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Where inmates and mothers of murder victims are coming together

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: A group of mothers who lost their sons and daughters to homicide are taking their powerful message of loss into state prisons.

Their goal is to break down the walls between victim and offender. The inmates, so moved by their stories, respond in a surprising way.

From KPBS in San Diego, Maya Trabulsi reports.

It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

Maya Trabulsi: At Centinela State Prison just outside of San Diego, these women, called Mothers With a Message, talk to inmates about what it means to lose a child to murder.

Gabriel Bonilla: It took me like two days to get over just her message, her story, just feeling her staring at me. It was -- I felt it. It hurt. And then that's when we came together and we said, what can we do? What can we give back?

Maya Trabulsi: The inmates formed a committee across racial lines and organized an auction of art from behind the walls.

Dennis Martínez: Hi. This is Dennis Martinez, and I'm with Mothers With a Message.

And this is

Elizabeth Munoz: Elizabeth Munoz.

Lisa Ortiz: I'm Lisa Ortiz.

Bevelynn Bravo: Bevelynn Bravo.

Alejandra Sambrano: And I'm Alejandra Sambrano.

Dennis Martínez: And the guys from Centinela State Prison from B Yard donated all their art. And all the benefit, 100 proceeds go to Mothers With a Message.

And next thing you know, black, white, brown, it didn't even matter what race you were. They were coming together for a good cause.

Maya Trabulsi: The auction took place in a donated space in downtown San Diego, where the inmates' pen and pencil drawings, their pastels and their watercolor art lay displayed on tables.

Matthew "Emcy" Conant: In 1992, I shot and killed a man in their home in front of their parents.

Maya Trabulsi: Matthew Conant served 25 years for second-degree murder. A graduate of the Mothers With a Message workshop, he now speaks about what he learned.

Matthew "Emcy" Conant: I know that I killed somebody. But I didn't know him as a person. I didn't know him as a human. And so, when these mothers come in, it gives you an idea of what really you took from somebody.

Maria Moore: And he tells me like, "Yes, let's do it."

Maya Trabulsi: Maria Moore is married to one of the inmates who organized the donation. She reads from a letter written by the men at Centinela State Prison.

Maria Moore: "We now know that we have the power to assist in the healing process through displaying true remorse and by living amends."

Dennis Martínez: And if that's even the first time somebody in the prison had done something good, that feeling that they get, they're going to start chasing that. And the next thing you know, that life is changed. And they are going to get out of prison and they're going to go home and they're going to become a productive member of society.

That's how that ripple effect works.

Maya Trabulsi: All pieces of art were sold, proceeds that will be donated to the families of new victims to help pay for headstones, burial clothes, and mortuary costs, a symbolic token to acknowledge the life sentence still being served by those left behind.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Maya Trabulsi in San Diego.

Judy Woodruff: And we thank you for that report.

On the "NewsHour" online right now: New invented language often grows behind prisons walls, out of necessity and creativity. We look back at the vivid history of prison slang on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.