Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Carl Stauffer with his wife Carolyn and 2012 scholar Singmila from India (Photo: Karen Elliott Greisdorf)Chills ran up and down my spine as I felt a heavy emotion settle like a cloud over the training group. What was going on? This was a role-play simulation and yet it felt so real – I had facilitated this particular restorative justice exercise on many occasions in 20 different countries in Africa, but this time it was different.

The sadness, the pain, the loss seemed to hit us all in the gut. The main character, a young man named Chadwin*, from a “colored” township in Johannesburg, South Africa had captured our hearts and our minds. We as the participants were fully immersed in this story – the grimacing expressions, the solemnly bowed heads, the tears that started to flow – it was if each of us were re-living a trauma that we had never known. It was 4:30 pm – time to close the second day of the workshop. As the facilitator, I had allowed the simulation to take its full course because of the powerful reenactment that we were all drawn into.

This meant there was no time left to debrief the learning from that experience – that had to be saved for the next day. As we adjourned, I determined to find out who this young man Chadwin was. In fact, at that time I did not even know his name. He had stepped into this community training to deliver a package to one of the participants and for whatever reason decided to stay un-introduced. When it came time to break into simulation groups, Chadwin joined the participant group that was acting the role of the family of the perpetrator. As the text prescribed, this young perpetrator had murdered a neighbor and friend in gang violence. Now the young offender was being released from prison and the two families were attempting to meet for the first time in years. To my chagrin, this group assigned Chadwin the lead role as the perpetrator. So, I took it upon myself to try to bring this young stranger ‘up to speed’ on the training content and coached him to internalize his role and play it with as much authenticity as possible. I was dubious that this would work. But I was wrong...as he began to articulate his role in the killing, his apology to the family and his remorse for the loss of a friend and brother we were all enthralled – we found ourselves in a ‘sacred’ space. The next morning, Chadwin told us his personal story. As a young 16 year old rising gang leader, he killed a rival gang leader and served 7 years in prison having just been released literally months before this training.

While inside, Chadwin had a personal transformation, and wrote a letter to the Mother of his victim. It was a 17-page letter detailing how he had killed this woman’s son, his apology, his remorse, and his desire to meet the Mother when he was released from prison. Upon his release he attempted to visit the Mother of his victim but because her home was located in “enemy” gang territory he was denied the opportunity to meet with her. This had been a deeply disappointing – the reconciliation he had dreamed of in prison was denied him. So, when Chadwin stepped into the training workshop he heard a language he had never had words for – a narrative that described his circumstances, his emotions and his longings for a restored future. He shared how therapeutic this simulation had been for him and that he did not feel like he was “playing” a role, he felt he was the role. He found his script and his emotion inside himself, not from the external cues I had given him. As a result, Chadwin was able to start to put this shameful violence behind him, to begin to heal his trauma, and for the first time re-integrate meaning in his world. This was not a coincidence - this was a Divine moment – a serendipitous happening meant to function as a turning point in Chadwin’s life and we the community played a pivotal role in this process. So what does this story tell us? Transformative education comes through experience. It wasn’t until Chadwin had the opportunity to act out his reality in “real-time” that he truly understood what he had always imagined reconciliation to be.

This kind of transformative education has become synonymous with the Caux Scholars Program experience. We expect no less in 2012!

By Carl Stauffer, CSP Academic Director

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