For eight years, students from the Palma High School in Salinas have been part of a book club called Exercises in Empathy at Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad. The school is a private college preparatory school for boys in grades six through 12 and is owned and operated by the Christian Brothers Institute of California.
Exercises in Empathy is a program that connects people who have been given life sentences at CTF with Palma school students to discuss themes found in literature. Students and incarcerated people have studied several John Steinbeck novels and discuss metaphors and meanings from Shakespeare. Jim Micheletti, Palma’s Director of Campus Ministry, assisted by Mia Mirassou, created the program with a focus on compassion, empathy, and restorative justice.
Prior to the pandemic, Exercises in Empathy would average about 25 students, staff members and parents who would meet with approximately 80 incarcerated people. Despite a pause due to the pandemic, CTF was able to continue the meetings via closed group live stream. These bi-weekly electronic meetings included two to three incarcerated people from CTF, formerly incarcerated people from Creating Restorative Opportunities & Programs (CROP), students from local private college preparatory schools, administrators, clergy, and professors. With Exercises in Empathy being conducted via livestream, participants (students, clergy, teachers, and parents) increased from an average of 25 to an average of 40 participants per session.
CTF was also able to play the recorded meetings on the orison’s closed circuit television channel for the population to watch.
“This program not only allows the incarcerated men and students from Palma to develop and learn a greater understanding of each other, it also teaches the men how to promote positive growth and give back to the community,” said acting Warden L. A. Martinez.