“I Used to Have His Number, But Now I Have His Back.” 

August 22, 2017 / / Horizon News

Dialogues on Race in Ohio Prisons

A core belief of Horizon Prison Initiative is that dignity, honor, and respect are due to each and every human being.

Each summer, Horizon program coordinators work alongside prison staff sorting through dozens of applications for the fall program cycle. Horizon intentionally seeks people from urban and rural settings, all races, all faith traditions, all ages, and any prison sentence. Matching this diverse group with Horizon’s curriculum allows participants to learn about each other, break down barriers, and build a strong community together.

Several years ago, a former leader of the Aryan Brotherhood applied to participate in Horizon. Part of the curriculum involves living with five other people as a family unit. An African American Muslim participant was now part of his Horizon family, and, throughout the year, the men learned to interact as a family, to rely on each other, to support each other.

In 2003, a group of bishops from around the world visited the prison. The white Horizon graduate addressed the group. He nodded toward his Muslim brother and said:

“I used to have his number, but now I have his back. While we are very different in color, experience, religion, and beliefs, each of us is home to a soul, an essence, that is sacred. We are not garbage. He is my brother. No one gets to him unless he comes through me.”

The examples are not always this extreme, but we hear similar testimony from Horizon participants every year at graduation. “I never would have spoken to him because he is white/black/brown. Now he is my brother.” Throughout the ceremony, their comfortable body language, their laughter, their family inside jokes show that it’s true.

Horizon curriculum explores and celebrates differences

Horizon offers both mandatory and elective courses to help strengthen connections between people who live and work together. Classes such as Building Community, Character Reformation, and Dialogues on Race explore and celebrate what everyone has to offer.

Madeleine Trichel teaches both Building Community and Dialogues on Race. Her extensive background gives her the knowledge and experience needed to answer difficult questions and diffuse tense situations. The former director of the Interfaith Center for Peace and skilled negotiator continues to work as an anti-racism trainer for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Combining her own expertise with ongoing research and curriculum from the World Trust, Trichel has created an impactful three-day Dialogues on Race workshop where inmates can discuss their thoughts and feelings honestly in a safe setting. Through movies, role-playing, and open discourse, they explore Appreciating Diversity, Prejudice Reduction, Social Analysis, Anti-Oppression, Institutional Racism, and Choosing to Change.

“We aren’t born racist,” Trichel said. “People aren’t born hating each other. It’s the way children are educated. By having dialogues – by talking and listening – people start to understand each other. We have more in common than we may think.”

Start your own dialogue

If you want to start your own dialogue about race, Trichel recommends these titles:

The Way Home – A World Trust documentary featuring 64 women representing a cross-section of cultures.

Racial Sobriety – A book that presents a process for dealing with racism as a social illness in the human family.

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? – The last book Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., published.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack – A 1988 article about white privilege.

Cracking the Codes – A World Trust film to support authentic conversations about race.

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