Sarah Shourd is an award-winning, trauma-informed investigative journalist, author, playwright, anti-prison theater activist, and 2018 Stanford John S. Knight Fellow based in Oakland and San Rafael, CA.
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David: Sarah, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Sarah: I am Sarah Shourd, a trauma informed journalist.
David: Mm-hmm. who are you?
Sarah: I am a human being on a healing journey, and a justice journey.
David: Mm-hmm. , who are you?
Sarah: I'm a playwright and a producer of abolitionist theater.
David: Who are you?
Sarah: I am a friend and a auntie in chosen family and in biological family and a daughter and a sister.
David: who are you?
Sarah: I am a child of the earth.
David: Who are you?
Sarah: I am
a person seeking visionary change.
David: And finally, for now, who are you?
Sarah: I'm a person that is on her second cup of coffee and still a little groggy this morning. I don't know. Yeah, I've been sleeping very deep. I just moved into a yurt so I'm in a very different environment. I'm in a big transition
David: in my. . Yeah. Well, with all of those things in mind, very grateful to have you on this restorative justice life day.
We'll get to some of the intersections of who you are and more throughout the, our conversation. But we also like to start off with asking to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question. How are you?
Sarah: Oh, I'm good. Thank you. That was, that was a really nice exercise. That was fun.
Always interesting to see the things that come up. And, you know, one of the first things that you shared with us is, you know, being a trauma informed journalist, I, I encountered your work as a journalist a couple weeks ago as of time of recording. Right. Listeners of the podcast may or may not know that I keep Google alerts for the words restorative justice.
And a little bit ago a handful of things around the death of a woman named Jen Angel popped up, your article included in San Francisco Chronicle. And of course that'll be linked in the show notes for people who want to check that out. But with that describing Jen's death and the way that her chosen family wanted the people involved in the criminal legal system, the criminal punishment system to take restorative approaches to.
Addressing the harm that happened in that case was met with a lot of extreme perspectives. Right. From your perspective, there was a lot of yours and others' perspectives, right? There were a lot of people saying, you know, let's respect this. Restorative justice is a way that we can heal, move forward.
And there were a lot of other news outlets, you know, Fox News. The Daily Mail, the New York Post among others, right, who were ridiculing this right, saying that restorative justice is about, you know, talking about your feelings and letting killers walk free. You know, those who are listening to this podcast may or may not have an orientation towards restorative justice already.
You know, the way that I define restorative justice is that it's a philosophy instead of practices rooted in indigenous values of interconnection, where of course we're going to repair relationships when harm happens because we are a part of each other, right? Interconnection
like all of these phrases get to these values of interconnection. We're a part of each other. And we live in conditions where we don't have strong relationships built or actively maintained, rooted in equity interest. And so for that reason, it's a lot harder for people to want to do that restoration.
And so when I'm hearing these perspectives from. , you know, these right wing conservative outlets about why restorative justice is not it, why it's bad, why it's actually like harmful and punitive, I don't get angry. I I might have gotten angry at one point in my life. I'm just sad, right? Because like, oh, you live in a world, you have a worldview where you don't see the people on the other side of this crime as a part of yourself.
You don't see people on the other part of this hurt as a part of yourself, and you don't recognize that you were a person who has caused harm as well, and have had, and have been given opportunities to heal and repair. Or maybe like just get away with shit because of your power and privilege, but more likely to matter.
I've said a lot. All right, , and I've said a lot, all to ask you this question. You know, restorative justice is something that's important to you. Where did this journey get started? . .
Sarah: Oh, yeah. I really love that question. And in your introduction to, I'd love to just start by saying by grounding this in, in honoring the Jen's life and, and legacy Jen Angel mm-hmm.
Is that okay with you if I start there? It just feels like the right, yeah, absolutely. And then I'll, I'll definitely come to, to the question. But you know, Jen Angel believed in restorative justice and her loved ones are honoring her, her vision, her truth, her belief system in asking for alternatives to incarceration and, and not wanting her, her brutal death to be an excuse to hire more police or incarcerate more people.
And so I just wanna start by honoring Jen as the loving and incredible world shaping person that she was. Jen Angel for decades was so many things in the world and I, I was watching her from the sidelines for decades, cuz we are, I'm only a few years younger. She was 48 when she died I believe three weeks ago now.
And no one has been apprehended in the case. But it was as a result of a, of a, of a purse snatching gone very bad. And before we dive into the comp, you know, complexities and nuances, just to celebrate the individual and the, the beautiful spirit that was lost and that transitioned as a result of that event.
Yeah, Jen was a abolitionist. She was an anarchist she was a baker, she was a kind of person that brought, she, she owned a bakery shop called Angel Cakes in Oakland that employed a lot of people that were directly impacted by incarceration and the system. and she was just the kind of person that was devoting her whole life to you know, building new worlds and thinking outside of the limited racist and structurally unequal systems that we live under.
All of us in different positions, but all of us under these systems and have found, you know, creative ways to liberate ourselves from within. And yeah, Jen was just one of those people, so I just want us to honor it and, and send love to her, wherever she is in whatever form.
David: Yeah, absolutely.
Thank you for centering that. And I mean when I think about the conversations that we have here, part of it is that like harm is happening every day, all around us being addressed in some way, shape or form, right? And. The ability to have this explicit conversation around a violent death is not something that we often do for, for a handful of reasons.
And it's important to recognize that like, as we're talking about, like the theory and the philosophical and like big picture reasons why this work is important, like this is impacting real people who live full lives and are, worthy of this kind of care. And that goes to, you know, you who's listening to this right now and the person next to you on the train or the person next to you in the car who like maybe just cut you off or the person that you're gonna go into a meeting with right after you take these AirPods out of your ears, right?
This work is theoretical Yes. Philosophy, but it's also very practical. And so much of how Jen lived and thank you for bringing her and censoring that in this conversation.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for, you know, for giving the space to del to delve into some of the things, you know, that are some of the implications of the events around Jen's life and death and, and her legacy and how it's playing out.
You know, her story's not finished. That's something I said in my article. Yeah. And her, her community is continuing to, to write her, her legacy, the way that she would've wanted it to the best of their ability. so yes, I'm a trauma informed journalist. That was the question. Right? And how, how did I come to RJ being an important part of my work and my life?
David: Yeah. The other way that sometimes we frame the question is, you've been doing the work around or of restorative justice for a while now, but you probably got started before you knew the words explicitly. So how did this start?
Sarah: Oh, yeah, that's real. Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I, that gives me hope in, I've been a, I've been fighting the prison system as a journalist and also as an activist and an advocate and, and a survivor for 12 years now.
And through my creative projects and my journalistic investigations have exposed the horrors and also just been again and again, you know, found teachers inside. Mm-hmm , our prison system that have, that have guided my path in many ways. One of the things that gives me hope and keeps me going when it comes to prison and how entrenched these structures are, and the belief systems that are the bedrock of these structures that are so destructive in the world, you know, the belief in individualism and punishing the individual and not looking at the collective and not holding the collective and healing the collective.
One of the things that gives me hope is that we've always been doing repair as human beings or we wouldn't be here. Mm-hmm. . So as much as I look at my own personal family history and I see, I see trauma, I see conflict, and I look at my ancestral history and I see harm done by my ancestors, and I see the ways that they, the strategies they, they use to survive that I don't agree with and don't wanna replicate.
I also see that this history of repair and healing, in my own family structure and all around me in the world. And I think, well, you know, it's the reason that that prisons have not been successful is that we've been, humans have always been doing restorative justice.
David: Yeah. What was, like, are there any like specific ways that you were able to like, see examples of that healing within your family or within your lineage that like really made an impact for you?
Sarah: Well the way that my family was radicalized politically is that my mother when I was. Left my father because he was physically abusive. Mm-hmm. , and she had the strings to get out of that situation. And we, we packed up the car with whatever we could fit into to, you know, our, our little, heap, a junk car, and drove across the country from Chicago to la with my cat, fluffy muffin and a few boxes of toys and la in California.
In a lot of ways, I mean, California has defined my life and my, my identity. I'm very culturally, oriented towards California, you know, in every way. And this is where my mom and I became radical activists from the time that I was a child. We were anti-war, we were in the punk scene and growing up in Los Angeles, we, we became also aware of, of white supremacy.
And, and our part in that and, and interested in racial justice and very angry at the patriarchy , that was a very strong theme. And so I would say that the, the ability to find community when you are really running from violence and you know, the legacies of that violence, mm-hmm. in my, in my family.
The, we were able to get out outside of that and find other people like us Yeah. And find other people that thought like us, and that, that wanted a different world that we could build with. And that's the legacy of activism in my family. And I think it's very much connected to repair and, and, you know, healing.
And, you know, daring to find other people, to build a. to build a different world with.
David: Yeah. I think, and this might be because I've spent a lot of the last couple weeks talking with young people about ideas of restorative justice and met an incredible amount of resistance from people talking about issues of gendered violence.
And like, how are you gonna have a restorative process for something like that? And I get where the difficulty around that is. I also like in those conversations that I'm trying to highlight, and, and I think it might be difficult from, you know, the body that I'm in and the way that I present in the world as a cis straight dude.
But thinking about, you know, if we are to rely on systems of punishment in those cases, , we're not gonna get healing, and we're not gonna get repair. Right. You might get a sense of temporary safety. Right. But like, what are the needs? What are the other needs that you have that are being addressed? And like, arguably, like you're not even really safe , by going to use systems of punishment to get quote, unquote justice.
And so I'm curious, like if that was ever a calculation that your mom was making and like she had conversations with you about explicitly, or that's something that like you gained, like understanding of a little bit later?
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I was too young Yeah. To, to understand what the heck was going on. Sure. I just knew that my mom was taking things in her own hands and, you know, looking back now, I, she didn't rely on, as, you know, as a, as a white woman, the fact that she didn't rely on police and the carceral state. as a way out of her situation, the situation that was in endangering her life.
And and, and her child is really mind blowing. And I do think, and this this connects back to Jen. You know, Jen was in the d i y punk scene too, as problematic as, as, as the punk scene can be. I mean, it's very patriarchal. It can be very light, although it's definitely not exclusively either of those things.
You know, I think that that was my mom's refuge. She was angry. She wanted to get out of this patriarchal relationship of control and punishment, and she found other people that were angry too, and, and took it into her own hands and, and started a new life somewhere. And yeah, I , I, I admire the heck outta that lady for doing that.
And I think, yeah, looking back now, I, I, I understand even more how unusual that is.
David: Well, I mean, I think when we like, and this isn't I didn't mean for this to be like a full conversation on gendered violence or domestic violence, but like I started it. Yeah, no, I mean, like, if we, like statistically look at like it happens way more than it's reported to police and like why don't people do anything about it?
Feels like the police are terrible at dealing with all of this . Right. Exactly. They're not well resourced. The police. Our patriarchal entity who are, and like you can make an argument for like, okay, well we just need trauma informed police, but like, let's not go there. . Let's, let's continue on.
Talking about ways to not resource systems of violent oppression at the end of a gun, sorry, state sanctioned depression at the end of, end of a gun, or other things you talk about, you
Sarah: know? Yeah. Can I, I'll say just really briefly since we have gotten into this, that, that I, you know, you can never put yourself in other people's shoes, and I don't judge women that do call the police when they're lives are, you know, threatened, but you at all in any way.
sometimes. There really are no other means for safety. And, and that's why we're talking about restorative justice, right? Because those structures don't exist. And that's why a lot of people are so confused when, you know Jen Angels loved ones call for restorative justice. They think right away, you know, just to, to pivot back to that, they think, oh, that means you just want to let her quote unquote killers go free.
Cuz they've already decided that they know who these people are. They know what the conditions are, you know, they're not interested in the specifics. And restorative justice invites us to delve into the specifics of a situation where harm was done and ask, you know, what is it we that we don't know here?
And what is it that we, if we find out some of these answers, what, what can we actually do to prevent more crimes like this from happening? And you know, that's something that wasn't available to my mother when I was young and it's not available to so many people across the country. and that's why, you know, you're doing what you're doing with this podcast, right, is to get out.
The message that, that, that people don't even know what art restorative justice can look like. So let's talk about that.
David: Yeah. What was your formal introduction to the words?
Sarah: I'm pretty sure that I I think it was do you know Generation five? Mm-hmm. , but I, I went to a workshop early in my twenties and I believe that word was mentioned then, but it was, it was definitely the first time that the concept, you know, gen five as an organization deals with domestic violence and violence against women and children and sexual violence.
And they talk about how in order to really prevent these horrible acts from happening in our communities, We have to continue the work for five generations. We have to do. The work with that kind of long vision. Yeah. Where we're thinking, where we're considering the people that are not born as, as our, as part of our community because we're preventing violence, you know, with that kind of foresight.
So I think it was then. Yeah.
David: Yeah. And I think like, and I don't know if these were the words that used, like Generation five is often credited with using, like, bringing the framework of transformative justice, right? Like transforming the conditions under which harm is happening. So like, we're not trapped in these cycles of violence.
They're largely credited for thinking about like a transformative justice framework, knowing that like this grew out of a restorative justice way of dealing with individual incidents of conflict and harm, right? We can solve something that went on between two people, but like some of the root causes are outside of like what just went on between those two people when we're talking about patriarchy when we're talking about, you know, the prison industrial complex and, and all of these things, it's it goes beyond just like, Hey, what are the things that these two individuals need in order to heal and move forward in a way that is meeting their needs as much as possible.
Right? They're societal conditions that we need to be thinking about community resources that we need to be building so people have other ways of dealing with conflict and harm that aren't perpetuating moments of conflict and harm. And so when you had this conversation or were in this workshop with Generation five, like what was it about it that clicked for you and what did that lead you to in this journey?
Sarah: I mean, at the time I was doing anti-racist work in Oakland, and I was doing. indigenous rights, solidarity, work with the Zap Batista movement in southern Mexico. Mm-hmm. . So I was starting out as an doing international human rights work and, and a lot of anti-war work and, and you know, it resonated with me with my family history, but it wasn't something that I was ready to really delve into.
It was after my own incarceration and for the last 12 years working on exposing the brutality of solitary confinement in particular as a control mechanism and as one of the principle control me mechanisms that, that suppresses dissent and allows for people, incarcerated people to fight for their rights, their human rights, and to organize.
Yeah. People are disappeared to the whole, in order to stop that you can't, you know, I can't do anti prisons work without having a really clear vision on what is the world that we're trying to create. and, and it, and then you realize that actually anti prism work is creating that world that it's impossible to focus on the problem without also asking yourself, am I part of building the kind of world where that is not based on these, you know, punitive and racist hierarchical and, and just like the most negative possible worldview in the world.
Yeah. It creeps, you know, these institutions are so pervasive. The prison incarceral state, it affects everyone in our society. I really believe that people think that somehow, if they're not directly affected is not affecting them, but it really is how we relate to one another is affected by the fact that we put millions of, of majority black and brown people in cages in this country.
And so that invitation, again, in order to continue. Focusing on the work of prison abolition, I have to also be able to have a restorative justice practice in my life, in my relationships, in my family, and, and it has to be very informed by my anti-racist practice and commitments.
David: Yeah, absolutely.
And, you know, you glossed over like my incarceration, so I'm gonna ask you to share as much as you want to about that in a second. But like, just to like bookend, like what you just said about, you know, abolition is great, but in the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and. Miriam Kaba and maybe others that I'm mashing together in a paraphrase, right?
Abolition of these systems is as much about presence of life giving institutions and systems as much as it is the absence of like these death making institutions, right? And so, like we can say we don't want, we want a world without prisons, but like we need something in order to be able to deal with the conflict and harm that is going to continue to happen because humans are messy with each other.
And we're gonna continue to harm each other. And like, what are the ways that we're gonna do deal with that without, like, locking people up, isolating them from their communities where they might have been causing harm in one specific instance, but they were also like probably contributing in a lot of different ways.
And they were also being supported in a lot of different ways. Pulling someone out of the place where they're being supported and expecting them to be better is not really an effective way of dealing with conflict and harm. I think like, . So it makes so much sense and it's not very common, like even, you know for those listening or longtime listeners right.
You know, that I am a relatively new parent. And as we're looking at daycares the conversation that we had the other day was about like how a daycare deals with, discipline and they were talking about suspensions and I was like, suspensions for like like a one year old, right? Like, what are you talking about?
And so obviously like it's not where my kid is gonna be going , but you know, are you talking about oh, when we are in a society that relies on punishment so much, like we need to know what these alternatives are and this is so much of your work. I do want to, you know, as much as you want to share, like help give us some context for your anti prison work.
You know, you talked about, you know, your experience with solitary, right? And, you know, if we think about restorative justices being about interconnection solitary is like the, like absolute, like other end of that spectrum where you are isolated, cut off from most of the outside world in really extreme ways.
To the extent that you're comfortable or, or wanna share here. Can you give us some context? Yeah,
Sarah: of course. Yeah, as a result of my or as an extension of my anti-war work in my twenties, I moved to the Middle East and I, I lived in Yemen and I lived in Syria. and I was on a a trip in northern Iraq, which is, at the time it was before isis, it was Kurdistan an an autonomous region that is pretty pro-American in, in a bizarre way.
I mean, I'm very against my country's foreign policy, obviously, but I was in a, in a region where they, they were giving me high fives cuz they love George Bush. And so I wasn't a part of the Middle East. The reason I mentioned that is where my guard was really down and I was on a, I wasn't on a journalist invest.
I wasn't investigating anything. I wasn't working as a journalist. I was hiking and I was captured and, and held as a political hostage. This was in 2009 and I was in solitary confinement for 410 days, completely incommunicado and I, in that period, all I wanted was to get back to the stream of life.
and to the web of life. And I, you know, it felt like being plucked out of everything that I ever loved and having my life ripped away from me. But there was a chance I could get it back. And I knew that if I did get it back, I would commit my life to, to justice and for other people. And I would, you know, just want to repay the world for not forgetting about me, not leaving me to, to die there.
And there was a very strong movement for my release. and you know, my imprisonment was very high profile at the time, and that had to do with the longstanding animosity between the Iranian government and the US government. And we were part of the nuclear deals, and it was all, we were paws in a much larger, larger political GA game.
But when I got out, I right away wanted to find other people that had. I was trying to understand how to heal from solitary confinement. And those wounds are, are so deep. It's the wound of belonging, you know, being rejected. And even though I knew that I wasn't there because of anything that I'd done wrong, it's really hard not to blame yourself.
It's really hard to, to hang on to your ideals and your choices and your path in life and, and not feel like something, it must be horribly wrong with me that I'm being hurt this way. Because you know, it, it affects you psychologically. It affects your, your spirit and, and, and it affects your, your neurons, your frontal lobe.
And it makes you attack yourself mentally. You become your own torturer. And so the, the, the faith that I had was this vision of being able to rejoin, the stream of life and become a part of collective liberation and. So every day I, I count myself very grateful that I am a part of that, the movement for collective liberation in this country, in, in the different hats that I wear.
David: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And, you know, while the circumstances of your incarceration are different than what most people who are incarcerated experience in the United States, like, there are very similar, like there a lot of similarities, right? Like they're not necessarily country to country political, reasons that many people are incarcerated now, but the way that we rely on punishment as a means of control.
Right. And you know, you got caught up in foreign policy decisions that like were made way above your head. People who are being caught up within the criminal legal system now. Yes. By individual actions, right? Like you chose to go on a hike that day and like that wasn't wrong. Yes. Someone decided to participate in the underground economy as a means to make ends meet for their family.
Like how are we assigning value to those things, right? The conditions under which the, your everyday choices were made were rooted in violence and control and, you know, the situation that people face in us, in the us like prison, industrial complex, like are not the same as like what you experienced, right?
But the ideology behind using punishment as control to get what you want as fear. Like it has really similar effects on people, right? When you talk about the way that you are you are isolated and like the psychological, warfare that you end up doing to yourself. Like, it's the same thing that happens to people who are kicked out of their communities or removed from their communities, whether that is within the criminal legal system, whether it is within, you know, schools when we talk about suspension, right?
You're telling someone to leave this community. You're taking someone out of this community, not providing them with any kind of support or means to change and expecting them to come back. What? Just more damaged, more. , like having animosity towards the people who did that, towards them. And you know, again, with your experience not being with the US government, not being with people who you might have felt were like your people who were doing this to you.
I imagine I'm not even gonna try to put myself in your shoes. I'm gonna ask .
Sarah: It's a, it's a lot. It's a lot. Yeah. Whenever my story comes up, I'm like, I don't want it to be too much of a distraction. It was 12 years ago, you know, where Yeah. There's, there are hundreds of thousands of people experiencing this now in our own country.
But I will say that the common denominator is that this serves state power and control. , you know? Mm-hmm. , that, that incarceration, it, it served the Iranian government to punish an individual for systemic problems. And it served, it served the US government for me to be in there too, because they both wanted to continue to, to sell the story of, of the other, of being the enemy of the people.
and incarceration and in Carceral state in all of its forms serves institutional power. It serves people in power. It's a way of, of punishing individuals instead of coming up with solutions that would serve humanity.
David: Right. Thank you for. Helping me pull out of that, I think about making sure that we are asking those questions of like, who does this benefit when we're facing these issues, right?
You know, over the last couple weeks, right, we're talking about harm constantly happening. You know, in the wake of the Monterey Park in half Moon Bay shootings, right? Like very close to where you and I live, respectively. , you know, I've been in deep conversation with folks in Asian community about grief and like, what happens, who benefits?
Right? When we grieve privately or like just try to like push past it quickly, right? Capitalism benefits, right? White supremacy benefits when we don't take time to stop and acknowledge the harm that is continually happening. And so much of what happens is like we just numb ourselves to what's going on in the world because it is constantly happening to us every day.
And I think, you know, just to, you know, to tag back to what we're ta like what initiated this conversation, right? Jen's death right, is something that was out of the ordinary, like the way that her and her family wanted us to address and approach this kind of harm, like, Is out of the ordinary. And so like, that's why we are like taking this time to talk about it.
But you know, these things, like you were saying, are constantly happening to us on a systemic, like, and like at the hands of the state. And like the way that we interact with each other individually both by the mechanisms of, of, you know, policy from schools or the organizations that we participate in or work for.
But even like in the mindsets that we have in our everyday lives. There's a question coming out of here, I promise. When I think about the way that you talked about, you know, wanting to, for lack of a better word, like give back, serve humanity towards our collective liberation. What are some of the ways that that has manifested for you over the last couple of years last 12 years, right?
I imagine there was a time of like a lot of intensity right after, but like when you were able to regroup and be a little bit more, Strategic, like what have you thought about and like, how has that manifested?
Sarah: Yeah. I'm happy to talk about that. And I also just wanna say I'm glad you brought it back to, to grief.
It's something that I'm learning to do still. And I, and, and it's something that I believe my ancestors are not good at. You know, there's a, as far as you know, white culture in particular, there's always this push to just keep it moving, you know? And, and I, and I think this also, so I came outta prison and dove into social justice work and didn't take time to grieve.
And there were, there were a lot of consequences to that. And I'm, I'm recognizing now when I have this very driven personality, but I wanna make sure it's not driven by, by guilt. Because that, that urgency culture can be very destructive. . And it can be, you know, particularly destructive as a white person when I'm working in black and brown communities you know, healing and goes at it at its own pace, and the grief process cannot be rushed
And I've, I've heard that several restorative justice organizations have reached out to Jen's loved ones, you know, and, and offered to start doing grief circles, and I'm really happy about that. And they're still deciding what kind of support they need, but they're getting that support and, and that is really, you know, a lot of Jen Angels community, you and I talked about this earlier, are people that are fighting against prisons and policing, you know, that, that want like one of Jen's chosen family.
Loved ones is Emily Harris from the Ella Baker Center. And, and they're working on policy change to decarcerate and and, and fight against harsher sentencing. And this is like, well now Emily and many of Jen's loved ones find themselves on the other side of the equation. And, and that's kind of, I think something that RJ reminds us of is you can, all of us are gonna be on the side of, of perpetuating some kind of harm in our lives and being harmed.
And, and there's very different positionality based on race and gender and, and, and class and, and different popul and obviously black and brown. It's very important to emphasize how much black and brown populations are targeted by the carceral state. Mm-hmm. . But this, this you know, harming and being harmed as a part of just being human.
and I, so I think after being harmed myself, I mean, it wasn't the first harm. I mean, we talked about how I grew up in a, in a family with domestic violence. But I really saw myself as being, you know, it became very, very clear to me that that wanting revenge wasn't gonna do anything. You know, the Iranian people I, I support, I, you know, I was al I protested against the possibility of war in Iran.
I went to the Middle East as an extension of my anti-war work. You know, these, there was no way that I was gonna be. And, and also, Iranian people loved me in prison and helped me keep going. We were all in the same boat. So you find yourself one morning on one side of the equation of being human, and you can very easily wake up the next morning and be in a very different position.
So I think that that's something important. This is why it restorative justice is so based on dialogue. We don't know the story of, of the, the perpetrators of the crime that led to, to Jen's injuries and death. Her, we, we don't know. We, we do know that it is very unlikely that they woke up that morning wanting to do any sort of violence.
You know, they woke up with an economic need, period. Mm-hmm. and restorative justice. A lot of people that are reactive to it and don't understand what it is they say, well, yeah, but you're just making excuses. What about, you know, accountability and restorative justice is all about accountability, but our prison system has failed to provide us without accountability.
And yeah. You know, the, the, the current system is not working and, and anyone who's paying any attention, attention knows that the system of mass incarceration is not fulfilling its promise to provide safety to the community. And so people need to look outside of that system at how do we make safety?
and we make safety through, through looking at the root causes of, of these crimes. Which doesn't mean letting people off the hook doesn't mean saying that what they did is okay. But it's, as, as Lonnie Morris said in, in the article I wrote, it's about looking at the realities that breed this kind of crime and, and what can we do to, to prevent more of it.
David: Yeah. Mm-hmm. , I think like I do want to give grace and understanding for people who oppose restorative justice, because I think in the way that the word restorative justice have been used over the last, I'll say 20 years, specifically when it comes to the framework. The education system and breaking the school to prison pipeline, the execution of that has been like, pretty poor, right?
Like you can make policy changes that say like, Hey, we're gonna do restorative justice work, but that doesn't mean the people in that building are equipped to do it. It doesn't mean the way that schools are structured are equipped to like make that time to hear people's stories and provide people with the resources they need in order to heal and make things as right or as right as possible.
And so, I mean, again, this is coming off of a week where or a little bit of time where I've spent a lot of time with young people who are really wrestling with these ideas of restorative justice because like, hey, you say this is a restorative process, but all I see is that this person got talked to you and they're back in class.
Right? And like they did the same thing two weeks later, right? Or again, and I know that that happens. And I would say that those. When we talk about, you know, restorative justice being about relationships, like how are we bringing those people into relationships and holding them accountable to the things that they agreed to within the context of those restorative conversations, right?
Part of that requires you building a relationship with those people in order to make sure that they're following up on the things that they said they're following, that they were going to do to make things right, or to not do those things again. And if we're not doing that we're also failing, right?
We're also not living up to the promises of. . Keeping people safe. Building safe communities. And you know, as much as like I want to be an advocate for everything, restorative justice, not everything that people say is restorative justice is restorative justice. And so like I get where that critique can come from on some level.
Mm-hmm. and. . Right? That's why the work of Amplify IJ is so important. We're like, let's get really clear about what this is and how to do it and do it well. Acknowledging that like, we're not gonna be perfect in our execution as people, right? We, the promise of restorative justice is'nt that harm will never happen again.
Right? The promise of restorative justice is that we will have the skills, the tools, the practices to acknowledge each other's humanity, right? And acknowledge the needs and try our best to meet the needs of the people who have been impacted by an incident of harm, right? Both the person who was harmed, person who caused harm, and the other people who have been impacted.
When we think about, you know, the organizations that have reached out to Jen's family, right? I think we should reiterate that the people who caused Jen's death have not been found. Right? But you're talking about like, how can we meet your needs, like to hold process this? , like immense grief, right?
That has happened, right? What are the material needs that you have and, you know, we'll also link the GoFundMe to the, the, the for, for Jen and her family in the show notes as well, right? Like, how can we meet those material needs? The needs that are caused by harm? Rarely. Like, I don't wanna say never, but like very, very, very, very rarely require like the person who cause harm to then be harmed again, , right?
We do want safety, right? We do want assurance to the extent possible that lose things won't happen. But that doesn't necessarily mean that that looks like putting them in a cell, taking them out of their community doing active physical violence to people, right? , you know, the adage like an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
Right? When we're thinking about causing people harm, who have caused us harm. Right. What need are we meeting? Right. Danielle Sarre in the book oh. Until, until we reckon. Until we reckon, yeah. Yeah. And many others like have laid out examples of lots of people who have caused harm. Sorry, who have been harmed, but like what they're needing is safety assurance that it won't happen again.
Very rarely is it like, I need that person to be punished. We hear stories of people whose family members have been murdered, right. Sitting in the courtroom and hearing the guilty verdict and the sentence, and like feeling like maybe a tinge of like acknowledgement and like a good feeling that like, yes, this person did a thing that hurt me, but now they're just being hurt more.
And like, how is that healing me? . I really want to question people like the, I, like, I'm specifically not naming them one for clout reasons. Two, just because like, this is not just about the individuals behind the Fox News Daily Mail, New York Post article, right. When you see justice as being like hurting other people so you can feel better.
Like, I want to ask you like, why ? Right? And like, what is it about those other people that you don't see connected to as a part of yourself? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. .
Sarah: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I just wanna validate too this is like the, the pain of of of being in a family that's some that of a person and losing a person to horrific violence is, is un unimaginable.
there, that pain, it really needs to take up space too. I think sometimes we're guilty of, of going a little bit too fast in, in the restorative justice or transformative justice conversation to, it's just a, the emotional catharsis that needs to happen before you're ready to forgive is so real. I mean, and, and no one's asking people to just skip over cuz that's what we're talking about.
We're talking about mm-hmm. , it's, it's grief that actually keeps us soft and stops us from hardening and becoming the kind of people that can, can perpetuate or look the other way when it comes to harm in the first place. Right. And so, you know, no one is saying that, that that people shouldn't be angry, that people shouldn't want to, to, to see.
I mean, as an abolitionist, I believe in that we need something along the lines of like, centers for incap hesitation. The one piece of the carceral state that I think is needed, and this is my opinion coming from me, is that sometimes people need to be removed so that we can figure out what's going on.
You know, what needs to mm-hmm. , what they're, they're not safe to themselves or others in their community and, and they need to be removed in an incapacitation center, incapacitated, while we figure out what is the right way to move forward here while we get more information about the specific circumstances that led to this, to this harm being committed.
And, you know, does this person need therapy? Are, are they, do they need mental health services? Do they need a mentor? Do they need housing? Do, is there conflict resolution that's needed in their community? , what kind of healing will make it so that this person is not driven to do something like this again.
And we know that, as in contrast, our carceral state and Sared, Daniel Sared says something like this in her book that, that you mentioned until we reckon you know, we're responding to violence with our carceral state in the same way that we know the, the main drivers of violence, right?
So we're adding fuel to fire. We're putting people in such, in, in conditions that make people more violent. Mm-hmm . And, and also another thing Sara Red says is that the people that we're punishing are those that we're failing to protect. So how can we hold these realities that in, in these, these moments, the, you know, these instances of harm, everything that is failed in our society is, is packed in there.
And, and, and clearly we're not doing anything to address those root causes of harm, those drivers of harm, in Alameda County, you know, I investigated restorative justice for an Atlantic, an article that I published in The Atlantic a few years ago about preventable deaths in, in Santa Rita Jail. And I compared that to Los Angeles County that actually has a lot more funding for diversion programs and, you know, sentence, reductions.
Alameda County has a dearth of these options. for Jen's loved ones, they're saying, we live in a county where there a lot of people are fighting for restorative justice. And our district attorney needs to give us those options. We deserve those options as, as her loved ones. We want to uphold what Jen would've wanted.
and we wanna weigh in on, you know, if people are apprehended, we wanna weigh in on the charges. You know, we don't believe that our communities are served by this disproportionately long sentencing. And we wanna weigh in on mm-hmm the possibility of an early release and give this per, if these people are apprehended and jailed.
And that's the way that it goes. We wanna weigh in on what can we provide as far as mentoring and therapy, and weighing in on how to get them out as soon as possible and, and how to address the, the root causes of what, what came to play that day that le that led in us losing our loved one, you know, forever.
We'll never get Jen back. And it's important that the, the people that were involved in this understand what a beautiful life was taken. But sending someone to prison without any kind of restorative process, it's never, it's not never gonna result. It's rarely ever gonna result in any, any real understanding of the harm that took place.
Piling harm on Harm. On harm, right.
David: Yeah. And you know, when people ask like questions about restorative justice, like what do you do with x? What do you do with like, murder? Like, you can't say like murder and leave it there. Right? You have to look at like the individual circumstances under which these things happened, right?
When we're talking about death caused by like a purse snatching gone wrong, like those have different needs than something that might have happened between like a domestic abuse case gone wrong, right? Like those, those incidents, like while they both result in somebody's death, like require different needs because of the people involved, the relationships involved, right?
Exactly. These people who caused gen's death weren't people who like, Probably not people Jen, like intimately knew, right? And so, you know, what are the needs that have been created? It's gonna look different, right? There are n like within the case of like somebody who has killed their spouse in in a dis domestic abuse incident, right?
Like the needs of the other people impacted, like maybe children in that in that situation, right? Like, those are things that also need to be considered. And so when you say like, Hey, what do you do when X, y, Z happens, right? Like, do we want these children to grow up in a world without access to their parent forever because of the thing that their parent did?
I know that like many people would say, yes, their parent did like an unforgivable, unspeakable thing, but we also have to consider that, you know, maybe those children had like a really good loving relationship with their parent in that way. And what are the ways that we can. Not cause more harm by taking that person away from them forever and like being cut off, right?
Yes. So, you know, th those are like really like dramatic, specific and very real things that happen. But like, just want to emphasize that like, restorative justice does not allow us to say like, all right, 15 to 20 years or 20 years to life, right? And problem solved, right? Like it is laborious. Work the ways that we can go about manifesting that are diverting resources from prisons and policing because like, you know, people who are doing this kind of healing work need to be resourced.
But it is worth it to get outcomes of liberation, healing. And I think real justice for the people who have been impacted by, you know, unspeakable harm.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, what if we find out, you know, that, that there was a specific cause You know, teenage pregnancy sexual violence in the life of the people that, that were out there doing crimes that day and, and, and fatally, you know, which re which resulted in, in, in Jen's fatality and the end of her life.
What if we find out that there's a specific cause? We don't know what it is. It's something we may not even be able to begin to imagine. You know, gentrification, housing issues, homelessness and Jen's community got together and decided in her legacy, we wanna address this root cause. We wanna do something to, to, to help the people in this, these situations so that, that we can go to, you know, the source of this crime as opposed to.
Ignoring it completely. And I, you know, I think it's worth mentioning that a lot of the people that are doing restorative justice and transformative justice work are currently and formally incarcerated people because it's the people that find themselves at the intersection of, of all these hard realities in our society.
And that realize the, how incredibly urgent it is that we find new ways of addressing it. So people do restorative justice at transformative justice kind of dialogue inside prison, and then they come out and are leaders in the community. And a lot of the people that I've encountered in my own work as a, as a abolitionist theater producer and writer playwright, is inspired by what I learned when I investigated people inside solitary confinement.
The ways that they took care of each other, the ways that they found to. to create community and, and, and strengthen community in the most desperate of circumstances. And then when they come out, these people are just unstoppable on the outside. As, as far as how much they have to give back to their communities and how visionary they are.
David: Yeah. And I'll say like, in spite of the conditions that they were put in, not like this mentality like, oh yeah, see, we put them there and they learned, no, no,
Sarah: no. Right? And, and and, and it's not like there's no consequence. You know, a lot of people that I know around the country, we did a a tour of my play last summer, the end of isolation tour, and we went to 10 communities on the front lines of changing the policy to ban solitary confinement inside our prisons and jails in alignment with the principles of decarceration.
The idea that the less people that we have in prison, the less people we're gonna be torturing. And we are torturing people in order to maintain control inside our prisons. Make no mistake about it, torture isn't something that happens in other countries like Iran. It happens in our backyards in the prisons and jails where our loved ones are being taken.
And it, and the only function of the torture is to. Maintain a completely heinous and brutal system of incarceration that doesn't rehabilitate people, that doesn't serve public safety. And the other function is to suppress dissent so that people inside are not able to, if they are standing up for their human rights and organizing with each other, they're disappeared to the hole.
So we, we traveled around the country and a lot of the formerly incarcerated organizers that are shutting down jails and opening up restorative justice centers around the country, they're incredible human beings. And I just wanna emphasize that it takes its toll. These are people doing the work of 20 people.
And it's, and, and part of that is driven by what they've seen. They, you know, they can't forget. I mean, I can speak from my own perspective mm-hmm. as a survivor. once you have, I can never turn my back on the fact that millions of people are in cages in this country and around the world because I've lived it.
And once you've lived it, it's a part of you and it's not a reality that you can or want to forget. But it takes it's toll. A lot of people are, are sort of driven by, an unbelievable sadness and grief, which is kind of where we started. And, they're, they're carrying a burden for a lot of the rest, a lot of us that, that no one person should have to carry , if that makes sense.
A lot of the formerly incarcerated people that I know, that's how I feel about what they, what they're doing in the world. It's just really carrying our collective burden.
David: Yeah. It's really similar to, and, and not one-to-one, right? But thinking about it's not the job of black people to educate white people about white supremacy. It's not necessarily the job of people who have been incarcerated to do all this education to people who have not been, or who have not been directly impacted in the way that some others have been.
It's very helpful and very grateful for you and others who are doing that work. But as someone who hasn't been incarcerated, hasn't been directly impacted by the criminal legal system like that I do feel a sense of obligation to people who I've encountered over the years, right? Both from working in an employment program, helping folks who are out of job because of their former incarceration.
Like finding work from folks who I've met inside who have done any number of things under like very disparate economic circumstances to try to make ends meet. Right? Like telling those stories and drawing. Connections between the ways that things that we're doing in our everyday lives promote that carceral mindset, promote pushing people out of institutions in our communities do end up having like these big jurassic implications of like putting people in places where they're being tortured.
Right. So, you know, with a person with that privilege of never being incarcerated, like, what am I doing with that? I know, like as a white person, right? Like, when it comes to doing this work with both de Carceral work, abolitionist work, but also like racial justice work, like those are things that you've considered.
How do you navigate those spaces?
Sarah: Well, I mean, I'm the farthest thing humanly possible in many ways from being system impacted. I'm a survivor of torture. I'm formally incarcerated. But doing this work and navigating my privilege and whiteness, it's, it's, it is my work as a white person. to speak out about incarceration, especially since I, I navigate this strange identity as a, as a survivor of torture in another country.
I also, as a trauma informed journalist, it's my, it is my work in, in alignment. I mean, I believe it's all of our jobs to, to, you know, heal and fulfill our, our our reasons for being here. You know, our, our essential self is, is essentially what we're responsible to, how to, how to be in community and support other people's healing and growth.
And we all navigate that in different ways. And, and I approach it as how do I do this work without doing harm? Right? Which is a, a very restorative justice model. And as a transformative justice journalist I mean as a, sorry, trauma informed journalist I'm asking myself, you know, I'm interviewing people of color, I'm interviewing.
Trauma survivors. I'm interviewing people with mental illness. How do I do that in a way that doesn't do more harm? Because the, the, the institution of journalism has done and continues to do a tremendous amount of harm, by not being sensitive to the fact that, that people's stories is some pe you can't underst no one can understand how essential to our identity our story is.
And people have a right to shape their story, in a way that is empowering and true for them and to not be, manipulated into, into telling their story in, in a way that, that, that might harm them or hurt them. And this is not an, an easy thing to do, and it's one of the reasons, especially within, under the institution of journalism with deadlines and editors and all, all these people that have control over what actually gets printed.
That, that that I. under my name that I don't have control over. But, and it's one of the reasons why I've shifted to doing creative projects because with creative projects, I am, I have more freedom to do my work with integrity and in relationship. Because I don't have this whole institution of a, of a particular platform you know, breathing down my neck.
And, and I've been, I've, I've gotten response from communities that I've worked in, both in a journalistic capacity and on the creative, you know, theater and graphic novel. I did graphic novel as well that it was really different working with me than it, than it is working with other journalists because I I take my time and, and, and I encourage people.
to take breaks and to take care of themselves. And I, I, I work with, you know, I think that transparency is the new objectivity. I try to be very transparent about my own, my own lens and where I'm coming from. And and none of us are objective. You know, I, I have skin in the game. I, I care a lot about the communities that I'm working in, and I'm proud of that, and I wanna make sure they know that.
So yeah. I, I'm sorry, I can't remember your question, did I? No,
David: I mean, did I go on thinking about the framework of like No, I mean, like, you answered the question so you know, what was present to you. I think the question was about like doing this work in a white body Yes. And like the considerations Oh, thank you for that, that you're making mm-hmm.
And I think you did like, well, I would like
Sarah: to say more
David: about, yeah. Is there
Sarah: anything else that you wanted to Yeah, I mean, there's, you can't separate my commitment to anti-racism, to my commitment to being trauma informed or. being an abolitionist. And as, as a white bodied person, I am very much committed to doing the somatic work that I need to do.
Cuz you can say all the right words and the energy that you're bringing into a room has impact. That I, you know, carries, carries often whiteness and white culture with it wherever I go. And I've actually learned that there, there are spaces that I shouldn't be in period. That I was invited to, to be, to be part of a transformative justice circle in Chicago and by people that I've worked with.
And I walked into the room and I realized everyone else in this circle is system impacted and I am the farthest thing from system impacted. And, and I, even though I was invited here, I need to be the, I need to determine whether this is a place where I'm really going to have, impact that I don't wanna have and, and, and a space that I shouldn't participate in.
So that's one of the things that, that transformative justice has helped me be more aware of is how much space and, the impact that I'm having in spaces and how much space I take up just with my whiteness alone, mm-hmm . And as a survivor sometimes it just increases the, the space that I take up because people are curious about my story and it's unusual.
And I just wanna decenter my whiteness and decenter my you know, I can't be anything but white in these spaces. But, it's my responsibility and it's in alignment with my belief system to be sensitive to how that whiteness is impacting the people around me. .
David: Yeah. I think you're conscious of that.
And you did like like I think you modeled it earlier in our conversation where we, you know, might have like gone on like further conversations about, you know, what it looks like, like what it looks like to be incarcerated overseas. And so like, I just wanted to like, call out the model of that there, but I also want to acknowledge that like in your body, there are certain people who will listen to you that won't listen to me or other people.
Right. And you know, there's a conversation that I had on this podcast with Ethan, er, a couple episodes back, and he's, he's a white man who has been doing a lot of work alongside or from behind people who have been impacted or who are currently being impacted. You know, with. Specifically thinking about, you know, gun violence reduction framework like taking a harm reduction approach to gun violence or with people who carry guns and thinking about like the personality and the reality that like there are people who will listen to him, that won't listen to the young people that he is working with.
How do you carry that consideration?
Sarah: I mean, that's what I am, you know, that is the, this is the platform that, that, that I've been given and that the, yeah, the voice that I have. I've always wanted to work as collaboratively as possible to elevate other voices. And that's why my work as a journalist and an artist is not about telling my own story, but at the same time it's good for people that have direct experience to be a bridge in these areas.
And. . So with all of the theater performances that we do, we're always trying to get a two-pronged audience where we're getting people in the room that are stakeholders that are not directly affected by incarceration but can affect the policy and the way that our communities are responding to, to harm that's committed and people that are directly affected.
That there's the power to the, you know, to bear witness, to your own, to a story that you can relate to so powerfully on stage and to have, you know, the, the atrocities that happen inside our prison system and the the incredible courage and love born out of these circumstances are so hidden from the public.
And theater is such an amazing way to, have something viscerally brought to life. It's almost as powerful can be as going into a prison. If you've never been into a prison going to, to one of our shows is what we've been told many times is that it's such an immersive thing. So I'm, I'm always trying to reach those audiences, the, the privileged and white affluent audiences that don't think that they're affected by mass incarceration, that they think that, oh, that's, that's someone else's problem.
It's not my belief. I believe it, it diminishes all of us, and I think that's part of my, my desire is to make that clear that no one can live in a society that tortures and imprisons people on such a massive scale and not be affected or diminished by it. Our imaginations are diminished. Our ability to love one another and be in community with one another is diminished, and we're all made less safe by the existence of, of the carceral state.
We're all made, we're put in a position of insecurity and. Fearing our neighbors, fearing people that are different than us, and, and believing that by hurting them, we will somehow be stronger or better. And that's just a belief in, in maintaining your own privilege and power. And look where that's gotten to us.
You know, that's gotten us into a, a place where none of us feel at all. Hopeful, you know, about the, the future of our, our of of our government and our, you know, social institutions. A lot of us are looking outside of those paradigms, but we also need to look inside ourselves as Yeah. As, as white privileged people.
Cuz we've internalized those paradigms.
David: Yeah. I think like, I had like 80 billion thoughts Great. In my head. And I think like, yes, let's hear of, Yeah. So the, you know, for those who have been listening to this podcast feed, you know, on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, depending on our production schedule, as of late, we've been having conversations about the H B O show, the last of us, and you know, Kala and I have had conversations about like, oh, what are the things that we wanna talk about next?
But like what you were just talking about, it's like to the to the Batmans of the world, like Batman's origin story in some of the iterations were like his rich parents were murdered, like, leaving a show, right? Or like leaving leaving a party, leaving some kind of function, right? And they had the ability to maybe address the mental health issues or like the poverty issues, the person who mugged them was facing in, in a given moment.
And they didn't do that. And so, like, as I'm thinking about, oh, like what is the call to action that you have of white people, privileged folks who. Encounter your artwork, who encounter your theater? Like I think part of it is money, right? Like reallocation of funds and like, this is like recalling back to the conversation that I had with Ethan about like, you know, how are we using the system, using the resources of the system to like further liberatory causes, right?
I think that's one part, but I think I'm also remembering conversations that I've had with Emmy Aguilar. And this wasn't ever aired on the podcast. This was in a workshop that we did on the difference between land acknowledgement and efforts at land back. But you know, yes, pay your land taxes to the indigenous folks who are traditional caretaker stewards of the land that you live on.
But also, like the invitation is into relationship, right? Like building relationships, getting proximity to people who are directly impacted. Will help you figure out more authentic ways, more ways that work for you to, one, draw connections to the ways that you are actually impacted. But two, like we can come up with these solutions together with the resources and ideas and experiences of people from across all these different sectors.
I know that went like, and then now we ended on a point, but that was a really deep, good answer and sent me really thinking.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, and I, I love that question too is, what am I asking of the white or privileged people that come to my shows or read my articles and, you know, I'm, I, I think my hope is, is I want them to lose faith in these institutions.
You know, I want them to lose faith in the carceral state. I want them to really recognize how much racism and our, our countries Origin in the institution of slavery continues to inform not just the carceral state. I mean, that is a huge way that slavery has, has, has morphed into a different system that maintains inequality and racial hierarchy in this country.
But it's in all of our institutions, we have to seek this reckoning where we racial reckoning you know, white people and people of privilege have to give up power in this country. And they're only gonna do it by, by demand. And of course, this is also a class issue and a capitalism issue, mm-hmm.
And I just want people to lose faith in the institution of the carceral state, that it helps them in any way and take some responsibility for addressing the causes of harm in our communities.
David: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That's a good call to action to end on. Is there anything else you want to share before we get to the questions that everybody answers when they come on the podcast?
Sarah: I think we did a good job of covering a lot. I really appreciate your questions.
David: Yeah, cool. Well then we've talked around it a lot, but in your own words, define restorative justice?
Sarah: No, it's, it's as you ask this question, I'm looking out my windows at, at the beautiful green hills around where I live and, and I, I see a crow perched in the top of a tree outside my window. And being asked about restorative justice really grounds me. And where we started in this conversation around the.
That of interrelatedness and interconnectedness that we're in. And you know, the responsibility to embodying the values of justice, of equality, of, forgiveness and healing that most of us have, you know, have not, we might not have been given these things ourselves, and yet we are the ones that need to embody these values in order for others to be given them.
And we need to give them to ourselves and we need to give them to each other. And, you know, restorative justice means not ever forgetting that you are as an individual, your essential longing is connection to others and healthy connection. and to follow that longing in, in all the work you do and all the relationships that, that you're a part of and all the lives that you touch.
David: the, that, that was beautiful. Thank you so much for that. As you've been doing this work, and we can define this work as broadly as you want to what's been an oh shit moment? Often a moment where like, you made a mistake or did something that like, oh, I wish I would've done something differently.
It could also be like, ah, shit. Yeah, I did that and it was awesome. And then what did you learn from it? .
Sarah: Oh, whoa. This one. What? This, this is kind of caught me off. So an oh shit. Or an ah shit moment, huh? I mean, there's so many Oh shit moments. I mean, I, I have to go back to this, the end of isolation tour that we did last summer. It was one of the hardest things that, that I've ever done. And I was lucky enough to be on a tour bus. We did, we, we toured the country in a converted school bus. And it was with other formerly incarcerated actors, you know, performing under unbelievable conditions.
The climate crisis was at our doorstep every, every, every day with flash floods in St. Louis and heat storms un unbelievable conditions. And yeah, there were just a lot of oh shit moments, . But one was definitely one of the first days when Some of the equipment fell off the bus into the freeway and like the kind of, I, I can fix this, like hubris of a white woman, I like, stopped traffic and ran into the freeway and, and got the equipment back and, you know, I thought I was being such a badass and, and I'm still unpacking that and listening to interviews of other people in the crew and, and just realizing that like, that action made people feel so unsafe.
And because I was risking my own life potentially, I mean, I felt like I was being careful, but we all have different standards of, of, of what's, you know, safe and, and risk standards. And just thinking as a, it was such a challenge that summer to think outside of my own experience as a white woman. And, and my own personality.
And, and my own history of like, you know, DIY adventurism and, and think for the collective. And there were just so many oh shit moments where I was like, this is how it looks from my perspective. And there are eight other people here that are seeing it from a completely different point of view. And woo.
That was definitely an oh shit. And, and a little bit of an a shit at the same time. Moment.
David: Absolutely. Thank you for that.
Sarah: Yeah, the guy, the guy, the other guy on the bus was Latino, Latinx man, and he was running after me down the freeway and he was like, wait a minute, I need to go in front of her. Cuz right now what this looks like is a, a Latino man chasing a white woman down the freeway.
And that's, these optics are not good for me. Yeah. Right. So there's just so many. Yeah, it was definitely an oh shit moment for my own blindness around. Around race and and there's just a million, you know, instances like that in the world where we have to get outside of seeing things only from our own perspectives.
David: yeah. This, this next question is hard in a different way. You get to sit in circle with four people living or dead. Who are they and what is the one question you asked the circle? Hmm.
Sarah: I mean, I have to go with my ancestors because I I come from an Irish Catholic background and a, a lot of my ancestors, my, I never met they died of mm-hmm. diseases often related to alcoholism. and I just have so many questions for them as far as, and so few stories, and I would really ask them, you know, why did you come to this country and what were you expecting to happen here?
It's, it's something I would really, really like to know because here I am, you know, thrown into this, this, this, this wild mix of an experiment and I'm trying to navigate doing it in a way that's accountable, and yet my ancestors didn't provide me with much. As far as a roadmap, you don't really re reinventing or inventing and reinventing ourselves.
Every generation, it feels like in this country, in some.
David: yeah, that question gets taken a lot of different ways often like ancestors being brought in and, you know, often from white folks, people who have those, those same kind of questions. The other thing that happens on this podcast is though, is like, I often flip the question to the guest who asked it.
What do you imagine some of their responses might have been?
Sarah: I mean, I know that the time that my Irish ancestors came over here was the aftermath of the mm-hmm. , the potato it's always called famine, but there's, there's another word for it. I mean, basically every single potato turned. A hard Purple Rock overnight. So, you know the disease that happened killed in the food source Oh, okay.
At, at its root. And you know, that's something that mm-hmm. that I can't even imagine. They were so much in survival mode. And, and that actually makes me understand why they adopted, you know, their whiteness and white supremacy as, as a way of surviving. Mm-hmm. , it was not a smart choice. Because allying with black and brown people would've been much more empowering choice for, for, for them and everyone else involved.
Cuz there's collective power that was lost there and and still continues to play out in our history. It but I, you know, now that you asked me the question, I'd really like to know, what was life like for you before you went into survival mode? because I feel like he, they mm-hmm. , you know, that famine in Ireland set into set into motion generations of survival mode.
And that's something that in my lifetime, I'm, I'm trying, I wanna get out of, I wanna experience life. You know, my spirit longs for experiencing life outside of, of, of a mode where you're, you're thinking of how you're gonna survive instead thinking of how we can thrive as communities, how we are thriving as communities.
But these, you know, these ancestral patterns are deeply embedded in our nervous systems. And I wanna know how, what life was like for my ancestors before, before that. That is the mode of, of, of being that has started to dominate their lives. Yeah,
David: for sure. And I think like, you know what survived, like they might not have made the calculation that like, I'm gonna move to America and assimilate into like the white cis heteropatriarchy.
Right? That might have been the decision that was made and like collectively made by the people who they were migrating with. Right. Like not everybody, I mean, this isn't a lesson on white supremacy here, right? But like, not everybody who first landed here with European ancestry was considered white people of assimilated over time.
Irish people were not considered white when they first landed here, but like, you know, what were the moments of oh yeah, I'll assimilate and give up this part of my culture to benefit at the expense of black and indigenous people here. , you know, unanswerable question, but you know, like survival is at the root of that.
Sarah: My spirit tells me there's something rising in my spirit that tells me that there was, there was song, you know, there was music in my i in my ancestors' history that you know, before it was about mm-hmm. , and that's true for all of us. Right. But it's such a, it's such a deep thing that's just a rising from my spirit that there was connection to the land and there was song, and that's something that it, you know Yeah.
Is so important to, to maintain. To continue to cultivate.
David: Yeah, definitely. Last two questions. Who's one person that I should have on the podcast and has to be someone who can help
Sarah: me get on ? Oh, so many. What, what's the other questions while I'm thinking, you said.
David: Oh, the last question is how could people support you and your work in the ways you wanna be supported?
So like, that's like the plug all your shit question. So this is like, in some ways like the last, last answer. That's nice. Last, last question. Yeah.
Sarah: Have you had, because I'm, I'm in contact with some pretty amazing RJ people around the country. There's a, there's a woman in St. Louis that does rj, her name's Tracy Powell.
There's, I would love to Orlando, be in contact with Tracy. Are you right that Maya Mayorga?
David: Yeah. I've had chili
Sarah: on. Yeah. That's great. Oh my God, I wanna listen to that episode. Yeah, the other people around that are coming to me there's you know, I, I've heard that there, rj, people around the country.
Have you had Daniel Sarre on?
David: No. Do you want to I like common Justice. People are like pretty protective Yeah. Of her time. I, so like, I have, like, I have direct communication with their team, but like, I haven't like had direct communication with her. I would love to. I've interviewed her yet
Sarah: before. Yeah. Do you have I've met her. So if you, if you Yeah, if it's helpful for me to do an introduction, just let me know.
Yeah. And there is also restorative justice in Oakland. The, the center Tash Win
David: Restorative Justice Oakland Youth, or Restore?
Sarah: Restore Oakland is, is the Restorative Justice Center in Oakland. Oh, okay. Have you heard of it? It's been around for a couple years. I don't, yeah. Well TA is the director there and.
they are doing really, really incredible work. I, I believe it's the first re center only devoted to restorative justice in the country, and it's a beautiful center in Oakland. Are they operating
David: in concert? No, with the legal
Sarah: system. I'm sorry. Yeah, it's transformative justice. Oh, okay. I, I sh it's called Restore Oakland, but it's transformative justice.
Yeah. Yeah. They have all kinds of, you know, check out their website if you're interested in interviewing. Tash Tash, t ae, how do you spell that? H last name Wynn. N g u
David: y e n n g. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Sarah: Yeah, I think, I think they're the organization that's gonna be doing grief circles for Jen Angel. And they work with Ajoy in Oakland. . Yeah, they just do incredible stuff. Yeah. But really about like supporting small businesses and reinvesting in communities. A lot of addressing, you know, the root causes of cr of crime in Oakland, and also providing spaces for dialogues.
Yeah. So check 'em out.
David: Absolutely. And then finally, where can people support you in your work, in the ways that you want to be supported?
Sarah: Well, I wanna be supported. one of the really invaluable ways that I, that I have been lucky enough to get supporters through feedback. Anything that I've said on this podcast that, that listeners. Want to respond to, whether it's with, you know, questions or or curiosities, applause, or what is it, pros or grows. I, I'm really open to that and it's easy to, to reach me on my website, which is just my name, sarah short.com.
And that's short, like Gord, s h o u r d. Okay. It'll be in the show now. And yeah, you can also stay in touch with end of Isolation. At end of isolation.org, we are creating a documentary series that highlighting the work of our community partners on the front lines of ending solitary confinement in alignment with abolitionist principles of decarceration around the country.
So we're, we're working on this really rad docu-series that is gonna highlight. Different, the different communities around the country and what the movement looks like there. And it's, its origins and how it's being led by formerly incarcerated organizers.
David: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So again, all of those things down in the show notes or description, depending on your, on where you're watching this, subs subscribe, review, help us further amplify this work.
Sarah, we're so grateful for your time, your wisdom, your stories. I know we could have gone on for a much, much longer and maybe we'll have you back. But we'll be back in this feed on Tuesday or Wednesday again, depending on our production taking the restorative justice reflections that we found from the last of us episode eight and next Thursday with another episode, with a conversation with someone living this restorative justice life.
Sarah: take care. Thank you, David. This has been incredible.