Mathew was introduced to the practice of Council through Center for Council’s Inmate Council Program at Correctional Training Facility, in Soledad, California. Through the program he found a practice that enabled him to internalize and reflect on what had been brewing inside him before imprisonment. It also helped him consciously create a new way to move through the world so that he can connect with and relate to those around him, regardless of their difference in backgrounds or ideology. The Inmate Council Program helped him articulate his thoughts and feelings about how he had previously existed in his community.
Randy has been the warden at both Correctional Training Facility and Salinas Valley State Prison, in Soledad, California; he is currently a Commissioner on the Board of Parole Hearings. After learning about the practice of Council and witnessing the transformation and shift in attitudes of the prisoners who participated in the Inmate Council Program, Randy facilitated a circle with his correctional facility staff. It was an informal circle, around a small conference table in his office, but the effect of that single practice was no less profound. In a working environment where being vulnerable is discouraged, where the traumas and stresses that one is exposed to while on the job can be overwhelming, Randy knew how important it was to create a space for his employees to be able to be open and honest.
Jolene’s husband, Sam, had been in prison for over a decade when he began participating in Center for Council’s Inmate Council Program. It was through him that she discovered the practice of Council, a space where she could talk about what was really going on in her life. For Jolene, Council filled a much-needed void and reconciled the inability to share her story and connect with people around her. Center for Council has impacted Jolene’s entire family in profound ways.
Center for Council sat down with Jolene to learn more about her story. Jolene explained that she and Sam were married and then divorced while he was in jail. Their son and daughter rarely talked to their father and Jolene wasn’t able to speak with her family about what was happening with Sam. After they had separated, Jolene began to notice a change within Sam; he was kinder, more empathetic with her when they spoke and during visiting hours. Jolene was hesitant at first, wondering if the change she was witnessing would last. After a while she asked Sam what had caused this shift within him. It was through him that she learned about Center for Council.
Edward encountered Council for the first time at Ironwood State Prison. He was one of the first participants to sign up for the Inmate Council Program there and became a leader within the group after completing both the Council 1 and Council 2 training workshops offered by Center for Council trainers.
Edward was incarcerated for 27 years before being called for an interview this summer before the Board of Parole Hearings. That interview led to the granting of parole and Edward is now in the process of reintegrating himself into the San Diego community. Edward credits the success of his rehabilitation efforts, and the granting of parole, to skills and perspectives he learned in the workshops and practice groups offered by the Inmate Council Program.
When CDCR’s Office of Public Communications arranged for Center for Council to videotape inmate testimonials about the impact of the program, we were struck by Edward’s extraordinarily clear and insightful perspective. His articulation of the power of the work of Council remains a highlight of the short film on the Inmate Council Program (find the link below). Center for Council caught up again with Edward recently and asked him to share his thoughts on the reentry process and how the practice of Council has helped him transition back into the world outside the prison gates. Edward’s passion and positivity is contagious; it is apparent that he doesn’t take a thing for granted.
Center for Council: Edward, could you tell us about your experience in general with Council and what it has meant to you?
Loren is the Senior Program Director of Leadership & Summer Programs at Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), an organization that provides free programs in academics, arts and athletics for underserved youth in LA. As part of Center for Council’s Social Justice Council Project, Loren helped to organize a Council training program for 30 staff members, in January of 2016. He recalls it being a wonderful experience that gave him a depth of understanding about the practice of Council and offered his staff the experience of listening deeply to one another and sharing personal experiences in a new way. Developing a regular practice of Council has given staff members a new sense of the possibility of sharing that can happen at HOLA, both amongst staff and with the youth that they serve.
Loren: I work at a non-profit youth center called Heart of Los Angeles, or HOLA. I’m Senior Program Director, head of the Leadership Department, and I help to coordinate summer programs here. I’ve been with HOLA for 16 years, and I came to this work with a background in theatre, so I started off incorporating a lot of theatre games that I’ve noticed, in the world of Council, are also commonplace: ice breaker games, team-building activities, etc. I used those activities to build communication skills, connection between the kids, and jumpstart some self-reflection.
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