Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Awakin Calls » Karen Lischinsky

Karen Lischinsky: Professor, Restorative Justice Practitioner, Prison Reformer
Apr 28, 2018: From Organizing to Helping Heal Communities



Read: Call Transcript

As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.” Dr. Karen Lischinsky has been at the forefront of efforts to work with the incarcerated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through restorative justice practices.  As the decades-long volunteer coordinator of the Restorative Justice Group at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute (MCI) in Norfolk, and more recently as founder of the Transformational Prison Project (TPP), Dr. Lischinsky brings incarcerated persons face-to-face with victims, saying that she “tries to make things not right -- but at least more right.”  Known as the US’s first “community-based” prison, Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) in Norfolk is one of the few prisons in the See full.
As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.”

Dr. Karen Lischinsky has been at the forefront of efforts to work with the incarcerated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through restorative justice practices.  As the decades-long volunteer coordinator of the Restorative Justice Group at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute (MCI) in Norfolk, and more recently as founder of the Transformational Prison Project (TPP), Dr. Lischinsky brings incarcerated persons face-to-face with victims, saying that she “tries to make things not right -- but at least more right.” 

Known as the US’s first “community-based” prison, Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) in Norfolk is one of the few prisons in the United States that allows for a multitude of restorative justice programming for the incarcerated. Under the guidance of Dr. Lischinsky, restorative justice practices at MCI Norfolk were seeded when a small group of men serving life sentences started to explore the concept of restorative justice as a means of easing the tension that was beginning to mount among them in 2010. The “long-termers,” or “lifers,” desired to become better role models and work more closely with younger prisoners who would eventually be getting out. They began reading about international peacemaking tribunals like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They began applying the models to their own lives.

Dr. Lischinsky now serves as the volunteer coordinator of this restorative justice initiative which is anchored in a commitment to mend harm, rehabilitate, and rise above trauma. A process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures, the power of restorative justice is that it centers on the voices of those who have been harmed due to crime, while supporting those who are willing to face responsibility for the harm they have caused.

As part of this project with MCI Norfolk, Karen and her colleague supported a group of incarcerated persons who wanted to put together a two-day Restorative Justice & Responsibility retreat to guide fellow incarcerated men and women through a process of rehabilitation that restores a sense of community responsibility, and nurtures a space for introspection such that a commitment to change can take place. This gathering, which has been running since 2012, typically brings together over a hundred incarcerated persons, together with various victims, judges, prosecutors, and mediators. Karen plays a role in mediating these dialogues which provide opportunities for rehabilitation for offenders, and healing for all parties harmed by acts of violence – whether or not the victim families present were directly connected to the particular prisoners’ acts of violence. In these circles where honest and vulnerable conversations take place, families of victims – seated together with incarcerated men and women – can find greater healing in an unlikely place. The circles also provide safe spaces for honest dialogue, building understanding and open-heartedness for all individuals who have been involved with violent crimes.

Raised in Massachusetts, Dr. Lischinsky is currently an Associate Professor in the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. She teaches a variety of courses ranging from the intersectionality of race, class, gender to the Sociology of Sports. She also teaches a class at Norfolk Prison through the Boston University Prison Program and conducts trauma workshops for members in the law enforcement community.

As an educator, she has sought to help students make meaning about the social issues around them, providing perspectives and encouraging discourse on issues like the death penalty, sexual assault, and restorative justice. A believer in experiential learning, Karen has taken learning out of the classroom as part of a criminal justice inquiry class. Started in 2010, together with a colleague, she led a "sleep-out” -- an on-campus overnight learning experience -- to bring attention to the issue of homelessness and to guide reflection on the issues of homelessness and poverty experientially. “I want (the students) to really think,” said Karen of the experience, “We’re going to have conversations throughout the night. What does it feel like to be cold? There are 8,000 homeless people just in Boston. It’s not a class for them.”

Karen’s desire to help others lead dignified, honorable lives also sees her being a part of the Ahimsa Collective – a network of people committed to address violence, heal trauma, and restore justice.

Prior to becoming a sociology professor, Karen was a community organizer lobbying for affordable housing, better working conditions, disability rights movement. She has also served as a union organizer where she worked successfully on organizing hotel and restaurant workers to establish better working conditions in all of Boston's union hotels.  Raised in Massachusetts, Karen received her Ph.D in Sociology from Northeastern University, her Master's degree in Social Work from Boston University, and her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Suffolk University.  Karen has also served in the United States Army Reserve.

Join Dr. Lischinsky in conversation as she shares more about her journey!


Five Questions for Karen

What Makes You Come Alive?
For me the greatest gift is to be able to live my values -- to engage in work that is a reflection of who I am. Sitting in circle in a prison with incarcerated men and women and bearing witness to each other's stories allows me to drop into my heart and feel the presence of each sacred moment in the circle. Taking part in a collective journey toward making contact with cruelties inflicted and cruelties endured often leads to empathy and compassion for the person sitting next to you and across from you and ultimately compassion and empathy toward yourself. These are truly transformative moments.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
My greatest inspiration was and still is reading writings from such authors as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Cornel West, Angela Davis and many others. Growing up I was always deconstructing issues of inequality and injustice that I experienced in my own life and in the world around me. I didn't even know what deconstructing meant and yet that is what I was doing. These authors gave me the tools to understand what I was doing, and at the same time showed me what making meaning in one's life's journey is all about.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
I heard someone say that there is life before your mother dies and life after your mother dies, and for me this was very true. My mother passed away after a long battle with leukemia. She gave me the greatest gift by allowing me to witness and take part in her journey of living her dying. She demonstrated beauty, grace, strength, sorrow, sadness, joy, humility, courage, resilience, humor, vulnerability and love. Witnessing all these amazing energies in my mother's journey to her death gave me a clarity and connection to the importance of living a simple life in a complicated world.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To spend more time resting and relaxing.

One-line Message for the World?
To engage in the practice of understanding how our own brokenness leads to open-heartedness and clarity of purpose.


Related Awakin Call Speakers
John Malloy
Rhonda Magee
Charles Halpern