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Transformative Programming for Prisoners in Solitary

THE HOUSES OF HEALING SELF-STUDY COURSE

 

Houses of Healing A Prisoners Guide Book for prisoner rehabilitationSolitary Confinement:  With the exception of the death penalty, solitary confinement is the most severe of the sanctioned punishments imposed on incarcerated men and women.  In solitary confinement, prisoners are isolated in a small cell for 22-24 hours a day.  Many, (especially those without a routine involving mental and physical discipline), become afflicted with high levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and self-harming urges.  Although changing in some institutions now, rehabilitative options have rarely been offered to prisoners in segregation despite being confined alone for days, weeks, months, years, and sometimes decades.  Both their suffering and growth potential have been largely ignored.  This incredible opportunity to incentivize engagement in rehabilitative programming to address the issues that may have led to incarceration and segregation and minimize the deleterious effects of solitary, has been disregarded by most prison administrators at enormous cost to the prisoners, their family members (including their children), those they come in contact with (including security staff and people in the communities to which they return), and tax payers.  Recognizing this opportunity and building on the positive impact that the Houses of Healing Program has had for thousands of prisoners, The Lionheart Foundation created the Houses of Healing Correspondence Course and subsequently the Houses of Healing Self-study Program for Prisoners in Solitary.

 

In 2015, The Lionheart Foundation created The Houses of Healing One-on-One Correspondence Course for Prisoners in Solitary – The goal of this revised version of the Houses of Healing Program was to offer men and women in solitary a tool that would help minimize the harmful effects of solitary confinement while teaching skills and perspectives to empower them to take greater charge of their lives, participate in their own emotional well-being and healing, and move forward in a more positive way. Volunteers mail the sessions to the prisoner they are matched with and offer encouragement and feedback on their “self-work” assignments.

(This program is not for everyone as some men and women in solitary have untreated mental illness or are so profoundly impacted by the deleterious experience of isolation that they are, at least temporarily, incapable of taking advantage of a program such as the one offered here.)

To date Lionheart has matched 186 prisoners with 127 volunteers. Feedback from prisoners has been excellent, however due to the administrative demands to deliver this “one-on-one” model, Lionheart could not scale the correspondence course to serve larger numbers of prisoners in solitary. With the support of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Lionheart was able to revise the Correspondence Course into a Self-study Program allowing us to offer it to hundreds more prisoners.

“I could not see myself making the progress I have made without the HOH self-study course. It was as if I was sinking in hatred and resentful quicksand that was stripping me of my humanity, health, and peace but someone reached out and I was willing to accept the helping hand.”
SHU Prisoner

 

The Houses of Healing Self-study Course for Prisoners in the SHU (14-sessions)

“This course has greatly impacted my life in a positive way.  I’ve taken several self-help courses.  I’ve been in solitary confinement for more than 15 years, but this course was unlike any other and made me look deeper into myself.  And it has most of all made me take time to pause and think, reflect upon life and past mistakes and errors, and then make a rational, logical, and wise choice.  Before I’d act or respond without thinking or worry of the consequences.”
SHU Prisoner

In 2016, Lionheart was awarded an “Innovative Grant” from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to design and bring the Houses of Healing Self-Study Course to prisoners in the CA Special Housing Units (SHUs) in Pelican Bay, CA State Prison – Corcoran, and the CA Correctional Institution (CCI) – all prisons with large isolation units. (In the past year the SHU in CCI has closed and the number of prisoners in the other SHUs is decreasing.) During the grant period (1/2016-6/2017), 464 prisoners voluntarily registered and participated in The Houses of Healing Self-study Course for Prisoners in the SHU. Course evaluations from 160 participants showed significant positive change and progress.

 

Pilot Data

Summary of evaluation feedback from 160 participants in the 14-session Houses of Healing Self-Study Course for Prisoners in the SHU.  464 men registered and received the course.  The evaluation response rate = 34.4%.

  • 93% of respondents reported being able to remain in control of their behavior when upset (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 18% before the course, with 90% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 86% of respondents reported being able to handle anger in a positive way, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 15% before the course, with 93% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 91% of respondents reported using healthy ways to make themselves feel better when upset, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 13% before the course, with 89% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 91% of respondents reported being aware of their “triggers” (people and circumstances that trigger an emotional reaction in oneself), (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 18% before the course, with 89% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 95% of respondents reported feeling hopeful about life (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 29% before the course, with 83% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 95% of respondents reported the ability to take responsibility for their actions, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 30% before the course, with 86% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • Among the emotional regulation techniques taught in the course are meditation and yoga. 78% reported that they meditated at least 3 times a week to almost every day. 50% reported that they practiced yoga from 3 times a week to almost every day.
  • 98% of respondents answered positively when asked how they would rate the course (with 90% rating the course as “very good” or “excellent”).
  • 100% of respondents stated that they would recommend the Houses of Healing Self-study Program to others.

 

Program Goals/Outcomes include:

  • Recognizing the importance of using time in segregation in a disciplined, constructive way
  • Learning and practicing mindfulness meditation, emotional self-regulation, and stress-management techniques
  • Nurturing a fundamental shift in self-identity to one that is strength-based
  • Learning cognitive reframing from cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Acknowledging, working with, and healing childhood trauma
  • Transforming anger, resentment, and unhealthy guilt and shame
  • Understanding and practicing forgiveness
  • Acknowledging and healing grief
  • Acknowledging guilt and the impact of crime – taking responsibility for offending behavior – and increasing victim awareness
  • Learning/practicing some basics of physical exercise and yoga
  • Nurturing spiritual growth

 

Delivery of the Houses of Healing Self-study Course:

Due to the cost of delivering the self-study course ($70 per participant), it is available to prisoners in solitary ONLY in prisons where arrangements have been made with the prison administration beforehand. If Lionheart is not working with your prison system, we are not able to deliver the program there.

Lionheart’s out-of-pocket expenses for the book Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom, 200 photocopied pages, envelopes, labels, and postage for 15 mailings are $58 per person. This does not include any administrative costs involved with coordinating and sending weekly sessions. The total cost is $70 per participant.

 

Options for delivery

  • Prisons pay for the program to be delivered by Lionheart.
  • Lionheart or the prison system secures grant funding to cover the cost of program delivery.
  • The prison system licenses the program. It is then the prison staff’s responsibility to coordinate registration, distribute a copy of the book Houses of Healing, photocopy and deliver the weekly sessions for 14 consecutive weeks, process final evaluations, and, if included, offer a “Certificate of Participation” or some other recognition of participation for the prisoner’s records.

 

Process of delivery when Lionheart delivers the program:

Prison administration must approve the course and an administrator or staff member needs to do two things:

  1. Print and handout two pieces of paper to prisoners in solitary – (1) the course description and (2) the registration form (which states the requirements for participation). Requirements for participation include being housed in solitary (the SHU, Ad Seg) and expect to be there for at least the following 10 weeks; being able to receive a paperback book (Houses of Healing); able to read at a 5th grade level or above (English); has a pen or pencil; is willing to spend at least 30 minutes a day on course “self-work” – this includes reading, writing, and stress reduction exercises. Registering is totally voluntarily.
  2. The administration must let the mailroom know that the course has been approved so that they can forward the weekly mailings to participants in a timely manner.

Participants are responsible for signing the registration form and mailing it to Lionheart. All participation is the responsibility of the prisoner and nothing more is required of the staff.

 

Comments on the HOH Self-study Course from Participants in Solitary

I have gave HOH information to about 10 guys now.  I’ve told them all, It’s a great course. How has it impacted me? Hugely…. It has shown me a new way to doing time. It allowed me to really become aware of a lot of emotions within myself that I never really cared or knew how to explore before.  I find myself at peace now.  And able to deal with hardship better than ever before.

As a result of this course, I feel stronger within and a much better person.  I’m more in control of my life than I ever have been before.  I also benefitted from learning to forgive.  It has lightened my soul.

Participating in this course was an amazing experience because every day I was able to experience new feelings and learn from myself things I never knew I had. I have also learned how powerful the feeling of relief is from acknowledging how hurtful I was to my victims. It has allowed me to see the human part of me.  That I actually do have a heart and feelings that were always within me waiting to be discovered.  My family loves when I share about this course.

 It’s given me understanding which has allowed me to be more accepting, to relax. Accepting myself has let me accept the hurt I’ve caused.  I’m now making some amends.  I might not be able to change the beginning, but I can change the ending.

 I get the chills knowing had I not made the effort I’d be back in Solitary by now..

 HOH self study program could give someone a light of hope in Ad seg as it did to me.  2 months ago a man down the tier commited suicide.  Maybe HOH course have given him some hope to live.

 I have recommended the H.O.H. self-study course to other prisoners for the good of the world.

 

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