Art of Communication: Yohannes Story

Yohannes Tesfay

The Art of Communication is a program offered to qualifying adults in custody (AICs) at a number of Oregon Department of Corrections’ institutions across the state. Developed by Chaplain Trime Persinger at Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), the course teaches AICs how to build positive relationships and manage conflict situations through everyday conversations. This post is part of a series which aims to share the stories of AICs who have been impacted by the program.

Below, AIC Yohannes Tesfay explains how the program has changed his mindset. AIC Tesfay shared his experience with Trime Persinger, who wrote it down as follows:

Throughout my life my parents have been authority-based, domineering, and controlling. There were many deep wounds from my childhood, and as a result I’ve always been closed off with them. I carried the memories inside me, but I never spoke about them.

My parents have come to visit me a few times, and we talk on the phone, but our conversations have always been small talk; I did not want to burden them with my wounds. I realize now that I was not letting them make the decision whether to hear what I had to say.

Then I started talking to a chaplain. Bit by bit, I started opening up. The chaplain didn’t really say much but just by listening to me, she helped me to see how much hurt I was carrying.

Then I took The Art of Communication and started doing a better job of listening to my parents. It started with phone calls. Eventually, I got to the point where I wanted to tell my parents about my pains and things that hurt me. But I still didn’t know how to do that.

Eventually I decided to open up those doors, as clumsily as I would. But something still held me back; I just couldn’t. I tend to be vague because it helps me to stuff the wounds.

Then one time on the phone, my dad sensed my hesitation and asked me to talk. I told him about a painful memory from my childhood and how it affected me. It was a big relief to get it out. Then he talked. I listened and the narrative that I had against my parents changed. He got a chance to communicate with me his struggle, his pain. It allowed me to see him as someone just like myself, another human being struggling to make sense of this life. This helped me in turn to communicate more with him.

Since that day, my conversations with both my parents have been more meaningful. We are getting to know each other at last.

When someone hears you, like the chaplain did, it helps you be able to hear yourself. Until you speak it, you’re imprisoned by the narrative inside your head.