Investing in the Incarceration of Youth is No Investment at all.

17/10/18 0

The following article was written by Daniel Silva, a lead facilitator for Lionheart’s CA Innovative Grant Programs.  Published in the CA Endowment newsletter.


Investing In The Incarceration of Youth, Is No Investment At All.
By Daniel Silva

Daniel Silva is the Founder of Self Awareness & Recovery (SAR), a former inmate, and is a passionate reform and rehabilitation advocate.

I am a 50-year-old man who has spent 39 years of my life behind bars.  Millions of taxpayer dollars were spent to incarcerate me in juvenile camps and the state’s prison system, where I was given a life sentence for murder.

Life could have turned out differently for me, if I had the guidance and support I needed as a child who took to the streets to escape family dysfunction and abuse. Now that I am back in the community, I devote my life to helping young people stay in school and out of prison. That’s why I’m supporting the #SchoolsNotPrisons concert tour, which calls attention to issues I know all too well.

I came of age in Los Angeles, growing up without my biological father.  His absence created a void and resentment, which was fed by even more negativity once my abusive stepfather came into the picture. Being raised in this environment led me to the streets in search of refuge and validation. My juvenile delinquency began at the age of 12, when I started sniffing glue and experimenting with whatever drugs I could get my hands on in order to escape my anger and painful reality. I  raduated from foster homes and juvenile camps, to serving a life sentence by the age of 18.

Even after serving over 20 years behind bars, I remained on a destructive path. Change took time. There was no single instance or “a-ha!” moment that caused me to want a different way of life. It took a culmination of hurt, pain, and hard lessons for me to finally seek change. But when change did come, I was inspired to not just change for myself, but also for those around me who were ighting similar struggles. While serving time, I completed many rehab programs, but there was one  program in particular that opened the doors to my second chance at life: Houses of Healing. This program gave me the opportunity to create a rehab program, and thus Self Awareness & Recovery (SAR) was born.

Had there been intervention and rehabilitation programs earlier in my development, I believe that more of my years would have been spent on the outside helping others, as opposed to being locked-up on the inside – both figuratively and literally. However, I also believe God had a path for my life and that my journey is serving a greater purpose. It is my mission to fight for those who have no one to fight for them, by intervening before young people get stuck in the system, as well as advocating for the rehabilitation and healing of those who remain inside.

Individuals aren’t the only ones who are broken and in need of rehabilitation. The prison system feeds on vulnerable people, many who were born into destructive paths and were themselves victimized as children.  We need to ensure that young people have access to education and opportunities, as well as the guidance and support needed to successfully break dysfunction. It’s time that we as a society build up and invest in our young people, rather than label them as criminals at the first sign of bad behavior. When the prison industry is booming, it’s a sign that we have failed both our children and communities.

With proper investments in education and rehabilitation, I’m confident we can help create different futures for our brothers and sisters who were born on the fast track to jail through no fault of their own. It’s time to invest in building schools to shelter our children, not prisons, because knowledge and education is the only way to break this cycle. 

Lionheart’s Power Source Program’s positive impact on incarcerated youth

15/01/18 0

Update: November 2017 Article in PennCurrent (University of Pennsylvania) points to the positive impact of Power Source on 16-18 year olds incarcerated at Rikers Island, NY.

Reversing the negative psychological effects of prison through mindfulness

Just four months in prison can harm a person’s cognitive abilities and impulse control. Penn criminologists report that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training can reverse the damage.

Rikers Island
Rikers Island in New York City. The Island has 10 jails that can house as many as 15,000 inmates at once.

Just four months in prison can negatively affect a person’s cognitive abilities and impulse control, according to findings published in Criminal Justice and Behavior from Penn criminologists Adrian Raine and Rebecca Umbach. The good news is some combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training can reverse the damage.

“We have known for decades that poor cognitive functioning is a risk factor for crime and delinquency,” says Raine, the Richard Perry University Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology. “The big thing for society here is that imprisonment is making worse a risk factor that sends people to prison to begin with.”

The study, led by Umbach, a fourth-year criminology graduate student, analyzed data collected by New York University researcher Noelle R. Leonard. Incarcerated 16- to 18-year-old males at Rikers Island Prison in New York City were randomly assigned to three months of either a control group that attended weekly sessions focused on substance use, violence, and sexual health risk-reduction, or an experimental group that participated in what’s known as the Power Source intervention, which uses CBT and mindfulness meditation. Power Source was developed by Bethany Casarjian and Robin Casarjian of the Lionheart Foundation.

“This was a specific kind of mindfulness,” Umbach says. “Participants learned breathing exercises and went through varying degrees of CBT. The idea was that the CBT would make you more willing to open up to the positive effects of mindfulness. They were also encouraged to meditate and do breathing exercises on their own.”

Everyone in the study completed what’s called the “Emotional Go/No Go” test at intake, then again after four months. Inmates viewed faces on a computer screen expressing one of four emotions—fear, happiness, sadness, or anger—or a neutral face. For each of eight rounds, one of these or a neutral face became the focus. For the fear-focused round, for example, participants were to press the button when a fearful face appeared and avoid pressing it for a neutral one.

The Penn team confirmed what’s been hypothesized, that spending time in prison has negative psychological consequences for cognitive control, emotion regulation, and emotion recognition. They also found that while performance of both groups decreased significantly over time, the CBT/mindfulness appeared to mitigate the decline for impulse control and emotion regulation.

Prison Mental Health

“Perhaps we should be paying a little more attention to cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness when we have young offenders. These kids are 16 to 18, they’re teenagers,” Raine says. “Maybe we should be doing a little more to help them with their impulse control.”

Though this work doesn’t prove that such an intervention can work for older offenders who have been in prison longer, Raine says it is proof of concept for a methodology that could apply to future research.

In that vein, Umbach says she hopes to replicate the results, and has plans to assess other tasks in the dataset Leonard originally collected. She feels strongly about the implications of these and future findings on those who end up in prison.

“Most people who are incarcerated go back out into the world,” she says. “Are there efforts we can make to keep them at a level of cognitive functioning that’s as close to normal as possible?”

Originally published on .

New! Power Source Posters for At-Risk Youth

27/11/17 0

The Power Source Posters help create an inviting and dynamic learning environment for the adolescents you serve. The posters augment the Power Source Book  and the Power Source Workbook equipping adolescents with the social and emotional regulation skills they need to build healthy relationships, break intergenerational cycles of violence, high-risk behaviors, and be successful in the workforce.

This four-poster series serves as a visual reminder of the skills and concepts presented in the program providing a dynamic and visually engaging tool for working with the Power Source Program.  
Posters both broaden and intensify the impact of Power Source and further empower at-risk youth to build the skills associated with healthy social and emotional development. Serving as a constant reminder, these powerful images portray relevant information efficiently and effectively.  
Vibrant and capitivating, the posters attract the attention of youth and are presented in a format that youth can quickly understand and engage with ease.
We have kept our printing costs low and our quality high to offer these beautiful posters at an affordable price to you.
Posters can be purchased individually ($24.95 includes S&H) or at a discounted rate as a set of 4 ($69.95 includes S&H).  To Purchase All Four Posters click here.

The Core Self Poster (1) – Provides a powerful visual reminder of the identity model taught in the Power Source Program.

Poster measures 24″ X 36″ and are printed in full color on 100 lb. poster paper. 
PRICE: $24.95 (includes S&H)  Purchase Now

Stop, Breathe & Choose Poster (2) – Highly visually engaging, this poster offers youth an environmental cue to use this simple and effective self-regulation skill.

Poster measures 24″ X 36″ and are printed in full color on 100 lb. poster paper. 
PRICE: $24.95 (includes S&H)  Purchase Now

The Cool Thoughts Poster (3) – Emphasizes the critical role thoughts play in de-escalating situations and helping youth keep their personal power.

Poster measures 24″ X 36″ and are printed in full color on 100 lb. poster paper. 
PRICE: $24.95 (includes S&H)  Purchase Now

The When in Doubt Poster (4) – Reinforces the importance of Situation Selection and Modification when it comes to identifying and avoiding high-risk places and people.

Poster measures 24″ X 36″ and are printed in full color on 100 lb. poster paper. 
PRICE: $24.95 (includes S&H)  Purchase Now 
The Power Source Program is an evidence-based Social and Emotional Programm for Highly At-Risk Adolescents.  It is Easy to Use, Simple to Deliver, and Engaging to Youth.  To learn more, click here.
The Lionheart Foundation – PO Box 170115 – Boston, MA 02117 – Tel: 781-444-6667 – –

Offending Behavior: Ways to Apologize and Make Things Right

25/10/17 0

Excerpt from Power Source: Taking Charge of Your Life, a book for at-risk adolescents, by Dr. Bethany Casarjian

Apologizing for offending behavior can take many forms. It can be a conversation with the person you hurt — face to face or by phone. It can also be done through a letter. Although many kids find writing difficult or unpleasant to do, it let’s you really plan what you want to say. Writing a letter of apology can be a very powerful way to express your feelings about what you have done. Even if you throw the letter away, or never send it, putting your feelings and thoughts into words on paper can help you move down the path of healing.

Apologizing is something you’ve got to do to really stand up and take responsibility for your offense or mistake. But it isn’t always the final step. If it is possible, you need to repair the damage you did by paying back. When you can — make it right. This might happen in a lot of different ways. If you stole money from someone, return it. If you spent the money, then work to get the money to repay the person. If you stole an item that can’t be replaced, find out how much it costs and give the person that amount of money. If you started a rumor about someone and it hurt them or their reputation, you need to fix it by coming straight. Sometimes we won’t see our victim again, but we know that we have wronged someone. If this is the case for you, try repairing the damage by doing something kind for someone else. It won’t undue the damage you did to your victim, but it will help someone else. And that’s a powerful thing.

Coming Soon: The Power Source Workbook

02/12/16 0

The Power Source Workbook

A Trauma-Informed, Social and Emotional Learning Program for Adolescents

Increasingly, research is confirming what most of us know intuitively — that it is our social and emotional competence such as understanding and managing our emotions, developing and sustaining healthy relationships, and creating and following through on goals that largely predicts the quality of our lives. Helping youth develop the social and emotional skills covered in this workbook is a major contributor in launching them toward trajectories of success and well-being. These skills not only impact adolescents physical and mental health, but their educational outcomes and work-place readiness as well. The good news is that these skills are not capacities you are either endowed with or you’re not; they are entirely learnable. And that’s where the Power Source Workbook comes in.

The Power Source Workbook can be used by youth in:

  • High schools serving trauma-impacted youth engaging in health-risk behaviors;
  • Secure and non-secure detention centers;
  • Diversion and alternative to incarceration programs;
  • Residential treatment centers and facilities;
  • After school and community-based programs.

The Power Source Workbook is designed to be used:

  • in group settings;
  • one-to-one (with a staff/facilitator and a youth);
  • by youth working individually.

The Power Source book and workbook build youths’ capacity to:

  • Develop a cohesive and healthy sense of self and future orientation in the wake of trauma;
  • Recognize the emotional, social, and situational factors that lead to risk-taking and develop health-promoting behaviors in their place;
  • Increase interpersonal skills including managing conflict, repairing relationships, taking responsibility for one’s actions, self-advocacy, and seeking help;
  • Acquire the Social and Emotional skills associated with workplace readiness success;
  • Select positive peers and acquire the skills to maintain those relationships;
  • Identify individual and situational factors leading to substance use and learn alternative coping strategies;
  • Build skills to tolerate and manage distressing emotions such as anger, disrespect, shame, and fear.


A typical group-based session of Power Source Workbook includes:

  • reading a selection from the Power Source Workbook;
  • a mindfulness activity;
  • completing the content of the worksheet/s;
  • and sharing their answers in a Circle.


Table of Contents

     Who Is the Power Source Workbook for?

     Using the Power Source Program

     The Parts of the Power Source Workbook


Mindfulness Activities

     The Supplemental Workbook

     Making the Biggest Impact

Facilitator Presence

The Importance of Praise

Looking at Ourselves with Compassion

  • Using mindfulness skills ourselves
  • Looking at the connection between our own stress, triggers, and trauma history
  • Secondary Trauma

Exciting News for the Lionheart Foundation!!

04/11/16 0



EXCITING OPPORTUNITY FOR LIONHEART!! This week a donor stepped forward with the pledge of a $40,000 MATCHING GIFT – IF Lionheart can match this amount by February 1, 2017. If matched, this $80,000 will support Lionheart’s expansion into public schools, programs for high-risk youth, and prisoners across the country. For 25 years Lionheart has made a life-changing difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people on the fringe of society. Please help Lionheart provide life-altering resources to thousands more individuals. To learn more about Lionheart please go to:  To donate please go to:

THANK YOU for responding to this important and urgent request . Any amount is greatly appreciated. PLEASE PASS THIS APPEAL ON TO YOUR FRIENDS. Thanks again!!!

Lionheart’s Houses of Healing, Power Source, and Power Source Parenting Programs are changing lives and building futures.


Interesting article on Isaiah B. Pickens, Ph.D.

21/09/16 0

Dr. Pickens was a facilitator at Rikers Island for the NIH funded study on Lionheart’s youth program, Power Source.

This article is an interesting glimpse into Dr. Pickens’ “passion”.

BE Modern Man: Meet “The Mentalist” Isaiah B. Pickens, PhD



It All Depends on the Side You Choose

27/03/14 0

Editor’s Note: 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: The following post is the second of three that will be posted from Theinnervoice84′s Blog.  Many thanks for this insightful post.

Because my focus is the present, and especially what’s to come, I try to refrain from talking much about my past. Other than for the sake of demonstrating the progress of my personal development, what I did and who I was seem irrelevant outside my own life. But recently I’ve discovered that my story could be useful to others. I feel though that it might also alienate readers who disagree with the belief system guiding my path to redemption. I just hope those individuals don’t let such disagreement turn them off to the mission statement of theinnervoice84 blog: communities, specifically the formerly and currently incarcerated, working together to solve their problems. For better or worse, here’s my testimony.

I grew up in inner city Milwaukee, the only child of a lower middle class mixed couple (white Mom, black Dad). I was a short, shy, pretty boy with white people hair, and more interest in soccer than basketball. Not surprisingly, I was an easy target for the jokes and macho contempt of my predominantly black friends and peers. I was also a clown, dangerously independent-minded (at group outings, for example, I routinely wandered off to do my own thing), and had a very loving family. As a result, the teasing and minor bullying didn’t crush my self-esteem.

Eventually I got taller (5’10″), fell in love with hooping and got good at ribbing people back – or oftentimes first. But I never really learned how to be an adult. Both in and outside my family I had numerous examples of the responsibility and maturity it required and the assumption was, as it usually is with kids, that I’d just imitate them. In fact, I probably would have if not for more prominent influences.

Directly through its lyrics and images and indirectly through its effect on the culture that surrounded me, the intoxicating negativity of rap music became my bible in my journey to manhood. In time I began selling drugs, collecting mostly illegal weapons and got my “luv” of firearms tatted on my chest. By about the time I was 16 the chip on my shoulder from years of having my masculinity attacked had fused with my skin and made me immune to the wise counsel of those who’d been in my shoes. I had something to prove and wisdom and reason would not hold me back.

Fast forward three years. The charge is first degree intentional homicide. A minor drug deal turned robbery became an act of fatal revenge. The details don’t matter; only the sadness and stupidity hold meaning. Within mere seconds, decades of potential was demolished leaving two separate groups of loved ones to sift through the rubble for something to ease the pain of the road ahead.

I’ve never been a violent person, at least not in the typical reactionary sense. The only two fights I’ve ever been in happened at county jail while my case was being processed and several well-respected non-family members (business owners, professors, the brother-in-law of an ex-Wisconsin governor) wrote letters to the judge about how uncharacteristic my crime was. But I was vengeful, responding to disrespect and provocation outside the heat of the moment. Honor and justice have always been extremely important to me and back then this translated into loyalty to the street code, which demanded never shall anyone punk you. For me this was rule number one and I was all too eager to enforce it in my methodical, over-the-top style. A righteous mercenary in my eyes. Realistically, just another puppet in ego’s workshop.

Initially I couldn’t get past the 17 year sentence. I kept telling myself something would shake: the state would reinstate parole, I’d be resentenced to less time, etc. Slowly I gave up on this hope and instead came to realize how lucky I was. As I’ve mentioned before, no one truly knew how close to the devil I was in my self-proclaimed noble bloodlust. Several times during that last summer of my freedom, I was literally no more than a ski mask, an unregistered vehicle, or a better firing angle away from multiple life sentences and putting my family in grave danger (all in the name of protecting the dignity of my clique). Then, had I not come to prison, there was the guarantee of future opportunities – after all, if we’re looking for it, people will always give us a reason to feel disrespected. More importantly, how does 17 years make up for taking a young life?

To anyone more than a week old it was clear that somewhere along the line I’d made a wrong turn. Prior to being sentenced I’d been concentrating more on what I’d done wrong to get caught. Not long after I got to prison, however, I began to concentrate more on what I’d done wrong as a person. The harshness of my new circumstances was quickly waking me up to reality and I needed answers.

Since middle school I’ve been unable to accept the concept of an all-knowing creator, so there was extremely little chance of theistic religion leading me out of the dark. Yet I knew I was missing something; there was more than what I’d been chasing in life. Inevitably, I gravitated towards Buddhism (though technically I’m not currently a Buddhist) and the road back to humanity started to clear up. Everything bad in my life, the growing pains of my childhood, the petty grudges and hate of my adolescence, the suffering of incarceration, it all came down to one thing: Ego. Ego was the reason for my cowardly desire to feel superior, my ignorant belief that I was more worthy of respect than others, and consequently my natural though weak impulse to take offense to, well, anything. Of course, this only meant I’d discovered the enemy. The hard part was gaining the upper hand.

In “The Wisdom of Two Wolves”, an old Cherokee tells his grandson about the battle being waged inside people. One wolf is evil, anger, greed, jealousy, envy, sorrow, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and lies. The other is serenity, joy, truth, humility, empathy, hope, love, gratitude, generosity, and compassion. “But grandpa”, the child asks, “which one wins?” “The one you feed, son.”

I had to starve the beast. My mind had already converted but I couldn’t consider the change genuine until my entire system fell in line.

I began to rebel against my ego; it said left, I went right. If I got into it with somebody I’d go apologize to them later, regardless of my innocence in the matter. If I lost big in fantasy football or had something stolen I’d give away some of my canteen to a neighbor. If correctional staff insulted me – the hardest thing for me to deal with in here – I’d laugh at and admonish my hurt pride like a teenager does his younger brother throwing a tantrum: “Grow up you little baby.” I constantly evaluated how I dealt with events in order to game plan for a better response next time. Though time after time I failed to measure up to my ambition, I was determined. Gradually, frustratingly so, I began to truly change my instincts.

In many ways I haven’t changed. I’m still a clown, and my sense of humor, if anything, has only expanded due to my peace of mind. I’m still hip-hop to my core (the non-negative type though like Rhymesayers out of Minneapolis, the movie Brown Sugar, and the choreography duo Tabatha & Napoleon). And as a human I will always struggle to match my reactions to my expectations. But these are superficial points. I look back at how hungrily I fed on naïve judgments of others and thoughts of payback that ego dangled in front of my immaturity, and in a very real way it’s as if I’ve undergone a heart transplant. It’s hard to explain. I’m the same, but I’m so different.

Maybe I’d have matured the way I have or at least broke free from the claws of my vengefulness even if I hadn’t put myself and those I love through this hell. I’ll never know. More importantly, I won’t let myself entertain such thoughts. What could have been is a picture with two sides and, like everyone, I have the choice to either focus on how things could be better or how they could be worse. A choice between illogical sadness or eternal contentment. Talk about an easy decision – although the other side does occasionally succeed in distracting me.

My future might be bright, it might be dim, it might even get cut short. I can’t fully control the outcome there. However, I’m blessed in so many ways and will continue to share my good fortune in order to build up those headed for or caught up in destruction. I just hope I can make a difference.

Keep boxing temptation. Give freedom a hug for us who can’t. [2014] [sociallinkz]