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Eric S. Lee, on growing up in Detroit in the Motown era, practices for inner peace, and restorative justice

(Publication Date: 6.27.23)

In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Eric S. Lee, executive director for Full Circle Restorative Justice.


Eric has a rich history of entrepreneurship and service to others, including as a chef and restaurateur, life coach and fitness trainer, book author and restorative justice facilitator. He and Adam talk about Detroit and the Motown era of Eric’s early years, and other influences in his life as a kid coming up there in the 1960s and 70s.


They talk about how Eric ultimately left behind a wayward lifestyle and came to the spiritual practices and positive attitude that have led him to his many life successes, including his current community leadership role in restorative justice for youth.


The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.


Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via


Eric S. Lee


Full Circle Restorative Justice website:

Full Circle Restorative Justice Facebook page:


We Are Chaffee





Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom


Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.


[Intro music, guitar instrumental]


Adam Williams (00:00:13): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanist, community and wellbeing based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams.


Today I'm talking with Eric S. Lee, executive director of Full Circle Restorative Justice, based in Salida, Colorado. He's also an author and a man who has a rich history of entrepreneurship and service to others. Eric and I get into some good and deep waters in this conversation.


He has published three books. The most recent is titled 29 Degrees: How to Live a Life of Inner Peace, Joy and Purpose Regardless of Circumstances. So naturally, we talk about inner peace. We talk about meditation and other practices for getting to know our higher selves. That takes us into conversation about God and spirituality.


(00:00:59): Now, as you might have heard me say in a previous conversation on this podcast, and as you will in this one, talking about God and religion, it can feel like a dicey topic area for me, but I do love to get into a reflective, insightful conversation with someone like Eric about spirituality. It brings an honest, humble and inclusive perspective. It's not dogma, it's about self-awareness.


To me, it's as simple as thinking about how we can do our best by ourselves as individuals and for each other to make life more meaningful and more connected. We talk about how Eric came to his spiritual interests and practices as a young man who had found himself struggling with a partying lifestyle that was not compatible with that higher self kind of life.


(00:01:43): We talk about Detroit and the Motown era of his early years and other influences in his life as a kid, coming up there in the 1960s and the 70s. And ultimately, we come around to his role now in our community through his work in restorative justice, particularly with youth. We also find out what challenges Eric's inner peace. If you're a Michigan Wolverines fan like he is, you already know where this is headed.


We are Chaffee: Looking Upstream is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. Show notes, including the transcript of today's conversation, and relevant links are on this episode's webpage at


Now, here we go with Eric S. Lee.


[Transition music, guitar instrumental]


Adam Williams (00:02:25): Eric, we've got some fantastic stuff to talk about today. I appreciate that you gifted me a copy of your most recent book, 29 Degrees. I've read it. I've spent time with it. It's right up my alley when you're talking about inner peace, spirituality, all kinds of things like that. Big stuff that we're going to jump into. Before we do, all right, thanks for being here, by the way.


Eric Lee (00:03:00): Thanks for having me.


Adam Williams (00:03:01): I want to talk about Detroit.


Eric Lee (00:03:03): Okay.


Adam Williams (00:03:04): That's where you came up. I think every city, big city, major city in the country probably evokes some idea in people's minds nationally. Detroit is a city that has a feel, I think I'm curious what your take on that is, and maybe going back to when you grew up there, I think probably 60s, 70s.


Eric Lee (00:03:24): Yeah. First of all, I love Detroit. I love it. I love it. I love it. It just isn't the place that I wanted to live all of the time. I find myself drawn back there more now for a variety of reasons. One big one is my family is still back there. Well, a lot of my family is still in there. My brother, who I'm probably closest with in my family is back there.


So, I spend a lot of time visiting Detroit, and as far as ... I'm going to go through the perception and then, kind of go back to my childhood and what it was growing up. The national perception for the longest has been ... and I'll say to people sometimes, "I'm from Detroit," and they kind of look at me with pity going, "Oh my God. You know, you got out like it was Vietnam or Afghanistan or something." And I don't go into it a whole lot, depending on who I'm talking to.


Adam Williams (00:03:24): Sure.


Eric Lee (00:04:27): If I'm having a substantive conversation with somebody, I will, but if it's just kind of in passing, I just kind of let it go and let them believe what they will. A lot of big cities, I mean, there's a lot of people that have experienced trauma, and that kind of ties with the work that I'm doing, and through that trauma, they began to act out.


Some of the trauma is tied to lack of resources and kids not having adequate mentorship and all those type of things. So, there is in certain areas and element of danger or crime, I think any big city and like any big city, you have to know how to be in that space, and you got to know what spaces to avoid at certain times, especially. Once you get that, you're perfectly fine.


(00:05:33): Then, on the other side of that is that there are so many hardworking, creative, brilliant community oriented people there that don't get seen, that a lot of Detroit and its soul gets lost. I mean, you think of Motown and the creativity that came out of there, and there's still good music coming out of Detroit.


I remember, it must have been maybe three or four or five years ago, Detroit had a big storm and the flood and the power was knocked down on ... I don't know, I think it was like 65% of the city for a couple of days. I was calling my brother every day to check up on him, and see how he's doing. He was like, "Man, it's a terrible inconvenience and we're struggling to get the food and get gas and all that kind of stuff."


(00:06:34): The thing about it is, it's like you go to gas stations and some of the gas stations were shut down because they didn't have power, and there were people siphoning gas out of their cars to give it to people who needed it, and giving people rides where they needed to go, they were complete strangers. So I mean, there's that community there that doesn't get seen, that doesn't get talked about, and the good-heartedness, and it's the motor city.


So also, there's a blue collar hardworking mentality that undergirds all of that as well, and you just can't take it for what the perception is. On top of that, over the last 10 years or so, Detroit has been undergoing a renaissance, where there's a lot more money coming in. Downtown's vibrant, is alive. Businesses are flourishing. So, Detroit is really coming back right now.


Adam Williams (00:07:35): I want to come back to your growing up there because I'm really curious about that. Maybe as a little bit of context for where my question came from, I lived in St. Louis for a dozen years, and I feel like there's a similarity between those cities and in part, during the time that I lived there, it was one city or the other that seemed to be listed each year as murder capital or crime capital in some way, and I understood how that in St. Louis, felt like a misnomer, and it was unfair.


I think St. Louis is a great city. I enjoyed my time there. So I feel like in that way, there's a kindredship between St. Louis and Detroit and how some of those neighborhoods, when you had White flight back in the 50s and whatever it was, that left, just neighborhoods destroyed and then, ultimately empty when buildings get cleared out.


(00:08:28): And Detroit went through some of those things or still is I probably, in plenty of the area. So I understand that grassroots community you're talking about too, and that creativity and there's energy there.


Eric Lee (00:08:42): Yeah, there is and again, that's why I love to go back and my kids will tell you, we had this trip where they were teenagers, we rented a 12-passenger van. We loaded all the kids up and we drove back. We stopped in Chicago. My uncle lives in Chicago. We drove up the coast, we came back down to Detroit. They called it the Love Tour in retrospect, and my kids have been to Italy, they've been in Miami Beach, Vegas, Southern California, and they said that that trip was the best trip they could have ever dreamed of, and it was vibrant and alive the whole time.


Adam Williams (00:09:23): Awesome.


Eric Lee (00:09:24): Yeah.


Adam Williams (00:09:25): So about that childhood, I'm right with 60s, 70s and you brought up Motown, I'm glad you did because I was going to. That's really during that heyday stretch with Motown, and so many of the amazing artists whose names we still talk about. I mean, I think, Gladys Knight, right? Diana Ross, The Jackson Five.


Actually, I looked up, I thought James Brown would be part of that and he wasn't from my understanding but anyway, I'm wondering about the influence of that, and if that was in your house and if that was, I don't know, something you gravitated to and felt and were aware of and maybe even took pride in, because that's my city.


Eric Lee (00:10:03): Yes, anything that comes out of Detroit, Detroiters take pride in. Aretha Franklin, Motown, The Temptations, all of that. I remember going to the park that was two blocks from my house, and Aretha Franklin was there at a baseball game with her son and Gladys Knight. I was walking in Northland Mall and Gladys Knight was walking out of Northland.


So, I would come across those people, and I never saw Stevie Wonder, just casual like that, but seeing him multiple times, downtown performing when he was little Stevie Wonder, and this was in the 60s when I was tiny, and it seemed like the 60s ... and I was really young in the 60s. I was six, seven, eight years old in the 60s. Then, everything was really vibrant and alive, really creative. Motown was flourishing and then, the '68 riots hit.


Adam Williams (00:11:08): Okay.


Eric Lee (00:11:09): And that's when it seemed everything turned, because from late 60s through mid-80s, it really was getting bad then, it took a turn where financially things started turning down, and that had to do with some recession things and Reagan and ... I don't want to get political, but trickle-down economics didn't really help Detroit. It hurt more than anything.


Adam Williams (00:11:44): I don't think it helped anywhere ultimately, but sure, go ahead.


Eric Lee (00:11:48): Yeah, and I don't want to make a judgment, but it just ... economically, Detroit took a hit and people started losing work. The Japanese auto industry started really making headway, importing ... we started importing a lot of gas saving Japanese cars, and the American auto industry was slow to respond to that. So lots of layoffs happened because of that, because the auto industry was hit, and when that started taking the hit, everybody started taking the hit.


Adam Williams (00:12:21): Sure.


Eric Lee (00:12:21): Losing houses. Yeah.


Adam Williams (00:12:24): Were those riots, was that in response to Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X? Were there other factors that ... I mean, obviously, the 60s in general, '68 in particular were at the height of some stuff societally and politically and with the war and just all the things. Do you remember specific motivations for that?


Eric Lee (00:12:45): Well, our country was headed towards that inflection point for a long time. I mean, I think it was probably 10 or 15 years ... well, longer than that, but that I can identify with the civil rights movement, and you mentioned Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and all of those civil rights activists being really active, making progress, standing up for human rights. There was first ... I think Kennedy got killed first.


Adam Williams (00:13:28): Yeah, '63.


Eric Lee (00:13:30): Yes. Kennedy got killed first and then, Martin Luther King got killed after that.


Adam Williams (00:13:37): Bobby Kennedy was in '68 as well.


Eric Lee (00:13:38): Yeah, and I think it was around Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King that it really just exploded, and more Martin Luther King than Bobby Kennedy, because I can't remember which one came first.


Adam Williams (00:13:54): I don't either offhand.


Eric Lee (00:13:55): I think it was Kennedy ... I think it was King that got assassinated first.


Adam Williams (00:14:00): Okay.


Eric Lee (00:14:01): Right after that assassination, I remember the next day I was staying with my grandma and that next day, the city just blew up, and I remember seeing tanks rolling down the street and just a company as soldiers and gunshots going off, and my grandmother telling us she hit the deck basically and stayed down, because she was afraid of stray bullets coming through the window.


Adam Williams (00:14:26): Sure, and you were really young then, as you already said. So I mean, these memories really made an imprint.


Eric Lee (00:14:33): Yeah. They're there.


Adam Williams (00:14:34): Okay. Well, I'm curious, other than that as well then, let's talk about things related to your family and the ... I mean neighborhood community, whatever it was that influenced you as a kid, and we've brought up Motown and my greatest connection with Motown, I'm a bit younger than you, maybe 15 or so years, my connection with Motown would be really through soundtracks with movies that come from that era.


So they're going to ... if you play a Vietnam War movie, you're going to get a certain era of music, Rolling Stones and whoever from Motown. For you, what was that sort of ... you're a teenager during that time, you're becoming a young man during that time. Just what were all those influences around you and who you then maybe ... as shaping factors, that's what I like to call them and look at and who you would become.


Eric Lee (00:15:28): I don't think, that time period and all those influence for sure were foundational on who I am and who I become. I remember early 70s just being really ... I remember crying because my older brother who's eight years older than me had to register for the draft for Vietnam, and that was like 1970.


Adam Williams (00:15:56): Okay.


Eric Lee (00:15:59): I mean, I had seen the images and heard the stories and saw people who had gone and come back and they had literally lost their minds and were on the street because they couldn't function. I just remember being really impacted by the fear of that as a young teen, and then, the other thing as that started subsiding was ... the other part of the 60s that wasn't so tumultuous was just the free love and the hippie stuff that was going ... the hippie movement that was going on and the drugs that were going on.


So as I grew into the late 70s and became a teenager, the influence was smoking pot and every other thing you can get your hands on and just being a party mammal for a time until I reached a point where I just couldn't stand myself anymore because I had just gone too far off a ledge.


(00:17:10): And experiencing that, had more to do with me turning around and really finding my spirituality and reaching for the highest version of who I am is just almost the unconscious, mindless accumulation of self-destructiveness that was condoned from say, the late 60s through the 70s, that really led me to saying, "Okay, life is more than this and I'm meant to do more than this."


Adam Williams (00:17:49): Did your parents, were they people you would say were role models in the sense of you can be more or were they struggling as well? What gave you the belief I can be more than this, I can do more.


Eric Lee (00:18:07): That's a great question, and I laughed because when you said ... I thought you were going someplace else, but you went someplace else. My parents were caught up. I mean, one of the things that I notice is I always have to watch myself and just not judge and try to understand what everybody's experience is. The generation before me really got jacked up with racism and oppression and the generation before them even more so.


All of that was passed down to us, and it was somewhat contradictory because yes, they experienced these things. Yes, it impacted where we were, how we were, how much they were able to accomplish, how much they were able to provide for us. As we were coming up, it was kind of ... I'm not going to say completely dismantled, but it was diminishing slowly.


(00:19:21): So, our experiences in my generation weren't nearly as intense as theirs was. At the same time, our parents are our biggest influences. So, they're giving us ... have you ever seen the movie The Jerk with Steve Martin?


Adam Williams (00:19:39): Yeah, yeah.


Eric Lee (00:19:41): He's this white dude who was raised by Blacks saying, "Don't trust Whitey, don't trust Whitey."


Adam Williams (00:19:45): Right, right.


Eric Lee (00:19:46): So I mean, it was that type of stuff going on, but at the same time, and my mom and dad were a little bit different. My mom was like ... some of her best friends were white people and just the sweetest people you'd ever want to know.


And so on one side I'm hearing, "Don't trust Whitey," and the next breath, some White person is walking in the house and they're hugging and laughing and joking and having a good old time. So it forced me to find who I was and how I fit in this picture. Again, part of where I was going at is they were impacted by racism on oppression, and it kind of limited what they were able to achieve.


Adam Williams (00:20:39): And maybe what they saw would be possible for you, did they believe in that?


Eric Lee (00:20:43): Well, I think they did. I think that what they were modeling was there's a cap on what you can accomplish.


Adam Williams (00:20:52): Okay.


Eric Lee (00:20:52): What they were consciously telling me is, go out and do whatever you want to do because you can. So I was getting a mixed message. It was like, "Okay, go and do whatever you can do. You can do it. We believe in you," but all of us can't do that, and we don't know how much we really believe that, but we're going to tell you that because we don't want to hold you back.


Adam Williams (00:21:16): Sure.


Eric Lee (00:21:17): So I mean, that was part of what I had to overcome as I went through my growth process. It was like, "Okay, because I had internal message, I mean years of therapy, years of self-help, years of meditation and everything." Just identifying the limiting beliefs in me so that I could overcome those limiting visions that I was raised with.


Adam Williams (00:21:41): Right. I think self-belief that that's a topic that I think about quite a bit actually, is I try to process within myself, why have I maybe had more pessimistic views about my limitations? How do I gain trust in believing everything is possible?


I still don't know where that comes from, but when we're raised in a certain way, they have certain mindsets and oftentimes for good reasons, you're saying there was oppression, there were things that gave them the perspectives that they had, why should they believe you were going to have any better? I can appreciate that they didn't tell you can't. They said, go give it a shot.


Eric Lee (00:22:25): Not until later. Again, my mom and dad were a little different. My dad was hit harder when he was a youth because he was out on his own at eighth grade and actually dropped out at eighth grade. So his life was a lot harder than my mom's was though. He went to the army, came out, he had a decent job and he worked for the post office.


Adam Williams (00:22:52): Yeah.


Eric Lee (00:22:52): So middle income type of situation but then, there was just destructive habits like drugs and smoking and alcohol and all those other things that really may have held them back more than any other external circumstances were. I remember after I had moved to Colorado, I was married, I had a restaurant, I had a coaching practice.


Most of my clients in my coaching practice were White. I was really successful, I had two great little kids and my dad called me and he's like, how's it going? I'm like, it's going great. This is another one of those phrases, don't trust Whitey, that I heard all growing up. I said, how you doing dad? He goes, I'm doing all right, White man, still ahead.


I mean, I heard that phrase my whole life. I mean, growing up, I just didn't pay attention. It just ... my uncles would say it to each other, people walking down the street, White man still ... we're never going to get by. We're never going to elevate ourselves. He said that ... and I'm looking at my life and I said, "Dad, I don't know. I think the score is at least tied right now."


And he was so wrapped up in what he believed, he started yelling at me that I was insane to even think that I could be equal to White people. And he ended up hanging up on me because it's like I was standing my ground. It's like, I had begun to ... I mean was well at that point into my spiritual journey and listening and studying as many teachers as I could find.


(00:24:55): And the message was crystal clear to me that this isn't the difference. Our skin and how we look and our exterior isn't the difference. What's in our heart and our head is what the difference is. I had began to master that and shared with other people, many of which who were White. So, there was no way I could see from my perspective and take that on, that we as a people were less than anybody because we're all made from the same stuff.


It's about all of us kind of addressing and acknowledging whatever trauma or experiences had shaped and molded us and planted those limitations in us. And it was individual, it was on our individual selves to do that work and overcome it.


(00:25:59): And also, there was work to be done collectively as well. I think each culture has to overcome its own sense of limitations and trauma so that they can really be all that we are meant to be.


Adam Williams (00:26:15): What you're saying there about your dad and describing, of course, he's taking that from a certain place of experience. He's taking that from a certain cultural or social who he's surrounded by, and this is what everybody is saying. It's how everybody feels. It's just an understood truth in their eyes. And then, you go to a different group of people who have a different understood truth, fact, solid.


Just what is there to question here? And anytime we question someone's truth, it hits, it upsets them. It upsets all of us, and it hits that ego and it hits what our understanding of the world is. I've decided, that understanding, having some sort of clarity, having certainty is so important, it seems to humans in general.


(00:27:08): Finding what our labels are and our lines and our boundaries and all the rules and understanding because if all that goes away and everything is just up in the air and uncertain, now, I don't ... how do I make sense of life? How do I make sense of you? How do I make sense of me?


Eric Lee (00:27:22): Yeah, and that's tricky thing in the work that I do, because there are those who have different views that think that we're already there, that they're out there ... racism doesn't really exist anymore. That was a period in our history that doesn't affect us anymore. We're all equal and that sort of thing.


There are other people who are going, "Wait, no, there's this systemic things going on here that are keeping certain groups of people from achieving all that they can." So, you've got those going on there, right? So I tend to be a little more progressive thinking, but at the same time, it is hard for me ... Well, it's not hard. I'll just say that it's something that I have to be conscious of that yes, there's systemic things going on.


(00:28:36): Yes, each individual has the power to overcome whatever circumstance that is placed in front of them, if they go as deeply within themselves as they can and find out who they really are and the power that really drives them, that makes us all equal. Yes, at some point, there were systemic things put in place to keep groups of people down, but once any individual in that group realizes who they really are, the effects of those systemic policies are deeply diminished.


So my balance in the work I do is finding the balance between addressing those systemic imbalances while at the same time, acknowledging the power in the individuals who are being adversely affected by them. So that they really know who they are and they really can reach for the highest version of themselves and believe that it's possible.


Adam Williams (00:29:46): You keep using the word spiritual, spirituality. Those are words that I connect with. There are experiences and practices I connect with there, but in your book, 29 Degrees, the word God is used throughout. I'd have to say that if only six, seven years ago had someone handed me a book with the word God in it all throughout the pages, I might not have read it.


I probably wouldn't have read it. I have a very complicated sort of feeling about it or I did. I look at what you wrote there, who you are, from what I can tell so far and what we're able to talk about today, and I relish the opportunity to talk about this with you. What I'm saying is several years ago, we wouldn't be talking about this topic quite possibly in this conversation.


(00:30:38): So I'm curious, when you say God, when you say spirituality, is there a distinction? Is there the same thing? What do those things mean to you?


Eric Lee (00:30:49):

I think God ... in the book, I do kind of preface that and say that, okay-


Adam Williams (00:30:55): Sure, yes.


Eric Lee (00:30:56): There are people like you six or seven years ago, that may pick this book up. I say, God, because that's comfortable for me. You may say nature, you may say whatever, the higher power or whatever you believe in, maybe you don't believe anything, and maybe you think everything just naturally occurs. Well, that's great, but the wind is there and you can't see it. So there's something that's driving some of these things that are going ...


I mean, there's magnetic forces that help ... and gravitational forces that help the world spin. I think that people who are even either agnostic or atheist have a faith in certain things. I think that they have a faith when they go to sleep at night that they set their alarm because they have faith that they're going to wake up and they also have faith that the son is going to come up in the morning and certain things are going to happen.


(00:31:48): It doesn't have to be, have faith in God, but there's certain things that are happening and they have faith that their heart is going to beat and they have no power in saying, "Okay, beep, beep, beep." You know what I mean? So God is the source to me, and it's the source that's driving all of this in the universe.


To me, spirituality is the act of practice of aligning with that source, and I kind of believe that the source is moving us and moving the universe, moving our galaxy, moving our solar system in certain directions, in certain patterns. Sometimes, when we don't have faith, we try to fight against those patterns, and that is a lot of times, the source of our dismay.


Adam Williams (00:32:36): I think that's where we come back to the idea that we need things to be certain and we need to have certain lines and boundaries and things that our limited human brains can comprehend. I need certainty, even if I say I'm religious and I go to church in that way, my faith is lacking because I don't have the certain belief and understanding if we make it too mysterious.


Eric Lee (00:32:57): Right. Yeah. I think I've come to a place where I don't have to know, and again, I make a big point in my book, and one of the biggest breakthroughs for me was one, having faith that being in alignment with source or the divine or God or whatever you want to call it, gives me a faith that my higher good is what's at work here, that even if it's an obstacle or challenge that seems jacked up, there's something really good that's going on here.


And in retrospect, looking back 100% of the experience of my life, there was something good that happened, that I look back and says, "Wow, that was great that that happened then because it brought me here, or it brought me there and led me to this opportunity or that opportunity."


(00:33:44): Sometimes I'm able to close the gap in the experience that seems like it's a challenge or it seems like it's messed up and say, "This isn't messed up," and I can reframe it and see what the good is right then, or if I can, the biggest breakthrough was to say, I don't know what this is, but I believe at some point, I'm going to look back and say, this is the best thing that's happened to me, for some reason, and I can sit in that and have confidence and feel good about it.


Yeah, I'm human. Yeah, there's times where I get anxious or stressed out or stuff happens, but I can really, most of the time, self-correct to the place where I can be not knowing what a situation is, what it means, but have faith that is working for my higher good and the good of others and the planet.


Adam Williams (00:34:40): Those stories, those examples and that perspective in that book, really resonate for me because I would agree that what I've learned to do is look back at anything that I thought maybe was a bad job situation or maybe a job I didn't get or a house that we wanted to get or a move to make. Things that don't come together, ultimately, when we look back, we see where we got to and how things played out.


My wife and I, so many times over the 20 years we've been together, look at that and say, "Oh wow, what if that would've happened? I'm so glad this happened." So those examples in there I completely can connect with, and it comes down to that attitude. Again, maybe that is faith, you gave examples of faith that I haven't really thought about.


(00:35:27): It's really getting down to that micro level of saying, I set the alarm in the morning because I believe I'm going to wake up. Why should I do that? Well, I have faith in it. I don't control it, but there's this assumption that we make and I haven't really thought about that as faith in that way before. That's interesting.


Where did this come from you? Was there religion, was there going to church every Sunday? Was it your parents saying, Hey, get on your knees and pray before bed every night or was this kind of a discovery path of your own? As you mentioned earlier, you've been partying a lot and it's like, I can do better.


Eric Lee (00:36:05): It was 1988 and I was coming to the apex of my party life, doing all sorts of things that were completely self-destructive, and that year my mom came to my brother and I. She said, there's only one thing I want for my birthday. I want you to go to this Unity Church with me this Sunday. We went to that church that Sunday for her birthday, and I was high. Well, I wasn't high that day. I was kind of hungover from the night before.


Adam Williams (00:36:40): Okay.


Eric Lee (00:36:41): So I didn't wake up and start using, but the night before, so I was kind of exhausted and just beat up. The message in that church ... and it wasn't a traditional Christian Church. The message was everything basically that I've been talking about here that we are ...


Jack Boland was the guy's name, and he was a recovering alcoholic, and he gave this sermon and he basically was looking at us going, "God is on your side and you don't understand sometimes how you are aligned with that source and how powerful you are, and you can accomplish everything." So I really wasn't into traditional Christianity and paying praise to the Lord and Savior Jesus in Christ and all that kind of stuff. Not that that's wrong, but it's just not what spoke to me.


(00:37:46): What spoke to me was a power that was a part of all of us, that fueled us and inspired us and lifted us, higher when we thought we couldn't go higher. It was non-denominational and that's what it was. Then, I come to find out that church would have it's ... it would have a Sunday service and a Wednesday service, and the Wednesday service, it would be like Zig Ziglar, Deepak Chopra and just all these high level self-help, who's the Chicken for the Soup? I can't remember his-


Adam Williams (00:38:25): Yeah. Chicken Soup for the Soul.


Eric Lee (00:38:29): It'll come to me, but authors like that and inspiring leaders that were the voices that would come to this church and speak. I started going to those Wednesday services and getting these inspirational messages, and that is when ... I stopped drinking, smoking, doing drugs and everything the next week because of these message, and it just kept building from there.


So it was from that, and I just kind of immersed myself in that type of material. Shortly after I went to my first therapist and started really digging in to see what these messages were and why I was doing the actions I was taking and why I didn't believe in myself and all these things, and it really became the next 15 years of self-exploration, self-examination, self-discovery and self-improvement.


Adam Williams (00:39:26): You've been meditating since around that time too, I think, right?


Eric Lee (00:39:29): I started meditating about a year ... maybe two years after that.


Adam Williams (00:39:34): So we're talking ... I mean that's more than 30 years of ... I mean, what is that practice? Is it daily? How do you go about it?


Eric Lee (00:39:42): I wake up, make a cup of tea, go back, meditate for half an hour every day. If I can find time at lunchtime ... if I can find time, if I make time at lunchtime, I'll meditate at lunchtime or sometime in the afternoon as well for 15 minutes or so then.


Adam Williams (00:39:58): Is there a particular method of that that you have come to? There are so many ways of practicing meditation and I'm just curious how you go about it and then, also as an extension of that question, just the place of that in your life, what it means, what it's brought to you. You've been continuing it, this is a long time, it means something to you, clearly.


Eric Lee (00:40:19): At first it was just a way to kind of practice getting to the silence and practicing ... when I'm focusing on my breathing and I'm just focused on my breath, that's what I'm focused on, but any human thoughts just incessantly jump into my brain, and the practice was just basically learning to notice the thoughts, learning to recognize that those thoughts weren't me, so they weren't something that could drive me to anxiousness, like it does to so many people and like it had done to me in the past.


So, when I could recognize that I'm not necessarily the thoughts that are coming to my mind, but there's just almost like visitors coming to try to influence me or to try to get me anxious or to try to get me to remember something, but just to let them go, and this wasn't the time.


(00:41:17): And then, it was almost like a game where I was trying to see how long in silence I could go before the next thought comes. Sometimes it's half a second. Sometimes it's five or six seconds. And just learning to be in that silence was bringing me more and more peace as I went through my days and I approached my life, and I also recall that I became much more creative and messages would come to me.


I mean, that's how my first book came to me. Well, that was more like a dream, but it was like the inspiration and the discipline for my creative endeavors came because I created space for that silence. Recently, I've switched, within the last year I switched what I'm trying to do. I started listening to this gentleman named Joe Dispenza.



What he has me doing now is just kind of becoming aware of every part of my body first, and that's the first part of my meditation practice. Then, the second part of it, I just kind of go to each chakra, I sense the color, I sense the energy of this chakra and then, once I hit all seven chakras, I just kind of see how all that energy is blending to form my aura and just recognize that I am more than physical, that I'm probably ... I am more spiritual, more energy than physical and getting in touch with that.


And then, the last piece is just feeling the space of different parts of my body as it orients in space, feeling my head, how that is in space, my chest cavity, how it is in space, the space around it.


(00:43:14): Then, trying to melt the barrier between the space that I occupy and the space that's surrounding me so that it all becomes one. And just kind of when I'm going through that and I'm conscious of that, thoughts really come and go a lot more easily, and I'm in a space that is peaceful without thought a lot more naturally.


Adam Williams (00:43:45): A line that I've been encountering, I think kind of more frequently lately is we're not human beings having a spiritual experience. We're spiritual beings having a human experience, and that came to mind as you're describing all of this, the aura and the energy around being a spiritual, being embodied in a human body, a human experience.


I've been meditating for five or six years and I talked about meditation on a previous conversation on this podcast with Jenny Davis who was a practicing Buddhist, and I brought up the idea of how I think a lot of times people struggle with the idea of meditation. They might say, "Oh, I've tried it once or twice. I was really horrible at it."


(00:44:30): And she had a great take on this because the reason people say they're horrible at it is, well, my thoughts keep interfering. I can't get quiet. I can't just sit there. She said, but noticing those thoughts coming in is actually practice, that you're actually maybe really good at it, if you look at it in that way, and I thought that was kind of an amazing take on that as well.


Eric Lee (00:44:54): Yeah, and that's huge because then ... and this is where you start to move more into the spiritual realm and the higher power realm, it's like ... and the first person that asked me this question ... well, it wasn't talking to me specifically, but it was in a book, and he would say it again in a lot of talks is, "Okay, you're noticing ... you get to a point of you're noticing your thoughts."


So then you have to ask yourself the questions. Who's noticing? What is that? And I don't have a good answer for that, but I know just asking that question pulls me out of the limited view of who I am right here, that there's something more to me than just this blood flesh and bones.


(00:45:57): There's something spiritual that's higher than me, that's more connected with everything than just this individual, Eric.


Adam Williams (00:46:09): So a lot of what we're talking about here, and I said as what's described in your book is neutral judgment. It's neutrality. Things are not good or bad. We tend to look at things in this binary way. That's a word that's really common right now, especially as it relates to gender, but it's about how we look at either or throughout all of life, good, bad, Black, White, dark, light.


The way I look at it is we know darkness because we know light and vice versa. We know war because we know peace and so on. It's these opposite spectrum ends, these binaries that we actually need, I think to balance each other. And you were referring to that a little bit ago with the book, and just who ... and I was responding to that.


Well, if you don't get the job you think you want to have or whatever circumstance, well ultimately, maybe a better job is coming, a better opportunity for you in your life. This is going to seem like a random question, but I know that basketball was a sport for you, it was my favorite sport.


I loved it more than anything for many years when I was younger. As a sports enthusiast, someone who still is an athlete, someone who watches sports, I'm connecting this to the spirituality thing and this idea of good and bad in the way that our professional athletes we watch handle it, press conferences, news interviews, they hit the game winning shot, point to the sky, in an interview.


(00:47:35): Man, God bless me today or it's God's will that sort of thinking, but you don't ever hear the guy who missed the shot saying, "Hey, it was God's plan. I'm cool with this," because I don't think fans are cool with that. They want somebody who's aggressive and bloodthirsty. We don't look at the good things that happen in our life and the bad things that happen equally. We don't all say that's God's plan, that's that energy of the universe and source.


Eric Lee (00:48:04): Yeah.


Adam Williams (00:48:05): And I just wonder your take, have you ever noticed that in interviews, like why is everybody in sports always focused on, "It's only God if it's good?"


Eric Lee (00:48:14): I'm going to address that indirectly. So I was having a conversation with my daughter about spirituality because my daughter, she is a spiritual dynamo, she's an activist and she's like me. I mean, she's just this beautiful just angel, right? So she's deeply into spirituality. She's deeply into finding her higher ground.


As her dad, I'm a bit of a mentor to her, and she knows that I meditate and she is always inquiring about that. She always wants to know how I figure how I managed to stay calm through just about every circumstance and all that stuff. Even this conversation here, it's like, I'm like this spiritual guy who wrote this spiritual self-help book.


(00:49:08): I told her, I was like, "Yeah, I'm really calm until Michigan loses to Ohio State," then shit, it's going to hit. So unless it's my team losing, I'm okay, right? So I was just kind of kidding, but it's true that in sports it's different, and on my birthday a couple years ago, my oldest son who is in LA and he's doing acting and all this stuff, so he organizes this roast of dads, so they roast dad and he goes and talks about how I wrote this spiritual book and everybody thinks I'm this Buddha type character where they weren't him missing a layup in fifth grade while dad was coaching the team.



So yeah, the point of sports does things to us, that take us out of our spirituality, which I think over time, I have grown to get better at. I still get affected by sports events and stuff, like tonight I'll be at TV rooting for the Nuggets and against the Lakers.


Ultimately, it's the same thing and ultimately, a lot of times when you miss that shot or when you lose that game, or if you get an injury that sometimes it's because you were called to do something else that you got that injury, something more meaningful, maybe you lost that game because there was some part of yourself, your skillset or the team and the dynamic that needed to be looked at and increased and grown through, that's going to put you in a better place down the line.


(00:50:59): So with sports too, I'm able to eventually see too, I don't know why this is good, but I think that there's some growth opportunities here at least. There are some athletes that I've seen after a loss of a game or something that take that tact, but I think that that's applicable to sports as well, as much as anything else.


Adam Williams (00:51:27): There's something else in your book that I ... it's death, the topic is death. I'm glad that was there. It's something I've been thinking about wanting to be able to talk about with someone here on this podcast because I think it's something we don't pay enough attention to.


We're talking about a lot to do with spirituality and in my understanding and current connection and belief with this, it has a role in preparing us for these concepts of death detachment, depending on what your beliefs are, detaching from ego and the idea of this one life, this one incarnation as human beings, and just not fearing that there's so much fear around it. I'm curious your thoughts on death, where we stand with death individually, whether that's as a society and what the practice there might be and the lesson.


(00:52:24): If you go back into your book for us and say, this was what you were trying to get at with that. We maybe need to be thinking about death that we're too afraid to even look at in the face and acknowledge?


Eric Lee (00:52:36): So yeah, death was one where ... it was like I was writing a book and it was like always there going, "Okay, you're doing different aspects of life. You've got to do death, but you don't really want to because it's death." There is all this fear and unknown about it. I think going through that chapter, there was a couple of things that I wanted to accomplish or I wanted to get across.


One of them is that there's so much unknown about it and this view, this contradictory about death and why we're afraid of it, especially if you're engaged in any of the mainstream religions or most of them, there's this creation of an afterlife that is somewhat like paradise, in different variations, in different religions.


(00:53:50): I mean, there's heaven and there's paradise, and then there's all these great thing, I mean, you live forever in the land of milk and honey, angels flying around and all this wonderful experience that happens after you die, but people are begging for their ... I mean, if you watch movies and people are getting ready to die, they're begging for their lives and they don't want to go to death because they want to be here and they may be miserable here.


So why would you beg for this and you're anxious and you have panic attacks when you can just die and go to heaven or wherever it is that your religion dictates and be in paradise eternally? What's that fear all about? So one, I'm going to challenge you if you are of a religious persuasion to go deeply into your religion, whatever that says, and truly have faith in.


(00:54:48): That if death comes, you are about to go someplace that's better than Disneyland, and that's how we should approach it or not should, because I don't want to dictate to anybody what they should do, but consider it because that's what your faith says that you should do.


Then, the other thing that I wanted to get across was if you don't have that, if you're an atheist or agnostic or whatever and you believe that you just die and it's done, yeah, you may have a little bit more fear around that experience, but at the same time, that's giving you a lot more inspiration and fuel to live right now, to suck every bit of enjoyment out of this life that you can right now without reservation.


(00:55:44): Don't hold back anything and then, the overarching, I think, theme that I tried to get at with that, with everybody is just that. That yeah, we have this experience as we know it, for a finite amount of time in this physical body. Yeah, we can argue that our souls, our spirits live on and it's eternal or whatever, but I get to be Eric, you get to be Adam this time just like this only one time.


So those people that we love, the experiences that we have, the friendships we share, all of those things are just gold. We should treat them like that until the time that we can't treat them like that anymore. In that way, I think if there is a fear around death or that anything that death gives us fear around, we can overcome it with the vibrance and spirit with which we live our lives today.


Adam Williams (00:56:53): I think a willingness to accept death as part of life does give more of that energy to how we live this life.


Eric Lee (00:56:59): Yeah.


Adam Williams (00:56:59): And I think for myself that the fear aspect maybe is not specific to me and losing my life as much as it is my attachments to my wife and sons, for example.


Eric Lee (00:57:13): Yes.


Adam Williams (00:57:15): So that's something that I work with and it goes so against our conventional thinking to say as if death doesn't matter, well, what if one of my kids were to die and young and before me and all? Of course, that feels like such ... I don't even know how to survive that, I couldn't imagine.


I hope I never have to, and in that more spiritual place, if that's where we place the idea of truth and reality of experience, in those brief moments, I can think, but we all have that journey ahead of us and it's not this egoic human based sort of thing that we've placed so much fear into. That would mean even for my kids, theoretically. That's a big challenge when it comes to being this limited human who's thinking about these things that are so beyond really almost the comprehension of our brains.


(00:58:18): It's so challenging, and that's why I say it's practice, right? Because we can't flip a switch and have sudden understanding or certainty. It's a constant struggle to work with these ideas.


Eric Lee (00:58:28): And I haven't had the experience of losing a child, and I brought this up in the book, and it's like I don't want to pretend to try to tell a person who has lost a child or lost anyone really, that they shouldn't grieve how to grieve or any of that because that is also personal and I can't imagine the grief that's around some of the circumstances like that.


At the same time, I would like to ask the question and also affirm something that you brought up earlier, and that is one, we are creatures who like to have some certainty around things and we want understanding and sometimes we don't understand. It's just like, you may be headed west up the road towards a fire.


(00:59:28): And I'll be going, what the heck is that dude doing headed towards the fire? I'm asking the question that way because I don't understand what your path is. I don't know that you have people that you're going to save or try to find or whatever into that fire. So it's really hard for any of us to make a judgment about what an individual's path is.


This is the spiritual side of me, that there's something ... there's a purpose coded in us. There's a contribution that we were meant to make in our unique way that only we were to make. In some cases, we can't understand what that path is, especially if it involves someone dying and we don't know what the meaning of that dying person's life was, what the message in their death was, what the message that they were sent to us to deliver about what their life was before they died.


(01:00:36): And if we look at their life that way, instead of the seeming finality of them no longer being in this incarnation, then maybe we understand a little bit more about them and draw a little bit more appreciation about their incarnation and how they've impacted us.


Adam Williams (01:01:00): You also asked the question, at least in the book, you brought it up, and I think maybe you have done it with clients that you have coached, and that is, if you had only six months to live, what would you do? I am going to make a leap here and assume that you have given some thought to that yourself. Do you have a sense of what that might be now, what your answer now might be if you only had six months, what gets the importance in your focus?


Eric Lee (01:01:30): I am extremely blessed, and that I would one, continue doing the work that I'm doing. I may turn up the heat a little bit to try to get some things done faster and also, create a strong succession plan for leadership in our organization so the work can continue on, but I would make sure that a lot of the time would be spent just with the people that I love, the family and friends that I cherish. I would spend as much time with them as possible doing all kind of things that we want to do together, whatever that is.


Adam Williams (01:02:13): You mentioned organization, that's where we're going to go here to wrap up is having to do with your work as executive director of Full Circle Restorative Justice. Let's start with what is restorative justice as a concept and then, as a practice and function and how you use that?


Eric Lee (01:02:35): So Full Circle Restorative Justice is ... well first of all, restorative justice is an alternative to the traditional justice system. The traditional justice system is punitive, restorative justice is restorative or relational, where we try to give offenders, we call them responsible parties, the opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and then repair any harms done either to a victim, if there's a victim involved.


A lot of times that harm is done to themselves. So, it kind of fits with me in my coaching practice and my realizations about things and that what we've realized is a lot of the participants are coming from places of trauma or dysfunction or some toxicity.


(01:03:27): We try to get them to one, recognize their part and why they're here, and then, get them the help that they need to heal from those harms that have been placed upon them, that put them in the position to make the decision they made to do something outside the law in the first place.


So, it's a way to impact people who are responsible for harmful or criminal activity and gives them a path to self-development and growth and healing, instead of a punitive system that basically sends them on a corner with other people who have committed crimes or criminals that end up teaching them how to be better criminals. So we find that it is the most impactful way to administer justice and our focus is on youth right now, although we do take adult cases.


(01:04:26): We really want to both impact the youth that come through our program, giving them another option and another path for the rest of their lives, being one of purpose and meaning, and also making sure the community stays safer overall so that we can grow as a society and a community to a more purpose-driven, community-driven in support of one in the future.


Adam Williams (01:04:53): The word that comes to mind most strongly with hearing how you're describing that is compassion. It's an approach of compassion and treating these people, whether they're kids or whoever, who are the responsible parties as humans and teaching and coaching and bringing them along, mentoring, helping them repair connections, create connections, and that that's not society-wide.


What we're used to when we think of the word justice, justice often I think evokes this idea of ... well, you said punitive of punishment, of an authoritarian figure coming down on you. I don't know why we have such a disconnect collectively and don't see maybe that compassion and true rehabilitation, that word gets used with our justice system.


(01:05:47): I'm not an expert there, but I'm not sure how often it's actually got a role, like you said, you get these people together and you treat them the way you treat them. They actually ... many of them come out only having solidified in their current skillset that evades the law in whatever ways that they find as means in their lives.


Eric Lee (01:06:09): There's data that backs that up, that if you take a particularly youth and you arrest him and you label him a criminal and you send him through the traditional criminal system, what you've done is you've created another criminal, which you've then just made the community more unsafe than safer.


Not that you've lost a person, but you've lost an opportunity to direct that person towards being a contributing member of society. You used the word compassion, and I think that's a great word, and another word is that it's practical and it's frugal. I mean, because it's like, "Okay, first of all, it's more impactful because you're encouraging somebody to take responsibility for what they've done."


(01:06:57): Where the other system, people are getting a lawyer and saying, "I didn't do it, get me out of here." So which one is more likely to turn an internal corner and really transform themselves into the best version of themselves, not somebody who's trying to get out of trouble just for the sake of getting out of trouble.


Then, the other thing is, if you take all of that stuff and then, you take data that backs it up, that you create less criminals with restorative justice than the traditional system, so it's a more practical solution if you look at it in the long term.


Adam Williams (01:07:36): I'm thinking about the stories we tell. When you describe for that example, we take this kid, we label him a criminal. Now, that's the story that that person is going to tell him or herself, "Well, I'm a criminal." They decided, I'm a bad seed, bad guy. I do bad things. That starts writing the story going forward.


That phrase, the stories we tell is something that I'm familiar with in spiritual practices and learning, because what we are all needing to do is unlearn the stories we have spent a lifetime up to this point telling ourselves, "This is what my parents said I was when I was 10, when I was 15, when I was 20, I was a loser. I was this, I was that. I was a quitter," whatever.


(01:08:20): How do you break out of that? And the first thing is that I think we have to be able to acknowledge those were stories I told, but that does not mean that's who I am. It is not necessarily the story going forward.


Eric Lee (01:08:30): Right, and what we're trying to do at Full Circle is create a comprehensive system that the restorative justice piece is just a part of it. It's that inflection point with the person. Again, as effective as restorative justice has shown itself to be, it is still just a snapshot in time. So that person coming out of that still has that message running through their brain.


So a lot of our narrative to funders and people who want to donate is that we're trying to make sure we have the resources for people to overcome all of those messages through therapy, through coaching, through whatever. Sometimes it's drug rehab. It's all type of ongoing support, mental health services and human growth services that will help the person.


(01:09:30): It could be meditation. Some of it is like we have agreement items in our budget where some of the youth come through and they couldn't afford Jiu-jitsu lessons or they couldn't afford to go to trade school. So they're in a hopeless situation and they don't see a way out of it. We want to bridge that gap with the resources so that not only do they get the mental health services that they need, but they also just get the self-development pieces and the pieces of life that just make them human so that they can pursue a path that helps them feel more human and go after a path and purpose.


Adam Williams (01:10:19): Eric, I want to thank you for everything that you've shared here. I know we could have taken this conversation in so many directions. There's a lot more about your story that I know hints of, and I would've loved to have gone there and maybe we can do that over coffee another day.


Eric Lee (01:10:32): Yeah, I'd love to.


Adam Williams (01:10:34): I appreciate everything you've shared here and introducing yourself to this area, to Chaffee County with the work you're doing with restorative justice.


Eric Lee (01:10:42): Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, and I love Chaffee County, I love being here. It's just a blessing and a dream come true.


Adam Williams (01:10:49): Absolutely. I agree. Thank you.


Eric Lee (01:10:49): Thank you.


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Adam Williams (01:10:57): Okay, that was Eric S. Lee, executive director of Full Circle Restorative Justice in Salida, Colorado. If our conversation here today sparked a curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode. Show notes at If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at


We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify or whatever platform you've used with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about The Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversations like these.


(01:11:34): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer and photographer. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. And thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM Community Radio, where we recorded today's conversation in Salida, Colorado. To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.


Again, the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.


(01:12:07): You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee. Lastly, thank you for listening, and remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, be human, share stories. Share stories, make change.


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