beyond the walls
Philadelphia is currently hosting the World Congress of Criminology, which sort of makes it easy for sociologists in town for the ASA meetings to participate in WCC as well (On the other hand, doubling up on meetings works better for me in principle than practice. I'll be baked by Tuesday). I've seen some terrific sessions, but one was especially moving: "Beyond the Walls" is a spoken word, dance, music, and video presentation that stirs together strong perspectives that seem fundamentally incompatible on the surface.
A couple former inmates shared the stage with the mother and sister of a homicide victim and two mothers of homicide offenders. The normal socially prescribed roles for these groups are well-established. Offenders are viewed as self-serving and manipulative; anyone speaking for prisoners is a "Pollyanna;" victims' families seek only vengeance; and, offenders' parents react against their child's stigma, haunted by thoughts of their own culpability or complicity. Beyond the Walls used the disturbing lived reality of crime and punishment to blur and ultimately subvert these roles. It could have come off as hollow, but the performances were too real and too intense to dismiss as standard feel-good "let's start the healing" stuff. These performers did the work -- and it must have been a lot of work -- to get to the point of constructive dialogue. I'm not sure what the (other) criminologists in the audience took from the performance, but it helps me see that "loss" and criminal harm are neither discrete events in the life course nor individualized "processes" to get through. Rather, criminal harm creates a set of interwoven trajectories whose crossings can be both explosive and restorative.