The Check-In

The Check-In

James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10

Yesterday, I was sitting in a small circle while we did a check-in. That is what we call it when we go around the circle, one person at a time and ground ourselves in the present, by "checking in" with the group about things on our mind, or experiences we had that week. The goal is to connect with each other as we prepare to be vulnerable and create what we call a safe space.

The group itself was starting a little late. Our sponsor, the free person who has to be present in order for us to meet, had only just arrived, and when it was her turn to check-in, she started with an apology.

"I'm sorry I was late," she said, "I was in an Apple store this morning getting my laptop fixed, a group of men came in, at least I think they were men, they had their faces covered ... "

As she went on describing her morning, it dawned on each of us that what she was talking about was being in a store while it was being robbed.

She seemed troubled, but not overwhelmed by the event. The rest of us in the group however, were devastated. One by one, the men apologized to her. In each person's eyes, you could see profound sadness that a person who invested so much of herself in people of SQ would have to go through such a traumatic event.

For me, and perhaps for others, there was still yet another layer. Even as I felt deep empathy for her, I also wrestled with the fact that I myself had been one of those guys, worn one of those masks, and committed those robberies. Though I hadn't been at the Apple store that day, the truth is, I'd participated in traumatizing many others in a similar way. Robbery, you see, is predicated upon intimidation and the threat of violence. And I'm in prison for robbery.

The people who know me today don't see me that way. Most probably can't imagine that I would ever participate in something so harmful. But I know my past in intimate detail, and it is part of my healing to come to terms with the harm I've experienced and committed without ever minimizing either.

Here at SQ a popular saying is that "hurt people, hurt people," and that is certainly true of me. Now that I'm in a healthier place emotionally, a part of me wants to leave my past behind and relish in the positive influence I am in my community today. The other part feels that I am letting myself off of the hook too easily and that any thought of forgiving myself is fundamentally wrong. Yet another part wonders why I am making the trauma our sponsor went through about me. Even in my healing, am I being selfish?

Ultimately, I saw yet another quality in our sponsor that reminds me of the greatness humanity is capable of. In her retelling of the robbery, and the ways she related to the sympathy we expressed, everything she did was about putting the emotional health of others before her own. We saw a strength within her that can only come from a supremely healthy emotional place; a place that says, "I am resilient, a reservoir that has more than enough to give to others." As the second part of that popular saying goes, "healed people, heal people." Indeed.

About First Watch

First Watch is a media project started at San Quentin State Prison. All content is shot, directed, edited, and scored by the journalists inside prison.

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