Changing Perceptions

Nancy Ferrell

Former CRS Mediator, Dallas Office; Private Mediator and Trainer

[Full Interview]

I had one situation where the community just swore that if you were arrested and a minority, when you were taken to jail you would be beaten, no questions asked. I shared this with the chief, the staff, and his administrators. They were just horrified. One of the deputies said, "we haven't beaten anybody for twenty years!" I said, "Well, they remember." He couldn't believe that the community still carried that perception.

I didn't even tell him as I remember, he had the courage to go ask. He was really horrified that people would say that. He had the courage to ask the prisoners that he had right then, "what did you think was going to happen when you got here?" They said, "we expected to be beaten." He then had the courage to come back to our group and say that. That's what they thought, that's what they believed. I said, "That's the power of history. People carry any incident with them, until there's intentional effort to change that history." You know you haven't done that for twenty years, but there's been no intentional effort to say to the community, "that's not who we are anymore."

Those were examples of where you deal with some of the reality checking ahead of time, so you begin to break down some of the myth. You break down as many of the myths as possible, so that by the time you get to the table, there's some basis for discussions. If all of these myths are true, then you don't have much relationship to deal with. If you can see that some of those myths don't have a reality base, then you begin to think maybe there are some things we can talk about. If that wasn't true, maybe we were misunderstood.