A healing matrix

When the one hundredth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth was observed in 2018, many wrote of his accomplishments, which included helping end apartheid in South Africa and becoming that nation’s first black president in 1994. Some people also reflected on how his efforts were grounded in his own particular experiences. His life was informed both by his father’s Bantu tribal teachings and his mother’s Christian faith and education.  His prison guards included white members of groups oppressed by more dominant Anglo colonizers, which encouraged Mandela to reflect upon injustice as a universal human experience rather than merely factional. A favorite saying of Mandela’s was from the Bantu culture: “We are people through other people.” He insisted that the African National Congress, the political party he led, be multicultural and multireligious with mutual interdependence.  “The common ground,” he said, “is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.” For Mandela, generations of wounds in South Africa required a healing matrix marked by adaptation, diversity, tension, and even an apoptosis – the destruction of racial segregation.

One way that Madela’s legacy lives on is in the Prison-to-College Pipeline program.  Initiated in New York by Dr. Baz Dreisinger, it recognizes the crucial link between education and safe communities.  The program offers prisoners access to higher education, mentorship, and community support to prepare them for employment after their release. Rather than a one-way prisoner-to-society reform effort, the Prisoner-to-College Pipeline recognizes that prisoners have something to contribute to other university students as they interact within the campus setting. The program is active in New York, Mississippi, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Trinidad, and now in a South African prison similar to one where Mandela served time. 

A 2013 report noted that those who participated in education while incarcerated are 43 percent less likely to return to prison than those who don’t. The underlying hope is that reforms in criminal justice like these will include a narrative shift about prisons and those who are incarcerated.  Like the integrin latching on to cell after cell in order to shape a blood vessel correctly, classes and guidance from mentors for inmates build and support a new shape for life outside the prison. 

From “Designed to Heal: What the Body Shows Us About Healing Wounds, Repairing Relationships, and Restoring Community” by Jennie A. McLaurin and Cymbeline Tancongco Culiat