As Erie County Prison loomed in the background, nearly 50 people walked quietly in a line along the property’s fence line.
These people were there by choice.
“We walk in total silence, and just focus on thoughts of inner peace,” said Janice Etchison, an oblate of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie.
But at some point, the location conjured up other emotions for Gary Horton, president of the NAACP Erie Chapter.
“I didn’t know that I would be emotionally connected to this, because of the violence that has touched my own family and this community,” he said.
The moment offered him healing, but he said healing and hope are not out of reach of inmates, either.
“Even one in prison can have hope. Hope of a better life. Hope for peace.”
The Silent Walk for Peace is held monthly to “promote inner peace, which does away with fear, divisions and hatred,” according to the Benedictines for Peace; but this walk also recognized Dr. Martin Luther King and his message of civil rights.
The United States Sentencing Commission analyzed prison demographics. It found that between 2012 and 2016, black men served prison sentences that were on average more than 19 percent longer than those for white men in similar crimes.
“We know that there are so many issues revolving around incarceration and the difference (in) the way African Americans are treated versus white Americans,” said Etchison.
Meanwhile, people are hoping and working to prevent these situations from ever arising.
“I think our biggest contribution would be to try to keep people from coming here,” said Horton.
The next Silent Walk for Peace will be held at Mercyhurst University on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.