There’s not much silence in an Alternatives to Violence Workshop. But there’s a lot of soaking in good energy. We do silly games like Mrs. Mumbly Just can’t smile (talk without showing teeth); sly games like taking a slow boat to China; rowdy games like Jailbreak where in pairs you race to sit in the chairs before anyone else gets there. What do all these games have to do with Nonviolence?

When a divided and defensive community like in a prison links arms and runs or laughs together; you transform that community into one of trust and openness. Then guys look at how to change negative reactions. In short, it’s hard to punch someone when you’re laughing with them.

In the AVP workshop we have serious discussions. What incidents happen that make your anger thermometer rise up? At what point do you boil over? In Concord Prison if one gets vexed it means break out in a rage. How can you react differently to insults thrown your way? My vocabulary really expanded in this exercise: I learned the words skinner, to ice someone, and when you take someone down. We looked at messages that still linger from childhood such as, “You’re a moron-you’ll never succeed. You’re too clumsy, who’d ever work with you?…You are estupido… You can’t do math…. You’re a loser.” WE then looked at messages we wanted to receive in our youth. Sitting in a circle on the ground we gave these messages to each other. “You’re wonderful; I’ll love you no matter what happens. I support whatever career you want to pursue…. Your kindness makes you successful… Your inner soul shines.

We talk about apologizing. Is forgetting the altercation necessary for total forgiveness? How do we let go of an insult? Does revenge fuel us and give our lives meaning? Does keeping a grudge stoke our pride? Then we all considered someone in our lives that we need to apologize to. We took 10 minutes and wrote a letter to that person, making sure to take responsibility for our mistakes. It was very powerful and touching. One guy said, I hurt you and I want to stitch up the wound. Another man, call him Jose, was about 22 years old when he found that the victim of his past crime was incarcerated. He tried to apologize but the victim was still furious. In fact Jose feared that his victim was seeking to harm him. So Jose avoided him in the gym, hall and lunchroom. He was quite scared of any contact. He thought they’d both end up in the hole if they ever physically attacked. Then Jose ended up taking an AVP workshop in prison, and his past victim shows up at the same workshop. On the second day, the victim chose to sit down with Jose and he apologized and shook Jose’s hand. Now they are friends and support each other. It was quite a transformation.

Andy Towle & Patty Derr