BayNVC’s Safer Communities Project teaches nonviolent communication (NVC) classes in 6-month and year long courses to incarcerated people at San Quentin State Prison and in jails in Sonoma County. Our students behind prison walls learn practical skills founded in self-awareness and compassionate communication that support a shift from blame and judgment into empathic connection, authentic expression and inner freedom. Each new class participant receives an NVC textbook for the course, free of charge.
Weekly classes train students to cope with the real-life challenges of prison life, foster compassionate relationships with their families and other prisoners, and enable incarcerated people who want to change to address many of the issues that have kept them locked into violent patterns of behavior and communication.
NVC classes offer prisoners the opportunity to:
“Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek—it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other. Being aware of those feelings and needs, people lose their desires to attack back because they see the human ignorance leading to those attacks. Instead, their goal becomes providing the empathic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.” – Marshall Rosenberg (Founder, Center for Nonviolent Communication.)
“You guys have a magical program. A lot of men I know who are hotheads come out of it with an 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.” – Marvin Mutch, formerly incarcerated prison reform activist and co-founder of the Men’s Advisory Council, a prisoner advocacy group first established inside San Quentin
The concept of Restorative Justice is foundational to NVC consciousness. Compassionate communication, self awareness and other tools can be used to empathize with people who have received harm, including the community at large—even without directly facilitating real-time dialog between the one who did harm and the one who received harm. NVC facilitates understanding of how the person who created the harm was attempting to meet their universal human needs however unskillfully, and often tragically and violently.
As BayNVC’s social justice project, Safer Communities’ vision is to transform the California State judicial system from a punitive justice system to a restorative model, one NVC class at a time.
Help us ensure that the Safer Communities Project can continue to make nonviolent communication classes accessible to the hundreds of motivated and eager students in San Quentin State Prison and beyond.
January 2023: We’re in the process of moving from our long-time home, BayNVC, and will update this space soon to tell you all where to find us and how you can support our work.
Safer Communities is primarily a volunteer-driven project. If you would like to find out more about how you can get involved by teaching, fundraising, writing grants, etc., or discuss how we can support you to develop an NVC prison project in your area, please contact Sheila Menezes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A team of highly skilled, dedicated volunteers makes the Safer Communities Project possible. Many on our team have studied with Marshall Rosenberg and BayNVC’s founders. While others are graduates of BayNVC’s Leadership and Immersion Programs or John Kinyon’s Mediate Your Life, A Training Company.
Currently, there are 14 active volunteers teaching in the prison and jail and supporting the project administratively. Former team members have gone on to build nonviolent communication prison programs in a number of other states, and New Zealand.
Last year, Safer Communities’ volunteers contributed over 1,200 hours in teaching time to their work, empowering approximately 100 incarcerated people. (This does not include hours spent preparing for classes, travel time, and bi-monthly team meetings.)
“My need for freedom is met because when I step into this class I step out of prison for two hours.” – Nicholas Kohlmann, San Quentin State Prison resident and Safer Communities student
“What has NVC done for me? It has given me tools to accept myself, love myself, forgive myself, understand myself, connect with myself, communicate with myself, to be aware of myself, and to accept, love forgive, understand, connect, communicate and be aware of others.” – Henry Edward Frank, San Quentin State Prison resident and Safer Communities student
“Why should anyone care about NVC being taught in prisons and jails? Because most of the students we reach would never have taken a class like this on the “outside” and most have families. By teaching in prisons we are reaching, in some small way, back into the communities that our students come from and will eventually return. There is more violence in our society than I would like, and this is a rare opportunity to reach various underserved communities that NVC doesn’t often get to reach and connect with deeply.” – John Porter, Safer Communities teaching team member
“This [Safer Communities] class is making a difference. This week I remembered to use my tools, both my NVC tools and my spiritual tools. I work in the machine shop and at the end of the day two tools were missing, a razor blade and a drill bit. The guards had all the guys who work in the shop standing in the yard a long time while they searched for the missing tools. In the past I would have been really angry about that, but this time I thought to myself, ‘Remember to use your tools.’ My NVC tool was to ask myself, ‘What do I need here?’ Then, I used my spiritual tool to practice patience. I was much calmer than usual for a situation like this. I felt good about myself for remembering I can choose how to respond to what happens instead of just reacting.” – Jon Cope, San Quentin State Prison resident and Safer Communities student
“My friend Bonnie has always said, ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ That’s what I see, too. I don’t know how shame, punishment, or warehousing people inside walls will help heal the hurt that leads to more hurting. I do know that dignity, kindness, honesty and self-acceptance have a better chance of making a difference. I teach with Safer Communities because our students want to understand the impact of their crimes and find a path to forgive themselves and carry on in new ways, motivated from within.” – Sheryl Faria, Safer Communities teaching team member