Restorative Justice is a name that can describe Nonviolent Communication consciousness when it is used to heal the pain that arises when people attempt to meet their needs unskillfully, including when lack of skill has brought people into conflict with our cultures’ laws.
Started in 2002, our Safer Communities project supports healing and skill-building by offering ongoing, weekly NVC trainings in San Quentin State Prison, and in jails in Sonoma County. We have wanted an active Restorative Justice program since we first began and were delighted when San Quentin Prison approached Diana Lion of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship about being part of a new program at San Quentin, the Success Program. Diana contacted us about whether trainers were available, and we in turn asked the members of our first Leadership Program year whether they would be willing to provide trainings inside the prison; six people volunteered.
Our training team has included as many as 14 volunteers. Three of the original six now form a core team that guides development of the program and connects with prison and jail administrations. Meganwind Eoyang supports our developing programs and is our liaison with Sonoma County jail. John Porter is excited about raising funds to support our work. Sharran Zeleke is our liaison with San Quentin. Benson Scott holds our intentions around post-release programs. Our teaching team also includes Lisa Montana, Renee Soule, Saundra Thomas, Sheryl Faria, Sheila Menezes, and Valerie Sinzdak. Two of our team members took their experience to build prison programs in other states: Fred Sly started the Oregon Prison Project, Dave Smith developed and founded the Massachusetts Prison Project, and another was hired by the New Zealand Department of Corrections as Programs Manager based on her experience with our teaching team.
In 2003, two team members attended a training offered by the CNVC-sponsored, Seattle-based Freedom Project. As a result, we decided to craft our own curriculum, which is now being used in our classes, and proposed expanding our program at San Quentin to include a weekly practice group and a year-long program. We are excited to report that the prison has approved both of our proposals, and these programs are now established, in place, with more than 100 men on the waiting list. We have also started practice groups in Sonoma County at the BayNVC Oakland office for returnees and their families. We offered classes in compassionate communication for returnees through the San Francisco Sheriffs Department’s Nova Project of Mission Council, The Gamble Institute’s Family Connections program in Oakland, and Athena House, a residential recovery home for parolees in Santa Rosa.
Our vision is to provide inmates, returnees, and their families NVC training, practice groups, and individual and couples support throughout the greater Bay Area, free of charge. We are especially concerned about addressing the increase in domestic violence that we are observing nationwide.
To address these issues we need your help. Our Restorative Justice efforts so far have been based solely on the efforts of volunteers. The materials for our classes were donated by CNVC, Puddle Dancer Press, and (formerly) the print shop at San Quentin for several years, and now Puddle Dancer Press offers a special discount for books used in this project. We would like to support our volunteers by reimbursing their travel expenses, and to help them meet a portion of their financial needs through their participation in this program. As a result, we are asking for monetary donations from our community. If you’d like to support this program financially, please write “Safer Communities Project” on your check so we know where you would like your donation to go.
We would enjoy help in writing grants, and if you are excited to support us in this way, please contact Meganwind Eoyang at the BayNVC office: 510-433-0700, extension 230. If you would like to volunteer for the program, or be considered for inclusion on the teaching team, please contact Meganwind Eoyang.
My need for freedom is met because when I step in this class, I step out of prison for two hours.
You guys have a magical program. A lot of men I know who are hotheads come out of it with a extraordinary amount of reason. I hear guys who would have been doing physical harm in the past, now saying, "Why do you think you feel that way and what is it I can do?" There's a lot of negotiating going on.