mother Brunner kitchens, pizzas were being prepared; in the family circle room, Leah, one of our Precious Blood Volunteers, was preparing for a Young Women’s Circle and Francis (Fr. Denny’s dog) was checking out the activities hoping a morsel of food would fall for his consumption! Then I stopped by Julie’s office, one of the four offices in the MB House. Julie and I celebrated the achievements of her advocacy group, CRIIC; because of their work, Julie and other mothers and fathers now know that their sons—who had originally been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as juveniles—will not die in prison. In fact, some are already free! So, if anyone should think that our “Back of the Yards” neighborhood is just an ugly, violent, inactive community – come and see – the narratives are changing!

On a warm day several weeks ago, Raheem, one of the four young men who helped renovate the MB House, and I planted tulip bulbs around the house (a new experience for him). As he was digging the holes and placing the bulb point up, we talked about how these bulbs need to be in the dark earth for the winter but then we will see new life pop up all over – and we will delight the whole neighborhood! We compared that to our own lives and to our community: out of the dark, new life has been popping up!

Of course you have all heard of our community garden – yes, once in this community, there were no fresh, affordable vegetables, a real food desert—but Sister Carolyn and her team (Mary, Sharrow, several youth, and our friends from St. John of the Cross) have transformed a parking lot into a luscious vegetable garden which produced over 3000 lbs. of food for the community this year.

With the constant coaching of Patrick, we have youth, mothers, and fathers out in the workforce delighted to have a job and the support of PBMR – another changing narrative! Yesterday, Mr. Lewis from Coldwell Bankers delivered our $12,000 check for the startup of our next building and he was amazed when he saw all the activity, and was especially impressed by the youth in the woodworking shop – so engaged in their projects, yet so hospitable and proud of their work under the guidance of Mike!

As always, Restorative Justice plays a major role at the Center. There have been circles of reconciliation, celebration, training, young women, young men, and mothers throughout the year. Pamela has facilitated many of these and introduced circles into the schools and community, along with introducing our young people to pumpkin carving!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the transformative ministry in our jails and prisons. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Frs. Denny and Dave along with Sara and Mike and other volunteers visit our incarcerated children at the Juvenile Detention Center. Mike Donovan goes from one Illinois prison to another, week after week, visiting young men who have been sentenced, offering them support and love.  Many have no other visitors but Mike! More of our staff, including Artrice and Orlando, also provide services for people re-entering society after incarceration. We walk with these people through a very difficult transition.

Our Restorative Justice Café (RJ Café – Art Center) has also transformed and been transformed by the art displays and the many visitors: ministers, police officers, Latino families, and guests from our Fall Barbeque fundraiser! Speaking of the wonderful day of October 1st , our Fall fundraiser–our community joined in prayer and celebration with friends from the north, south, east, and west and suddenly people who were far off  were brought close at the table of Eucharist and roasted pork!

Yes, our staff has rapidly increased and so has our presence in the neighborhood. We have a very eager and energetic group of young volunteers who, along with Jonathan, Lamonte and Phillip, really change narratives and keep the older ones of us on our toes—even Fr. Kelly!

It is a New Year, may we continue to work together, allowing God to transform us and our communities, churches, and families so the old narratives are changed and new life springs up out of the dark!