I contribute to Lionheart by working on social media strategy, blog development, and content creation, mostly. I have been able to research and collect successful social media strategies which will help Lionheart gain the necessary social media traction to propel itself to the next level of growth. While I have worked on social media for other jobs, I have never been able to look at it from a non-profit perspective. This new viewpoint has been invaluable to me.
My experience working with Lionheart has been absolutely amazing. At first, I was worried about how much I would be able to take from a virtual internship, but this experience has completely exceeded my expectations. I love working with a team of passionate, hard-working, and like-minded individuals. This internship has encouraged me to learn and grow in ways I did not expect. Though my work primarily focuses on social media, I have always been encouraged to pursue Lionheart projects that piqued my interest, regardless of whether or not they related to social media. This flexibility allowed me to pursue a project researching the importance of language as it related to Lionheart’s work. This project absolutely fascinated me and introduced me to a discussion which I had been previously unaware of. It is just one small example of the way that this internship has helped me grow as an individual, all while gaining valuable knowledge in my field.
Houses of Healing Included in Federal Bureau of Prisons First Step Act List of Programs
Lionheart’s program for incarcerated adults, Houses of Healing, was recently included in the Approved Programs Guide published by the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (DOJ, BOP). The guide was created as a result of the First Step Act of 2018, which aims to require the BOP to implement more sentencing and prison reforms. Houses of Healing is listed among other approved, standardized prison programs.
Passed in 2018, the First Step Act is a promising step in the direction of criminal justice reform. The law incorporates measures intended to place a greater focus on rehabilitation, reentry, and recidivism reduction. The First Step Act increases accessibility to prison programming, providing incarcerated individuals with the skills needed to succeed upon release.
Houses of Healing is a powerful trauma-informed intervention that teaches critical social and emotional skills to incarcerated individuals. Social emotional learning is consistent with the concept of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to monitor one’s feelings and emotions, and to use that information to guide thinking and actions. These skills are integral to a productive reentry into the community, the foremost goal of the First Step Act.
In the month of June, The Lionheart Foundation has seen purchases of the Houses of Healing book rise significantly as a result of the promotion from the First Step Act. By giving prisons the option to select a program such as Houses of Healing, participants are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to create positive changes in their lives, whether inside or outside of prison.
While not specifically mentioned in the report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Making Time Count, our newly-released self-study program designed to be used in conjunction with Houses of Healing, is also available through funding via the First Step Act. As a self-study program, Making Time Count provides high-quality programming which is brought about more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The independent nature of the program allows even more people to participate – all it requires is a modest reading level, a writing utensil, and a willingness to engage in rehabilitative programming. It is our hope that our programs continue to be implemented in ways that allow for substantial change and reformation of the most vulnerable.
For more information on the Houses of Healing Program, click here.
Lionheart is pleased to announce that all of the worksheets for the newly released Power Source Facilitator Manual are now available in Spanish! This project was completed in conjunction with two volunteers from Catchafire, an online support that matches nonprofits with highly skilled volunteers.
While the participant books for both Power Source and Houses of Healing Programs have long since been translated into Spanish (La Fuente del Poder and Casas de Sanación), the recent translation of the Power Source worksheets allows youth who are Spanish speaking to gain access to these transformative program materials. We initially shared these resources with the Texas DJJ, who is using Power Source statewide and has a considerable Spanish speaking population. As equity of access to our programs is a core Lionheart value, we could not be more thrilled to now release these materials to all who have purchased a new PS Manual. If you have purchased the new manual, these worksheets can be found in your PS Online Resources!
The Lionheart Foundation continues to grow and thrive as a result of volunteers who support us in a wide variety of ways (e.g. with branding, web design, app design, and online research). We are eternally grateful to Kendré Barnes and Cecilia Ramirez for their work on this project, and to Catchafire and the Boston Foundation for their support of Lionheart.
As an outreach intern for Lionheart, I work on Customer Relationship Management, website design, and data collection, organization and analysis. Broadly, I focus on the ways that Lionheart can better promote its materials to a target audience and connect with different organizations and people.
I feel incredibly grateful to be able to contribute to Lionheart’s mission. For me, Lionheart’s ideology is so compelling because it can be applied to so many people in high-risk settings, and it focuses on improvement and forward-looking solutions. I felt instantly inspired when I first watched the introduction videos on the website and saw the profound impacts that Lionheart has had on people who have utilized Houses of Healing, Power Source, and their other resources.
Studies have shown that more than 50% of incarcerated people have been incarcerated more than once. Inherent in this statistic is the enormous misery and pain for families, victims, and the accused that comes with this territory. (There is also the monetary cost, often tremendous, that could be redirected to early childhood programs, youth services, community-based programs, housing, job training — etc.) According to the Anna E. Casey Foundation more than 6 million kids are impacted by parental incarceration. The case for providing effective rehabilitative programs (available without undue wait times) and potently incentivizing people to participate should be a clear-cut mandate for every prison and jail system. This would both reduce recidivism and the untold collateral suffering — yet this is often far from the reality.
I don’t know the percentage of incarcerated people who have access to or participate in programming as this data isn’t available and it, no doubt, varies dramatically from state to state. Some people who are incarcerated don’t participate in a single rehabilitative program for years after entering the system, like one man who attended a Houses of Healing course that I facilitated: after 8 years of incarceration, it was the first program he had ever attended. There are a number of factors that influence a lack of participation in rehabilitative programming.
First, programs have to be available. If prison systems (and legislatures) don’t prioritize and adequately fund rehabilitative efforts and/or miss the mark when it comes to (1) providing effective programming or (2) incentivizing participation — then a critical opportunity to empower people to turn their lives around is squandered.
Because prison programs are trying to engage a population, many of whom shy away from learning new things and reading and writing because of learning disabilities, ADD, negative school experiences, poor self-esteem, mental health issues, and a profound sense of resignation, without strong, significant incentives they often lack the motivation to participate. Plus, there is a great deal of negative social contagion in prison — feeling vulnerable and lost in the inside easily translates into a mask of toughness, invulnerability, and “I got this — I don’t need anything from you.” Incarcerated people in all security settings need strong incentives (like time off their sentence, lower security housing, certificates for their parole file, the possibility of certain jobs within the prison, etc.) to encourage participation in something that is otherwise threatening to them. When incentives that are perceived as valuable are offered, participation often increases dramatically. Offering effective programs and strong incentives to participate should be an obligation of every prison administration — because without both, there is much less participation and consequently less transformative change, greater recidivism, relapsing, and profound and inevitable suffering for many. Without effective programs with strong incentives, any “correctional” or “rehabilitative” mandate is significantly undermined rather than enhanced.
In Lionheart’s Making Time Count program, participants must first sign a registration form committing to at least 30 minutes of “Self-work” a day during the span of the program. (This includes reading, completing worksheets, and practicing self-regulation techniques.) Without strong incentives, for those who are poorly motivated, signing up is a no-go from the start. (Receiving the incentives assumes clearly demonstrating genuine effort and participation.)
Many institutions offer education programs where people can earn a GED (or other high school equivalency degree) and some even offer college classes that can result in an Associate and/or Bachelor degree (and in rare cases, a Masters degree). Some prisons offer programs that teach trades or other employable skills so that those who are released have an increased chance of gainful employment. There are also religious programs. All of these, in and of themselves, can have a life-changing impact for some. That said, the importance and potentially life-transforming impact of providing psycho-educational programs that teach emotional regulation skills and nurture emotional awareness and healing by, among other things, explicitly addressing the underlying issues of trauma and post-traumatic stress that propel so much addiction and criminal behavior, is imperative for systems to be truly “corrective” and “rehabilitative.”
Most people who are incarcerated will be released. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, “We can’t choose what we don’t yet know exists.” People must be exposed to effective ways to respond to stressful situations and ill-guided impulses and ways to heal emotional wounds in order to choose them. And when the extrinsic rewards for doing this challenging work are sufficiently attractive, many will mobilize the motivation and courage to put themselves in a position where they are introduced to and encouraged to embrace new, liberating, and empowering possibilities.
Lionheart’s EQ2 Program Implemented in Massachusetts Teen Parenting Programs
By now we all know that caring for youth really does take a village. And thanks to support from the Gardiner Howland Shaw and J.W. Alden Foundations, Lionheart has been able to strengthen the “villages” of 8 residential programs overseen by the MA Department of Children and Families serving teen parents, their babies, and the staff serving them by providing EQ2 at no cost. In addition to providing the EQ2 Learning Management System, app, Handbooks, and Facilitator Guides, Beth Casarjian, Lionheart’s Clinical Director and creator of EQ2, has been facilitating the first EQ2 groups in each of the programs, providing in-person training for the staff who will conduct the remaining sessions. As one participant said,
“EQ2 will help us tremendously…If the residents feel supported and not belittled, they will stay and continue to make strides.”
These grants have also supported an incredible collaboration between The Lionheart Foundation and Dartmouth College’s DALI (Digital and Applied Learning and Innovation) Lab in designing and developing a new version of the EQ2 app with increased interactivity and personalization. Designers from DALI as well as the amazing lead design team from the Boston Foundation’s Catchafire have been piloting and revising the app based on feedback from staff. Once completed, the app will deliver powerful tools that promote self-regulation, self-care, and increase staffs’ ability to provide trauma-informed care. Because the truth is, youths’ ability to grow and heal is largely dependent on the well-being of those caring for them.
So a big shout out to our funders for helping us help the villages where youth who have been harmed by trauma can find safety, sanctuary and hope.
Power Source Parenting in Massachusetts Teen Parenting Programs
Some systems just seem toget it when it comes to fostering innovation and change. And the people in the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families who oversee the 22 Teen Parenting Programs (TPP) in the state, make up one of those systems. The Teen Parenting Programs offer youth who are unable to remain in their homes or foster care as a result of pregnancy or parenting congregate housing that provides parenting and job readiness skills, facilitates the transition to stable housing, and offers emotional and developmental support. In 2008, Lionheart approached the director of one of the largest Teen Parenting Programs in Massachusetts to ask if we could partner in early stage piloting of a new social and emotional learning program for system-involved adolescent parents.
For years, Power Source helped build teens and young adults’ capacity to identify and manage their feelings, communicate effectively to get their needs met, and learn healthy coping strategies. Most of these youth had grown up in homes “emotionally under siege” by the stress of poverty and complex trauma. Despite struggling with their own significant self-regulation challenges, many were already parents leaving us to wonder, “how do these youth teach to their own children what they don’t yet know?” Social learning theory tells us that we learn what we see. If children watch parents respond to stress through violence, cope with sadness or anger by using substances, or enter into unsafe, volatile relationships, this is what they learn. Power Source Parenting evolved out of the question, “what if we could equip these young parents with the social and emotional skills, positive parenting practices, and risk-reduction skills that are the foundation of raising healthy children. And with the help of the St. Mary’s TPP, Power Source Parenting was born.
Since the publication of Power Source Parenting (PSP) in 2011, MA DCF has been a stalwart and creative partner with Lionheart in bringing high-quality programming to the young parents of Massachusetts. PSP is offered in all 22 TPPs and is supported by ongoing staff training, consultation, and groups provided by Lionheart. In 2012, DCF partnered with Lionheart and The New York University School of Nursing and MIT in an NIH grant to examine the efficacy of the Power Source Program that included a mobile health technology component. Participants in the study wore galvanic skin response sensors that activated a mobile PSP health app to coach young mothers when their bands were activated (a sign of stress). This study was one of the pioneering efforts in the use of such technology and would not have been possible without the innovative and collaborative spirit of those overseeing the TPPs and the research department of DCF.
Last week we spoke to a TPP director who shared that a parent who had been a resident nearly 10 years ago recently came in asking for a copy of Power Source Parenting for her neighbor. She said that what she learned in her PS group changed her life and changed her ability to be an effective, loving parent. She had been watching her young neighbor struggling with the demands of parenting and reflected, “she needs to learn what I learned with PSP. How to be an effective parent, how to get what you need in a good way. How to be patient with your child.” While at Lionheart we work to bring high-quality, research-driven resources into the field, without strong alliances with agencies such as the MA DCF that welcome us in to develop, pilot, and research these programs the scope and scale of what we do would be greatly diminished. So thank you DCF and all the other youth serving systems across the US that support innovation in how we address trauma and care for the youth who need us most.
For more information on Power Source Parenting, click here.
In April 2021, Lionheart was awarded an Innovative Grant by the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). This grant marks Lionheart’s 6th straight Innovative Grant from CDCR (we have previously received funding to provide both Houses of Healing and Power Source to sites across the state).
This 3-year grant enables Lionheart to provide both Power Source and EQ2 groups to youth and staff in two of California’s juvenile detention facilities, and is significant as CA recently voted to close all of its juvenile detention facilities by June 30th, 2023. Lionheart feels honored to be among the small group of organizations that were selected to provide this last round of programming to youth in detention, and to support staff during their transition out of DJJ.
Power Source groups began Monday June 7th and are off to a fantastic start! Partnering with the amazing team at Self-Awareness and Recovery (SAR), a non-profit organization that aims to reduce recidivism rates and incarceration in the Sacramento region, we served 45 youth across four groups in one day! Groups will continue to run weekly via video call until it is safe to return to in-person. We look forward to beginning EQ2 groups with staff starting in the Fall.
Read on for a little more information about why Power Source was chosen!
Why Power Source?
The majority of justice-involved youth have experienced complex-trauma, with some studies reporting prevalence rates as high as 95%1, 2. Research with juvenile offenders has shown that youth who reported histories of trauma were more likely to be gang involved, had a greater likelihood of reoffending, and were more likely to be classified as serious, violent, and chronic offenders by the age of 183, 4. Further, there is clear evidence that trauma exposure is linked to difficulties with emotional regulation, which in turn, leads to the externalizing and internalizing disorders often associated with offending behaviors5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
Power Sourceis a resiliency-based, developmentally sensitive, trauma-informed group intervention that has been shown to strengthen youths’ self-regulation and reduce risk-taking behavior. PS is guided by a theoretical model that frames the interplay of emotional regulatory processes, and social, cognitive and mental health functioning as mediating factors in delinquent, offending and substance use behaviors10. PS has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and, following a 4-year investigation on the adolescent unit of Rikers Island, is currently the largest study investigating the effects of a mindfulness-based, cognitive-behavioral curriculum with incarcerated adolescents. PS groups have been used in a wide variety of settings serving justice involved youth including secure and non-secure detention, diversion programs, residential treatment, youth court schools, and youth in adult facilities.
PS compliments and amplifies intervention approaches already used in DJJ settings such as those targeting substance use, anger management, and work readiness. The program is designed to increase emotional and self-regulation capacities (including stress and anger management) through mindfulness, restorative justice practices, and high-impact cognitive-behavioral skills. In addition, the program helps youth build peer selection and refusal skills, develop cohesive self-identities, explore positive future orientations, and examine family histories of trauma, abuse, neglect, incarceration and addiction that are correlated with offending behavior. Built around first-person stories from other youth, engagingly illustrated worksheets, and powerful videos, PS is highly accepted by youth. The PS workbook (filled with personalized coping strategies and self-regulation resources) also serves as a tangible asset for youth to take with them as they transition back into the community.
For more information on the Power Source Program, click here.
1: Abram, K. M., Teplin, L. A., Charles, D. R., Longworth, S. L., McClelland, G. M., & Dulcan, M. K. (2004). Posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma in youth in juvenile detention. Archives General Psychiatry, 61(4), 403-40.
2: Becker, S.P. & Kerig, P.K. (2011). Posttraumatic stress symptoms are associated with the frequency and severity of delinquency among detained boys. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 40(5), 765-7
3: Baglivio, M. T., Wolff, K. T., Piquero, A. R., & Epps, N. (2015). The relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and juvenile offending trajectories in a juvenile offender sample. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43, 229-241.
4: Fox, B. H., Perez, N., Cass, E., Baglivio, M. T., & Epps, N. (2015). Trauma changes everything: Examining the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders. Child Abuse & Neglect, 46, 163- 173. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.011
5: Aldao, A., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Schweizer, S. (2010). Emotion-regulation strategies across psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 217-237. http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.11.004
6: Cabrera, J. & Linick, J. (2019). Aggression. In R. Gerson & P. Heppell (Eds.), Beyond PTSD: Helping and healing teens exposed to trauma (pp. 49-72). American Psychiatric Association.
7: Caspi, A. (2000). The child is father of the man: Personality continuities from childhood to adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(1), 158-172.
8: Cavanagh, M., Quinn, D., Duncan, D., Graham, T., & Balbuena, L. (2017). Oppositional defiant disorder is better conceptualized as a disorder of emotional regulation. Journal of Attention Disorders, 21(5), 381–389. https://doi. org/10.1177/1087054713520221
9: Frick, P.J. Morris, A.S. (2004). Temperament and developmental pathways to conduct problems. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 54–68.
10: Van Goozen, S. H. Fairchild, G., Snoek, H., & Harold, G. T. (2007). The evidence for a neurobiological model of childhood antisocial behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 149-182.
Exclusive Q&A with Lionheart’s Executive Director and Creator of the Houses of Healing Program
The following is an exclusive Q&A with Robin Casarjian, Lionheart’s Executive Director and author of Houses of Healing. Keep reading to find out more about her work with incarcerated individuals and Lionheart’s newly-released self-study program, Making Time Count.
Q: What led you to get involved in the development of programs for incarcerated individuals, and then to eventually develop the Houses of Healing Program?
A: I was giving a public talk on forgiveness, the topic of my first book, and a woman came up to me after the talk and said, “I teach a course on addiction recovery at a medium security prison for men in Massachusetts. What you are saying would be so relevant for the men to hear. Would you be willing to come to the prison and share these same insights?” I had never been in a prison – I had never thought about going into a prison – but I welcomed the opportunity. Eight men attended the group. She asked if I would do one more presentation but since it wasn’t part of an ongoing group she warned me that it was possible that only a few men would show up. I drove over an hour from my home thinking, “perhaps no one will attend.” When I arrived at the room at 9AM, there were 120 men waiting for the talk to begin. They were very engaged and asked great questions. My host asked if I would return and offer a course. I was so moved by the men’s response that I accepted her invitation. One thing led to another and the Houses of Healing Program was developed. After facilitating numerous programs in a number of prisons over a four-year period, I wrote the book Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom.
Q: How do you describe the Houses of Healing Program?
A:Houses of Healing is a social-emotional literacy curriculum written to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to use their time in a potentially life-changing way. There are many aspects of the program all supporting greater self-awareness, and emotional regulation and healing. Incarcerated individuals learn mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral techniques that empower them to escape the prison of chronic anger, fear and negative reactivity. It teaches a variety of emotional regulation strategies that, when practiced regularly, naturally lend themselves to greater insight and self-control. Because so many incarcerated individuals have significant early trauma histories, a segment of the program focuses on healing the impact of childhood wounding. This is revelatory and deeply healing for many. There is a segment on victim awareness that offers tools and perspectives to help participants take full responsibility for offending behavior. They are encouraged to own up to their actions and the impact of their actions, make amends when possible, and learn from their past. When participants genuinely dedicate themselves to this inner work and self-reflection, then whether they serve a life sentence or go back into the community, they nurture a more peaceful, responsible and dignified life. They mature emotionally and spiritually.
Q: This year, Lionheart released Making Time Count, a self-study program designed to be used in conjunction with the book Houses of Healing. What led you to design specific programming for people in restrictive housing or solitary confinement?
A: While Houses of Healing can be read independently by anyone who’s interested, its power is often augmented when used as the centerpiece of facilitator-led group programs. For individuals whose movement is highly restricted as in solitary confinement or administrative segregation, participating in “out-of-cell” programs isn’t possible. About five years ago, Lionheart received a grant from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to offer the Houses of Healing program in CDCR SHUs (Special Housing Units — or solitary confinement) as a self-study program. Over a period of 3 years, 430 men in the SHUs registered for the self-study course. It is currently offered in two CDCR Administrative Segregation units — another form of highly restricted housing. To ensure that the course was designed to inspire participation and encourage the same depth of self-reflection and engagement that participants might do if they had the structure and support of a classroom program, what evolved was the “Making Time Count” workbook.
As a side note, the release of Making Time Count was during Covid when all prisons were locked down so all incarcerated individuals were essentially in a form of highly restricted housing. Consequently, the book and workbook were used with the general prison population as well. Even though the workbook was initially created for use as self-study, it lends structure and depth to classroom programs as well.
Q: What impact do you hope to have as a result of the release of Making Time Count (MTC)?
A: The release of Making Time Count offers incarcerated individuals the opportunity to engage in rehabilitative programming in any setting. My hope is that more and more incarcerated individuals, whether in a highly restricted setting or in out-of-cell programs in general population, will have access to the program and that it will have a life-transforming impact — one where they embrace the process of personal growth and realize their fundamental goodness and power to always make positive choices.
On another note, in classroom programs, MTC helps to standardize the intervention regardless of the skill and experience of a given facilitator. Some facilitators, be they staff, volunteers, or with increasing frequency, mature inmates, may really appreciate the content while not having the skills to optimally facilitate the program. MTC (and the Houses of Healing Video Series) help to compensate for this lack of facilitation skill in a significant way. Worksheets from MTC can be completed by participants and processed in restorative justice type circles. Through this process participants learn and are inspired by one another.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share, related to HOH or MTC?
A: Not specifically but on a more general note, there is a saying that “we can’t choose what we don’t yet know exists.” My hope is that this program, and feedback that we have received from hundreds of incarcerated individuals affirms that if people with some level of motivation are introduced to new, more positive and life-affirming ways of relating to life, they then have the option of choosing them — and many do…. And this of course results in a ripple effect out into the world.
Click here for more information on the Houses of Healing Program and the Making Time Count Workbook.
I’m working as a UX designer on the EQ2 mobile app redesign project with the Lionheart team, Marco Portigliatti, Jenny Jiang, as well as the DALI Lab. Together, we’re working to transform the EQ2 app into a platform that increases residential care staff’s wellbeing by helping them develop self-regulation skills, mindfulness and resiliency practices. Understanding the importance of the EQ2 program, what’s at stake and how our work with the EQ2 app can contribute to the program’s mission brings me a very strong sense of purpose.
So far, the experience has been a source of great learnings for all. I am amazed by everyone’s ability to learn from each other, thus making the most out of our different backgrounds and respective expertises. I love the curiosity, the active listening and the constructive feedback that characterize our collaboration. All the people involved are very driven by the potential for impact inherent to this project, and I cannot stress enough how much of a pleasure it is to work with such a bright and empathic team — it never feels like work. Even if our collaboration has been fully remote, I feel that not only have I gained experience and had the chance to make a difference for others with the EQ2 app, but that I have also made friends. I wish this project wouldn’t end!