A Tiny Seed of Peace in Prison

Sunaina’s reflections from sharing Nonviolent Communication with Donovan Correctional Facility residents. Click here to learn more.

“I used to think I was different from everyone,” a Donovan resident in our Nonviolent Communication program told me. “I used to think that no one could understand anything about my life because they have no idea what it’s like to be me, or what goes on inside of me.” 

For weeks, we had been talking about human needs and how they are the impetus for all of our behaviors and emotions. Because those needs exist in every human being, seeing them helps us understand each other. 

“But now I realize we are all the same,” he continued. “I don’t know why it took me so long to learn such a simple thing. But it makes total sense and it changes everything.”

“How does it change things?” I asked.

“I can see parts of myself in everyone else now. I know that sounds egotistical, but it’s true. I see myself in everyone,” he said, as he pointed around the circle of men.

As this resident shared with me his realization of the unity of existence 🙂 I couldn’t help but wonder what an incredible breakthrough this is for anyone, let alone for a prison resident. 

I have learned that prison populations are often deeply divided among racial lines. At Donovan, the color of your skin determines the “team” you are on, and riots have broken out between racial groups on the yard, often resulting in injuries and sometimes death. 

For this person to look around a circle of residents with different skin colors and say that he sees some of himself in everyone is remarkable and awe-inspiring. It occurs to me now that I was witnessing a tiny seed of peace being planted in one of the most violent environments on earth. 

I can’t help but think about how our world could transform if we could all see ourselves in others, especially in those whom we are used to seeing as separate from ourselves.

Can I see my own need for self expression and understanding in someone tweeting angry political messages I do not agree with?

Can I see my own need for connection and belonging in a family member who frustratingly scolds me for missing a family gathering?

I think I can. And I am grateful to the Donovan resident for reminding me that I can come from a place of empathy and understanding when connecting with my brothers and sisters in this often tumultuous world.

A version of this blog post also appears on BrillianceInside.org.

Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

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