I was awed by the incredibly qualified applicants who responded to our craigslist ad for Living Room Conversations organizers in Fresno and Stockton. Their expertise in criminal justice reform was substantial, in many cases informed by powerful background stories. Their collective resumes included working with people recently released from prison, homelessness, mental health, foster care, LGBT issues, developing more tolerance in faith communities, and more.
I decided to host a non-standard Living Room Conversation (LRC) with the new organizers we hired as part of their training. What better way to prepare them to explain the process to others!
Our conversation was held in a youth lounge at a local church and our host baked us cookies.
Each person’s story increased the depth of conversation in the room. We learned about the personal resilience we each shared and the adversity from which our passions had emerged.
There was a strong spiritual presence in the room which informed the conversation and deepened our connection to each other. We entered the room as strangers and left as a team of friends, embarking on a mission.
There was strong consensus that people released from jail or prison needed assistance when we talked about Realignment: Release and Recidivism. Areas that were identified:
substance abuse treatment
changing their thinking
growing up (emotionally)
driver’s license recovery
Another theme that emerged was the difficulty in obtaining existing resources. There is no comprehensive list of resources for re-entry. And the resources that are known are sometimes duplicative. Resources inside of silos exist without connection to one another. In other areas of society, a case manager would be assigned to bring a team of people together that are providing support and services for an individual. This does not exist for released offenders.
We ended our conversation with deep appreciation for each other and feeling highly motivated to share Living Room Conversations with others. In fact our first Living Room Conversation in Spanish has already happened. And three additional conversations are already planned. We are grateful to have such impressive organizers reaching out to their networks working to make sure that key stakeholders are able to join upcoming conversations. We are excited to think of how empowering these conversations can be for the community.
Another team is forming in Stockton / San Joaquin County and another group of professionals will be using Living Room Conversations soon.
In their work with Living Room Conversations, these Independent Organizers will share their experience, network with their communities and recruit co-hosts so all stakeholders are represented in the community.