On Saturday 28 January, Peace Partners hosted a screening of Inside Peace with a stimulating post-film panel discussion. Thanks to the event’s excellent turnout, the room was full of positive energy and a lively buzz. For many in the audience, watching Inside Peace for the first time provoked a range of emotions and responses, including laughter at the plainspoken honesty of the inmates’ confessions. The moving presentation of Dominguez State Jail resulted in a tangible, collective feeling of solidarity with the inmates and respect for how they embraced the Peace Education Programme (PEP).
Inside Peace combines a challenge to preconceptions, an artful form of education, and inspiration to help find personal peace. The film provides an insight into situations, cycles and difficulties we may not frequently encounter. The audience seemed genuinely touched by these troubled Texan men making bold and raw revelations on camera without pretention or dramatization. Listening to groups discuss afterwards, it was clear that the film provoked debate throughout the room, which will no doubt be continued with friends, family, colleagues and connections further afield.
We were privileged to have Jo Berry, founder of Building Bridges for Peace, as Keynote Speaker. Her speech traced the extraordinary journey from great loss to forgiveness and peace. Jo expressed her refusal to have an enemy in Patrick Magee, determined to find humanity in the man responsible for her father’s death. The willingness to listen to Patrick’s political justifications of paramilitary action, and then to understand him as an individual, make Jo’s story a striking example of strength and empathy. From Jo’s account of the difficult process she followed, her belief in the dignity of listening and its power to aid healing rang true. It is through this attitude that actual positive change seems possible.
The panel discussion that followed was equally engaging and—considering the wealth of experience provided by Jane Harries, Lee Hayward, Mary Dalgleish and Tony McLean—it could have continued almost indefinitely. A strong message from Jo was the ability to choose not to remain a victim and the panel discussion showed that the PEP gives individuals the agency to make this a reality. Contributions from Mary Dalgleish and Tony McLean in the Q&A, both facilitators of the PEP in different settings, proved the wide appeal and great potential of the programme. Tony described how the PEP makes rehabilitation possible, hence breaking the reoffending cycle, as brilliantly demonstrated by the Inside Peace documentary. The positive reaction to Jane Harries’s ambition and dedication to peace projects in Wales and abroad was evident, as was the response to Lee Hayward’s promotion of partnership.
Especially apparent from the film and the Q&A session was the universality of the Peace Education Programme. It changed the mindset of not just the inmates but the officers, pupils and teachers alike. From the panellists’ responses it seems this is the beginning of a great movement and the surge of interest makes it likely the PEP will be rolled out to more prisons. But it also has the potential to be taught in schools, village halls, businesses and private venues. A crucial consideration for the future is how we can implement the PEP where it is most needed. For instance, as Jane Harries advocated, in school curriculums. But its versatility is a great strength, and Mary Dalgleish encouraged the audience to get involved wherever they can, emphasising the ease with which she started facilitating the course.
One potent question from a young Londoner in the audience addressed the important issue of how we should engage the younger generation and make the PEP appeal to a wide swath of society. This is a timely point, considering the current state of youth disillusionment and widening divisions in society.
The entire event was a joy to experience and I am personally grateful for the engaging guest speaker and panellists, and the opportunity to meet inspiring, like-minded individuals who are engaged in such important work towards peace in our communities and in ourselves.
Written by Eve Ryan