Today’s blog title is a quote from Susie Brusa’s presentation yesterday. She is Executive Director of Rancho Cielo and Parishioner at Good Shepherd in Salinas. Photos are of Susie and our MIIS group, and me with Adele Frese, new Police Chief of Salinas.

From Monday through Wednesday our content has included learning about our local California gang context and it’s prison to street connection. This included visits to Salinas Valley State Prison and The California Training Facility. We visited all segments of the SVSP, experiencing the difference between housing and yard life governed by race and gang affiliation to those with special needs, to the suicide watch facility. Julie Reynolds (one of our speakers on Monday) accompanied us and helped us understand the gang ‘street to prison’ connection which maintains strong cultural and drug-business ties.

We visited the CTR and experienced a wonderful presentation by prisoners that educated the gathered (our class and other inmates) on social statistics of the current population and how the lives of presenters related to data such as upbringing, family values and substance abuse. We were privileged to join small group conversation for further personal sharing about our hopes and intentions for the future.

The realities of gang life and addiction are complex on every level. Having lived in this area for 10 years and arriving with some experience of prison reform in Florida, I have remained puzzled by the lack of capacity for the powers that be – including that of gangs – to move toward greater commitment even to non-violence, not to mention a more healthy approach to reintegration into society. The structural violence of both gangs and the system is entrenched, invested in high recidivism, resisting reforms that could bring change. The use of relational and political power, both legitimate and illegitimate, seems immovable. Julie’s research and insights were helpful in further understanding the dynamics of the reality. It renewed my interest and hope in becoming more involved in seeking solutions; especially in light of legal changes that now encourage greater commitment to rehabilitation.

Wednesday’s visits to Rancho Cielo and the Salinas Police Department (and for the locals the new Police Chief, Adele Frese is fabulous!) deepened our knowledge of local policing and the commitment required when supporting long term transformation, both for the individual and society. I have always been impressed with Rancho Cielo, a school and vocational program for juvenile offenders. It is a comprehensive development project that garners support from the breadth of the Salinas community. They offer an alternative to gang life, offering a more sustainable and healthy reality for their students. They offer hope for a fruitful life ahead instead of prison, addiction and the destructive force of gang membership.

While the structural, physical and emotional realities of violence were heavy and strong in these days, so was hope. One of the principles of Jesus’ teachings (such as in the Parable of the Mustard Seed) is that very small things, like hope, can grow very large and become very fruitful. May we work to make it so.