During the worship service on Sunday, May 6th, our collective offering will go to Insight-Out, a Bay Area non-profit organization that seeks to transform the prison system—and those living inside of it—“from the inside out.” Advocating for a criminal justice system that focuses on effective rehabilitation rather than punishment, Insight-Out offers inmate rehabilitation programs that address the root causes of violent behavior, helping incarcerated men gain the skills they need to become peacemakers in their own communities. For over twenty years, Insight-Out has helped violent offenders at San Quentin State Prison “leave prison before they get out” through its signature program, Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP). The GRIP program teaches inmates how to transform their violent behavior using mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Participants learn how to heal the pain that drives violence and how to respond to difficulty without lashing out.
In 2015, I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the GRIP classes at San Quentin, and the experience made a profound impression on me. I was deeply moved by the courage, honesty and tenderness I witnessed among the men. I was humbled and inspired by their dedication to do inner work that is both extremely difficult and tremendously rewarding. What struck me most was that so many of us are trying to do this work—trying to free ourselves from “the inside out”—but the incarcerated GRIP participants face hurdles that many of us “on the outside” can scarcely conceive. And yet, they persevere—identifying the root-causes of their maladaptive behavior and learning to stay with the pain. The GRIP participants call this “learning to sit in the fire.”
The end goal of the GRIP program is for graduates to become peacekeepers themselves, working to resolve conflict and prevent violence in their communities—both inside and outside of prison. The GRIP program has been remarkably successful. To date, 103 GRIP graduates (almost all violent offenders serving life sentences with the possibility of parole) have been released from prison, and none of them have come back. That is an unprecedented recidivism record!
One of the premises of the GRIP program is that “hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.” Peer education is thus a key component of the GRIP program. Trained ex-offenders who have been through the GRIP program serve as co-facilitators and mentors, earning a living while transitioning back to life outside of prison. Many GRIP graduates who remain incarcerated likewise train as facilitators, helping to grow the program from the inside as well. In this way, the GRIP program fosters a strong and supportive community, one that inspires trust and perseverance on the personal journey toward healing.
In addition to their direct work with inmates, Insight-Out advocates for shifting California’s priorities from punishment to rehabilitation as well. The founder and Executive Director, Jacques Verduin, is a leading advocate for prison rehabilitation funding at the state level, helping to secure $4-5 million per year for rehabilitation services for the last few years. This funding increase has enabled Insight-Out to expand the GRIP program from San Quentin to four other area prisons, serving a total of 500 men each year. The Insight-Out team hopes to expand their programs to reach more Spanish speaking inmates in the near future.
Our Universalist faith rejects the idea that anyone is beyond healing, beyond salvation; it insists on the radically inclusive and transformative power of love. Through our May Share the Plate collection, we have the opportunity to help shift our society away from punishment and toward healing and rehabilitation. It’s hard to think of a clearer way to demonstrate our Universalist values than this! So I hope you will join me in giving as generously as possible to support the work of Insight-Out on May 6th. And I encourage you to visit www.insight-out.org and watch the moving video on the homepage so you can see and hear from GRIP participants themselves. I promise you will be glad you did. —Tovis Page