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Houses of Healing at San Quentin

14/12/15 COMMENTS 0


HOUSES OF HEALING AT SAN QUENTIN

Several years ago Father George Williams, the Catholic Chaplain at San Quentin, brought to San Quentin a program called Houses of Healing, written by Robin Casarjian and published by Lionheart Foundation. Father Williams was friends with Robin and originally taught the course in the Boston area. A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom, the Houses of Healing book and curriculum are based on Emotional Literacy and Restorative Justice. In 2011, Father Williams gave Susan Shannon, one of his ministry students at the time, the opportunity to begin a Houses of Healing group at San Quentin. Currently over 100 men have taken the course, with more on the waiting list. Two years ago Kathleen Jackson joined Susan as a facilitator, and has helped expand the course by offering another time slot. Soon, Hassaun Jones Bey, who interned for two years with Susan, will start his own group, bringing the total Houses of Healing groups to three.

Facilitator Susan Shannon says, “The Houses of Healing book and course written by Robin Casarjian over 20 years ago are currently implemented in over 200 men and women’s prisons across the country. This course is a great class to take for seasoned programmers who would like to go deeper into some of the core teachings of other foremost San Quentin self-help groups, as well as for men new to any program at all. Some of the men who were new to programming from Susan’s first course have gone on to become master facilitators of other programs. The Houses of Healing groups are limited to 15 or less, and run approximately 7-9 months.

Chris Gallo, a recent graduate, describes it this way:

“In the scope of what is important to the rehabilitative process, Houses of Healing is a comprehensive look into the self. With discussions on self-understanding, healing relationships, and stress management, this thirty-session class instructs on being true to one’s core self. Participants learn to identify and deal with their sub-personalities, such as anger, selfishness, control, and insecurity, and low self-esteem.

When I entered into this small group I originally found more questions than answers, but it was not long into the sessions that the intimacy of the group caused it to become a safe place to open up. While being asked to represent our class with a few words is a great honor, I feel it is more powerful to share everyone’s voice:

Houses of Healing is a must for any lifer who wishes to be able to express himself better on the impact of his crime, anger, abuse and self worth. Allen

The Houses of Healing program…took me by the hand and led me to my past, which helped me understand the grief, pain, and suffering I created. Flavio

Houses of Healing has helped me to maintain an attitude of introspection. It has reinforced my emotional awareness and allowed me to develop relationships I might not have had otherwise. Ray

In Houses of Healing I learned how to forgive myself. Before I learned that knowledge I walked the Earth feeling shame, guilt, and a lot of fear. Once I learned the value of self-forgiveness and how to forgive, the sun got brighter, and the air cleared. I became whole again. Glenn

It helped me have further understanding in accepting responsibility for my actions and holding myself completely accountable for all of the choices I made that affect not only my life but so many other lives as well. Richard

Houses of Healing is really life-changing. I know it was for me. Harry

I once thought that my childhood had nothing to do with the man I became. Thanks to House of Healing I have been able to connect my childhood trauma to my criminal behavior. I’m filled with joy from what I’ve learned in this class, and now my life feels very complete. Darnell (Mo)

I know the pains that I have caused will never go away; but now I have a better understanding of where it started from as a child, and I can heal that inner child. Lee

I’ve learned forgiveness plus how to breathe, to watch the sky, and to meditate. I now think cool thoughts, not just hot ones. I’ve learned that Houses of Healing isn’t just about short time or short term fixes but a life change that I must use each day. I thank Houses of Healing for giving me more tools for my tool box of life. John

The biggest impact for me has been the acknowledgement of those sub-personalities and the realization that they are not a part of my core self. I am not broken or distorted, but pained by the echo of my past; and by following the guided steps I have been able to resist and re-write my story. Chris

These are the gentlemen I have had the privilege to share my truths with. We were blessed with a kind and dedicated facilitator, Kathleen Jackson. The graduating class of 2015 would like the population to know that this could be one of your successes as well. We bonded in circle, honesty, and respect. Now we are family.

Guest Blog: Re-Entry Programs & Recidivism: The Connection

11/02/14 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: From time to time, Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org

Many thanks to Bradley Schwartz and Prison Path (www.prisonpath.com) for contributing the following article.

Re-Entry Programs & Recidivism: The Connection
Nonviolent Prisoners

Every year, the pundits have complained about the high recidivism rates in the United States. A Approximately 725,000 inmates are released annually from prisons throughout the United States. A 2011 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States indicated that more than 4 in 10 will return to prison within three years. Recidivism rates vary from state to state. California is at the high end with 60 percent and South Carolina is at the low end with 32 percent. Between 2004-2007, 30 percent of individuals released from federal prisons under supervision were returned to prison. Almost half of the individuals returning to prison were re-incarcerated for technical violations and not for new crimes.

Without effective re-entry programs, recidivism will remain high. The returning citizens may have drug and alcohol addictions, 25% have mental health issues, significant numbers are not educated, and a criminal record will exponentially reduce their chances for employment. In some states, the unemployment rate for released inmates is 50 percent. Most importantly, many returning citizens need a stable–safe place to stay upon their release. If these issues are addressed appropriately, recidivism will be reduced.

For example, Michigan spends $35,000 a year to incarcerate an individual. It costs more than $35,000 a year to educate a University of Michigan student. Six years ago, the state decided to focus on the problems of reentry. Michigan now has saved more than $200 million annually by implementing aggressive job placement programs. Robert Satterfield, a 46 year old Michigan resident was imprisoned for almost six years for embezzlement. For months, he was unable to find employment. A successful reentry program, 70Times 7, gave him guidance and training. The program found a job for him with a local metalworking company. During a 16 month period, he received several raises, and was earning $13.00 an hour. The company owner stated that he has six former inmates employed and they were among his best employees.

For our fellow Americans who agonize over alleged coddling of former inmates—effective re-entry programs actually benefits society in the end. Lower recidivism rates translates into lower crime rates, less prisons, more taxpayer’s monies available for education, etc., and a more productive society.

Submitted by: Bradley Schwartz (Prison Path)

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RESEARCH RESULTS ON POWER SOURCE AT RIKERS, NY: Frontiers in Psychology Article

08/11/13 COMMENTS 0

Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial

Cover picture for the book Power Source Taking Charge of Your Life

  • 1College of Nursing, New York University, New York, NY, USA
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
  • 3Lionheart Foundation, Boston, MA, USA

We investigated the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training (CBT/MT) on attentional task performance in incarcerated adolescents. Attention is a cognitive system necessary for managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals like incarceration and the events leading to incarceration, may deplete attention resulting in cognitive failures, emotional disturbances, and impulsive behavior. We hypothesized that CBT/MT may mitigate these deleterious effects of high stress and protect against degradation in attention over the high-stress interval of incarceration. Using a quasi-experimental, group randomized controlled trial design, we randomly assigned dormitories of incarcerated youth, ages 16–18, to a CBT/MT intervention (youth n = 147) or an active control intervention (youth n = 117). Both arms received approximately 750 min of intervention in a small-group setting over a 3–5 week period. Youth in the CBT/MT arm also logged the amount of out-of-session time spent practicing MT exercises. The Attention Network Test was used to index attentional task performance at baseline and 4 months post-baseline. Overall, task performance degraded over time in all participants. The magnitude of performance degradation was significantly less in the CBT/MT vs. control arm. Further, within the CBT/MT arm, performance degraded over time in those with no outside-of-class practice time, but remained stable over time in those who practiced mindfulness exercises outside of the session meetings. Thus, these findings suggest that sufficient CBT/MT practice may protect against functional attentional impairments associated with high-stress intervals.

Keywords: adolescent development, incarcerated adolescents, detained adolescents, stress, attention, mindfulness meditation

Citation: Leonard NR, Jha AP, Casarjian B, Goolsarran M, Garcia C, Cleland CM, Gwadz MV and Massey Z (2013) Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial. Front. Psychol. 4:792. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00792

Received: 18 June 2013; Paper pending published: 10 August 2013;
Accepted: 08 October 2013; Published online: 08 November 2013.

Edited by:

Zoran Josipovic, New York University, USA

Reviewed by:

Patricia A. Jennings, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Robert W. Roeser, Portland State University, USA

Copyright © 2013 Leonard, Jha, Casarjian, Goolsarran, Garcia, Cleland, Gwadz and Massey. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Noelle R. Leonard, New York University College of Nursing, 726 Broadway, 10th floor, New York, NY 10003, USA e-mail: nrl4@nyu.edu

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Research Study on Power Source Curriculum

04/11/13 COMMENTS 0

Science News

… from universities, journals, and other research organizations  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Study On Incarcerated Youth Shows Potential to Lower Anti-Social Behavior

Oct. 31, 2013 — Researchers at the New York University College of Nursing (NYUCN), the University of Miami, and the Lionheart Foundation in Boston, found that mindfulness training, a meditation-based therapy, can improve attention skills in incarcerated youth, paving the way to greater self-control over emotions and actions. It is the first study to show that mindfulness training can be used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy to protect attentional functioning in high-risk incarcerated youth.


Cover picture for the book Power Source Taking Charge of Your LifeTheir study, “Mindfulness Training Improves Attentional Task Performance in Incarcerated Youth: A Group Randomized Controlled Intervention Trial,” published in the on-line journal, Frontiers in Psychology, holds promise for new strategies in reducing anti-social behavior among at-risk youth.

The researchers followed 267 incarcerated males, ages 16 to 18, over a 4-month period. The researchers found that participation in an intervention that combined cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness training (or “CBT/MT”), called Power Source, had a protective effect on youths’ attentional capacity. This research is the largest controlled study of mindfulness training for youth to date.

“The CBT/MT approach responds to the significant childhood psychosocial hardships that most incarcerated youths have experienced, including exposure to violence, poverty, and physical and emotional abuse by caregivers,” explained principal investigator Noelle R. Leonard, PhD, a Senior Research Scientist at NYUCN. “These experiences impair cognitive control processes, such as attention regulation, which is vital for the self-regulation of feelings and actions. The antisocial behavior prevalent among youthful offenders is the result of an ongoing interplay between this psychosocial adversity and deficits in cognitive control processes, particularly attention.”

Improving attention can lead to better self-control. Reflecting on the impact of the intervention, one study participant stated, “Just yesterday. Got into an altercation with a guy in the kitchen. Guy said, ‘We’re gonna fight.’ At first thought, my initial response was to fight. Then I thought about the consequences — I’d lose my job [in the prison kitchen], don’t want to go to court and don’t want to hear the judge mouth about my fights.” Attention to the goal of staying out of trouble allowed this participant to consider an alternative to fighting.

Why it works:

“Mindfulness meditation can be seen as involving two components: self-regulation of attention and non-judgmental awareness,” said Dr. Leonard. “The practice involves training youth to attend to something as simple as the sensations associated with breathing. While our minds will invariably wander to other thoughts or get distracted by things in the environment, by repeatedly returning attention back to the breath in a non-judgmental way, we are building attentional capacity to interrupt the cycle of automatic and reactive thoughts.”

The mindfulness training is complemented by exercises that focus on taking responsibility for offending behavior and increasing motivation for engaging in non-violent, pro-social behaviors. “Although we don’t have direct evidence for this yet, we hypothesize that this repeated practice can translate into maintaining a focus on pro-social or non-violent goals in the course of youths’ daily lives, amidst the harsh conditions of incarceration or in the context of anti-social peers” added Dr. Leonard.

“Mindfulness training helps youth consider more adaptive alternatives,” added Dr. Bethany Casarjian of the Lionheart Foundation, who developed the Power Source intervention and co-authored the study. “It creates a gap between triggers for offending behavior and their responses. They learn to not immediately act out on impulse, but to pause and consider the consequences of a potential offending and high risk behavior.”

Study design and results:

Study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups based upon the prison dormitory where they resided: the intervention group received cognitive-behavioral/mindfulness training and the control group received an evidence-based cognitive-perception intervention focusing on attitudes and beliefs about substance use and violence. Participants completed a computerized Attention Network Test (ANT) prior to the intervention and four months later.

The researchers found that this high-stress period of incarceration led to declines in attentional task performance for all subjects. This poorer performance over time might be accounted for by the unrelenting stress on cognitive control which is necessary for complex problem solving, emotion regulation, and behavioral inhibition. However, the CBT/MT intervention group showed significantly less of a decline in attentional task performance as compared to the control group. Moreover, within the CBT/MT group, the attentional task performance among those who practiced outside of intervention sessions remained stable compared to those who did not practice outside of the intervention sessions. These findings indicate that a multi-session CBT/MT intervention can be effective in limiting degradation in attentional performance in incarcerated youth, thus providing a protective effect on offending youths’ functional attentional impairments during incarceration in a high-security urban jail.

In line with the current findings, co-author Amishi P. Jha, PhD of the University of Miami, has reported that protracted periods of high stress, such as preparing for military deployment, degrades cognitive control functions such as attention and working memory.

“Cognitive control processes like attention are involved in decision making and emotion regulation,” said Dr. Jha. “With degraded attention, the chances of impulsive and risky decision making, as well as emotional reactivity are greater.”

The current results suggest that strengthening attention through mindfulness training may be a key route for reducing recidivism among young offenders, and highlight the need to teach detained youth strategies to improve cognitive and emotional control in the stressful detainment environment. In particular, training methods that allow youth to actively engage in exercises on their own to improve cognitive control may be ideal in conjunction with structured intervention activities or psychotherapy to help youth cultivate resilience by building their capacity for cognitive control while detained and after release.

“Finally,” Dr. Leonard added, “We know that incarceration is not good for youth, and with this study, we have direct evidence that incarceration depletes the very processes youth need to strengthen in order to steer their developmental trajectory in a more pro-social, law-abiding direction.”

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NYU News and Power Source Research Study

28/10/13 COMMENTS 0

NYU Study on Incarcerated Youth Shows Potential for Improving Cognitive Functioning Using Mindfulness Training, Which May Lower Anti-Social Behavior and Recidivism           

Contact: Christopher James – 212-998-6876 – christopher.james@nyu.edu

Cover picture for the book Power Source Taking Charge of Your LifeThe researchers investigated the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training (CBT/MT) on attentional task performance in incarcerated adolescents.  Researchers at the New York University College of Nursing (NYUCN), the University of Miami, and the Lionheart Foundation in Boston, found that mindfulness training, a meditation-based therapy, can improve attention skills in incarcerated youth, paving the way to greater self-control over emotions and actions. It is the first study to show that mindfulness training can be used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy to protect attentional functioning in high-risk incarcerated youth.

Their study, “Mindfulness Training Improves Attentional Task Performance in Incarcerated Youth: A Group Randomized Controlled Intervention Trial,” published in the on-line journal, Frontiers in Psychology, holds promise for new strategies in reducing anti-social behavior among at-risk youth.

The researchers followed 267 incarcerated males, ages 16 to 18, over a 4-month period. The researchers found that participation in an intervention that combined cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness training (or “CBT/MT”), called Power Source, had a protective effect on youths’ attentional capacity. This research is the largest controlled study of mindfulness training for youth to date.

“The CBT/MT approach responds to the significant childhood psychosocial hardships that most incarcerated youths have experienced, including exposure to violence, poverty, and physical and emotional abuse by caregivers,” explained principal investigator Noelle R. Leonard, PhD, a Senior Research Scientist at NYUCN. “These experiences impair cognitive control processes, such as attention regulation, which is vital for the self-regulation of feelings and actions. The antisocial behavior prevalent among youthful offenders is the result of an ongoing interplay between this psychosocial adversity and deficits in cognitive control processes, particularly attention.”

Improving attention can lead to better self-control. Reflecting on the impact of the intervention, one study participant stated, “Just yesterday. Got into an altercation with a guy in the kitchen. Guy said, ‘We’re gonna fight.’ At first thought, my initial response was to fight. Then I thought about the consequences – I’d lose my job [in the prison kitchen], don’t want to go to court and don’t want to hear the judge mouth about my fights.” Attention to the goal of staying out of trouble allowed this participant to consider an alternative to fighting.

Why it works:
“Mindfulness meditation can be seen as involving two components: self-regulation of attention and non-judgmental awareness,” said Dr. Leonard. “The practice involves training youth to attend to something as simple as the sensations associated with breathing. While our minds will invariably wander to other thoughts or get distracted by things in the environment, by repeatedly returning attention back to the breath in a non-judgmental way, we are building attentional capacity to interrupt the cycle of automatic and reactive thoughts.”

The mindfulness training is complemented by exercises that focus on taking responsibility for offending behavior and increasing motivation for engaging in non-violent, pro-social behaviors. “Although we don’t have direct evidence for this yet, we hypothesize that this repeated practice can translate into maintaining a focus on pro-social or non-violent goals in the course of youths’ daily lives, amidst the harsh conditions of incarceration or in the context of anti-social peers” added Dr. Leonard.

“Mindfulness training helps youth consider more adaptive alternatives,” added Dr. Bethany Casarjian of the Lionheart Foundation, who developed the Power Source intervention and co-authored the study. “It creates a gap between triggers for offending behavior and their responses. They learn to not immediately act out on impulse, but to pause and consider the consequences of a potential offending and high risk behavior.”

Study design and results:
Study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups based upon the prison dormitory where they resided: the intervention group received cognitive-behavioral/mindfulness training and the control group received an evidence-based cognitive-perception intervention focusing on attitudes and beliefs about substance use and violence. Participants completed a computerized Attention Network Test (ANT) prior to the intervention and four months later.

The researchers found that this high-stress period of incarceration led to declines in attentional task performance for all subjects. This poorer performance over time might be accounted for by the unrelenting stress on cognitive control which is necessary for complex problem solving, emotion regulation, and behavioral inhibition.

However, the CBT/MT intervention group showed significantly less of a decline in attentional task performance as compared to the control group. Moreover, within the CBT/MT group, the attentional task performance among those who practiced outside of intervention sessions remained stable compared to those who did not practice outside of the intervention sessions. These findings indicate that a multi-session CBT/MT intervention can be effective in limiting degradation in attentional performance in incarcerated youth, thus providing a protective effect on offending youths’ functional attentional impairments during incarceration in a high-security urban jail.

In line with the current findings, co-author Amishi P. Jha, PhD of the University of Miami, has reported that protracted periods of high stress, such as preparing for military deployment, degrades cognitive control functions such as attention and working memory.

“Cognitive control processes like attention are involved in decision making and emotion regulation,” said Dr. Jha. “With degraded attention, the chances of impulsive and risky decision making, as well as emotional reactivity are greater.”

The current results suggest that strengthening attention through mindfulness training may be a key route for reducing recidivism among young offenders, and highlight the need to teach detained youth strategies to improve cognitive and emotional control in the stressful detainment environment. In particular, training methods that allow youth to actively engage in exercises on their own to improve cognitive control may be ideal in conjunction with structured intervention activities or psychotherapy to help youth cultivate resilience by building their capacity for cognitive control while detained and after release.

“Finally”, Dr. Leonard added, “We know that incarceration is not good for youth, and with this study, we have direct evidence that incarceration depletes the very processes youth need to strengthen in order to steer their developmental trajectory in a more pro-social, law-abiding direction.”

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; R01 DA 024764)

Link to the article: http://www.frontiersin.org/consciousness_research/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00792/abstract

Additional authors who contributed to “Mindfulness Training Improves Attentional Task Performance in Incarcerated Youth: A Group Randomized Controlled Intervention Trial” were: Charles M. Cleland, PhD, Marya V. Gwadz, PhD, and Zohar Massey from NYUCN and Merissa Goolsarran and Cristina Garcia from the University of Miami.
About the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR)

CDUHR, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is the first center for the socio-behavioral study of substance use and HIV in the United States. The Center is dedicated to increasing the understanding of the substance use-HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly among individuals in high-risk contexts. The Center’s theme is “Discovery to Implementation & Back: Research Translation for the HIV/Substance Use Epidemic.” The Center facilitates the development of timely new research efforts, enhances implementation of funded projects and disseminates information to researchers, service providers and policy makers.

About New York University College of Nursing NYU College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing education, research, and practice. It offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Arts and Post-Master’s Certificate Programs, a Doctor of Philosophy in Research Theory and Development, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. For more information, visit www.nyu.edu/nursing.

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Guest Blog: A House of Healing Within the Walls of San Quentin….

13/09/13 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: From time to time, Lionheart welcomes guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org  

Many thanks to Susan Shannon and the OG (Original Group) Houses of Healing for contributing the following article and sharing their experiences.  Please check out “Stories from Lifers” at the bottom of the page.

Working in San Quentin State Prison has opened me up to so much wonder, often inspired by the pain and suffering I witness daily, the outgrowth of very difficult, often inhumane and unconscionable childhoods.  Have you ever pondered the bamboo shoot that has grown undergrounds for tens of feet before it finds that one crack in the sidewalk, or that one area of soft ground, then spires to the sky?  Welcome to the fruit I have witnessed from the Houses of Healing program.

I was blessed to take a Prison Ministry class in the final year of my Masters in Divinity program. This class was taught by Father George Williams, a Jesuit Priest, who is also the Catholic Chaplain at San Quentin. I initially took this class because it was offered on the one day I was on campus, but it quickly became much more than that. This class was the first trail of breadcrumbs leading me to a life-changing journey.

An astrologer told me 35 years ago that I would find my right-livelihood in “institutions.” I figured that the 20 years of work I had done with a few monasteries in India and Nepal had fulfilled that. I also had acquired a number of skills and tools in my toolbox having to do with Emotional Literacy and Restorative Justice. I had worked with middle school kids and adults in both fields for some time. As well, 40 years of Buddhist practice had hammered me into a good working vessel of compassion, insight, listening skills and a non-judgmental approach to life. I was blind to the fact that entering San Quentin would mark all that had come before as floorboards in my own growth and ability to embrace humanity in all its forms; floorboards which were lifted and transformed, one by one.

After the first year of attending Restorative Justice meetings with the inmates, I was ready for more. I asked Father George Williams if he would allow me to expand my hours at the prison and supervise me through the next leg of my chaplaincy program, a 2000-hour internship. To my delight, he agreed, and suggested that I start a Houses of Healing group there. He had taught the Houses of Healing curriculum on the east coast, knew Robin Casarjian, author of Houses of Healing and Executive Director of The Lionheart Foundation,was confident in my grasp of  Emotional Literacy and my spiritual dedication– plus he had 12 Houses of Healing books ready to go!

I had already gotten involved in three other groups at San Quentin, two, which were yearlong, groups dealing with in-depth soul searching and self-disclosure. Each group went deeply into the core teachings of Houses of Healing, but were differently focused-one on understanding victim awareness and one on domestic violence prevention. I had developed a sense of what “being ready” looked like among these inmates, as well as a sense of what “almost ready but not quite” looked like. Over the nearly 9 months of groups I had also seen how ripeness for the journey to one’s core self, one’s heart space, has its own timing. 

I decided to offer my Houses of Healing group to men who were not quite ready for the yearlong programs. I had hoped for at least some who had never done programs, but were at a crossroads in their life and were ready to test the waters. Father Williams had taught this whole course in 8-12 weeks. It seemed a perfect “training wheels” program. I asked the men in my existing groups to spread the word of this new Houses of Healing group to men who fit that description. I quickly had a list of twelve men. Father Williams granted me the boon of one highly skilled and seasoned inmate as a co-facilitator, later adding on another seminary student.  We had a room assignment of the small but cozy library in the Catholic Chapel.

Our Houses of Healing group began in September of 2012. To my delight I had a great mix of a few men who had never done any programs, but had “been down” for years, along with a few men who were veterans of several programs. We had a good age spread as well. I left our first meeting absolutely thrilled at the mix.

Little did I know that I was embarking on what has become one of the most powerful of tribal councils, peace summits, monastic meetings, sangha of truth, teaching circle and family of soul that I have ever known. Keep in mind that I have a history of doing lots and lots of groups, so I don’t say that lightly. Now and then with group work, the people in attendance almost seem to be calculated by some Divine Chef, as each adds such an exotically special flavor that the whole broth becomes an otherworldly elixir. This was so with my first Houses of Healing group.

It soon became clear to me that nearly everything I have ever learned about group facilitation had to be thrown out the window. As “each one teach one” became the theme of the class, I learned quickly to De-Facilitate. Simply to sit in the presence of these brave souls as they bore witness and taught each other through their own examples of storytelling prompted by the altruistically based curriculum of Houses of Healing. Night after night I came home and waded in wonder as I integrated the equal power of the truths of doing as well as not-doing. I witnessed the power of Wu-Wei, as the Taoists say, the path of “not doing” that can lead all present to their true nature.

As weeks led into months, I realized this was not going to be any 8-12 week group. We continued on as long as we got traction out of the teachings of the book. Discussions ripened into tears long held and easily released into our trusting tribe. Stories emerged as buried treasure chests which had been masquerading as a ball and chain around the ankle of a person who formerly viewed themselves as condemned, but now sprouted wings and saw themselves as liberated.

Robin responded thoughtfully, carefully and immediately to any questions I had. Father Williams was content that our “container” was strong and consistent enough to prevent any of these guys from ending up in The Hole or Ad-Seg due to lack of integration. My co-facilitator and I had agreed that we would end when we felt we were darn ready to end. That said, he was positioned to be released as one of the first of the Three Strikers to get out after Prop. 36 passed. Plus, our waiting list was growing.

Four months in I asked the guys for their first and only real assignment, though they had been given “pause and reflect” handouts all along. After hearing so many comments about how “this book” had turned their thinking and their lives around, I decided one day to make a request. “Please, guys, pick something, anything from the HoH book that moved you. Give us a 2-4 minute presentation about that topic in any form you want: writing, song, drumming, mime, art, whatever.”

Week by week went by of presentations, each one absolutely mind-blowing in the articulation of the transformation and integration hat had occurred in time together! I suggested to the guys that we make a booklet of these amazing testimonies and send as a thank-you to Robin, and as a testimony to the incredible living and healing document that Houses of Healing provides; a guidebook to the soul.

As the stories unfolded, so did the ideas for this booklet. I had the men visualize images they wanted to include. Later I went home and found matching images online. We shared the tragedy of our second co-facilitator’s sudden death. We shared the mixed emotion of joy and loss when my inmate co-facilitator was released, and later, another member. Finally, our booklet was completed and shared with Robin-and now all of you.

The men hope that their “Stories from Lifers” (Click Here to View Stories) will be inspiring to others. (If you have trouble viewing pictures on page 1,2 etc. please click Open with a Different Browser on top right of page and open with Adobe Reader) They have given me full permission to share this booklet with all of you. They also hope that somehow this booklet will grow, including other stories, maybe even one day helping to fund the purchase of HoH books for ongoing classes. All of the men from this group are now mentoring our second HoH group. Each One Teach One.

I hope you all enjoy these profound stories and can utilize your inspiration for the work you are all doing in other prisons around the United States and around the world utilizing the Houses of Healing curriculum.

May all beings benefit by our efforts!

Much Respect and Many Thanks,

Susan Shannon, M. Div., and the OG (Original Group) of Houses of Healing in San Quentin, CA.

Photo of San Quentin Prison

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Blog: Core of Goodness: A Homecoming

25/07/13 COMMENTS 0

Editor’s Note: From time to time, Lionheart welcomes in guest bloggers to write about topics aligned with our mission.  If you would like to be considered for an upcoming guest blog, please contact us at: questions@lionheart.org   

Many thanks to Marie Jackson for contributing the following article.  To learn more about her work, please visit http://www.mariejackson.net

 

Core of Goodness:  A Homecoming

by Marie Jackson

Merriam Webster defines “core” as “a central and often foundational part, usually distinct from the enveloping part.”   That “distinct from the enveloping part” is important to consider when we’re tempted to judge or condemn another person.  If we only see their enveloping part, we miss who they really are.  We miss their Core.

As human beings, our Core is rooted in our heart.  It is loving, kind, courageous and forgiving.  It is supportive and open and safe.  This core is the wise way of nature, the creative impulse of the Universe, its Intention.  We are part of that intention, this spiritual compulsion of life to develop and grow and progress.  From our beginning as a single cell to a fully formed human being, our intended impulse is to evolve and expand, and is just as natural as grass growing, eggs hatching and planets circling the sun.  Nothing needs to be fixed.  Nothing needs to be undone.  Nothing needs to be changed.  Nothing needs to be forgiven.  Our lives as human beings are perfect.  This perfection is not easy to remember or celebrate when we’re surrounded by iron bars and razor wire.

The perfection of our lives get lived in the imperfection of our life situations.  Our life situations include our bodies, our relationships, environment, occupation, school, families.  For some of us, our life situation is prison.  As babies, then as young people, and then as adults, our life situations were always the stage, the setting for living our lives of promise and love and wisdom – our core.  When our core is allowed to express itself, we blossom, we thrive, we go on to serve and contribute; we fulfill our intention of perfection.  When our life situations include abuse or neglect or abandonment, our core gets blocked, denied, obscured.  This denial of who we are teaches us who we can trust and count on in our environment with our families, at school, in our neighborhoods.  We learn how, where and when to lie, how to choose what protects us and what makes us feel worthy:  we learn how to keep ourselves out of harm’s way.  With each lesson, we layer on the deception, the bad choices, the hurtful behavior, all in an effort to feel safe and protected.  Our beautiful Core is soon forgotten, lost, as our need for protection takes over.  Instead of celebrating our Goodness, we have learned to deny it, and for some of us, this denial has become our habit, our value structure, and we stray far from the home of who we are.  We spiritually starve; we wither and fade; we get brittle and harden.

But here’s the good news:  even in our brittleness and starvation, our Core never leaves us; it might be hidden or blurred or forgotten, but it never leaves.  Never.  Not with our choices, not with our behavior, not with our history, not with our environment.  Our Core of Goodness never goes away.  And nowhere can this be clearer than in the prison environment.

Houses of Healing, A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom is a program in hundreds of prisons across the country, touching the lives of thousands of prisoners.  Created by Robin Casarjian in 1988, this program and book offer meditations, exercises, and prisoner accounts designed to remind inmates of their Core of Goodness.  The impact on the quality of lives of men and women behind bars is profound, as inmates heal and grow with the tools enabling them to live lives of beauty and love and wisdom.   Robin states “Life is like a stone mill:  the people and experiences we encounter either grind us down or polish us up, depending on the way we relate to them.”   Inmates who sign up for Houses of Healing are motivated to use their time of incarceration to find ways to live lives of peace, and support and contribution, whether they are ever released from prison or not.  Instructors can be staff, volunteers or even other inmates.  Feedback comes in all forms – poetry, letters of gratitude, personal stories, assessments, from male and female inmates alike:  From Leonard – “I always knew I was a good person, but I thought I couldn’t live my true self in here.  I’m learning to live that part of who I am better now.  I’m choosing better friends, activities, work.  I’m practicing living from my center, and it’s working.  I feel more peaceful.”   Or from Camille, “I learned to hold still, to see with new eyes, to know that other inmates are trying to find their way just as I am.  I’ve become more patient, a more dependable friend.” And from Diane, “My prison was out there…not in here.  The drugs, the abuse – I felt like I was tossed around in an angry sea, and couldn’t find my way.  I felt like my arrest was really the storm that threw me up on a rock…where I could dry out, get clean, learn to respect myself. ”

 Living from our core begins with knowing it was there all along, waiting for us to come home.  Anger, grief, loss, betrayal and abuse are not particular just to inmates in our prison system.  We have all suffered some degree of this denial of Intention.  Maybe we didn’t all land in jail, but our confinement was real just the same.   If our brothers and sisters on the inside can come home to their core, anyone can.  Admitting our mistakes, forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, seeing ourselves and others through the eyes of compassion and understanding instead of judgment and condemnation can bring us to peace on the inside, and joy on the outside.

In “The Wizard of Oz”, Glinda the good witch tells us “Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home, anywhere.”

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Interview with Robin Casarjian

17/07/13 COMMENTS 0

Robin Casarjian, Executive Director of the Lionheart Foundation, discusses the importance of forgiveness  and emotional literacy in an interview with Dot Walsh, long-time supporter and former board member at Lionheart.  Robin talks about how these critical skills help us take control of our lives and gain peace of mind.  In her book, Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom, emotional literacy is key to helping prisoners gain self understanding and transform their lives.

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JP

Welcome to Lionheart’s first blog!

14/12/12 COMMENTS 0

Welcome to The Lionheart Foundation blog! We hope to use this space as a platform to open up a dialogue with our donors, professional peers, volunteers and supporters, to share information about Lionheart programs and resources, and highlight important issues related to our mission. Feel free to join the conversation, share our posts with your networks, and leave us your feedback.

2012 was Lionheart’s 20th Anniversary.  My heart is filled with gratitude as I reflect on our past work and look forward to implementing the projects planned for the  future. In 1992, the book Houses of Healing was just an idea. With hard work and generous help from our supporters, we have come a very, very long way.

Lionheart has created three acclaimed social-emotional literacy curricula comprised of 18 resources (books, facilitator manuals, and videos). We have distributed more than 340,000 of these resources, conducted trainings for more than 2800 professionals, and tens of thousands of lives have been redirected and transformed.

Incarcerated men and women have discovered that prison can be a place to heal from violence and addiction; highly at-risk youth are taking charge of their lives and discovering a more hopeful future; and a new generation of babies, those most at risk for being abused, are being given a gentler, more loving and promising start.

With a stable and dedicated staff and our generous supporters, Lionheart has become a beacon of light in many very dark places for the past 20 years – and I can’t help but think that this is still just the beginning in the overall impact our work will ultimately have for hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Thanks for your interest in Lionheart!

Robin Casarjian

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