‘Let’s Circle Up’ Partnership Takes on New Dimensions: Learning and Building Fellowship within and Beyond the Prison Walls
For more than a decade, the CPGC has fostered a relationship with Let’s Circle Up, the result of efforts from men on the inside of one Pennsylvania prison, offering themselves and others opportunities to build community and imagine a more just world. In the last year, a group of writers in the organization has been in community with Haverford students sharing reading and writing.
On July 15 and 16, community members from all over the Philadelphia region gathered at the DuBois - Robeson People’s Center for a two day intensive workshop on restorative justice. The philosophies which participants explored represent a move away from the more punitive methods of criminal justice, and towards other forms of responding to harm.
In the late 2000s, at SCI Graterford—a Pennsylvania state prison about 60 minutes from Philadelphia—Charles Boyd and Felix Rosado solidified the initiative known today as Let’s Circle Up ,with a primary interest in restorative justice (RJ). In Rosado’s words, RJ is: “a different, but not necessarily new, way to address harm that seeks to heal by involving those most affected--including those who caused the harm.”
While serving a life- without- parole sentence, Rosado had the opportunity to take a course through Temple University’s “Inside Out” program, and came across writing by Howard Zehr, one of the pioneers of RJ. In a personal reflection, Rosado writes about how his journey to reconcile concepts of harm and crime with the notion of justice led him to implement restorative justice education in his own networks while still incarcerated. Now, after fighting his “death by incarceration sentence” and being granted clemency by the PA governor, Rosado works at the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project in Philadelphia, facilitating workshops he formerly led on the inside of prison.
With CPGC’s support, in 2016 Let’s Circle Up (LCU) brought their Introduction to Restorative Justice workshop, from inside prison to Haverford’s campus. Since then, continuing to work with leadership on the inside of SCI Phoenix (the new incarnation of SCI Graterford), nearly 200 more people in the Greater Philadelphia community have participated in the Restorative Justice workshops. Bouncing back from the impacts of the pandemic, in 2022 Haverford CPGC once again began hosting workshops with LCU facilitators on the outside.
Since 2011, Fords have been involved with LCU’s work in various ways. This work is part of a larger series of relationships dedicated to decarceration and mitigation of the harms from the prison-industrial complex, many of which have been organized by the CPGC.
Across campus, various efforts to sponsor Let’s Circle Up’s mission have begun. For instance, in 2021 Student’s Council directed unspent student activity funds to LCU. In 2022, backed by Haverford staff in CPGC and the College Writing Center, a group of Haverford students and recent graduates initiated the Race & Restorative Justice Reading Group. Through electronic and paper correspondence, members of the group reflected on restorative justice, harm, and the relationship between race and the carceral system alongside incarcerated members of Let’s Circle Up. Subsequently, the group shared more personal pieces of writing between members on the inside and the outside, including plays, essays, and poems relating to restorative justice, the harms of the Prison-Industrial Complex, and other topics important to the members.
In March, 2023, a small group of students and staff had the experience of reading Larry S. Stromberg's "Reimagining Justice," a play treating the power of second chances and the potential of restorative justice in society. Stromberg is a currently incarcerated member of LCU and the Race and Restorative Justice Reading Group.
Meanwhile, this past spring, Fords involved with Students for Abolition, Liberation, and Transformation (SALT)—a student organization for those interested in alternatives to policing, abolition, and transformative/restorative justice in the context of political organizing—participated in the John B. Hurford Center’s Club - in - Residence program. Members of SALT showcased the LCU’s work, along with a lending library including works by Zehr and abolitionist thinkers, adjacent to an exhibition of artistic work by incarcerated artist Reggie West and several campaigns led by the Human Rights Coalition--a CPGC partner organization for summer fellowships. This club residency coincided with a large gathering of students, faculty, staff, and artists, abolitionists and organizers at the Imagining Abolitionists Future’s symposium.
As bridges between those incarcerated and allies on the outside continue to develop, the possibilities for what the Haverford community can do multiply. Restorative Justice represents an approach that is applicable to many aspects of life -- not just in the context of the criminal justice system. In fact, the new Restorative Practices at Haverford Group-- formed of faculty, students and staff specially trained in moderating restorative conversations, offers a new, non-punitive option to those in conflict in need of some third-party facilitation.
The CPGC looks forward to continuing the partnership with Let’s Circle Up as more people participate in the workshops. Moreover, friends and affiliates at LCU are finding new ways to grow the relationship with the Haverford community, including participation in other campus programing such as this year’s THRIVE conference. Plans for an upcoming on-campus workshop are currently being settled for early October.