Edward encountered Council for the first time at Ironwood State Prison. He was one of the first participants to sign up for the Inmate Council Program there and became a leader within the group after completing both the Council 1 and Council 2 training workshops offered by Center for Council trainers.
Edward was incarcerated for 27 years before being called for an interview this summer before the Board of Parole Hearings. That interview led to the granting of parole and Edward is now in the process of reintegrating himself into the San Diego community. Edward credits the success of his rehabilitation efforts, and the granting of parole, to skills and perspectives he learned in the workshops and practice groups offered by the Inmate Council Program.
When CDCR’s Office of Public Communications arranged for Center for Council to videotape inmate testimonials about the impact of the program, we were struck by Edward’s extraordinarily clear and insightful perspective. His articulation of the power of the work of Council remains a highlight of the short film on the Inmate Council Program (find the link below). Center for Council caught up again with Edward recently and asked him to share his thoughts on the reentry process and how the practice of Council has helped him transition back into the world outside the prison gates. Edward’s passion and positivity is contagious; it is apparent that he doesn’t take a thing for granted.
Center for Council: Edward, could you tell us about your experience in general with Council and what it has meant to you?
Edward: When it first started out, we didn’t quite know what it would be about. But once the program got started and we went through the training, and were able to see how it played out, it was a wonderful experience for me. To be able to sit with other guys and hear each other’s stories, and see that we were all similarly situated, it was an awesome experience. Like I’ve said before, it was actually a real healing process for me.
Before Council, I would never speak in front of people, never in front of a group. And in Council, there were 20 or so people in the group. You know, I had to prepare for my parole hearing and Council played probably the biggest role in helping me get my parole. Being able to open up and sit there in front of people and talk about my struggles in life, in terms of the abuse I went through, and growing up with my parents, and being involved in gangs. Council brought that out in me in a way where I was able to talk about it openly, something that I would not have ever done had I not participated. It helped me tremendously.
Council is one of the main groups that people want to participate in. When you leave Council and you go out into the yard, people were always asking us: “What is this group?” And they wanted to join it because they saw the attitudes of the people that came out of the group. Everybody was upbeat, cheerful, and everybody felt good. The people that participated in that group said it was the best group they had ever been a part of. Before I left Ironwood there was like a line of people waiting to get into the program.
It’s very healing. It’s a place where you can just get peace of mind and learn about yourself. To be able to tell stories about your life, where each story is different, it’s amazing. Sometimes I become speechless in trying to explain it because of the experience. Because, when you participate in it, and allow the process to work, and you go through the process, it gets you to that place. And I’m grateful for it.
Center for Council: How has the transition been for you since leaving prison.
Aw man, it’s just amazing. A lot of people wonder why I’m so happy and wonder about the way I see things. Well, I appreciate everything. And coming from prison, and living in that environment, where I was down for 27 years and the element that’s in the air—in terms of the people -- you know there’s a lot of hardcore people up in there. And to have to deal with that mentally, and then come out of it and to be able to see people for who they really are, people that are loving and kind, people who you should love just for being a human, because that’s what we should all be doing... You know, we’re all united or connected in some way or another and so to see that in Council brought that side out of me and gave me an appreciation for people in a way I had not seen before. And so, coming out here, into society, after 27 years, the transition has been smooth. It has been wonderful.
I’ve been accepted by everyone I’ve come across. When they hear me speak and they see my experience… they’re just very welcoming. I know that Council had a lot to do with that because before coming to Council, although I was working on myself and rehabilitating myself, and participating in other groups, Council opened that door to where I was able to see people’s points of views and the deep things in people’s lives and be able to connect with them.
On a level where the things you go through as children, whether it’s abuse or neglect, or whatever… you go through those things and you become this person that ends up joining a gang because of the influences that were in your life at that time. And, for me, wanting to be a part of something, and then ending up going to prison and having to go through that... And then finding my way out of that and coming into a program like Center for Council where you’re accepted, where you’re not being judged, your story can be told and you can speak about your life without feeling like someone’s going to judge you for it… it was an awesome experience for me. So I feel like I’m doing really good transitioning from prison back into society with the experience I got from Council.
Part of my transition was to make sure I got everything in line, in terms of identification, social security, Medicare, and things like that. I also participate in programs at the transition house that I’m in right now. They just recently had a celebrity golf tournament where they were raising money for the program itself. The owner of the program chose me as someone to participate in that because of my personality and my spirit. He heard me speak before at a meeting and invited me to the event. I’ve been invited to a couple events like that, you know, where I have had the opportunity to speak with different people and meet different people and acclimate myself back into society. Right now, I’m getting involved in lots of programs and going to the colleges and classes to speak about my experience. I’m sure I will be using those skills that I learned from Council.
I just want to say thanks to Jared and Ray, for coming into the prison and bringing Council. Like I said before, it was a wonderful experience for me to get involved in that group and be able to open up to people in a way that I was comfortable speaking about myself and my life.
(Hear more of Edward’s insights about the practice of Council, recorded when he was still an inmate at Ironwood.)