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Formerly incarcerated share journey to healing

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SAN DIEGO — Six people, including five formerly incarcerated men and women who have successfully reintegrated back into society, will share their firsthand experiences with the criminal justice system at a special event on Saturday, June 11.

The event, “Restoring Humanity: A Speaker Showcase on Restorative Reintegration,” will begin at 2 p.m. at the University of San Diego and will be in person and live-streamed at sdcatholic.org/reentry.

Each of the participating speakers has received months of training from the Phoenix-based organization Amplify Voices to prepare their presentations and shape their messages. According to its website, “Amplify Voices serves individuals historically oppressed, misunderstood or silenced, who want to use their voice as an instrument of change.”

The upcoming event is co-sponsored by the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice and USD’s Center for Restorative Justice.

Dr. Robert Ehnow, director of the diocesan office, attended an Amplify Voices event in Phoenix in March of 2021, which included talks by victim-survivors of human trafficking. It was “a very powerful event,” he said, and inspired him to reach out to the organization with the idea of putting together a similar event where formerly incarcerated men and women could tell their stories.

The six speakers for June 11, each of whom will speak for about 10 minutes, were selected with great care by the Life, Peace and Justice Office and the Center for Restorative Justice. Five were paroled after decades behind bars, and at least half had originally received life sentences. The seventh speaker will provide a family member’s perspective; her husband, also a speaker, and two brothers have been in prison.

The formerly incarcerated speakers have not only reentered society, but in some cases have become active members of the community.

Ehnow noted that one speaker, a former member of the West Coast Crips, now serves on the City of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention; another speaker is a fellow parishioner of Ehnow’s at Sacred Heart Parish in Coronado, where he is an active member.

Ehnow said that many people have strong negative feelings about those who have been in prison, especially for those who have been given life sentences. He said the upcoming talks present “an opportunity to change hearts and change minds,” which is best done, not through statistics but when people are able to tell their personal stories.

He hopes the takeaway will be that “these are God’s children, they made a mistake, they were held accountable for that mistake, and now they’re reintegrating” into the community.

The special event on Saturday, June 11,  2-4 p.m., will be held in person and live-streamed at Warren Auditorium at Mother Rosalie Hill Hall at the University of San Diego. The event is free. Everyone is asked to register to attend or to view the live-streamed event at sdcatholic.org/reentry.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated May 25 from the version published in the June print edition of The Southern Cross after organizers announced program changes.

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