do not drive into smoke2This guests post is from our friend and regular patron, Melanie Snyder. She recently blogged here about her work in the realm of restorative justice

Reflections from my cross-country book tour/learning tour

Before my book, Grace Goes to Prison, was even published, I fantasized about doing a national book tour. My fantasy included upscale hotels, expense account meals, limos, and large audiences hanging on my every word as I read from my best-selling masterpiece, then waiting patiently in long lines for the thrill of obtaining my autograph. (Sigh!)

In the spring of 2010, I set off on a cross-country book tour/learning tour. But something happened on the way to my imaginary limo . . .

For ten weeks, I drove a tiny camper van 8732 miles across the United States and back, stopping in 30 cities in 16 states to carry the message of restorative justice to 40 different audiences. No fancy hotels or restaurants. No expense account beyond my own bank balance. No national chain bookstores. No red carpets or adoring fans. No limo. Just 74 days of meeting and talking with people at colleges and churches and civic groups about a different kind of justice.

By the time I returned home to Lancaster, I understood that my life and work would never be the same.

Here are ten lessons I learned on the road (with links to a few related blog posts from my trip):

1. The cleanest bathrooms for travelers are just off the lobby of any chain hotel.[i]

a. Corollary: Pay-showers at “travel plazas” (aka “truck stops”) are not for the faint-of-heart.[ii]

2. Living in 114 square feet of space with the absolute bare minimum of possessions is pretty darn liberating.[iii]

3. Don’t believe everything your GPS tells you. On the other hand, when you make a wrong turn, take time to look around at wherever you’ve wound up, to see what you might have otherwise missed.

a. Corollary #1: If you pass something that looks interesting, don’t hesitate to make a U-turn or take a detour to go check it out.

b. Corollary #2: Get off the interstate from time to time and take the back roads.

4. We can learn a lot from the Midwestern prairies practice of “controlled burns”.

a. Corollary: Do not drive into smoke. (PHOTO)

5. Take time to stop periodically and get your wheels balanced and aligned, your fluid levels checked and replenished, and your fuel tank refilled.[iv]

6. It’s when we’re at our most vulnerable that we’re also most open to learning, personal growth, and deep connection with other people.

7. In a choice between a chain restaurant and a “Mom & Pop,” always choose the “Mom & Pop.” And always tip generously at “Mom & Pop’s.” Your tip might make the difference between dinner or no dinner for the waitress and her kids.[v]

8. It’s ok to cry sometimes when you’ve taken on a huge challenge and aren’t sure you’re up to the task. Tears cleanse, prevent infection and clear our vision. That’s a pretty good metaphor for what they do for us emotionally and spiritually, too.

9. Always be willing to welcome a traveling stranger. And when invited, take others up on their offers of hospitality. You never know how your life might change as a result.

10. Remember, the seed never gets to see the flower.


[i] Walk in the front door like you belong there and stride confidently past the check-in desk and no one will stop you. Bonus: these hotel lobby bathrooms are almost always private, for one person only, and pretty spacious.

[ii] Trust me on this one. Or not. Your call. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.

[iii] Okay, at least it was for ten weeks. For one person.

[iv] Turns out this is good advice for the road AND good advice for daily living.

[v] Also, disturbingly, the cleanliness (or not) of any restaurant’s bathrooms is directly correlated to the cleanliness of the kitchen where your meal will be prepared!

It was the two years Melanie  Snyder spent going in and out of state prisons around PA that launched her radical mid-life career change into prisoner reentry work (but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post!). When she isn’t spending time with RMO program participants, she’s often out and about speaking with civic groups, churches, and other audiences about why she cares so much about criminal justice issues and urging others to care too. And when she isn’t doing THAT, she and her hubby, Bruce, are often parked on a barstool on the second floor at Tellus enjoying the daily specials, the great vibe, and the awesome company of the Tellus staff (Joe D., of course, will always be their favorite!)