One of the exercises we do in a Basic AVP workshop is a brainstorm on the topic, “What is Violence?” Participants say whatever word or short phrase comes to mind when they think of violence and it is transcribed onto a sheet of poster paper. It is a word storm of ideas. No one’s idea is censored. When the storm passes and the ideas cease, we look at what we have written, noting the things that surprise us and the things that confuse us. Usually a good discussion follows on violence and how the group has experienced it in their lives.
Sometimes a word like “babies” ends up on the page. When that word was challenged once, I defended it, even though I had not been the one to add it. From personal experience, I came to realize after the birth of my first child, that there is a very fine line between self-control and child abuse. Working full-time in a demanding, stressful job, breast feeding at night, being constantly sleep deprived, I remember the moment I realized I could see that line clearly. The scary part was recognizing how easy it would be and how perfectly capable I was of crossing that line.
Occasionally, a participant is surprised to realize that something besides physical aggression could be considered violence. I have been fortunate never to have personally experienced physical violence. However on numerous occasions over the years, I have been the giver and receiver of verbal violence. Words carelessly or intentionally spoken can do tremendous violence to a person, creating wounds that fester for years, causing harm over and over again whenever they are remembered. I have carried such wounds with me for most of my life. Through AVP, I discovered their origin and was finally able to heal. What is violence in your life?
In April, AVP Indiana was invited to Berea, Kentucky to facilitate a Basic (1st level) AVP workshop. One of our original group of apprentice facilitators is a Kentucky native and has been working for the last several years to regenerate interest in AVP. This spring, Steve was successful in organizing a group of local Quakers from Berea Friends Meeting to attend a workshop held on the campus of Berea College. It was a beautiful spring weekend, with the trees beginning to leaf and the mountains beckoning in the distance.
Our facilitation team consisted of me, Steve, and Arnold, who was a new apprentice from South Carolina, looking for an opportunity to gain experience. I had never met Arnold before the Friday evening of the workshop, so team building that first evening was crucial. Also, I had not facilitated a community workshop since the fall of 2012 and I knew it would be a different experience than my prison workshops.
Fortunately, the weekend proved to be a great learning experience for all of us. As a facilitation team, we learned how to smooth out some or our own rough spots and became aware of issues that we, ourselves, needed to work on. Personally, I learned to be more sensitive to the needs of the participants. We tried an exercise I had never done, or seen done before, and it generated some strong emotions among the participants. In the evaluation process, I received really good, critical feedback that will help me facilitate the exercise better in the future.
I also discovered that I have come a long way from my former, introverted, conflict-avoiding self. When conflict arose in several instances, I was able to handle them with a great sense of calm. Transforming Power was truly present, because I knew exactly what to do without thinking. It reminded me that the AVP process works and that we can trust it. It was a superb beginning to a new AVP presence in Kentucky!
In October, we held our second 3rd level AVP workshop at the Indianapolis Re-entry Educational Facility (IREF). The significance of the third level is that it trains participants to become facilitators of the workshop themselves. One of the beauties of the AVP model is that it grows its leaders from the ground up, empowering participants to transform themselves as they seek collectively to transform the violence they encounter and learn to channel their power into solving conflicts in creative and constructive ways. They learn by practicing and doing actual facilitation.
In this particular workshop, we trained eight new facilitators who will now begin their apprenticing. Two of the facilitators are from outside prison and six of the new facilitators are residents of IREF. At the end of the workshop, after each participant had concluded approximately 55 hours of workshop experience, I asked them to write a few words about their experience with AVP and what it has meant to them or how it has changed them.
I will share these responses one by one in separate posts and at the end, I will put all of the responses together on a page of Testimonials. As we continue to conduct these workshops and grow new facilitators, I will continue to ask the questions of participants and facilitators alike, “What have you learned? How have you changed? What does AVP mean to you?”
Below are the words of Dependable Dale. Dale did not attend this particular workshop because he was moved to a different facility, but without his help, this second Training for Facilitators workshop and all of the other workshops before it most likely would not have happened. He attended the first workshop we conducted at IREF in November 2013 and was one of the first group of inside facilitators in the state of Indiana. The program at IREF owes him a great debt of gratitude for his tireless organization, incessant recruiting, attention to detail, communication, and his inability to stop talking about and advocating for AVP once he saw how much it really worked. What I quote here are words I heard him say on multiple occasions.
“AVP has opened up a whole new world for me that I never knew existed. I used to think, where there is a will, there is a way, and I usually meant a violent way. Now I think that where there is a will, there is a non-violent way. I want to see AVP conducted in every prison in the state of Indiana. I want to see it in every half-way house, recovery center, community and school system in the state as well. And I will pursue my goals as long as I can take a breath.” –Dependable Dale
The documentary film, In An Ideal World, follows “three men who live and work in Soledad prison. Their stories center around the possibility of change, particularly the transformative change made possible by the Alternatives to Violence Project. The purpose of this film is to help move the conversation about criminal justice in America away from crime and towards justice. The film is Sundance, MacArthur Foundation and California for the Humanities funded and is in its FINAL stage before release. Please join us in nudging the project past this final release-prep phase so it can move on to the more important work of outreach, community engagement and impact.” (Noel, film maker, editor, and AVP facilitator)
I have been struggling to figure out ways to shed light on the brokenness of prisons in the U.S. in order to bring about real change. I think this project will help greatly if it can get completed. AVP Indiana has already contributed to this effort. To learn more about the project and what they hope to accomplish, as well as contribute to the cause, please visit these links: