Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Love Rather Than Hate

By Aimee Griffith

“Love is a whole lot lighter to carry than hate.” — Agnes Furey
“Love is an infinite supply of electricity, of power that you’ve got to plug into and connect with for all your cylinders to fire. Without it there is no life or light; without it you are a leaf without a tree to fall from— Leonard Scovens

Aimee Griffith
I am proud to be a newly appointed board member for Achieve Higher Ground (AHG), a non-profit Restorative Justice (RJ) organization that advocates for the adoption of RJ practices by the criminal justice system. 

Achieve Higher Ground was co-founded by Agnes Furey and Leonard Scovens. They met and found common ground many years after Leonard murdered Agnes’ daughter and grandson in 1998. Their approach to RJ is a focus on restoration for everyone involved in a crime, including the perpetrator.  “Best case scenario,” says Agnes, “is when that can occur with reconciliation between both parties.”

The story of these two brave individuals involves a kind of love that many cannot fathom. During this third week of the Thirty Days of Love campaign, we are being encouraged to practice a radical, courageous love. Their story has certainly taught me that.

Agnes and Leonard began a written correspondence in 2005, initiated by Agnes, some of which can be found in the book they have co-authored, Wildflowers in the Median. Leonard is presently serving two consecutive life sentences in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). Together, they have created FDOC’s first ever residential program for violent offenders, Circles of Restoration. The program’s vision is to transform participants into mentally sound, virtuous, and productive citizens.

I was honored with an invitation to speak about Trauma-Informed Care to the Victim Impact Awareness (VIA) class at the Northwest Florida Reception Center, where Leonard is currently housed, this past October. Being in that room, filled with 50 plus inmates serving varying sentences for varying charges, was a powerful experience.

I was also invited to sit in on the Higher Ground group, co-led by Leonard Scovens and Dr. Deborah Weidlund, FDOC psychologist. In a small room with about 10 participants, Leonard urged his peers to look deep into themselves and reveal their humanity, despite the criminal behavior that presently defines them.

During my first meeting, Leonard called in to thank us for our contributions and to share talk about the newly approved Circles of Restoration program. At the end of this brief call, Agnes ended by saying “Love you,” which I had not expected, but also did not surprise me given the depth of their history.

I would like to honor both Agnes and Leonard with the “Courageous Love Award,” created by the Unitarian Universalist Association to recognize individuals or organizations that have exhibited courageous love and touched hearts. I am proud to have met both of these virtuous individuals and to be a part of their budding organization whose vision is avant-garde and sure to inspire others.

If you would like more information about Achieve Higher Ground you can join their Facebook group or click here to purchase a copy of Wildflowers in the Median. I encourage you to think about how you can build bridges of love in your own life and community during this Thirty Days of Love campaign. Perhaps there is someone you would like to honor with a Courageous Love Award.

Aimee Griffith, LCSW, is the Clinical Director of DISC Village, Inc, a private non-profit behavioral health organization.  She also co-facilitates the local Trauma-Informed Care Workgroup, co-leads a Suicide Loss Support Group with Big Bend Hospice, and serves on the board for Achieve Higher Ground.  She is a congregation member, youth advisor and choir member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee.