Photo courtesy of Silvia Rios

Silvia Rios (middle) is pictured with Katherine Friesen (right) and Arnold Trevino (left) at the Avenal State Prison in Calif. Silvia is holding the three-prong cultivator and shovel garden tool that was transformed from a donated assault rifle at the Beating Guns tour event at Bulter MB Church in Fresno, Calif., In May, Rios was asked to present the garden tool to a group of 25 incarcerated men at the Avenal State Prison.  Katherine and Arnold work as facilitators at the Insight Garden Program at Avenal State Prison. 

Reedley, Calif., -- One Sunday evening in January 1986, a young 20-year-old male college student was shot and killed in a parking lot of a local pizza restaurant.  Luis, a promising student, dreamed of becoming a physical therapist.  In the U.S., more than 100,000 people are shot each year, resulting in more than 35,000 deaths – through murder, suicide and accidents from guns.  After 30 years of being silent about her brother’s death, Silvia Rios finds the courage to speak about the pain and loss she and her family experienced and to invite others to respond in gun violence prevention.

“I feel vulnerable and exposed,” shares Rios. “What I kept private for 30 years is now out in the open for all to see.”  She is sharing in honor of her brother’s life – his death is not in vain.  “I want to people to stand up for gun violence because it affects us all.”  Rios works as the Office Administer in the West Coast MCC office in Reedley. 

In March, Rios shared her story at a Beating Guns Tour in partnership with RAWtools event at Butler Mennonite Church in Fresno, California, where over 200 people attended to learn more about the effects of gun violence and how to respond to the issue in the Fresno community.

Silvia Rios shares at the Beating Guns tour event in Fresno, Calif. about the grief and loss her and her family experienced when her brother, Luis, was shot and killed in an act of gun violence. Photo courtesy of Silvia Rios

The highlight of the event was when victims and offenders of gun violence were invited to help hammer a donated assault rifle at the fire forge into a three-prong cultivator and shovel garden tool - transforming a weapon of death into something that creates life in a garden. Rios was the first person to hammer the assault rifle at the fire forge.

MCC partnered with Shane Claiborne and Mike Martin’s Beating Guns tour to offer educational opportunities, such as A Loaded Conversation resource, across the U.S. to learn creative solutions in which communities and churches can participate in gun prevention and peacemaking.

“MCC’s willingness to take on such a difficult topic and create a safe space for discussion about gun violence and prevention allowed me to share my personal experience and my family’s story after all these years,” explains Rios.  “MCC is a part of my journey of healing.”

The Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office witnesses to the U.S. government, seeking to promote peace and justice domestically and internationally. The prevalence of gun violence in the United States is a major public policy concern that affects too many individuals, families and communities every day. The Washington Office provides resources for gun violence prevention to help equip individuals, small groups and churches to advocate for the prevention of gun violence.  Click here to learn more about MCC’s gun violence prevention guide.

The garden tool created at the Beating Guns event was donated to Insight Garden Program (IGP) at the Avenal State Prison in California.  IGP facilitates an innovative curriculum combined with vocational gardening and landscaping training so that people in prison can reconnect to self, community, and the natural world. This “inner” and “outer” gardening approach transforms lives, ends ongoing cycles of incarceration, and creates safer communities.

In May, Rios was asked to present the garden tool to a group of 25 incarcerated men at the prison.  Several of the prisoners are also victims of gun violence, had lost loved ones due to gun violence, or had taken life or shot someone in retaliation. The group reflected on the value of life and the long-term impact of crime on family members. One prisoner said that they don't get to hear the other side of the story - the victim's side. Some prisoners were emotional and were given space to cry after hearing Silvia’s experience of pain and loss.

Katerina Friesen, Program Manager and Facilitator at Avenal State Prison described the presentation of the garden tool to the group as a beautiful and profound experience.  “I'm so grateful to have been a part of it,” shares Friesen.  The group purchased a special plant, a spotted white rock rose, in honor of Silvia’s brother’s death to plant in the prison garden in memory of victims of gun violence. 

“I am so grateful for the emotional and spiritual care I found through MCC’s platform of gun violence prevention,” explains Rios. “I am glad that we can come alongside of each other through tough issues.”


Want to take action against gun violence?  Click here to learn more about MCC’s efforts to support the common-sense gun legislation that will help reduce unnecessary violence in our communities and around the world. Click here to contact your senator to support common-sense gun legislation. 


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