It is always difficult for any of us, whether we are locked up or not, to do “inner work.” It is always easier not to face our inner demons and reflect upon how our negative choices have affected so many lives.The Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative team has been offering a leadership program at California Institution for Men, a level three prison in Chino. Every month, we meet in the college section of the prison for four hours and those engaged are not necessarily Catholic or go to church every Sunday. What is important is that the men in this group are looking at their lives and asking themselves questions that for years they have run away from.Recently, Jose, who has been locked up for 22 years, asked to speak to me. He is going to parole soon and needs to write about his crime and how it has impacted so many. He told me that for all these years he has never admitted to the crime.Finally, he is coming to terms with what happened and that he is the one responsible for taking the life of another. It took him all these years. If he had not gone through the process of being involved in some kind of restorative justice process, it would be very difficult for him when he goes before the parole board. It would have been almost impossible to show a changed and transformed man. Restorative justice is hard work.When I was speaking with Jose, I reflected on how I am grateful that I can deal with those early in the process of dealing with their demons at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. It is a time out to realize how the crimes they have committed have irrevocably destroyed people's lives. All this because of claiming a few streets. I always make a kid intercede for anyone they have physically hurt. They always ask me why, just like Jose did in Chino. Because, I say, it is important to be connected to the ones they have hurt. This is always a good inner-work discussion. It becomes clear how obviously this person is not your enemy any longer. Somehow, you are connected forever to this person. The sooner a kid can do this inner work the better, if he does not want to spend the rest of his life locked up.Jose is going to the parole board this month. I believe he will be working with us some day trying to help youngsters not make the mistakes he has done. The letter he has written is one of the many sent to the Department of Victims Services in Sacramento. It is difficult to write this letter in a genuine manner unless some type of inner work has been done.Would I prefer to play Bingo with the kids at Sylmar on Sunday mornings, as some probation staff have them do on occasions at the same time of the liturgical service? It would be easier, but we are talking about kids, some of whom — unless they are able to do some serious inner work, unless there is some kind of inner transformation — could find themselves locked up for the rest of their lives. If they can begin early doing this inner work, they will not be receiving multiple 115s (write-ups for serious misconduct) in prison.Senator Juan Vargas in Sacramento met with Jerry Brown on Aug. 31, the last day of the legislative session. The governor showed him a stack of papers of those who have the possibility of parole. He stated, which is true, that he is the governor that has granted more requests for parole than any other governor in recent history.At the same time, the governor stated it is so difficult to wrestle with this decision to release an inmate when these men have multiple 115s in the early stages of their term. They are under 18, they go into a general prison population and within a couple of years they have five 115s.I wonder if it is our fault (the adults) when we offer the choice to the kids at Sylmar to either play bingo and get deodorant and other prizes, or go to a church service where they are going to have to go inward. Our hope, at the chaplaincy office, is that at least these kids see that the options they have, and the choices they make now will determine if one day they are home with their family or not. They cannot do this and play bingo at the same time.As I listened to the loud, joyful noises of kids winning in bingo and then being given a little treat, I reflected on the importance of having kids look at their lives and do a little inner work so they will have the tools to deal with what they are going to face in the future.What I felt on Bingo Sunday was cuidado! Let us be careful to realize that we are involved in the lives of these kids. Once again, we are talking about an 18-year-old having to survive very soon in an adult state prison. We try to provide spiritual healing tools of Jesus for survival. If healing at this state of their journey is not begun, it is going to be a long, difficult road.In our work of restorative justice, what is important is the desire to do inner work. If you are willing to do this, come join us.Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy is the founder and executive director of Culver City-based Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative ( and co-chaplain at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0914/kennedy/{/gallery}