What the California prison hunger strike can teach us
Toward Peace and Justice, July 2013
July 16, 2013
Yesterday, thousands of people in California prisons entered a second week of hunger strikes, their nonviolent protest against dehumanizing practices used throughout the state’s prison system.
Their commitment to reform begs us to ask: What would a system of justice look like that truly restores and protects everyone in a community—healing all who have suffered, restoring right relationship between the wrongdoer and the wronged, creating conditions to prevent further harm?
Whether it’s among prisoners in California or Michigan or in a Peace Village in Burundi, we see every day that the path to peace begins with justice grounded not in retribution or revenge, but in healing and reconciliation. We have learned that even the most painful wounds can begin to heal when people have a safe space to tell their truths, to share their pain, and to listen deeply in a joint search for reconciliation.
Peter Martel’s personal experiences have taught him that “love, support, and knowledge are more effective in creating a better world than punitive, retributive actions will ever be.”
Peter spent a decade in solitary confinement for armed robbery charges before becoming program associate with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Michigan. Now he works to reduce recidivism by helping people behind prison walls, offering some of the same services that—along with his family’s love and support—helped him find the power to transform his life.
Peter tells his story in the recent issue of Quaker Action devoted to accounts of AFSC’s restorative justice work around the world. You can also read about the healing process of truth-telling that’s bringing together perpetrators and victims in Maine and Burundi, and reflections from one of the mediators selected by California prisoners currently on hunger strike on why now is the time to change our prison system. Find these stories and more at afsc.org/quakeraction.
AFSC and our partners are modeling a new paradigm built on transformation and wholeness rather than on punishment and retribution—but we’re also working to change systems that rely on the inevitability of violence.
The disturbing trend of privatizing incarceration puts the pursuit of profits ahead of the needs of taxpayers, prisoners, and prison employees. Tomorrow, I hope you can join AFSC for a special online discussion featuring three of our prison experts who are working on the ground to advocate against privatization. Get details and register.
Shan Cretin, General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee