Something miraculous has emerged from within the
“criminal justice” system…
It’s called “The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)”
Something miraculous has emerged from within the
“mental health” system
…It’s called “The Peer Support Movement”
These two brilliant lights, are “children” born of trauma…
Their bounty emanates from the depths
of OUR personal transformations.
Long before they were introduced,
both had, each, in their own way,
managed to spread transformation to every corner of the globe.
Now, across crowded institutions,
their eyes have met… their hearts have engaged…
And their union is the vision you are invited to co-create!
AVP is a magically transformative community building group process, with roots deeper than the place and time we pick up the story, and branches that reach into 65 countries and beyond – into diverse settings – utilized for diverse purposes… Its fruits are transformed lives!
The peer support movement is the equally amazing, and probably just as far-reaching, emergence of a simultaneous wonder of transformation with remarkably similar values; a healing and rights revolution for people labeled as having psychiatric and/or substance use challenges… inspired and created by US! …the living testaments to its efficacy!
This Union is a means toward global health!
We pick up the story in 1975, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Stormville, NY. A number of incarcerated men, relocated after experiencing violence and loss of life in the “Attica uprising,” initiated a dream. They wanted to create a means to ensure that their children would never suffer a similar fate. They solicited help from Quakers, well-seasoned in conflict resolution practices, who in turn invited wisdom from prominent civil rights leaders. Utilizing their combined wisdom, other existing bits and pieces, and great creativity, the Alternatives to Violence Project was born.
AVP offers groups of incarcerated people (and others) a series of three-day “workshops,” delivered in an interactive and highly engaging style that has been termed a “collaborative learning” format, meaning wisdom and power are shared equally, by soliciting and valuing input from all participants in the circle. Opportunities to learn various interpersonal skills, cull for insight from everyone’s lived experience, and heal …abound!
Seated in an unobstructed circle, participants are invited by one or another of a team of volunteer facilitators, to engage in various activities. These activities or “exercises” are arranged intentionally by “type”: affirmation, communication, “light & lively,” cooperation, trust building & conflict resolution… and they build, one upon another, with foreknowledge that this “recipe” invites a trusting and joyful atmosphere, within which we find ourselves taking risks, unearthing buried trauma energy, learning, playing like children… shining! Most exercises are “debriefed,” mining the gold of our individual lived experiences and insights.
Throughout, a “Transforming Power” is evident because we invariably notice that everyone in the circle has immense intrinsic value! This “knowing” is essential for the experience that develops into nothing short of, what Martin Luther King Jr (a God-father of the process), termed: “Beloved Community.” A lived experience of Unity that most of us have never had before.
Transforming Power is the conceptual foundation of AVP. It speaks of a power that is available to us, through us, as us …and/or that “has us!” It’s got as many definitions as there are people who care to define it, and is most often described through personal anecdotes. We who facilitate the circles, see Transforming Power in action all the time! In the emergence of that which is undeniably priceless in another. In the breath-taking awe of watching a “trauma bubble” rise, burst and melt safely away …and in the cooperative “miracles” that reestablish harmony if something should threaten the community bonds we’ve all contributed to creating.
After completion of the three workshops, participants with the desire, are then invited to apprentice as facilitators. This ensures the pool of facilitators is always growing. The roots spread!
AVP has historically been all “volunteer,” though through the years, and in different parts of the world circumstances have dictated otherwise (changes are currently afoot). This still holds true in prisons in the U.S.; which tends to be useful for gaining participant trust and keeping the process fairly undiluted…
What an amazing testament to its efficacy that it’s managed to spread as it has!
Unfortunately, thousands of highly skilled facilitators who would love nothing more than to share AVP’s gifts of transformation, return home from prisons unable to. They simply have to find paid employment! The practical needs of life swallow up their time and energy, and the benefit of their valuable skills is lost to the communities it was intended to benefit. To a large extent, the dream goes unfulfilled… and at a time when the world is positively thirsting for what they “got!”
Aspects of the vision so far:
The relationship has begun! We in the peer support movement are having opportunities to experience AVP-based processes geared for us! And whenever we do, we bond, we heal… we fall in love! Everything we learn in these circles – the personal insight, the interpersonal-skill and aspects of the process itself – enhances our ability to serve our peers. As the demand for the experience grows, the need for seasoned facilitators will too. Potentially, this could mean (tremendously) “right livelihood” for returning citizens!
Currently there are two AVP-based processes aimed at peer supporters (and beyond), and every circle attracts new zealots!
“Peace Work” is one… Its purpose is to create a means for skilled facilitators returning from prison, as well as peer supporters and passionate others with AVP-based skills, to use them for hire within the mental health system and beyond (within our own communities, with specific “populations” we feel led to work with, etc.) A Peace Work Trademark exists and will be collectively owned; a website domain awaits input from co-creators.
The other is “Recovery to Practice (RTP) Next Steps,” a SAMHSA-grant sponsored training for working peer supporters. It has been making a tremendous splash all over the country! It delivers hard-won peer wisdom in an AVP format, complete with a supplemental workbook, and operates as a multi-module training with CEUs for certified peer specialists (with optional follow up training for facilitators).
While we’ve been getting a foothold! Eager RTP angels (including trained AVP facilitators) have been traveling all over, sometimes on their own dime; often facilitating for free! While the dream involves “financial sustainability” (a.k.a. the promise we will eventually earn a livelihood doing the work), this offers an idea of the spirit this process inspires! Ultimately this is NOT about money. It’s about doing what works to heal ourselves, build our communities… heal our world!
Since 2012, RTP Next Steps has been offered (often multiple times) in the following locations:
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Rochester, New York
- Syracuse, New York
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
- New York City, New York
- Decatur, Georgia
- Tacoma, Washington
- San Antonio, Texas
- Roanoke, Virginia
- Austin, Texas
- Chicago, Illinois
A final piece of amazing news is that the Alternatives to Violence Project – which by now has chapters in a large number of US states, a national, as well as an international branch – is forming alliances with “adaptations,” organizations providing AVP-based processes, and exploring mutual benefits. The potential ramifications of this, as they apply to spreading and benefiting both AVP and the peer support movement, are huge!
It becomes more apparent every day
that Transforming Power is invested in this Union!
If you feel called to do more to bring it about, consider:
Co-creating an inspiration infusion exchange
Finding your local AVP branch and signing up! www.avpusa.org
Finding an AVP branch in another country and signing up!www.avp.international
Looking into inviting a Recovery to Practice Training:
- Lisa Goodale, Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Or Rita Cronise (RTP Curriculum Designer) email@example.com