Accountability as a Path of Power: Lessons from San Quentin

Accountability as a Path of Power: Lessons from San Quentin

by Dr. Renée G. Soule ~

Prisoners and ecological healers have a lot in common, especially in the realm of accountability. Prison makes accountability difficult. Behind the walls, accountability requires creativity, commitment, and an ability to make connections between disparate realities. Men in San Quentin consider all the work they do to improve themselves and restore their humanity essential to being accountable for the harm they caused. Restoring what was broken requires restoring what was broken inside themselves.

Accountability can be creative, and it still needs to be precise. At the root of “accountability” is to count. Precision requires commitment to be truthful. What builds our capacity to be truthful? In prison, I teach that accountability has four clear steps. (This clarity helps prepare for the Board of Paroles, a test of mettle most people will not face or endure.) The first step is to acknowledge that harm has been caused. Even if you did not mean to cause harm. Next is to be affected by the harm was caused by feeling and expressing sincere remorse. (Which is not a sassy, “I’m sorry.”) Sincere remorse rests in a capacity to rest in organic natural shame. Then comes the third step: Repairing what was broken. The final step is making a commitment to avoid causing similar harm.

Accountability is difficult in prison and ecological situations because it requires counting in situations where precision is difficult to measure. In both situations, accountability is an inside job. Like prisoners, we must repair what is broken inside us and evolve, so that we do not go out in the world and make the same mistakes.

Accountability is difficult for prisoners and ecological healers alike. We are both captive in situations where lifestyles run radically counter to our core values and sense of what is possible. Prisoners believe a better world is possible beyond the walls. So do ecological healers, though “the walls” between worlds are different. We both hold a clear vision of wholeness, truth, and beauty in each other, even if it seems like a distant dream, where there is no release-date in sight, and when chances of full-redemption are slim to nil. We also believe that human beings can change, regardless of past transgressions—or perhaps because of past transgressions! We both have faith in paths of self-reflection, integrity, and steadfastness. We are united in our devotion to accountability.

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