Last night I had the pleasure of attending one of our monthly Welcome Home Ceremonies. Imagine, after thirty years in prison, coming out to a “transitional home”. Then being invited to a Welcome Home Ceremony. In a circle you see thirty or forty people, some of them from your home, others from the other Francisco Homes. A guy walks up to you. Your old friend from Solano or Soledad or San Quentin. You look around and recognize a few of the guys. There are guests as well; family members, group leaders, the staff people you see when you go to the office and Sister Teresa.
After a few announcements Sister Teresa, with her soothing voice brings everyone together with a short talk, almost a meditation. It sets the mood. Each new resident is asked what they bring to the community and you tell part of your story along with a funny thing that happened after coming out of prison. Holly reads a great poem that both makes sense and feels good.
The guy who doubles as a house manager comes over and gives you a freedom keychain made of tooled leather and braided twine. He also talks about how well you’ve done and gives an example. Then, a path is created with electronic candles. At the end of the path are two guys with a carved wood board with the word Freedom on it handing from two chords.
The instruction is to walk to the board and cross it any way you want in order to show your stepping to freedom. So you decide to approach slowly and jump over the board. Pretty good as you forgot you have a cane. But it works out alright.
Then it happens. The crowd goes wild with applause and shouting. Sister Teresa gives you a hug along with bunches of other people. You think, “All this for me”. It feels good. Really good. You notice a tear. The warmth and acceptance in that room is beyond all of your expectations. It’s beautiful!
Did I forget to mention the table filled with deserts and soda? Not bad. Feels what freedom should feel like.
Subscribe to the TFH newsletter for information, updates, and opportunities to get involved.