WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Catholic Mobilizing Network has introduced a new podcast, “Encounters With Dignity,” available on many popular podcast platforms.
Hosted by Caitlin Morneau, the organization’s director of restorative justice, the half-hour podcasts break down talks given during Catholic Mobilizing Network’s seminar last fall on restorative justice.
The first of the monthly installments made its premiere in January. It features Precious Blood Father David Kelly, who has been a parish-based jail minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago for the past 30 years and is one of the founders of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, which focuses on three Chicago neighborhoods.
In the podcast installment, he details some of his ministry. “I’ve been in courtrooms too many times,” Kelly said. “The focus is on punishment,” while no resources are given to those who have been harmed, he added.
He recalled the 1995 heat wave in Chicago that claimed 739 lives. “One community had six times more deaths” than another in the same city, Kelly noted. The difference: The neighborhood with fewer deaths had a place where people could check in on one another, such as a library or community center.
So it is with troubled youths, Kelly said. They need, he added, “a place where we don’t say, ‘We’re just tolerating you.'”
The priest recounted an episode when he invited the Spanish-speaking mothers of murder victims to come to a prison with him to meet young men whose ages were similar to their sons. They “quickly said no,” Kelly said.
“But an invite to Mass — Mass they knew,” and they accepted. The Mass would be in the prison.
After Mass, there was a restorative justice circle “with jailed young people” whose “eyes were wide open,” Kelly said, as they heard the mothers describe their pain and heartache at the loss of children to violence.
The mothers in turn listened in wide-eyed amazement “as they heard stories of kids not knowing their mothers, families riddled with drugs,” he added.
“The moms began to lean in and see these people differently. They carried their own trauma and their own pain. They, too, were victims,” Kelly said. “The mothers said, ‘Well, now, what are we going to do? We can’t leave them.’ ‘Well, you can’t stay.'”
The compromise: “They insisted that they come back and bring food to these young people,” he added. “A community, albeit different, was formed.”
The second podcast, released in February, features Christina Swarns, defense attorney and executive director of the Innocence Project, and Sheryl Wilson, victim outreach specialist and executive director of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
They tell the story of how restorative approaches were used in a death penalty case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The third episode in the series, to be posted in March, will feature Ernie Garcia, a former participant and current member of the alumni advisory committee for Rise Up Industries, an 18-month prisoner reentry program in Santee, California.
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Editor’s Note: More information about the “Encounters With Dignity” podcast can be found on online at https://catholicsmobilizing.org.