The Insight Prison Project helps incarcerated men learn new emotional skills in order to succeed in and out of prison. But it can also help crime survivors.
A dozen men sit in a circle. Some are old and some are young. A facilitator asks each one to check in with the group about how they are feeling emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Sometimes a man tears up with emotion as he talks. The others listen, offering nods of support or asking clarifying questions.
It sounds like a typical men’s support group—until you know these men are all prisoners incarcerated at San Quentin Prison.
This is a Victim Offender Education Group (or VOEG), an outgrowth of a movement that aims to help people who’ve committed crimes take responsibility for the harm they’ve caused others and to make amends to the victims of crime and their community. Operating within the criminal justice system as an alternative to punishment alone, these “restorative justice” programs help prove that personal transformation is possible, even for people who’ve committed the most serious crimes.
The VOEG is a project of the Insight Prison Project (or IPP), which began in 1997. The program aims to help incarcerated men learn new emotional skills and correct problem behaviors in order to succeed in and out of prison. IPP offers a multipronged approach to personal transformation, including classes in violence prevention, yoga, and mindfulness. It also brings victims and survivors together with inmates, so that the men can be exposed to the human impact of the types of crimes they’ve committed.
The process doesn’t just help the inmates to grow. It can also help the survivors. “When you’re sitting across from a person who has pulled the trigger and ended another person’s life, and you are telling them about your child attending their father’s funeral, you see the impact on that man,” says Dionne Wilson, whose husband, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. “That helps to heal me.”
IPP now operates in 12 state prisons, one federal prison, three county jails, several reentry facilities, and one juvenile institution—and the demand is growing.
To read Jill Suttie's article, please click here.