On December 5th, two graduate students and a faculty member of the Criminal Justice Department visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) for the Day of Compassion. The public event is a day-long conference with the intent of exploring the meeting of justice and compassion. Held twice a year, the Day of Compassion brings together inmates and outside stakeholders to discuss, among other things, community reentry, sentencing reform, and victim-offender intentional dialogue. The overall goal of the conference was to promote compassionate thinking, especially in the context of the justice system.
Angola inmates currently have the opportunity to participate in an eight week course, “Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT),” developed by Stanford University (http://ccare.stanford.edu/education/about-compassion-cultivation-training-cct/).
CCT is offered throughout the world in health, education, public service, and corporate settings, but Angola is the only prison utilizing CCT. Angola’s long-term vision for this training is to build a cultural practice of compassion at the prison. Inmates are taught that compassion does not mean pity or weakness, but is instead a distinct emotion that recognizes suffering while being motivated to help.
Participants at the Day of Compassion were assigned to tables throughout the conference room to facilitate the exchange of dialogue. Visitors and inmates meditated together, shared ideas, and discussed compassion. It was especially interesting to hear the inmates talk about remorse for their crimes and how cultivating compassion has helped address their depression and anger issues, has assisted them to desire peace for their victims, and has facilitated a deeper understanding of others’ emotions and experiences.
The Day of Compassion was not only eye-opening, but evidence that the criminal justice system in Louisiana is continuing to evolve. This suggests that UL students could benefit greatly by being well informed about the progressive, restorative changes being incorporated at state and national levels. Criminal Justice classes at UL Lafayette such as Restorative Justice (CJUS 401) tap into the complex, balanced relationship that compassion and justice together must seek. Individuals who take this class will be better prepared to enter the criminal justice landscape in the future.