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  • Writer's pictureMallah-Divine Mallah

Unveiling Healing: A Reflection on the AFJ Men’s Healing Retreat


The conduit for me to pull all the ingredients of my healing together came when a childhood friend asked me, did I wanted to go on a retreat for formerly incarcerated men. I could not even imagine how that would be. But I agreed. And forgot about it because there weren’t many details he had shared beyond the question.

I had Earn Time Off (ETO) days I had to use, and I was thinking about going to a NY State Park that had cabins to get away from the city madness and to reflect. I would be 47 years old in a few months. I wanted to review my past 7 years at home: accomplishments, losses, highs, and lows. Like magic, I had received an update email with details about the retreat—dates and where it would be. I knew at that moment my energy was aligned to receive this Universal blessing.

I filled out my paperwork and submitted my ETO request. I still received no itinerary for the activities. I was cool with that. On my ride up to Blue Mountain Center, it reminded me of the drive to see my brother in places like Auburn Correctional Center. It’s funny how I am going to heal in Mountains that have caged plantations sprinkled about with thousands of people being traumatized in them.

During the drive, I thought about the two-faced theater mask (comedy & tragedy). That is what life has always been—duality. The dichotomy in myself has brought me to this precise moment. I knew I wasn’t a gangster anymore. I never was, I just showed flashes of tendencies. But who am I now?

Blue Mountain Center must have been one of the most serene places I’ve been beside my mother’s womb. This beautiful place was where the indigenous Haudenosaunee people once called home, before the concept of the Five dollar Indian. I could still feel the sacred energy. And learning the history of this place made me think what a suitable place of tranquility. 

The Healing Circle the first full day was intense. As each person went into the chair to share their reason for coming and what they hoped to leave with I saw the true essence of manhood. It was powerful to witness strong men not afraid to be vulnerable without the fear of looking weak. 

As I got to know my cohorts in healing it made me feel like I didn’t have to conceal my emotions. That I wasn’t alone. Men hide their vulnerability in the shadows. But men who lived a life where perceived toughness, ruthlessness, or heartlessness was a commodity ceased to be connected to their emotional center.

When the healing practices from Qigong, meditation, art therapy, drum circles, Reiki sing bowls, vision boards, and healing circles were not going on I took solace in unpacking the daily events in my room. Alone with my thoughts, pen, and paper, I could feel the layers of frustration, hurt, disappointment, self-doubt, and gangster thinking peel away as I scribed.

Writing has always put me in a tranquil state. In prison, it was my refuge. In freedom, the transducer connects internal thinking with external words that I share. I received more during the retreat than I gave. I was open to all the activities and energy. 

The first night I had to ask, “How have I failed myself?” I will go on and list my shortcomings. I knew I could not fully be open to the retreat if I wasn’t introspective with myself. The next night I would list my achievements and what challenges I face now.

In my nighttime journaling, I wrote “Time heals all wounds, no frown, no darkened heart, no ill will last forever. It’s the journey to survive through it which brings the pain and self-doubt…”

I currently was reading My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. He states that trauma is in our bodies. And that healing for melanin people can’t be done just by talk therapy alone.

I pondered the holistic approach of the retreat and agreed with Resmaa Menakem's assessment of trauma and operating from our lizard brain. Working in the restorative justice space with incarcerated youth I can see their pain hiding behind their poor behavior and pseudo-toughness. I understand better since I started my journey of healing. 

We need more culturally aware therapists with skills in traditional healing methods to heal our youth (especially those who fell victim to the streets) and melanin people.

I was grateful to be a part of the first retreat for formerly incarcerated men. I hope more organizations have the compassion to do what the Alliance of Families for Justice sponsored. 

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