Happy New Year to everyone! The grueling pace of last year left me little time to blog but I miss doing it so I hope you will forgive the absence. There are many exciting things happening but one of the most important is the recent workshop I did with Barb Toews in San Santa Jail. The workshop took the form of a week long studio inside the jail to design a real world project near my home in Oakland. This opportunity came about because The Alameda County Sheriff’s office won a prestigious Byrne Justice Innovation Grant to develop a re-entry campus and park in Cherryland/Ashland. This new kind of campus is not intended be a traditional “re-entry” facility but rather a facility that will help redefine “re-entry ” for those who have been incarcerated and are coming back to the community. It is also intended to be a place for the entire community to enjoy.
In response to this mission Lieutenant Neideffer reached out to us and asked that along with Restorative Justice/DEUCE instructor, Jen Slusser, we work with a group of 20 incarcerated men using the toolkit to envision this new paradigm. Infinity Park needed to include components/programming that seek to address the factors that lead to recidivism by being a welcoming place open to the neighborhood and a place that strives to support those re-entering back into the community. Participants were asked to have a big vision for the site that could include places for housing, performances, schools or shopping. The vision to be explored was also to include the adaptive reuse of 5 shipping containers that have already been donated to the project.
Perhaps nor surprisingly there is a great deal of NIMBYism ( Not In My Back Yard) in the community about the project. However, the good news is that a restorative overlay to the community engagement process is also being explored. To support this we began training the workshop participants to be facilitators in their community. We did this through exploring interview tools and demonstrating how to engage groups in creative visioning. With the leadership and innovation occurring within the Alameda County Sherriff’s department and the offices of Supervisor Nate Miley, Infinity park may be one of the first examples of process, program and a product that explores the impact of design and restorative justice beyond the walls of the institution and in ways we never considered.