Ray Tucker is one of Center for Council’s senior trainers. A former law enforcement officer, Ray leads Council trainings for incarcerated men in prisons across California as part of our Inmate Council Project. He has also trained numerous professional organizations in the Southern California region, helping them to integrate elements of the Council practice into their company culture. We sat down with Ray to learn a bit more about how he first found the Council practice, and what propelled him to want to become a Council trainer.
Center for Council: What was it that encouraged you to make the shift from working in law enforcement to facilitating Council circles?
Ray Tucker: In January of 1994, I had an experience as a police officer, that no academy ever trains you for. They train you to shoot, but they don’t train you to know what it feels like to shoot someone. They cannot prepare you for what that experience is like. For the next five or six months, I wasn’t able to talk to anyone about how that incident affected me and impacted my life as a police officer as well as my personal life. I carried that experience with me. My work ethic declined, I started showing up late for work, sometimes I didn’t bring my weapon home. There were times when I went to work with no bullets in my gun.
I went through a period of not being able to make decisions in my life, big or small. I couldn’t even decide what clothes to wear. I didn’t feel like I had a safe place to go to talk about what I was experiencing. I didn’t feel like I could share with other officers what I was going through, so I didn’t say anything to anybody. About a year later, after much thought, I decided that it wasn’t safe for me, or for my fellow officers, to continue working on the force, so I retired.
In 1995, I was looking for an ethnically diverse middle school for my daughter. One of the schools I was considering, Palms, had just started a Council program the year prior, which really interested me. In my research before enrolling her in that school, I had the opportunity to sit in a parents’ Council circle. At the end of that Council I felt so connected to the parents and so connected to the school itself. I decided to send her there and join the Council program as an intern to learn how to facilitate Council circles in the school myself. I’ve been doing Council ever since that time.
What drew you to become a Council trainer?
Since I had retired from law enforcement, I was looking to do something that would make a difference in the lives of young people. A really positive difference.
In addition to the regular parents Council at Palms, all 6th and 8th graders were also participating in Council. I would sit in the classroom and observe the Council circle with students and learn from the experienced facilitator that was leading it. After about two years of interning, I became a co-director of the Council program at Palms.
Did you feel that something shifted in you after that first Council circle, or as you began to understand the practice more?
I don’t know if something changed in me, but Council spoke to me. I immediately felt how amazing it was to listen to the stories of others and realize how connected we are even though we don’t know one another.
After being involved in Council, I truly believe that, if there had been a program available for officers that allowed them to openly talk about what was going on and what they were going through, I could have stayed in law enforcement. Council would have been an opportunity for me to really verbalize and express what I was actually going through. I think having a program like Council could be so beneficial to officers who might be going through something similar, or might just need a way to be more deeply connected to one another.
What did you daughter think of Council? Did she take to the practice as well?
She took to it immediately. It helped her integrate into the middle school experience in a healthy way. I think Council helped her find her voice and learn about other people in an organic environment. She was able to develop friendships and relationships with people she didn’t know before. At that time at the school, it was 30% African American, 30% Caucasian, 30% Hispanic, and 10% other so it was a really rich opportunity for her to learn about other people with other backgrounds.
What was the Council practice like in schools? Did the students enjoy it?
It built a culture of caring amongst the students and a sense of being connected not only to one another but also to the staff and teachers, because the teachers were able to share their stories in the Council circle as well.
One weekend someone sprayed graffiti in the school and when the kids came back and saw it they were really upset about it. The student who had done the graffiti happened to be in my Council circle. We held a Council about the incident, both for the students who were angry about what had happened and for him as well. He was able to come and sit in Council and talk about what he did and why he did it, and it really helped the kids heal around the incident because they were able to hear his story. It was so beneficial for him too, to have the courage to share that story and have his story be accepted by his peers. It was really healing for everyone.
This year’s Social Justice Council Project Celebration honored our non-profit partner organizations participating in the Social Justice Council Project. Held at the LA River Center and Gardens, this day-long program explored the impact that Council can have on an individual and a community. It also celebrated what happens when we take time to simply listen to one another without critique and speak from the heart without worrying about how we might be perceived.
Center for Council was thrilled to have so many partner organizations there to celebrate. Staff from participating organizations exchanged stories and ideas about how they are implementing Council into their organizational culture or using it personally, as a way to cultivate compassion for others, find a greater sense of clarity, strengthen their communication skills, and develop a more rooted belief in themselves within the day-to-day.
Hearing how organizations are using Council was an uplifting reminder of how significant the elements of Council truly are, even when practiced outside the circle. Many reported that sitting in Council with their coworkers had brought them immensely closer, and that they are more apt to collaborate with one another on professional projects. One of the most basic elements of the Council practice is the circle in which participants sit to tell their stories and listen to one another. The circle’s shape enables each participant to see and be seen, neutralizing normative hierarchies of gender, race, or job title.
It was an impactful day for all of us at Center for Council, to be able to witness our friends—old and new—coming together to share in our mission of fostering individual and communal compassion and empowering heartfelt, honest dialogue to promote collective understanding and resilience.
Before being released from prison, I worried that the world I would be returning to would be a scary place. On my very first day outside, I noticed that most people walking down the sidewalks of LA were looking down at their phone or some type of device that connected them to social media. People didn’t take time to look up and acknowledge one another. Nobody was paying attention to what was going on around them; or next to them; or who was behind them at the checkout line at the grocery store.
In prison you learn very quickly to notice EVERYTHING. “Keep your head on a swivel” are words to live by. Paying attention in prison will save your life. Even when you’re on the yard playing sports or chess— your attention is never fully on the game. You’re scanning the yard from end to end as a lifeguard would a swimming pool, looking for signs of danger. If you see someone digging in the dirt it’s likely that he’s burying a weapon or pulling one up. If they’re digging in their waistband it’s likely they’re pulling out a weapon or putting one away. You learn to look for the signs. Most of the time the people you’re watching are watching you watching them; and the correctional officers watch us all. There is a lot of eye contact in prison, acknowledgement of one another. You really feel noticed. It is even a sign of disrespect to walk past someone without taking the time to acknowledge them in some type of way—a nod of the head, a smile, a hand shake, even a simple hello.
When I joined the Council program I learned about “reading the field” and paying attention to body language and things that were unsaid. What got me the most is that I had already mastered these skills. So when we learned about mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment without judgement, these teachings only reinforced and put into words what I was already doing. After I became a Council facilitator I was applying these tools in a more positive way, to really benefit myself, and they stayed with me for the course of my time in prison. Council enhanced these skills for me, my awareness of what was happening around me deepened. I was NOTICING more. And the more I noticed about the world around me, the more I noticed about myself. What began as a means of survival became a way of life for a different purpose: the bigger picture, the third consciousness, the reason why we do Council, and that has carried over to the way I interact with the free-world.
What I have been encountering out here, though, is that people don’t live by the same rule of thumb: sometimes I get weird looks when I say hello, or good morning. Other times people seem shocked to receive a friendly smile or help from a stranger. But then there are the ones that seem to be as alert as I am. There is a familiar look in their eye; they have the look of someone that has been on a prison yard, having to play by the rules as a means of survival. Usually they can be spotted by the tattoos they wear, their piercing eyes, or the weathered look of someone that has spent a little too much time in the sun. I may not personally know this individual, but with the simple nod of the head we have a connection. It feels good to be seen.
Everyday I wake up and I set the intention to acknowledge the world around me in all of its forms. It may be a random stranger that needs to be heard like a guy I met at a gas station that just wanted to congratulate me for having such a beautiful family. He didn’t even know that I was just released from prison only hours before. Or it may be a cashier at a Walmart that wanted to talk about her brother that was released from prison after serving twenty-nine years. Or even a homeless person on the sidewalk that asked me for a cigarette. Or the police officer that helped me find the train station. In all of these encounters we shook hands and introduced ourselves, and walked away with a smile and a sense of humanity. In all of these encounters I walked away feeling refreshed and relieved to find that the world isn’t such a scary place after, all as long as we take the time to see one another.