Cooling the Summers in Susanville Prisons

August 17, 2012

By Pat Hardy*

"This has been the calmest summer in recent years." — Prison administrator at a Susanville prison, one year after Alternatives to Violence Project workshops started.
Where is the nearest prison to you? The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has located most of its prisons near small towns, far away from the state's major population centers.
 
With California's economic problems, prison adult schools – including those teaching vocational skills and GED – have been drastically cut. Volunteer programs are being encouraged by the CDCR; however, volunteers – who sometimes must travel more than five hours each way for a weekend workshop – are few and far between. Therefore, focusing on the local community's involvement is crucial for sustainability of a volunteer program.
 
Fortunately, one group is making the trip to places that don't come up on Travel and Leisure Magazine vacation lists. The volunteers of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) regularly offer 20-hour interactive prison workshops in 18 California prisons and jails and a dozen communities, including Blythe, Susanville, Tehachapi, Corcoran, El Centro, and Chowchilla. The workshops, facilitated by teams of trained community and prisoner volunteers, are filled with laughter, listening, and ways to resolve conflict.
 
In Susanville, The United Methodist Church has stepped up to help. Through a Peace with Justice Grant from the Board of Church and Society of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, the Church supports two very effective AVP programs – at High Desert State Prison and California Correctional Center. To date, 434 inmates in the two Susanville prisons have graduated from AVP's workshops. Here's what one Susanville prison inmate had to say about the impact the program has made: "The AVP classes have given me the tools and the opportunity to help me break down my own barriers that I've acquired after spending 20 years in prison. Thank you, AVP!" 
 
"The AVP classes have given me the tools and the opportunity to help me break down my own barriers that I've acquired after spending 20 years in prison. Thank you, AVP!"—Susanville prison inmate.
A mini-workshop has been held at Susanville UMC, and two members of the congregation regularly offer their homes to tired facilitators coming from the Bay Area – thus helping to save the organization the greatest cost of these 20-hour workshops: lodging. (Most volunteers are, for now, donating the costs of carpooling as they drive their Priuses to the mountains.) United Methodist churches in Chico and Redding have indicated an interest in offering workshops in their communities in conjunction with AVP, also.
 
Always eager to introduce volunteers to this program, AVP is happy to offer a mini-workshop in your city. Check out locations where AVP has prisons and community groups, at www.avpcalifornia.org.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
*Pat Hardy is President/Clerk of the Alternatives to Violence Project, a retired and fulltime volunteer "honored to be serving in this amazing work that changes lives – mine and others'."