Artwork for podcast Encounters With Dignity
Felix Rosado — Facing the Harm I Committed
Episode 321st March 2024 • Encounters With Dignity • Catholic Mobilizing Network
00:00:00 00:26:12

Share Episode


According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 1.2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. right now. For 27 years, Felix Rosado was one of those individuals.

At the age of 18, Felix was told he would die in prison as punishment for the crime he committed — but the criminal legal system did nothing to ask him to reckon with the consequences of his actions, or make steps towards repair.

In this episode, Felix shares how returning to his Catholic faith and learning about restorative justice set him on a journey of taking true accountability, transforming his life, and ultimately gaining his freedom.

- - - -

Stay connected with Catholic Mobilizing Network and our mission to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice.

Sign up to get our emails at

Resources from this episode:


Caitlin Morneau:

Welcome to Encounters with Dignity, a podcast on restorative justice from Catholic Mobilizing Network. Here, we bear witness to the stories, learnings, and actionable wisdom of people putting restorative justice into practice.

I’m Caitlin Morneau, CMN’s Director of Restorative Justice, and your host.

This season we’re taking a close look at the U.S. criminal legal system through the eyes of those most impacted by it.

Together, we’ll unpack the connections between Catholic values and responses to crime that allow all those involved to understand the impact of the harm --- and do what is needed to make things right.

May it be so…

On today’s episode, we’ll hear from Felix Rosado, who spent 27 years fighting a death by incarceration sentence, more commonly known as life without parole.

Today and every day, we recognize that every life is sacred, including the lives of people who have committed a crime. Upholding human dignity means that when harm happens, every person involved deserves the opportunity to transform their hurt and suffering into healing, redemption, and wholeness. Unfortunately, our prison systems aren’t set up for this.

In the United States alone, more than 1.2 million of our brothers and sisters in Christ are incarcerated. They are serving time, but not necessarily being asked to reckon with the consequences of their actions or make active steps toward repair.

For Felix, reconnecting with his Catholic faith, and learning about restorative justice set him on a journey of true accountability, transformation, and eventually…freedom.

Felix is co-founder of Let’s Circle Up, a restorative justice project created inside Graterford State Prison in Pennsylvania. While incarcerated, he also co-coordinated the Alternatives to Violence Project and earned a bachelor's degree from Villanova University. He currently serves as Program Manager of Healing Futures, a youth restorative justice diversion program in Philadelphia.

In the Summer of:

Felix Rosado:

I arrived at age 18 into a grown man's prison, if you will, where a lot of things were happening. A lot of things were going on around me and I was trying to navigate through this abnormal environment and also try to figure out who I was at the same time. And didn't do the best job of it, was pretty sloppy. Lost hope pretty quickly and started getting into some of the same behaviors that led me to prison in the first place.

My moment of awakening came at age 27, nine years into my incarceration when I was sitting in the restricted housing unit, also known as The Hole. And I remember one afternoon just laying in bed. The wing was quiet. People tend to stay up all night and then sleep during the day. So I had some time to just sit there and think and I started to ask myself some really tough questions. What is this all going to mean when I'm gone? Is anyone even going to remember me?

And I ask myself, how did I get here? How did I get from being a straight-A student in elementary school deemed gifted, jumping on a bus with a handful of other kids once a week to do some special project to sitting in the furthest place from freedom a human being could be.

And I started retracing my steps. And I ended up in that alleyway across the street from my middle school, standing in that circle with those three other boys smoking my first marijuana blunt. And I was able to identify that as the moment when things took a downward turn. I loved how it made me feel. I wanted to feel that way all the time.

And by that time, I had already started a life of crime. It started with stealing from the corner store to shoplifting to get the kind of clothes I wanted but couldn't afford. To breaking into cars, to stealing cars, to getting high, and then eventually to making my first cocaine sale at age 18. You know, that quickly escalated to selling heroin and weed and crack. And as I climbed up the drug game ladder, I found myself having to carry guns and use guns and I found myself in prison for murder at the age of 18.

And nine years later, I was sitting in the hole asking myself these tough questions. And I realized that I had to make another turn in my life, this time in the other direction. And I decided I was going to stop getting high. I was going to get focused again on my freedom.

The one thing my mother told me at the end of every phone call, at the end of every visit was to see your freedom. Taste it. Smell it. Wake up every morning and imagine yourself free. And I did imagine myself going to an office, driving to work, coming home, putting the key in the lock, turning it and walking through a threshold. Just didn't have the details, you know, and by the grace of God, now I have them.

And I started going back to the law library and this time working on my case myself. Long story short, I made my way back into court and hope started to replace despair and things were looking good, and I was doing that for two years.

But then I still felt like something was missing and I started to think about a relationship with God, which I had neglected since the age of 12. It even got to the point on the streets when I stopped believing in God because I couldn't see God in all of the misery that I was surrounded in, but when I came to jail, I do remember getting down on my knees that first morning I woke up in the cell and asking God for forgiveness. So even though I went through those few years prior to prison not believing in God at all, when it came down to it, I knew there was one out there.

So I just, you know, kind of lost my way until you know this, you know, all these years later. And so I decided to write a request to the Catholic priest at the time, and he sent me a pass a couple of days later to come see him.

I went to his office and it was actually my first time stepping foot in the chapel. People would go to the chapel to exchange drugs, to do all kind of things. I respected the Church too much to ever do that.

So I never went to the chapel in all those years and so I get this pass so I go over there and I'm sitting in the father's office and I start sharing some of my story with him, you know. He starts, you know, sharing his insight on things and by the end of our time together, he had asked me if I wanted to start coming to Mass.

I wasn't sure that I was ready to fully commit to something like that, because I know how serious it is. But I ended up confessing while I was there and going to Mass that Saturday evening and receiving communion for the first time since, you know, I was going to church with mom at age 11 or 12 or whatever.

I started to feel grounded again. I quickly became engulfed in church activity. I became a lector, a sacristan, and the president of the usher board, member of the Holy Name Society, eventually the president of the Holy Name Society. I joined the secular Franciscan Order. So I was doing it all, right, and, you know, things were starting to make more sense for me. I was, you know, finding my way.

I had enrolled in a bachelor's degree program through Villanova. I was learning about restorative justice through a book called “Transcending” by Howard Zehr. And it's a photo essay book of people who've been victimized for the most part, parents of murdered children.

And I remember clearly sitting in my cell on my bunk with this book spread open across my lap, turning page after page, looking at face after face, reading heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story, and realizing that I, Felix Rosado, caused a family the same kind of pain I was reading about and it's something that I didn't think about much for my first, you know, 12 or so years prior to that afternoon, ‘cause in so many ways, the system prevents you from doing that kind of internal work, right? You're caught up in a fight for your freedom and for your life. And, you know, everything is dealt with in legal terms. And the human element is completely eliminated from the conversation.

And I kind of learned this already subconsciously from watching TV shows and movies. And you learn pretty quickly that if, when the cuffs get slapped on, you start telling the truth, you're gonna find yourself in a lot of trouble. So I said, “I wasn't there,” “I didn't do it,” and then my story changed to, “I was there, but I'm not the one who did it.”

And, you know, I kept creating this alternate narrative in my head of what happened that night. And eventually, you know, I came to terms with the truth that I did do something horrible and that I did hurt some people and that I did cause irreparable damage to my community.

“Transcending” changed everything. At the end of the book, Howard started talking about this thing called restorative justice, and it blew my mind. A way of doing justice that seeks to heal harm by involving those directly impacted by it, including those who caused it.

It's really a Gospel way of doing justice. This is what Jesus was talking about on the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed be the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God.” This is what he was talking about when he told us to forgive our brother and work out the conflict before we step to the altar with them.

It piqued my interest because what it essentially said is that the story doesn't end when the judge bangs that gavel and announces a sentence, right. There's still more story, which isn't how I was thinking about it. There's more work to do.

So that interest quickly became a passion and, you know, God brought me to my brother, Charles Boyd, who was also passionate about restorative justice. And we developed a workshop to introduce other people to this way of life.

We just put something together and started inviting people we knew to it. And between sessions we would sit in a classroom over at the chapel with no air conditioning, just a big loud fan blowing all our papers around, trying to figure out how to improve on what we were creating and dreaming about.

People were loving it. And people were hunting us down in the hallways and in the yard with their name and number scribbled on little pieces of paper saying, here, sign me up. And so before long, you know, this one workshop became a full-blown project with a menu of workshops and activities and meetings 52 weeks a year.

st come out with in the early:

My 27 years of experience in prison has taught me that prison is the antithesis of accountability. It punishes. It causes unnamable suffering. But you never really have to come and face the harm that you committed.

In restorative justice, you actually have to face that. You have to sit across the person you hurt and listen to them talk about that impact in as much detail as they can.

And I truly believe that when people do come face-to-face with the true consequences of their actions, that they're less likely to commit them again. I believe that.

Eventually I earned my bachelor's degree from Villanova in interdisciplinary studies, met all kinds of amazing professors throughout my time there.

And my freedom fight continued to build and to change, right. I jumped from one level of appeal to another and a new governor came into office and granted clemency to someone serving a death by incarceration sentence for the first time in over two decades in the state of Pennsylvania.

ication together, filed it in:

I never did any of these things with the aim of using it at any point to get my freedom. I was doing it just because I was called to and I loved it. But then it ended up playing a big part in, you know, the case I was trying to make to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. So, I ended up collecting over 150 support letters from people in the community who I had met through all these different projects and all of the work I was doing.

efore the Board of Pardons in:

again the following year, in:

And I got taken up the following Thursday on merit review. I got granted another public hearing, so I got the same three out of five votes I needed to get a public hearing. At the hearing, you need all five. And I went and I got interviewed by the board again and the board member who was putting up the biggest resistance to my freedom, and I had an exchange for about 20 minutes during my interview about my faith. He had heard me mention something about my Catholic faith during an earlier question.

He said, “Hey, I heard you mentioned something about your faith. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?”

And I started to describe how I was a cradle Catholic. I came up in the Church through my family and went to CCD classes and did all the sacraments and then I fell away at age 12 and walked them through my whole journey.

And then I rediscovered my faith at age 29 or 30. And, you know, I was talking a little bit about, you know, how much it means to me and how going to Mass and doing all these other activities, you know, really grounds me. And he said, okay, this sounds really good. What's your favorite Bible passage? And without hesitating, I said, “Matthew 25, what you did for the least of these you did for me,” and how that inspired me to be a hospice volunteer and to do all these other things in the prison.

And I think I seen him crack a smile for the first time in two interviews and a lot of people who were there say that they believe that was the moment when things changed. And the next day they voted and I was in the video conference room watching the live votes, and my name got called and the first board member said “Yes.”

And this particular board member who I had the exchange about my faith with was second. And he said, “yes” and I fell to the ground. I just couldn't believe it. I finally got up. I knew that if he said yes, the rest of the board was going to follow and they did. That was the day everything changed.

The weight of my death by incarceration sentence was lifted. I could finally breathe.

I remember calling my mother maybe 10 minutes after the votes came down and we couldn't even talk to each other. She was crying. She was, she was saying, you did it. And I kept correcting her, saying, no, we did it. And it just went like that for a few minutes. And then she touched the wrong thing on her phone and then hung up. That was the day she became free too.

A couple of months later, I walked out a free man for the first time since the age of 18 and into this beautiful life I now have – this life of freedom and joy. And a week later, I started working at my current job as program coordinator of Healing Futures, which is a youth restorative justice diversion program with the Youth Art and Self-empowerment Project.

And every day I get to go to work and talk to my younger self and I get to share my story and my experiences and I get to bring young people together with people that they hurt to talk about what happened and to develop a plan for what the young person needs to do to put things more right.

The young people I work with here at Healing Futures, when it sounds to me like the story they're telling isn't adding up, I let them know, “Look, we're not the district attorney. We're not the police, you know? We're on the same page, but we can’t arrive at any growth, transformation, and healing without the truth.” It has to start there, you know? And eventually, we get things out of them that I don't think anyone else would be able to get.

Restorative justice promotes, encourages, is based on and centers truth, you know, and without that, you can't really move forward.

There were moments early on where I didn't know whether or not I was going to ever see the other side of that 30-foot-high concrete wall. But I did, you know, and God is good all the time. All the time. Amen.

Caitlin Morneau:

In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis clearly laid out the Church’s opposition to the death penalty. But he also said that “a life sentence is a secret death penalty.”

Because what is a life without any possibility of redemption? Pope Francis says, “In every legal sentence, there must be a window of hope.”

Felix’s story is undoubtedly a testament to hope that endures and redemption that is really possible. Think about how much more transformation could occur, if we only created the conditions for it!

Conditions where, when crime happens, instead of asking “how should you suffer?” we ask “what do you need?” Responding to harm in our communities as community.

For Felix, meeting with the family of his victim wasn’t possible, but he undertook the inner work of restorative justice anyway, inviting countless others along for the journey. And may the Holy Spirit inspire each of us to do the same.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Encounters With Dignity. You can find Felix’s video and other resources mentioned, linked in the show notes. Be sure to subscribe to our show from your favorite podcast platform, or by visiting

Join us next month when we’ll talk with Aswad Thomas, a crime survivor and national advocate for victim-centered justice solutions that advance community safety and resilience.

To stay connected with Catholic Mobilizing Network, and our mission to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, follow us on social media or sign up for our emails at

Let us close in prayer…

Good and gracious God, thank you for this opportunity to come together, to be in relationship across time and distance. May this conversation remind us that every person has dignity because we are made in Your image and likeness - cherished and beloved. May we participate with one another in the redemption that you made possible by your suffering, death, and resurrection. And may we bear witness to your healing, restorative, transformative work in the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.



More from YouTube