Richard Cruz is native and his relations are through his mother (Georgia) Assiniboine Sioux, Nakota, and Arapaho. After decades in the California Department of Corrections he serves as the Co-Executive Director of the Ahimsa Collective, an Oakland-based organization focused on restorative justice.
In this episode, Richard talks about his shift in mindset after leaving incarceration and how Restorative Justice has exposed him to different opportunities and different ways of thinking.
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David (he/him): Richard, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Richard (he/him): I am a son, a son of, of Georgia Cruz. from the Assiniboine tribe in Canada and Montana. I'm her son and like from her lineage and from that native background.
Of inclusiveness, of like love and just really, really Yeah, the son of my mother. That's exactly who I am.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Richard (he/him): I'm also a product of this,United States or America or whatever it's been labeled. And, growing up in, in poverty and, a lot of trauma. Like I'm also a survivor in those things. So, yeah. I'm also a survivor of all these things that have been done to all these people in this country that have been brought here and that were here.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm. , who are you?
Richard (he/him): I'm also a brother to two and an uncle. I got a half a half sister and a half brother. I think I'm, I'm a brother to them and, and wanting a deeper relationship with them. wanting to always know how they're doing and to hope they're doing well. And then my nieces and nephews, an, uncle to them, somebody that hopefully they can look to for advice or they could look to, to get some guidance Or an uncle that is, is not judgey and is like, you know, your uncle's been through a lot of stuff and so you could talk to him just about anything.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Richard (he/him): I am a partner to Sonya and a parental figure to her children and to Coco my dog. So, yeah, and, and it's a, a loving partnership.
I'm a loving partner to her. Like really
open to let her be who she is and, and struggling with children at the same time. Like not trying to put my stuff on them, like all the things that I've been through and. As, as we raised them together with her and her ex-husband and their other, stepmother, like really just figuring it all out and like, trying to be the best.
I like to say I don't like to say I'm their dad. I'm another parental figure or an uncle. As we say, everybody's in relations. I'm more of an uncle to them than I want that and feel that love for them. So I'm also that a partner and a and uncle and a and a parental figure.
David (he/him): Who are you
Richard (he/him): a leader in our organization and, and when I say a leader, I mean not so much in the hierarchy sense, but in a sense. People look up to me for advice and for guidance in the, in the things that they're doing within our org. And so it can be a day to day thing of, you know, just like, how do I code my receipts to, like, how do I facilitate or how do I, you know, can I talk to you about some things that are like going on in my life?
And so, being that person in an orgb for others, you know, it's, it's another way. It's, it's a leadership role that I allow to go all over the place and it's not just stuck in one say, employee employer type thing. So I'm also that.
David (he/him): Who are you?
Richard (he/him): I'm also somebody that is, Coming out of mass incarceration and learning what this outside world is like. like experiencing new things and learning a lot of new things out here. it's going in at 16, coming out at 46, the world really changed and just experiencing it, experiencing different ways of being in the world, the way different people are, the way different cultures are.
So I'm really a, a, a learner and have that learner's mind of going around the world and going around the country and just, and learning about things. And so I really feel like very young in that essence of learning and having experiences in this world. So,
David (he/him): And finally, for now, who are you?
Richard (he/him): I am,a person who values relationships and straight and forwardness and honesty, and then also connection also to my own space and like my own things I like, like not an introvert, not an extrovert. Somewhere in between. I like to like to be with people. Then I like to be by myself sometimes.
I am definitely an animal lover. Like I love animals, I love dogs, and so that, that is at the core of me and yeah, that's me.
David (he/him): Well, thank you so much, Richard, for sharing I'll, that you've shared already. We're gonna get to the intersections of so many of those things in our conversation right after this Oh my goodness, Richard, it is so good that we connected, initially at the NACRJ conference, followed up a little bit after I was one of those people asking for advice around some of those things, organizationally, structurally, but you know, your story, your wisdom, we had to have you here.
But before we get to all of that, it's always good to check in. So to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question. How are you?
doing good this morning? I actually slept well last night. Got, I'm like really older now, and so sleep means a lot to me, . So it's just like, Oh, if I get a good night's sleep, I'm good, I'm happy If I see that, if I look over and I see that clock.
Richard (he/him): 6:37. I'm like, Yes, I slept in. And so really just feel good about that. I'm, looking forward to,getting, it's Friday, so getting done today and then actually going to a drive in on Saturday, for one of one of the kids. she has to do a, a report like she's with the newspaper and she has to do a report on drivings, and I love drive-ins, like, so I'm just like, Yeah, let's go.
And so looking forward to that, getting ready to go to New York on Monday and spend the week there. And so, yeah, it's, it's, it's a weekend, but it's like, okay, I gotta get a lot of things done before I leave. And so yeah, I'm feeling good, feeling energized. I got, got myself organized this morning and I'm, happy.
David (he/him): Absolutely. I, I feel you on the sleep thing for sure. For, you know, slightly different reasons. I'm, I don't see a future where,anywhere near future where I get like straight nights of sleep just cuz having a five month old, having, having a baby. But you know, when there is like, at least like two, three hour stretches.
Good night. I feel great. I already told you that. I'm like extra caffeinated this morning. But, you know, sleep being so important, glad that was something that you were able to do, especially, as you're. So, so jet setting always, always on the go. I imagine like that, that piece is often a challenge, sleeping in different environments.
but you're here for this conversation talking about this restorative justice life, and that's something that you have lived in many ways for a number of different years, probably before you even knew the word restorative justice. So in your own words, how did this journey get started for you?
Richard (he/him): So yeah, it's all based on like with the meaning of what I describe as the meaning of restorative justice.
And so restorative justice to me means like, and I intersected with circle and with, relationship. I've been doing this like probably my whole life and with my mother. . And so it started back then, I've been doing this ever since. We used to sit around.
we didn't sit around the table and have dinner, but we would sit around the tv and eat together and talk about things that were going on, you know, issues we were having, resolving problems with, you know, me and my sister, or me and my mother, me and my stepdad. We were figuring out things and how to work and how to live together.
Mm-hmm. in, in a very relational way. And even with my, my brother and, and others in our neighborhood. Like that to me is when it all, that's the value of it. And the principle of it, and the practice of it is like, we were doing it back then and it was ingrained in us and, you know, generations before that, doing it in our tribes or, you know, it's in, it's innate for me, It's an innate thing that's been handed down.
And so going through that and then. Like I mentioned before, I went to prison at 16, went in there and, was part of groups. some groups that were considered healthy, some that were considered not. the same principles were there, like we were taking care of each other. Like we were, whether that group was say a gang or a drug and counseling group going through prison, we were doing the same thing.
We were, we were dealing with issues that, problems that were coming up amongst us as a collective and as a group. Like, things would come up all the time and we would go to our elders or the people who knew better or had wisdom and like, we're having this problem and we wouldn't wanna fight about it.
Like, fighting and violence was our last option, but we would try to figure it out. How do we, how do we resolve this first, you know? And so we would talk about it, see if we could resolve it and figure out a way. And so we actually did it in inside a lot of the times. And then it started getting into, after getting away from the, from the negative groups of like, Oh, let's figure out this problem.
If we can't, then we resort to violence. Getting out of that and getting more into, When I started doing groups for multiple things like drugs, AA and a, some inner wounded child, some drug and alcohol counseling, it all came into play there. We would sit in circle, we'd sit around a table, or we'd sit in chairs and we would start talking about what the problem was, and then we would start getting into the root of it.
Mm-hmm. , like, how did this, how did this come about? How did it, you know, and supporting people in a way that. Supporting each other, I should say. Not people, not me doing it today, but supporting each other in a way that was more loving. And I remember doing this when I was in, in the Youth Authority, before I went to prison.
Cause I went from juvenile hall Youth Authority to prison, as I got older. But I remember sitting down with this one lady and we went outside and she's like, Come here, let me talk to you. And we were talking and, and it was just me and her, but she was listening to me, she was hearing me, she was interested in like, my life and where I came from.
And I was like, I didn't know what it was back then.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): But now looking back, I'm like, oh, this was like, this was restorative. This was a restorative justice or a circle or however it had the same values of this carrying this, loving this listening and being seen and heard. And, so I was like, Oh, shit.
Like, that's, that's what I wanted. That's what I needed. And so going back to there and then as our journey, as my journey went on, like participating in that both ways, inside of people coming to me with, with issues that they were having and wanting to talk about it, and just listening to them and not judging them and, seeing how they wanted to, you know, figure it out for themselves if they wanted to go deeper or they just wanted to, you know, just vent, like, and creating that safe space for them to do that.
So it went on through throughout my whole time, inside for the 30 years. And then it got to the point of, us actually, when it became named of, Oh, this is restorative justice, I. When somebody introduced the concept to me inside, I was like, Yeah, RJ. And I was like, What the hell is RJ? And they explained it to me.
It's like, Oh, we've been doing that forever. We built our own community in here and like, we have a community accountability. Like that's what we do. Like, and, and in my mind, I was thinking, you all don't do this out there. Like this is, this is normal for us. Mm-hmm. , our, our, our little communities in here are accountable to each other and to the whole, it's like you may have different group segments, but you're accountable to that group.
And then all these groups are accountable to the whole, And we try to make sure that nobody like disrupts the whole community. And, and so, yeah. I was like, Oh yeah, this is, this has been going on for years. Y'all like, Huh? It's, it's an interesting thing that you named it .
David (he/him): Yeah. Well, I think, I mean from the beginning of this podcast, right?
People have talked about this not being this way of being, right? This quote unquote restorative justice life, is not because of like, The work of Howard Zer and those people , right? Who, who gave name and like terminology and language around like a specific practice of repairing harm to the extent possible involving those who have like a stake in a specific offense, right?
That is, that is like what we now what money people now know is restorative justice. But I'm thinking back to like the fourth episode of this podcast, Helen Thomas who, is- and talking about her mom just saying like, No, we just live this circle way. And like that's how, how she grew up. And then when she got to college and learned like, Oh, restorative justice, what's that like, exactly what you're saying.
Like, yeah, this is just what we do. And you know, some of us are more separated from those traditions than others, but, whether or not you are indigenous to Turtle Island, you know, this continent, many people, are able to identify spaces in, in their families where, relationships existed. accountability was there and people were really interested in like, Building relationships, continuing to remain in a relationship even when, conflict and harm happened.
Because I mean, those people in your family aren't going anywhere. Those people inside of a prison, like, you know, sometimes people transition in and out, but like, they're not going anywhere. You're in more ways than sometimes people on the outside. You're stuck with those people, right? and so it's the, there, there's a violent way to deal with conflict and harm, but this is the way that just makes the most sense for everybody's wellbeing, and actually getting to the root of problems and moving forward.
I wanted, I have a, I have a problem when I ask that question cuz like, you kind of took us like through all of the journey and I want to go back to childhood one. Can you like geographically place, where you were, growing up?
Richard (he/him): So I was born in Mountain View in the Bay Area. And California.
And then I was raised in, In the Bay Area in Sacramento, Northern California. Yeah. Throughout my childhood, up until we moved around a lot. I never went to one school for longer than a year. Mm-hmm. . And then I, actually dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Yeah. And then, and then went to prison.
David (he/him): Yeah. But, but California, Department of Corrections, in all the iterations, that, that was, And so thinking about like a landscape where you grew up, not, you talked about, trauma and I'm not sure how like you were specifically using that. Sometimes people think about that as like the ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and I imagine like that score was like pretty high.
For you. And when you think about, you know, being a survivor of all of that, contributing to like the decisions that, the choices that, you were making that like ended you up in the DOC I think about all of the ways that when we're talking about restorative justice, it's not just about like this one thing that this one person did.
David (he/him): In this one instance, it's, there was harm on this land right? This land was stolen, right? People were enslaved here to build the, the structures and the entity so that, let this country continue to exist and create these conditions where people have limited choices, or perceive limited choices, often choices that will end up, causing harm to themselves, to others also ending up in, within the, criminal legal system.
It's not just so restorative justice is not just like, how do we repair. Those incidents of harm and how do we take accountability? I think so much about like, how do we change the systems? And some might argue that that's like a transformative justice framework. And I say, you're right, and like, let's not get caught up in like the words of the terminology.
I'm curious, as you have experienced this breath of restorative work, right? Both from your home, both inside, in, in, more, more violent settings where like it's just like prevention to spaces where you're like proactively working on yourself and like the work that you've been doing outside, How do you, maybe the answer is simply like restorative justices in all of it, but how do you like differentiate?
Like what was restorative in one space versus like when I put, got formal language for it, like it's something different. Does that, does that question make sense?
Richard (he/him): The formal language? Yeah. I think, yeah, it makes sense. what was the first point of your question? Cause I was focusing on the second part.
David (he/him): Yeah. So you had this experience of ReSTOR, things that are restorative before you knew the word restorative justice. Wow. And now since the terms have been introduced, you've been doing a lot of work with them. Do you see a difference in the work or in the way that you engage? Okay.
Richard (he/him): So yeah, I think the, the, before I knew the term, like there was like, we had issues, we had problems, we had things that came up and they were all because of trauma, they were all, you know, there's a root somewhere.
And so understanding that piece takes some internal work.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): And so, and then what always gets me is like, Before I knew the definition or what has been defined as restorative justice like we did, who got to define the harm was us. Hmm. It wasn't some law that some white man wrote that determines what harm is like in the hood, we determined what harm is and in prison we determined how we hurt each other.
It wasn't, it wasn't what the prison system said, it wasn't what the law was. It was like, what does harm to us? Like how do you, how do you go against the collective? And so we determined what the harm was and then we figured out like, how do you get that correct. With that, it didn't have nothing to do with the system.
So it was like, for instance, if, if I got, if I felt disrespected, like how does somebody repair that in this setting? Like, there's, there's no law against it. There's no, Oh, you got disrespected. But it is something that happens within our community. Mm-hmm. . So what did I need? I needed this person to understand what he did, how he disrespected me, how I'm feeling about it, and then not to do it again, but like, how do we work that out?
And so we had to sit down and talk about it with other people that were there, that we trusted and like figure that out. And so I think before all this term came, like we, we defined what was harm. We defined what was, what was straight criminalized or these things. And, and then we got to decide how to fix that or how to repair that in many different ways.
And so I think now that it's been defined as like we look towards this criminalization version, but not understanding how people became criminalized. and how this system has criminalized people. And so you have somebody out there that may be selling drugs
David (he/him): mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): but why are they selling drugs? Because they don't have opportunity for employment.
They don't have, you know, their, their choices are very limited. Like I think these things. And now you consider this person a criminal. I would consider this person just trying to eat and survive. And so like, there, there was this, this great thing that came out to where this kid went. He was a child and he went to go and he stole from the story, stole some food in the and and they called the cops on him.
The cops arrested him. He was like 12 years old or so think they brought him into court. And the judge was like, What happened here? And he said, Did you steal this? He's like, Yeah. He's like, How come? So we don't have no food at home? So I was just stealing to get food and bring it home. And this judge, I love this judge.
This judge said, Oh, okay. He said, I'm finding the whole courtroom. Except for this child, the people who called the police on him, the DA, the prosecutor, the public defender, everybody in here. Because like you didn't look at the situation, like you didn't look at the context. You just automatically criminalized this child and not the fact that he was, and how we felt him as a community instead of, you know, instead of putting the blame on this child, like why didn't you look at yourself and see what the hell was going on here?
And so just loving that concept and like, Oh, we get to look at what's going on instead of just this one moment in time. Like you were saying, I'm gonna freeze this person in this one moment in time and we're gonna judge you based on this, which may criminalize you for the rest of your life. And you have to die on the sword every time you see something or see somebody, and I did this.
Oh my God, I'm so sorry. Now I'm a great person. Like, no, but you don't understand the whole context around what happened. And understanding that is, I think what we were doing way before RJ became mainstream. It's like understanding each other. Oh, we understand the context in the hood. We understand the context in, you know, urban environments and the reservation and like all these different environment, we understand what's going on here and not looking to the outside of a law that was written to criminalize others and to criminalize us.
And so I think that is where I really, really believe that we were doing it before this came about. Well, you,
David (he/him): you said a couple things that I like made me question one. Like in both of our day to day, restorative justice is a word that gets said, you know, maybe a hundred times. I still don't know that the ideas are mainstream, right?
And like the ideas that people have of them are often around like, alternatives to like punishment and the criminal legal system. I'm curious and I've been. I've been questioning this for a while, even though like my organization is called Amplify RJ, is it helpful to use that term because like when we're describing something that is so much deeper, Yeah.
Like is it helpful to use that term? Like what is another term that you've taken to using, like, you know, we're talking about interconnection, we talk about right relationship, but like, that's not a concept that people are like really familiar with or like can grasp as like, oh, this is the thing that we're working towards.
Richard (he/him): Yeah. I mean, RJ like really is a western word and and I mean it's, we've had this conversation many times about just slapping justice on the back of things like restorative justice, transformative healing, justice and I'm like, what the hell is it with this word? As soon as justice comes up.
And I even had my, my, Sonya's daughter even ask me like, What do you think about what is justice? I said, Oh my God. So it brings up all kinds of things for me, and it's a, it's, for me, it's a word of like, it's a Western word. That means we're going to, we're gonna determine what equalizes or what balances out the harm that we determine that happened to you by the, through the system.
And so it's like, it doesn't really matter what I think, it's what the system thinks, balances it out. And so whenever that word justice comes in, I think of systems and I think, Oh, they, they want to take over and figure out how to balance out the harm that happened to something or somebody and they're gonna figure it out.
And, and I'm like, Oh no. It's like it's creating another system to, to basically get equalization or to, to balance out a harm. And another term that I've been using instead of restorative justice or any justice term is, is, is healing. It's like when people ask, What kind of work do you do? We do healing work.
And they're like, What is that? And I'm glad that they're asking a question because I'm saying, Well, it depends on you. It depends on what you want. Like how do you heal? What does your culture do? What is it deep down inside that you need in order to feel whole again or to feel like you've been, you know, if you've been wronged, how do you feel like that's been balanced out for you?
Not for me, because my culture may be totally different and the way that I feel balanced out. And how does it feel for you? Do you just want an explanation? Do you actually want somebody punished? Do you want money? Do you want, what is it that you want? Like. Because it's, it's up to you. It's not up to me to determine, oh, well 10 years makes you feel balanced and $50,000 restitution to this person makes it balanced.
Or, or if they give you this amount of money and reparations, then you should be cool. Like, like that is all like, ah, but how does that feel? How does that sit with you? Did that really repair the harm that was done? And I think that's, that goes many different levels. And so whenever we're asked, whenever I'm asked about, you know, What do you, what is rj?
I'm like, Well, RJ is Western, but like, what kind of work we do? And the term I would use is healing. Healing work. And you know, one of the, Well, yeah, let me not go into, cuz you may ask later.
David (he/him): No. Oh well, no, go ahead.
Richard (he/him): No, I was gonna say, so like when we go, we have this, we have this land in Santa Cruz that we were gifted, by, a donor that.
Like really believes in the work we do. And it's open and it's, and it's free for people to come and do healing work. And every time they come, we're like, What do you want? What do you need? What is it that you wanna do on this land? Not what we want you to do. And so it's always, it's always giving, putting it back on the person, because I think, and my belief is like, you have the answers within you.
And if we could work through it and figure it out, then, you know, it's like just asking those curious questions.
David (he/him): Well, I mean, and I think to that point, it is so much more participatory than like a formalized, criminal, legal process or even like a formalized, Hey, you're gonna come and have this restorative conversation.
Come sit in this circle and like, tell us exactly which you want. Like, that might work for like all of those processes work for some people in some capacity. You and I favor one of those over the other, but like, just , I like, I'm always struck by people who like, also like, don't justify restorative justice as like alternatives to criminal legalism, but like, define restorative justice as circle like circles a practice, right?
Circle is a way of being also, right?
Richard (he/him): Mm-hmm.
David (he/him): but you can do quote unquote restorative justice work, quote unquote healing work without ever sitting in a circle, right? I've been leaning on the book Talking Stick by Steven Byer a lot recently. and he talks about, you know, I think the framework that he uses in, in the book is council, right?
But when you're passing a talking stick, in council, That, that's a beautiful way to listen and engage and be with people. But you can also, he terms that like your invisible talking stick, right? And then like carry that with you as you go about your every day. Whether that is with other people, whether that is with nature, whether that is just with your environment, right?
That work is, is who we are. And I'm curious, you know, since you had that understanding or some inklings of that understanding as a young person and as you navigated the criminal legal system in, in all of its iterations, all the situations that you went to when you heard the word restorative justice, and started doing work.
Well, when you heard the word restorative justice, how did you decide that? Like, oh, this is work that I want to continue to do?
it had this, it has like how it was taught to me, the word restorative justice is it has the same values and principles behind what we've been doing. It's just something that was out there that people, I got it.
Richard (he/him): That people understood. Mm-hmm. . And so I was like, Oh yeah, okay, so this is the work and this is, this is the, in, in a, in a dictionary defined way. This is what out facing world understands this to be. And so I'm like, Oh, okay. I don't mind, Like I understand, and I totally know the world that I live in, the world that I want and the world I live in are two different things.
And so, like this world that we live in is hierarchical, very definition based, you know, very, educational based. And, and however those came about, that's where we're sitting right now. And this is what the world understands. And so to move in that direction, it's like, yeah, we do RJ work, but once you get in it, you understand that it's much deeper.
And like, like you were saying, the definition of RJ and circles are very different for me. Like, Circle is a practice and a ceremony. And like, and it starts for me, it starts in the sweat lodge of we're in circle and we're, we're in a sacred space and you know, the, these things go, this medicine comes in and we talk and we go around and all these things.
And so, and it's, when we come out here, yes, some of quote RJ work can be done in circle in the same fashion, with the same principles and the same, the same values. And then others could be done one-on-one, others can be done in case conferencing. Others could be done, through surrogates. Like you don't even have to have the person who harmed you there.
And so that's where RJ takes on a whole nother level as to where circle is. A practice in a ceremony to me is like, RJ is, is more of a, it's more western and there's more different ways to define it. Like you're repairing a harm based on somebody else. Based on them. And you're just being able to facilitate that process and, and like you said, walk around with that invisible stick and like, this is how I facilitate this process because I could listen to you, because I could listen to multiple people and, and not judge you based on your views, but understand that I have some judgment about it, but I could still sit in it with you.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): And so I think that's the value of like, of sitting in circle, of sitting in ceremony and actually like listening for a long time and understanding yourself that you could do that.
David (he/him): How easy or hard was it, to do this work, be this way? inside versus outside?
Richard (he/him): that's a, that's a good question. inside it was much easier.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm. And that I, that might be surprising to some people, and it's not who for me, but
Richard (he/him): Inside's much easier because people are, Well, my experience was that the people that we were with wanted to do work on themselves and wanted to do work with others, like, wanted to figure out there, There was this deep sense in our community, and they're like, Why the hell did I harm somebody like this?
What, what was it in my life that was, it made this choice okay, for me. And so wanting to go back deep and wanting to work on ourselves allowed us to like not judge others and to sit in those circles. And plus we were a captive audience, so mm-hmm. , like we were, we were on the yard, or we were in groups like weren't going anywhere.
So anytime there was an issue, like we would go on the yard, we'd see each other every day, and the accountability piece was really easy because we all knew what each other was doing every day. You couldn't hide it from each other. Like, you can't, you can't bullshit nobody. And so it's like, we know, like, and so it was, it was easier inside and the sense of community felt tighter inside.
Like my sense of community, like I miss, I miss a lot of my, my relatives inside. Like, I'm just like, damn. When I go back in, I'm like, Oh, I'm home. Like, I'm very comfortable going back inside and sitting with, with the fellows and, and it's just, but out here it is really, hard to get that community feeling back.
Like, we really have to work at it hard and we have to create it the, the way that it's set up is everybody is, I, I feel that everybody is scared and everybody goes into their boxes, homes, their own little sales, and like, I'm gonna protect mine. And Justice Chai really defines this great for me.
He's like, We could walk to the world in protectiveness or love and like out here I feel a lot of protected, like this is my home. Don't come over here. Like, and there's a lot of separation between people because that's just the way this culture is, is like everybody's trying to get me in mine. And like there's no sharing of, of like, everything.
I went to India and felt a very different way of being. Everybody was outside and you know, they're, everybody's seeing everybody's business. It's all outside. Everybody's doing things outside. And when I walk back to the United States, everybody's in their house. Mm-hmm. , like, they come out for a few minutes to do their thing and they go back to their house and it was the total opposite.
So I think there's that, and then there's all the, what has been circumstantial, you know, has been, is everybody is like this system is set up for everybody to fight against each other, to get some money to. And so everybody's in the rat race and trying to, trying to figure out how they could take care of themselves and it's been set up that way.
And, you know, to get outside of that thinking is hard out here. And no matter what you do, or no matter what I see people do is like, Oh, we're gonna do this, but how do we make money? Or how do I support myself in doing it? Because you have to out here. Yeah, Yeah. Otherwise, like, and even like, oh, well, even those that don't have, I could find a way to support them and support myself at the same way, same time.
And so this capitalist world is set up like that and we have to figure it out because that's the world we live in and there's no getting around it. And it's been set up. So it's hard to create community out here. We don't know, We really don't know what each other's doing until somebody says something and like everything's hidden inside the home or it.
At work and it's very separate, separated, like work and how work and home life, you know, what I do for work and what I do at home are two different things. They shouldn't mingle employees, employers, they shouldn't mingle. You shouldn't be friends. Also, like it's all set up to separate relationship. And I think the biggest difference is everything that we're trying to do is based on relationship.
And so inside we were, everything was based on relationship. And within our org we're trying to base everything on relationship. And not saying that it's all great in roses and butterflies, but it's, it's, it's hard to do out here.
David (he/him): Yeah. Before I ask the, so how does this work, Let this relational way look in your organization, just keep in mind that's the question that I'm, gonna ask.
I'm reflecting on. we, I, I've been on recent episodes talking about, you know, when people talk about like, oh, there's like no more neighborhood in, it's just the hood, right? They're often talking about times where people on the block knew each other, often talking about, black or brown communities, right?
David (he/him): And the reason we had those conditions is because of housing segregation,
Richard (he/him): mm-hmm.
David (he/him): right? we, those were the only places that we could live redlining. and now like for a number of factors, one, like people being able to move to different places, escape the hood or being gentrified out, or like in some instances, police, breaking up, street organizations, and separating people in, you know, all the laws around.
you. Subsidized housing and who and who can't live there. Like those neighborhoods have been broken up. Those relationships, those families have been broken up. and while there's argument for like, oh, that's progress. People are able to like, make choices, right? Like somebody's not incarcerated anymore.
David (he/him): They can move about the world freely. They can make relationships with who they want. They don't necessarily have to be confined in a certain space. There is something that is great about having that container and now with like this openness of the world and anybody being able to do anything, take care of what they want to take care of, it's difficult.
You all have set up an organization, operates within this global capitalist world, within like the nonprofit industrial complex. What does that look like? and for those who don't know what the ahimsa collective,
Richard (he/him): so it's, it's hard, because our values are not. Capitalist. But I know that we have to abide by those rules in order to exist and do what we do like, and the same reason that everybody else does.
Cuz we need to put food on the table. We need to live, we need housing, we need, So we need to live within this capitalist world in order to get those things. And I mean, it's like otherwise we would, we wouldn't exist. Like we couldn't do anything. And so, one of the things I wanted to say is, you brought up something is, is that the gentrification in the red lining that has happened in this country is still really felt even by an organization like us.
Mm-hmm. the, the, the generational traumas that are coming down. Like we still feel it even with our property in Santa Cruz. We fill it in the neighborhood there of. Like, yeah, okay. We have access and we have privilege now to go there, but it has been overtaken or developed by this American white culture to where when we go there we're like, they're like, Who are you and what are you doing here?
Like, what are these people of color doing in our neighborhood? And it's like, oh shit. Like, you know, if you were to ask that same question, like, what are you, where are you from In, in South central LA or in one of the hoods? Like those are fighting words, confrontational words, right? And you're doing this.
And so it's like,
David (he/him): like those are confrontational words, right? Because like if the answer is not right, we're calling the police.
Richard (he/him): Yes.
David (he/him): Right?
Richard (he/him): Yeah, yeah. . And so it's just like, Oh shit, Like it's racism. White supremacy is alive and well in this country, it's, it's not gone. And it's, there's still like redlining going on in a very quiet, like, Oh, but if you do the wrong thing, we're gonna try to get you out of this neighborhood because you're not quote, good people.
And so you can't trespass, you can't have access to this nature, you know, unless you're good people and have money and privilege. And so, like, it's, it's very hard to go up against that. And our org, like we're, we're going on, we're going up against that face to face in our property there. And some of our reentry houses that we have, You know, there's even some, some self oppression, some internalized oppression that people have in the neighborhoods and like, Oh, oh my God.
Like, never heard nothing from people. And then all of a sudden they found out we're, we have people that were formerly incarcerated, living around them. Oh, whoa. Why, and what about this, this, and this, But for the last year there's been nothing. But as soon as you found out, now you see some problems because, you know, and, and this is like, when I say internalized oppression, it's because it's other people of color that are saying these things and that have adopted these ways, and they're like, now they're acting out in them.
And so for our org it's, it's like confronting these things face, head on. It's like, Okay, we're ready to do this battle. And like even in Santa Cruz, when somebody asks me, Hey, where are you from? What are you doing here? I'm like, I'm native and we've got some of our land back. And they're, Oh shit. They're like, Oh, what am I gonna say to that?
David (he/him): Right.
Richard (he/him): Exactly.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Because their argument is like, Oh, we've been up here for two generations. Really? That's nice. . And so, yeah, it's, it's so fighting back that, and it's hard because trying to do it in a restorative way or. In a healing way. It's like, I'm gonna have to sit down with you and I'm gonna have to absorb all of your trauma.
But can you, and have you done that personal work to listen to ours? To listen to mine? And can, can you sit down with me? Are you still on this very naive plane of like, Oh, this is the way it is in America. That's just it. Like, like even to just talk about the value of of, of land ownership. Like my people in our culture didn't believe we own the land.
We were with the land. Mm-hmm. . But now you believe that you own all of this and it's yours. And so just those basic values, are you willing to sit down and like, talk to somebody and, and accept the differences of like how I don't consider anybody a trespasser and you do. So like just all these things of like, so our organization is very much like we, we are, we are fighting that head on and.
And it's hard. It's hard, it's hard work. And it's exhausting because we feel like we're, we're going back through the same battles again and again with everybody we meet and we're like, Oh, we gotta talk about this again.
David (he/him): I bthink like, I mean, a number of things are coming up. One I love, and, and I've had this conversation multiple times in the, in the last couple weeks, specifically around like the responses white people to have being introduced to this work, around like, not feeling shamed, judged, or guilty for like, the things that, not even like that their ancestors did, right?
But like that they're continuing to uphold and perpetuate, right? Like your behaviors like. This work of healing, this work of restoring, like, this is not easy, gentle, warm, fuzzy therapy, right? like this is confronting the harm that you cause and like, you should feel, awkward, uncomfortable, guilty.b
And like, I'm, I don't want to just limit it to white people, right? Because you talked about like, you know, the internalized oppression that people have. We can also talk about the intersections of like gender, right? And so, like, when somebody like me is,inadvertently or advertently, like, acting out of like a male privilege and misogyny, right?
And patriarchy, right? Like being called on that, like, that's not fun, that's not comfortable. I'm not a perfect person, but like, in order to be in right relationship, right? Like I've gotta confront that and heal. And so like two. On twofold, one, to live restorative or healing values, right? Like it is never about like, I've achieved this, I am now comfortable in being like this a angel of a person who's never gonna do any harm.
it's, it's a constant reminder of all of the ways that you're falling short and, attempting to repair, but to also then step in and teach this and to like do this work, quote unquote professionally. there's a lot of self-sacrifice and putting yourselves in situation to take on other people's pain.
David (he/him): And, you know, we all have limits. And when I, when I hear you confronting, when I hear about you confronting folks, who in their fragility, ignorance, anxiety, like putting that on you, like there, there's a limit to what anybody can take and like how you can absorb, how do you navigate that?
Richard (he/him): So I get mad, I get pissed.
Like I'm, I don't hide that. I just have people to talk to that about, It's like I have, I have Sonia and I have others where I can sit there and vent and be like, Oh, this pissed me the fuck off. And like, and at the same time, having a lot of empathy for like, I could get mad about something and understand it.
It's like a, not an either or. Yeah. It's like I could get mad about this and I could understand that like, Oh, you only know what, you know, like you haven't been taught anything else. Cuz I've been there. Mm-hmm. , you know, I've been through, I've been down that road and only knew what I knew before and, and then having compassion for that.
Okay. Understanding like, I'll get angry at first and then I'll back up and I'll do some self-reflection. Like that's, that's my piece is like, Oh, why is this coming up for me? Like when somebody asks me, you know, Where are you from? I'm like, Oh shit. I get defensive really quick. Why? Because those are fighting words.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): and there's a lot of historical trauma and all this stuff comes up for me, and I know it does, and I get upset. And it's not because of what it, yet you triggered something, but this is because of my past that it's really getting me pissed off and the things that I've been through and that I know that's what's pissing me off.
And the fact that you don't even know what your words are doing, like really tells me like, Oh, have you, like now I'm curious. Have you been educated in this? Have, have you done any work? Are like, are not. And so really being reflective in that space and knowing myself, like Likeno thing that comes up for me a lot is my mother is, is she, She did a lot of.
Of trauma to us. She committed a lot of harm on, on her, on US children. And I always think of why, you know, why? Like she was a mother and it was because of all the unhulled trauma that was in her. Mm-hmm. , you know, for generations and being, she never had a chance to do any healing. And so I carry her around in my medicine bag everywhere I go, and I do any work of healing just to bring her, because I'm like, You didn't get a chance to do this, and I know you committed all these harms on us.
And, but I'm like, I have compassion for that now. It's like, and looking at others like, Oh, you, you know, you're, you're, you're walking through life like this blind and not knowing mm-hmm. . And, and so I'm like, Oh, let's, let's talk about it. Let's figure this out and we could do this together, or I could cancel you out.
And I'm not into canceling people out. So it's like there's, there's these two things, but I'm also gonna keep myself.
David (he/him): What's the balance of canceling someone and setting a boundary?
Richard (he/him): It's like, I'm not gonna go and put myself and fall on the sword for somebody
David (he/him): mm-hmm
Richard (he/him): But I will put myself in a space where I'm comfortable and I'm like, and my cup isn't full.
Like my cup is maybe half empty with my capacity to go and talk to people and to make it, make it into a safe space before I go there. You know? Because I know if, if I'm not in that space, then I'm gonna be reactive and I, I know things are gonna trigger me. And so I need to have my cup half empty when I'm going into these conversations.
And like you said, it's like before you were talking about, you know, how do we do this work with others? And it's like really having that compassion know that everybody is committing harm as we walk through this world, whether we know it or not. And like there's no victim, there's no survivor. We're all both on those spectrums, depending on what's going on.
Right. And. And so like, I know I've been harmed. I know I've done harm and like nobody in this world is like exempt from that. And this happened, and this has been happening way before colonialism. Like the natives here weren't just like, we're all loving each other and everything's great. No, we were at war with each other.
We were enslaving each other's people. So it wasn't like everything was roses and and rainbows then. So it's like we've been doing harm as people ever since we've been on this planet. And so like, we're not getting away from that. But like to do, for me, what I do is like, like what you were talking about earlier is I'm walking through this life in a male body and know that impacts others.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): Based on their history. And so I'm like, oh shit. Like when I walk into a room, like people are like, Oh shit, who is this man? What is he doing? Why? And that's because of what has happened to them. And, and I know it's no fault to mine, I was, I didn't ask to be born in this body, but like knowing the impact.
And so like, how do I, how do I walk into the room and what do I say and how do I treat others? Is, is the only thing I could do. And, and being knowledgeable in that. And I say that because like comes up along a lot of times of, you know, my partner has a lot of history of dealing with men in her life. And, and I have not had the privilege of of, of being a man in the society with privilege.
I was in prison for 30 years with men who didn't have privilege. And so coming out here I was like, Oh shit. All of a sudden I have privilege because of this male body. Mm-hmm. and, and reckoning with that. Like, oh shit. Like, and people are telling me I do, you know, and I'm impacting them like this. And I'm like, Oh shit, I need to learn how to, I need to learn how to be out here.
And so, You know, and learning how to deal with this, this privilege that I have. And so really just like understanding that and walking through life and, and not walking, but stumbling through life. and, and impacting people with that. Yeah.
are there any specific, Well, I was gonna ask for a specific example of like the ways that you set up, spaces for yourself where you are going into conversations with people who, you know, are going to cause harm to you, as you're setting up some spaces, but, I also wanna ask, like, are there specific examples of like, the way that you've navigated like your, your maleness and like causing harm or, you know, there's an episode of this podcast with, STAs and Lee from, spring up, when they talked about like the differences between like, hurt, harm, abuse and all those things.
David (he/him): And sometimes like when we're bumping up against somebody who's wound unintentionally, right? the responsibility is like partially on us, but like, just because I bumped your shoulder doesn't mean like, I knew you had a scab there or a bruise there and was like pounding away at it, right? Like, so there's, there's a difference between like the hurt and harm and if you wanna like get that breakdown, go listen to the s Lee episode.
But, is there, I'll ask about like that part, like, is there a specific instance that comes to mind where like, I have caused harm or hurt in this situation, at, in, in my male body where, whether it was intentional or unintentional, like how did you navigate. That repair, that repair process.
Richard (he/him): So this happens all the time with me and my partner is, is, I may just think of one of, of just the instance that happened like, like this morning.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): I was up early and, and then she came downstairs and I'm sitting there and I'm like, Oh, good morning. How are you doing? And she started, started cleaning and started, like getting ready for something. And, and I was, I was like, Oh, you know, I was like, Damn, how come she isn't cheery? Like, how come she isn't glad to see me this morning?
Or like, happy of what I perceived as happy. Mm-hmm. . And for me, I'm like, what I want is. This loving person, this accepting person, this person to be joyed because they're seeing me in the morning. They're like, Hey, what's up?
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
what, what I know for her, what happens for her is like, Oh, you want me to fall in this woman role that society has placed down, that we're supposed to be this way, supposed to be cheers, supposed to be, you know, adapt towards this man.
Richard (he/him): And so, like, knowing that happened, I was like, Oh shit. Okay. So I was like, we sat down. I'm like, come here, let me, can I talk to you real quick? Like, I know what's, I know what's happening here and I'm sorry, you know that like, this is how I wanted you to be and this is how life is supposed to, and this is how society has told you you're supposed to be because you're a woman.
Yeah. Like, and knowing my male body triggers that in her. You know, so it's like, Oh. And so we talked about it this morning, and she's like, Yeah, I know exactly where it's coming from. You know, I do as a person know where it's coming from and then knowing her and her harms that have happened to her, and at the same time understanding that, like, I still want that loving, and I still want that relationship and that familiarity, but knowing that my body brings along this piece of patriarchy that she feels, Yeah, because I want certain things.
Like I want, I want a hug, I wanna be close. And like, and it's not, it's not about, it's not about me as a person, It's about me as a being a man and a symbolization of patriarchy and wanting a woman to do that. And so we sat down and we talked about it and I was like, I'm sorry. You know, I realize this is happening.
You know, I, I do. And you know, and. So we, we sat down and we just talked this morning and by the end of the talk we're like, Yeah, you know, we know where it comes from. So we dug deeper into it and understand where the roots of these problems are coming from. And it didn't have to do with today, like what was happening with me today, or
you know how I am today. This is all historical shit.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): but it still plays out and we have to realize that we're doing these things unintentional. So I did that and then we sat on the couch and we talked about it for like 15 minutes, and then we were. Like, it's that easy?
David (he/him): Well, and like, it's not that like patriarchy is fixed
No. Right? Like, it like, and things will continue to happen. But I think like to your reframe of like, this work is just like healing, right? Healing is ongoing. Restoration is ongoing. And in the course of your relationship with your partner, right? Like there are things that are going to continue to happen.
and like I'm not saying you're the only person who causes her in harm in your relationship. I'm sure there are things that she does as well that like, cause some to you. But like the commitment to the relationship is what keeps you all continuing to do that. The ability, to have spent the time to like learn all these things about yourselves is also what's contributing to that.
David (he/him): And I'm thinking a lot about, you know, what you said about your mom, where she didn't necessarily, have the time and resources and space to do that. I think. I don't know, like the specifics of your mom's life. Right. I think about a lot of people who either haven't made the time, or haven't been afforded the time to do that.
and it's hard to say to someone like, you know, it's time to heal. This is exactly how you do it, because like, there's no way to prescribe, this work to anyone. And I think like the dovetails into the question that I was gonna ask before about, you know, you go into these situations often where you are either facilitating, you are educating, you are asking for money from you are, people who like, are unaware of, either the their own, their, their own trauma, their own need for healing, the historical trauma that sits in the conditions under, you know, this, the.
David (he/him): Maybe it's the foundation, maybe it is this institution, maybe it's, you know, whatever the circumstance is. how do you, you know, like what is the, a specific way that you have like set those boundaries, that space for yourself to go in and be able to hold what they put onto you or into this space in a good way or in a way that you can manage?
so I, I have a thought process and I have a, like, so I, I have a process still that I work from when I was inside is I put on my headphones and I go work out. And that's like my meditation, that's how I get back in my body and how I reset myself and get in. And so that's, that's the one way I physically get back into myself.
Richard (he/him): And then, like when I go into these spaces, we're setting up whether that's we, we start, first we start to build relationship with whoever we're doing this with. It's like we're, okay, let's talk over the phone first. Let's, let's get into like checking in with each other. Like, and if it's somebody I don't know, then I'm going in with other people that I do know.
And so we have actually set up something. Right now, we're setting up a container, what we like to call safe container. Mm-hmm. of, of trust and lack of trust. And so we're, we're getting the neighbors together that, that we've talked to that have some set of values that are similar, are, that have some openness.
And so really setting the boundary there of like, we're gonna build community first in those instances where people don't, don't know that are in the broader community. Like, we're gonna build a foundation first. We're gonna build a community, we're gonna build relationship. And to where I go into, Things that are unknown.
Like I can't really prepare for those. I don't like, Oh, let me sit down and figure out how I'm gonna teach this person this. It's like just going into the conversation. Very curious. And usually with the co-facilitator, somebody else that I can go in with because, knowing that I'm gonna be triggered or they're gonna be triggered by something that happens here
like, we know we're gonna be triggered by something, especially if it's going into a very, a group or talking to somebody who has do, has done no work at all with themselves, is like, Oh, this is gonna be very, very different. And so I think we go into it, we talk about it first. Like, Okay, this person, you know, are these people who have contacted us about this?
Let's get ready and we'll talk about it beforehand, but then we'll go into it with our, like, let's check in. Let's just see how people are doing. And it, sometimes I've been in rooms where it's all cops. And like we're going in and these are all correction officers or cops, and they're like, Why the hell is there an altar here?
And I need a table in front of me. And so like, just understanding that like, people are different and, and then my understanding I think helps me a lot of, of like, you've been taught this way, you haven't been exposed to anything else. So I think my understanding of all that actually helps me sit in the room longer and my boundaries are more further out there.
And so, but, but I do have boundaries of like, you know, you're not gonna say some racist shit. You're not gonna, like, I'm gonna, we're if you do, we're gonna talk about that right now. We're not gonna, we're not gonna brush it under the rug and be like, Okay, it's all great and gravy. We just, we just wanna be rainbows and unicorns here.
No, we're gonna talk about what you just said because this impacted people. And I've, I've been in groups where, Somebody will say,I remember somebody said, a term that was harmful towards anybody that was, lgbtq. And I was like, Okay, let's stop the group right here now. Cause there are people in here that identify like that.
How did that hit you? How did that land on you? So that way the person who just said it like, We're gonna, we're gonna sit here and we're gonna work through this together because this, this just had an impact on somebody sitting right here and we're not gonna act like it didn't happen. So just really like working through that together and building a muscle, like we're gonna have a tough conversation.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): So, and, and not to to shame them, but to like understand, like, you may not have known what you said or understood like how much that impacts somebody, but somebody here is gonna let you know now. So now you know, you can't say you don't know now. And so now, you know.
David (he/him): Right. And I think like head knowledge is one thing.
Right. when you're talking about like breaking habits that like you've been socialized to, I have to your point, like, you know, grace and understanding of, you know, where people come from, whether it is use of homophobic, transphobic language, racial slurs, but like even more often, like in their behaviors that they're exhibiting, that are dismissive of people as humans, Right.
Who are equal to themselves. you know, that does take unlearning just like somebody who is like born into poverty and trauma, like has these socializations of like, survival and I'm gonna do this thing to survive, right? I'm gonna hurt you before you hurt me. I'm going to get you before you get me.
Like, those are behaviors that like need to be unlearned and like there, there's a, there's a thing that you can say. Oh, like, hey, if you do this, do you understand the impact that has on other people? Right? Like, that might land intellectually, but the next time that you're in that situation where you are uncomfortable or feel, in danger, like that behavior may or may not be the thing that is, the healed result of like, doing that internal work.
And so, like I, I was listening to, Father Greg Boyle on a podcast the other day, the Homeboy Industries,priests who, for, for those of you don't know Google, Greg Boyle, but talking about, you know, the homies as he has as he calls them, right? everybody has their time when they are going to make that change, right?
Like, you can't just like tell a person like, this is what's wrong with you. Change . Yeah. Right. And. maybe I'm giving men, white people. cis people, head people too much grace. But like, it, it's a similar thing where it's like you can highlight the problems, but like, what is the inflection point where people will want to change for themselves, want to heal for themselves?
Sometimes it's like, Oh, I'm gonna heal the, this part of me, I'm gonna change this. I'm gonna restore this for the sake of a relationship I have. But if you're not in proximal relationship to somebody, like what is the incentive that people have? And like, I intellectually understand that it's just hard when behaviors don't change.
I'm thinking very specifically about yesterday when I was facilitating, a learning for a group of teachers and there were some white teachers who came up to me after and, and shared with me like, Thank you for the way that you presented this. Like, it, like it, it hit me in a way that like didn't make me feel guilty.
And I was like, Huh, let me think about that. On some level, I want you to feel guiltyb, right? Like if you didn't understand, like, you didn't take away from what I shared about like the way that white supremacy is upheld in classrooms. Like, and like you didn't see how you're contributing to that and feel some kind of way, like, I don't know if I did my job well and like then I have to internalize like it wasn't on me.
That's like their experience that they're having, but like what it, like, that probably wasn't the inflection point for them to like change behavior. and like, I've gotta be okay with that . But, yeah. Yeah. That, that is the, that's just like another level of the work that I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate.
Richard (he/him): No, that's beautiful. I love that piece of like, I, I too want people. People to be uncomfortable. Mm-hmm. actually people to be, to feel guilty is like you, you need to feel that because that, that's your internal system telling you, Oh shit, I did something wrong. Like the difference between shame and guilt, you know?
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): Shame is all about like,
David (he/him): I am wrong.
Richard (he/him): Yeah,
David (he/him): Right. I am bad, but like,
Richard (he/him): yeah, I am bad. But like kguilt is like, I did something bad. I need you to feel some guilt because you're walking through this world and like, just like I walked through this world as a male, you walk through this world as white and like, how does that, how does that impact people?
And if you can't feel some guilt about that and know that, then when are you gonna change? Like, you're not gonna change because you're around a bunch of people that all feel the same way. And so there's never any guilt. It's like, let's just cheer us on until we take over this fucking world and cheer each other on.
And there's never gonna be a reflection point, I think, until, for me it's like until you build relationship with others. . So where you feel that that guilt and like, Oh, now I need to change this behavior because I care about something.
If I don't care about anything, then why change? Like, I think there's a, for me, there's a piece in there.
It's like, if I don't care about others, why should I change anything I'm doing that impacts them?
David (he/him): Well, I mean, and I think with that situation specifically, it's thinking about like, as in, in a pre, in a predominantly white institution, the people of color, the people of the global majority, right? They often, don't say the thing, that like makes them uncomfortable.
Like for survival, right? Cause like, I'm not gonna share every time, like, you microaggression me. Call me the wrong name, make some comment that you didn't think was, offensive because. It's not worth it for, for me in this moment to like be constantly correcting you. But what that tells the person, who's white is like, Oh, everything that I'm doing in the context of this relationship is okay when it's not.
And you know, maybe that's another piece that like, there needs to be like some truth telling, in that situation rather than saying like, hey, this is the way that like whiteness tends to show up in organizations. Like, no, let's talk about concrete examples of like where this shows up in your school and just reflecting like, maybe I didn't do a good job or like a good enough job of doing that or inviting them into that yesterday, but like, you just wished people had this awareness but they don't
and so like, you know, like when you walk into a room full of, correctional officers or police officers, right? I would say most of them did not go into the field saying like, you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna wreck havoc on black and brown communities. Right. like it's, but like, that's the impact.
David (he/him): And like, now what? Right. I imagine most of the times you go into those rooms, like you don't have people like turning in their badges and guns , but like yeah.
Richard (he/him): Oh, it's funny. It's like, but, and at the same time, like, do you understand where policing started? Do you understand where it came from?
Like how like, and now you're an officer? Cause I do a lot of trauma to trauma trainings with officers and community, and it's like, there's a lot of, of, of black and brown officers and they're like, How could I be racist? I'm black and brown. I'm like, Oh, you're a cop. but like, so . Yeah. So it's like you, you don't understand.
It just tells me that they don't understand. You may be great as a person, but the institution and the system that you're representing is based on racism and this, you put on that uniform and it's racist period. Like you can't get away from that. Yeah. And so like, I think going into that is, is like knowing that the conditions were set up for these people to be in that position of survival, even when they're a cop. Like, I need this cop so I could get a paycheck, feed my family, have a home. Like these conditions are all set up for you too. Like, and, and you're gonna hurt your people and not even realize it so you can survive also.
So it's like, oh yeah, like you, like there, there are conditions that are, that are playing themselves out over and over again in all these different things. And I, I remember when I was inside there was this correctional officer, she was like, Awesome. Like she was, she had a, like a supervisor position. And when none of her, superiors were around or, or people that were working in corrections, she was very personal, very like, How are you doing?
What's going on? As soon as another cop walked in the room flipped, I'm like, Oh, this is very interesting. But watching that behavior is like, she knew how to treat people, but she didn't know that like as soon as a cop walked in and somebody that was, that could get her in trouble, she went into survival mode like that.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): I'm not gonna risk this.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): I'm not gonna risk my, my livelihood to treat this person as a human. But she didn't realize all the conditions that were behind it. Like she just automatically did it. And I'm like, Oh shit. Like this is, this is something that I, I'm aware of, but maybe you're not.
David (he/him): Yeah. What I, we haven't like really explicitly talked about the work of the ahimsa collective. . And I'm curious, like, as we're talking about like this work of healing broadly, re restoration broadly, there are all these different ways that people need to heal. Both like from trauma that they've experienced in their personal lives and like the historical, institutional, systemic trauma that we're all navigating.
Mm-hmm. I'm gonna ask this two ways. Like what do you see as your role, like as Richard, in helping people heal, right? Like, you're not the healer, right? But you are like building spaces for people to heal. Heal. and then what is the role of the ahimsa collective?
Richard (he/him): So my role is, it changes all the time.
I'm, my out facing role in the organization is co-executive director. And my role inside the organization is with. People that we, that come on staff and we run it very differently. Like we have our back structure, our foundational structure to be a nonprofit, but then how our staff is structured is very circular.
Richard (he/him): And so we consider ourselves like the core staff and then the core fam and, and the core staff is made up of about eight people. Then the court family is made up of a group of about 20 that has been with us from the start. And then beyond that we have a group of about 40 that are facilitators. But we do everything in circle.
Whether it is considered a staff meeting, or just checking in or going out and celebrating. Like we, we do everything. We, we, our practices circle. And so my role in that, Sometimes I'm a facilitator, like in the organization, like I'll, I'll call a meeting for something or I'll call a circle for something.
Or, you know, sometimes I'm just the, the participant when somebody else needs to, you know, call a circle. And so my role in there changes from there to there. As far as the foundation stuff goes is like, my role is to keep this organization so we can keep doing what we're doing and that means keeping in line with the irs, keeping in line with our taxes, with our accountants, with all these things so that we don't, we're not shut down.
Yeah. And so that may be guiding people through receipts or guiding them into how to direct a program or manage a program or how to go in a prison or how to facilitate a group. And so that's, And then also listening and learning from other people that are doing different work. And so what we do is like if you're, we really have an advice type of, Structure is like, if you are more experienced, like I'm more experienced in reentry and incarceration.
So anything that comes up around that, like I'll usually make the decisions on those. Me and a couple other people on our, on our core staff that have been formerly incarcerated, couple, shit, there's a lot of 'em. so we'll get together and we'll be like, Oh, well, you know, we have to make the decision on this, but we'll also, we'll, we'll get the whole circle and like, get advice from everybody.
And so it's like if I'm gonna hire somebody, I'm like, Okay, it's my decision to hire, but I'm gonna get advice from all the staff because I don't wanna make a decision that's gonna impact this staff on in a very negative way. Right? So I'm gonna just get information, but they don't help me make, they don't de it's not like a democracy where we take a vote and then that's a decision.
No, it's the advice making. So I'm like, Oh, I wanna hire this person. Then I got one staff saying, Oh yeah, I love this person. And somebody else saying, Well, me and this person has had a conflict for 20 years, or like, or this person is, you know, I, I'm not in relationship with this person. So me bringing this person, is it gonna create more harm?
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): Or do we need to work something out between these two? Are they willing to work it out between themselves? You know what? And then I have to make the decision. Where do I want to go from there? Yeah. And so, so that's how like, or my role in the organization is. And then as far as - goes, we do a lot of different things. And so, for me, my passion was is, is the reentry work.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): And so, and having come through it myself is where I was informed a lot through my experience of reentry, of coming. I was in a, in a home where I had to go to this house, there was 32 of us in this house with one bathroom, five bedrooms, and.
There are 32 men in this house and we're all like trying to get up early enough to beat everybody else to the bathroom so we could use the bathroom and get the hell outta here and be back by curfew.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): And it was, it was a, it was, it was just a very bath, shitty situation. What I considered shitty . And so,
David (he/him): I mean, 32 guys, one, one bathroom. Yes. Absolutely.
Richard (he/him): So, and then the staff, the staff had a bathroom, but we couldn't use their, like, it was like, this is like, why is this set up like this? And so, and then having to run back to the house at nine 30 at night and having all these conditions on me, that didn't apply to me. And so my, what I mean by that is like I had to go to groups in order to get my housing in order to not be violated and go back to prison, even though I didn't need these groups.
Like they were teaching me how to do a resume, how to, you know, how to apply for a job. I had a job if you just let me go to it. And then like, I had to go through drug and alcohol counseling. I'm a drug and alcohol counselor. Haven't used in over 25 years in like, you're, And, and if I didn't do any of these things, I lose my housing, then my paroles violated and I go back.
David (he/him): Right?
Richard (he/him): And so like, I had to go through these things and then, so going through that, I was like, my heart was in reentry. And I'm like, we need to do it diff we need to do this differently to where it's more person centered, more healing. And so people coming out of prison are felt held and like all your needs are met, all your basic needs are met.
So I always refer back to ma Maslow's Pyramid of hierarchy needs mm-hmm. . And if those bottom needs are met, then you could be creative. You could figure out who you are. And coming out of incarceration, this mass incarceration, bringing people into this and holding them with housing, food, transportation, and not putting any pressure like you need to have your life together in six months, I feel is really like a way of, of healing some shit that's there.
Whether you were raised. You know, and in a product of redlining, a product of, of displacement, of like relocation through the Native Americans, like however you were put into these circumstances is now, here is some housing, here is being held in this way that you feel safe and secure and you don't have to worry about it.
You don't have six months to get your life together after doing maybe 5, 10, 20 years in prison. And you could, you could sit here and maybe not work the first two or three months or six months, like, figure out what you wanna do. How do you wanna be in this world? Because it's, it's all changed. And you're coming out here out of some trauma being held in this way.
Our staff's here, the, the whole house is formally incarcerated people. Everybody has their own bedroom. Nobody is double celled. There's, I mean, excuse me, nobody has a bunkie. Yeah. Like, we're not recreating the caral system at all. So that way you, there's not that re residual trauma coming over into housing here now.
It's like, oh, I'm at a home and I, I purposely made this house as like, shit, I wanna live in this house. Like, Yeah. Yeah. Like, I wanna live there. I don't wanna put somebody in something that says you're unvaluable. Like you're not valuable enough to live in a home. That is, that is nice. Like we, we'll put you in the basement or another room where you're gonna cell up with somebody cuz that's all you're worth.
No. You're worth so much more. And so putting that and like having that healing feeling and hoping that that transforms into some creativeness and like, what, what can I be in this world now? And I get to figure it out. And so that's what we come into the healing of, like, of reentry. And we're just now opening up our second home.
It's like five minutes away from this one. And so, and we did it in a way that, there is no, like CDCR or DOC doesn't have any, Saying over us, it like we we're supportive living home. And we're not a treatment home, we're not a transition home. We're supportive living. And that means that we, the people in the house get to decide who comes in next.
It's not, it's not me, it's not the reentry director, it's the people in the house. And we do that in circle. And so we, we've infused this practice into the home and like dealing with conflicts into the house in, in a restorative way or a healing way, is, is like, they're like, and there's men and women in there together and people are say, Oh, you're crazy.
What are you doing? This is gonna go all bad. They're gonna have so many issues. I said, Well, they're gonna have issues, whether it's all men or all women.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): We're gonna have problems. We're human. And so like, like let's, let's not create this, this pseudo environment where it's all women are all men, which mimics the carceral system and like thinking that there's not gonna be problems.
So, You know, and you're gonna, you're gonna move out. When you move out. You're gonna have roommates or you're gonna have a partner. And guess what? You and your partner are not gonna get along all the time either. And you know, you and your roommates are not. And learning how to solve problems and how to, how to be with each other in relationship.
So that's one of the things we do is the reentry work. And then we have our healing center. And Santa Cruz, which I was talking about earlier, is, is we got a piece of land, 25 acres in the Santa Cruz Hills. And this was Sonya's dream is she wanted a piece of land to where people of color could come back and people that don't have access could come back to nature, do some healing in the way that they wanted to do healing.
And so, like we offered up to organ social justice organizations, people in our community that are just like, they want to take their family up there cuz they've never been to the woods, they've never been to the red Woods, never seen that. And to have a place to go that's free. And that they can go up there and you just bring your food and like there's a place for you.
You can come up here and figure out how you wanna do this yourself, and if you want our help, we're there to help you. If you don't and you just, you got it on your own, then it's your space. And there's a caretaker up there who explains, you know, like the safety of like the forest and fires and everything.
And it's just, we've seen some Mira miraculous feelings. I took my family up there, my sister and, and my brother-in-law and was, and, and I was sitting out on the deck and I was looking, my brother-in-law was sitting out there and he had this, he didn't think anybody was watching him, but he had this branch and he was just looking at this branch, like in the forest, like, and when I talked to him later, he's like, Rich, this is the furthest I've been away from my home ever.
And he lives in Sacramento and it's just the Santa Cruz, which is a two and a half hour drive. Yeah. And so for people that have never been out of the neighborhoods, have never like to have access to this and come to the healing, come to a healing space that. You know, is, is a different way. And getting away from like, my nephew and niece were like, I haven't been outta the city and just felt like I don't hear sirens, I don't hear like all the cars.
And like, I'm not worried about all the stuff that happens over there, the crime and, and, and the, you know, so, so that's what this space was set up for. And we have organizations that come and, you know, we don't charge and people, but like big organizations, nonprofits that do, they donate money. But other than that, it's like, it's free for people of color to come back and, and do their thing.
We have a lot of organizations and a lot of people that come up. And then we also, we do some mutual aid work in Alameda County with one of our, the Ranchery home thats next door here. There's this church across the street and we, the people in the house actually coordinate with them. To deliver food to people in Alameda County that don't have access to vehicles.
Mm-hmm. . And so they'll go del like, get the food in the cars and have drivers come pick up a box for themselves and go drop a box off. And so developing mutual aid like that. And then we also do,what's called victim offender dialogues with, the inside the CDC correctional system is if somebody reaches out, if a survivor reaches out.
And this is because it's the only way that it's legal in California. the survivor has to reach out first to CDCR and then they contact us and we'll meet with the survivor of the crime and the person who did the harm and will, will get them, like, we'll work with them as a facilitator to figure out what they need in this situation.
Yeah. And based on our best practices, like, okay, when and how can we get them together to talk about it? Or do they need to get together? Or do they want to? And so, and that process may take two months or may take two years. Right. They're with them and go through it, and I go back and forth and meet with them personally.
And, and so we do a number of those odds and then we do, we have RJ in the community, which is instead of, instead of calling the police, like, and if you have a, a situation where somebody was harmed, whether it's personal, interpersonal, or on a systemic level with an organization, and you want us to facilitate that process, we have people that will do that and step in and hey, okay, so let's, And it's basically the same thing as a vibe, but it's just out here and outside of the, the criminal justice system.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): And so that, and then we have life comes from it, which is Yeah. Yeah. Which is, which was really a unique thing. It's like, it's, it's funding and so, and. It's kind of weird cuz I feel like, oh, do we call it funding and philanthropy? But that's what it is.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): and like, and so, but it's,
David (he/him): I've heard you say, or I've heard someone say like a giving circle.
Richard (he/him): Yeah.It's more like a giving, like a giving here here's some, like, we want you to keep doing the work you're doing on the grassroots level. Mm-hmm. , but not have all the red tape that the traditional funding has been. Like, philanthropy has been like, we need all these reports and we need to see results.
And like, no, it's like, what are you doing? And like, building it through relationship and like through context. And it's, it's changed throughout the years of like at first we were like, Oh, we need to do applications cause we didn't know what the hell we were doing. And so then, but now it's based on more of relationship and like, Oh wow, let's, let's figure this out.
Like these people are doing these things and as we fund more and it's all. , we're looking for people doing transformative justice, however they define that rj, how that's defined. And, land based projects and indigenous peacemaking mm-hmm. . And so it's all different in like, but people, you know, call it what they want to call it.
Like, and so just having people that are, on our advisory committee that determine like, who, who gets this and all of those are people that are doing the work, right? Or actually doing it. And that are leader, have leadership positions out there in the work. And they decide, it's not me, it's not Sonia, it's those that decide.
And then we just we're in the background managing it, like making sure that it keeps running and doing all the background work. And so, and it, it's really taken off and it's, it's done a different way. And I, I, I love it cuz it's just, it's more community based and grassroots based and, and like, there's one example that I give of like, There was this one lady, she was like, Yeah, I just, you know, she was doing work in Washington DC and she's like, she's like, I've been doing this work for this long and that long and you know, I need a grant.
And you know, we're like, Yeah, the work you're doing is great. What do you need the grant for? She's like, So I could get some, some medical benefits. And we're like, Hell yeah. Here.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Like, you're doing all this work for the people and nobody's taking care of you.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Here's some here. Go get some medical benefits.
You've never been able to have any like shit. And so I think just that piece of it, recognizing what people are doing and not trying to change what they're doing, but on a more grassroots level to where it's more relationship based instead of distrust based. And
David (he/him): Yeah. you know, I'm laughing at like, we spent like so much time and conversation about like, the way that we do the work that like we just like piled all the things that like y'all do into like the last likes.
Five, 10 minutes. if people want to tap into some more of that work, we're gonna have links in the show notes for folks to, continue to learn more about what they can do, how they can support. We've already talked about the way that you conceptualize restorative justice in a roundabout way. Can you give a one to two sentence definition in your own words, Like in a, in the most succinct way that you can?
Richard (he/him): Of what restorative justice is?
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Oh shit. restorative justice is, is a,
is a term that we're using. To figure out how to heal. And I think it's like we're, it's something that everybody could understand, but that has a lot of things that could come fold into it to do healing work around this country. And, and it could combine. It's bringing a lot of things together. So I think it's, it's like a, I think it's becoming more of a value than it is of a, of a thing.
It's like a value of healing and a value of way. We, we all do something that brings healing to whichever community that we're in.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm.
Richard (he/him): So I think that's what restorative justice is.
David (he/him): Yeah. As you've been doing this work of healing of restorative justice, what's been an oh shit moment and what did you learn from it?
Richard (he/him): There's so many of 'em. so there was an oh shit moment where I was facilitating a process with this person who, who committed a murder and he was in the middle of telling his story and, Somebody kept raising their hand on the other side. He Kept raising their hand and I was like, Why the hell are you raising your hand?
Like this person is sharing right now. Like, should be listening and everything's going off. In my mind, I'm having all these judgements, like, What are you doing? What's wrong with you? Stop. And finally I was like, Okay, hold. And I, so I ask the person, Can you stop for a minute? Yeah. Hold on. Cause somebody actually is very, needs to say something.
I was like, What do you need to say? He's like, I don't know if this person wants to continue. Because I was the first responder at his crime scene and I was like, Oh shit, and so, and so be as a facilitator in this process. I was like, Damn, what do I do? Like, I don't know how anybody feels about this. And so I stopped the group immediately like, Okay, let's take a break.
And then I went, met with both of them personally. And like, So what, how do you wanna move forward? How do you, you know, do you wanna still keep talking? Do you want this person in the room? You know, how do you feel about being in the room asking 'em all these questions? And then we did continue. But what that taught me was like, no matter how much I think I know, or I prepare for these processes, things are gonna happen and to trust my gut as they do.
And so, like, I think that's the biggest thing is, like I've learned, is like, trust your gut and for me not to get held up on the, on the agenda or the, the, the way it's supposed to go,
David (he/him): Because things are interrupting the circle, right? Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Things are gonna be fluid and change as we go through this. And like, if, if I don't, if I'm not connected and tracking and being fluid, I'm gonna be disconnected.
Yeah. And so, That's the, that's the thing I've learned the most.
David (he/him): Yeah. And there's no way to say like, when is the time to like pause or like interact or put down the topic? Like it's just something that you have to feel. There's no like diagnosable, prescriptive way to do that. and that's just like experience and practice, to develop that, that, that gut feeling.
Thank you for sharing that.
Richard (he/him): And, and like that trust in yourself.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Like I was, we were actually teaching like last week, a group and this lady for the first time, we were like, Okay, we'll get in a small circle and you'll facilitate. And she was like, My God, what do I do? And she was so anxious about it.
And she read off the first question on a piece of paper, and then when it came around again, she was like, Well, do I read another? What do you wanna do? And just guided her into trusting her gut. And what she did was spot on. Like, and she made the group, like the, not made the group, but the group felt heard because she reflected back and then she's like, I don't wanna ask a question off the paper.
I was like, Well, what do you wanna ask? I wanna ask this question. And she asked it and the group kept going and I was like, Exactly, you're, this is like trusting yourself and your intuition. And so just really knowing that, like being present.
David (he/him): Yeah. This question is challenging. you get to sit in circle with four people, dead or alive.
Who are they and what is the question that you ask? The circle?
Richard (he/him): Dead or alive? Four people.
David (he/him): Mm-hmm
Richard (he/him): one would be my mother. Four people, including me or not including me,
David (he/him): not including you. bYou and four others.
Richard (he/him): So, so it would be me, my mother, her mother, and my brother and my sister.
David (he/him): What question would you ask the circle?
Richard (he/him): I just ask them how they were doing, how are you doing, how are you feeling? And yeah. And then, and then from there we would go on, like that circle for me would never end.
David (he/him): Yeah, yeah, Absolutely. Sometimes when people say, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bob Marley and Maya Angelou, I turn the question back on them, but we've already asked you how you're doing
and so that's a beautiful response. I love the internalization in making it personal and contextual to you cause that's important. And some of those people are around still where you can have those conversations. love, love to see that happen. this one's challenging in a different way cause it requires homework from you who's one person that should have on this podcast and you have to help
David (he/him): me get them on.
Richard (he/him): Oh, that's easy. You should have Sonia Shah on this.
David (he/him): Yeah.
Richard (he/him): Yeah, you should. Yeah.
David (he/him): Beautiful. Can you just like,
Richard (he/him): and, and, and I've already, and I've already worked it. I told her she should come on this.
David (he/him): Beautiful. Beautiful. It was like introductory email or like, do you just holler down the hallway , or, we'll make it happen.
We'll make it happen. and then finally, how can people support you as Richard, the work of Ahimsa collective in the way that you wanna be supported?
Richard (he/him): as far as supporting me, be patient with me, like in my responses to emails or my responses to text or phone calls, like, please be patient. Like I will get back to you. It just, I get so busy, so please be patient with me and give grace there. as far as a hymns it goes, it's like,you know, I could say the common things of like, donate no, but it's like,like realize we're not a perfect organization.
Like, we're not a per- perfect collective. And like we have, we bring all of our, have empathy for us cuz we bring all of our trauma from other organizations and work into this work. And so be patient with us too, as an org, as as, as we're moving forward and like the things we do and we don't do, We do.
Right. And we don't do right. And we're figuring it out also. So. Yeah.
David (he/him): Beautiful. and like I would expect that to amplify RJ and really to all of us, right? We, as we've shared in this podcast, we we're constantly on this journey of learning and unlearning, causing harm, repairing harm, healing. and I think that's a beautiful place to leave this conversation.
Thank you so much, Richard, for your words, your wisdom, your stories, to everyone else listening. We'll be back with another episode with somebody living this restorative justice life next week. Until then, take care.