Sean’s Speech: Restorative Justice

In January 2020, Sean was asked by CDCR to write and deliver a speech in front of Corcoran State Prison incarcerated population and CDCR employees on what they called “a day of peace and reconciliation”. The following is the speech he wrote

I would like to thank everyone in attendance for coming to this day of Peace and Reconciliation. My name is Sean O’Brien, and I have the privilege of serving as the Men’s Advisory Council Chairman here on Facility 3A at Corcoran. When I was arrested at 16 years old from a murder I did not commit and sentenced to Life Without the possibility of Parole in 2003, there was no hope for Lifers. Any form of  life sentence at the time meant spending the rest of your life in prison. This fostered an atmosphere devoid of hope and full of resentment.

I have now spent more than half my life wrongfully incarcerated behind these walls, and in this time I have watched the department change. With the Restorative Justice social movement, the State of California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have shifted towards a restorative justice model promoting individual accountability and rehabilitation. This shift continues today with Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary Ralph Diaz championing restorative justice policies.

The State of California and CDCR are implementing education, treatment, rehabilitative, and restorative justice programs in order to improve public safety and lower recidivism rates. To make their commitment to restorative justice clear, earlier this month the department issued it’s new vision and mission statement focused on reintegrating the incarcerated population back to their communities by providing these necessary programs. The State of California and CDCR acknowledge that nearly every incarcerated individual has the opportunity to earn their parole and become someone’s neighbor. By focusing on peace and reconciliation now, we can work together to create a safe and healthy environment for those incarcerated within the department to focus on their rehabilitation before returning to their communities.

Restorative justice polities are allowing deserving lifers an opportunity to earn parole and for non-lifers to earn time off their sentence. These opportunities to earn parole have changed the atmosphere within CDCR as incarcerated men take responsibility for their futures and find hope in the ability to do so. This hope has pushed men to take the initiative to work on their rehabilitation in ways they never have before.

In this atmosphere of hope and change I have heard many stories from men who have taken steps to work on their education, treatment, and rehabilitation. These men share with me how good it makes them feel to accomplish something they can be proud of. These men want to be more involved with the restorative justice and rehabilitative opportunities coming into the department. They see the change that these programs are creating and they want that positive change for themselves.

An amazing example of this change is the department allowing rehabilitated Lifers working for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition to come into institutions to facilitate rehabilitation and restorative justice groups, and to mentor the incarcerated population. This positive interaction and seeing that success is possible has brought tangible hope to the men here at Corcoran. I have been told by countless men about the inspiration they have felt from participating in the ARC groups.

For this inspiration to spread, we all need to work together to bridge the gap between the incarcerated population and CDCR staff. The hostility, mistrust, and suspicion that held us back in the past needs to be replaced by the desire to return rehabilitated men back to their communities. In this restorative justice era, we must acknowledge that we are all Californians. It is no longer us versus them. We must unite for a safer California. Romans 5:10 teaches that the hostility must be removed from us if reconciliation is to be accomplished. It should be acceptable for those who are incarcerated to seek help from the department staff in pursuit of their educational, treatment or rehabilitative goals. While it also needs to be acceptable for the department staff to provide assistance and encouragement towards these goals. I implore everyone here to recognize the steps taken by the incarcerated men on their journey for rehabilitation, and to also recognize the steps taken by the department and their staff to facilitate them. Working together to create peace and reconciliation will create an environment where the department’s new vision and mission will be accomplished.

Through the education, treatment, rehabilitation, and restorative justice programs here at Corcoran and across the  department, the individuals incarcerated within CDCR now have the opportunity to reintegrate back into their communities equipped with the tools to be drug-free, healthy, and employable members of society. Every incarcerated individual will have the tools to return to their communities as good husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends, neighbors, and employees,. They will be good Californians promoting a safer California for all.

About Sean & Emelia

Sean O'Brien was wrongfully convicted in adult court in El Dorado County, California and sentenced to Life Without Parole at the age of 16 without a shred of physical evidence tying him to the crime for which he was convicted. Sean and I have been friends since grade school and we were married in 2017. We live and grow together in love with the knowledge of his innocence, our faith, and hope for our future. We embrace this journey, wherever it may take us, cherishing each moment we have together and staying true to our hearts. This blog is about the past we share, our life together and our fight for justice. Thank you for reading. God bless.
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