A Reflection on Forgiveness: The Peace Building Through Restorative Dialogue Enhancement Workshop

We have many opportunities for reflection as we near the end of the 2012-13 Humphrey year. At the Year End Retreat in Maryland, groups of Fellows joyfully received certificates of completion of the Humphrey Program signed by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. It has been a year filled with challenges and hope. The Peace Building Through Restorative Dialogue Enhancement Workshop offered at the University of Minnesota is a perfect example of this.

On March 20, 2013, Humphrey Fellows started their day visiting prisoners in Lino Lakes Correctional Institution, where they had opportunities to talk to the offenders, victims and their families. In a circle dialogue with homicide survivors and prisoners, the Fellows were extremely empathetic when they heard sincere regrets from the prisoners and grief from the victims’ families. Some of the prisoners’ families were touched by simple hugs from Fellows. ”It has been years since someone has hugged me after they know what my son has done,” said one prisoner’s mother.

It was a morning filled with intense emotions, both inspiring and draining. Before the debriefing circle dialogue in the afternoon, Dr. Mark Umbreit, a Professor and the founding Director of the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work, introduced Qigong and yoga to the workshop attendees as a way to rebuild inner peace and recover emotionally after the difficult morning.  During the debriefing circle dialogue, Humphrey Fellows shared their thoughts and feelings about their experience at the correctional institution. Some of them raised questions about healing and forgiveness; some challenged the criminal justice system’s failure to help offenders restart their lives; and some compared the U.S. judicial system to that of their own countries. Dr. Umbreit answered questions using real cases and stories.

It was a powerful day of reflection on the meaning of forgiveness, memory, and justice, concepts that matter within every country, every community, and on a broader scale within the international community as a whole.