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Richard Kamler’s muse is the cell block. Nearly 20 years of work as a teacher and artist in residence at jails, prisons, and halfway houses inspired Kamler to create The Table of Voices: Conversations on the Criminal Justice System. Currently featured at San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island, the work enables visitors to hear the taped voices of victims and perpetrators of violent crime. Its focal point is a long “visiting room” table of gold leaf and lead, bisected by a thick safety glass. Opposing rows of phones connect listeners to the participants’ stories of grief and rage — and to their stories of reconciliation and forgiveness. One woman “sits” across the table from her son’s killer. She had pushed for a maximum sentence, but after realizing rage was consuming her, she eventually worked for the man’s early release. “He helped me understand the power of forgiveness,” she says. Victims’ rights groups have protested Kamler’s attention to the murderers’ stories, claiming they do a disservice to the memory of their murdered friends and family members. But Kamler says the work’s purpose is to reveal the humanity of all those involved with a crime. “Without models of forgiveness — types of behavior we can aspire to — we have little hope.” Despite the attention it has received, the table may soon go silent. Kamler plans shows for Detroit and Chicago, but says he has had a problem finding venues with room for the 54-foot table. For information, call (415) 566-3811.

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