Learning Peace through Inmates

Prisoners of Peace

A program that started in a women’s prison facility in  Chowilla, Ca in 2009, works on instilling peace within the prison system. In its initial implementation, it focused on female inmates who had life without parole sentences, and now encompasses every category of female inmate at Valley State Prison for Women. The goal is to train inmates to promote peace among themselves.

I found this program when simply typing in prison and peace education. There is another model of peace education that can be found with The Prem Rawat Foundation.


But I found Prisoners of Peace to be an important program to give light to because it was started by an inmate, Susan Russo. This means, that even in a place of great violence, peace can be inspired.  Russo has received the help of experts in peace education and mediation, Laurel Kaufer and Douglas Noll. Prisoners of Peace workshops were based on the book Peale Kills by Robert Bolton. While the program was constructed by Laurel and Doug, the trainings were conducted by certified personnel from Ridge Associates: http://ridge.com/

This type of program can be implemented in any classroom setting, but since it focuses greatly on peace circles, emotion intelligence, and third party neutrality mediation this would be best applied in a similar setting to the prison. This could mean: youth correctional facilities, counselors office, with students who are still within the public school system but have been separated from regular classes.

Because this program has resonated so strongly with the women in prison, it would be beneficial to consider the option of using this in men’s facilities. While some may hesitate to consider this, I would disagree. As the workshop program reflects, the first part of training focuses on reflection. This type of break-down allows oneself to truly focus on what is happening with them, before being asked to consider others. This would, as stated above, also benefit those at a younger level. Starting earlier with children who have already experienced conflict can greatly benefit them in the long term.

To get a better understanding of how these women’s lives have been changed by this program, I have provided a short video below. This video was taken and uploaded by one of the lead peace educators, Dough Noll.

Because this program was set up in a prison and there are very little resources, it was mostly funded by grants and pro-bono work of Kaufer and Noll. An effective training program takes up to 84 hours and 192 professional hours, according to the Prisoners of Peace. These training focus on reflection, listening skill development, emotional reading, peace circles, and neutrality. Something I find very interesting in this program is the educators need to focus on “moral re-engagement”. Since so many of these prisoners have committed murder and are then, sentences to life without parole there is a loss of ethics . This is something to focus on when doing trainings with those who moral compasses may have gone off track.

Based upon the results that Prisoners of Peace has seen, these peace circles and mediation trainings have become very effective within the parts of the prison they are practiced. As noted by Warden Walter Miller, “[s]ince the start of the Prison of Peace program the institution appears quieter and with less violence.” The prison has experienced less fights and more resolution between inmates without any staff interference. Inmates have also been able to use their skills in calming conflicts between staff and inmates.

While still on a small scale, the potential for this program within the prison and correctional systems within the United States is endless. Prisoners of Peace is proof that even the most violent of people can understand peace and use it to do good.

To get more information on the program please go to: http://www.prisonofpeace.org/index.html

To get in contact with the Peace mediators Laurel and Doug, please follow this link: http://www.prisonofpeace.org/contact.html

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