Common ground leads to friendship for ex-offender and survivor
by Wayne Steffen for FPU
John and Alicia are unlikely friends.
By his own admission, John was “fairly well screwed up” by his 20s. After his divorce he lost control and ended up in prison. One of his victims was his daughter. He re-offended 17 years later “because I had become very complacent.” His parole officer suggested Circles of Support and Accountability, a program of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University.
Growing up with a mother who was violent, addicted and involved with several men, Alicia was sexually assaulted from the age of six to 12. Then her father, who had been divorced from her mother, took her away and gave her a different life where she could heal. As an adult, Alicia got to know a sexual offender, which motivated her to help other victims and offenders through COSA.
Here, John and Alicia talk about their friendship and the ways in which participating in COSA has impacted them.
J: I had come to the point where I didn’t trust people. I didn’t trust anyone. The only one I really believed I could trust was me.
A: What’s pretty remarkable to me is the similarity between John’s and my stories. I too learned that I couldn’t trust other people. I didn’t trust women because I didn’t trust my mother’s judgment, and I didn’t trust men.
A: It’s difficult how to explain how you can sit in a room with a sex offender who’s telling you some pretty horrible things and yet know this is exactly where you’re supposed to be. John wanted help. And I wanted to help him.
J: I looked at these folks and I looked into their eyes and it seemed like they were listening. They weren’t judging; they were listening, they were hearing me. And I think when I opened up to the COSA group, like I did, it was like a plea for help and they were there.
A: It’s important I felt for John to know that a victim can sit in a circle with him and support him. And that I was there also to hold him accountable. That he would have to come to every circle meeting and look at me in the eye, a victim, and say I have created no more victims.
J: I was able to explain to Alicia how I felt and how much I regretted everything that I had done. And she was willing to listen and not be judgmental. She was able to express to me the hurt and the pain that she went through.
A: You don’t start out in a COSA circle and think. “I’m going to meet this sex offender and help him move or go on runs with him.” I’m just willing to do whatever it takes. And one of the key areas for offenders is isolation.
J: Alicia and I have a special friendship, but each (circle member) is like to me a family member. I call them my brothers and sisters. I don’t know how else to put it.
J: Basically I live day by day. I go out running, I do my shopping. As far as looking into the future, I’m there for whenever COSA needs anything from me.
A: There’s nothing more important to me than knowing that there’s one less victim.
The full text of the interview is available online.