We all know the power of AVP Workshops. However, unless one has trained as a facilitator and periodically facilitate workshops, one can easily lose the benefit of AVP in everyday life whether one is inside a prison or in the community. This possibility has been recognized, and efforts have sprung up to provide support in the principles of AVP for our graduates.
Typically, these groups are called support groups or dialogue sessions. In Shirley Medium Prison in Shirley, Massachusetts, with which I am most familiar, we call them “Practice Groups.” This name was chosen very deliberately to recognize that while people had been given the basic tools of AVP in a Basic and Advanced Workshop, further “practice” was needed to incorporate AVP values and principles into the fabric of one’s being and daily life.
At Shirley Medium Prison, we organize our “practice groups” in eight-week cycles, focusing on a different topic chosen by the participants themselves for the full eight weeks. In the last three years, focus topics have included: Forgiveness, Dealing with Tragedy, Removing Barriers to Communication in Relationships, Decision Making, Transforming Anger and Tools of Transforming Power. Largely, we use the Advanced Manual for exercises that relate to the focus though we have brought in other material, such as Kubler Ross, in Dealing with Tragedy. For each cycle, we have three inside facilitators, along with our two outside facilitators. We have found that this opportunity for more regular experience at facilitation has built a stronger, more capable cadre of inside facilitators that has been noticed by our other outside facilitators.
Inmates can sign up for eight weeks at a time. Preference is given to those men who have had both a Basic and Advanced workshop. However, we do have to acknowledge that we have bent the preference for a particularly eager person who has completed just a Basic.
We find the format allows for deeper discussion, and a rich and caring community is created. It is the opinion of this writer that AVP National should make continuing groups an endorsed and encouraged avenue of AVP in action. Perhaps the pages of the Transformer can be utilized to tell the story of other continuing AVP groups. By Jazzy June Johnson
At Elmira CF in NY, we meet every second and fourth Friday evening. The support group session goes from 6:15 until 9:15, with a break. Three outside facilitators are able to participate,] and we have a fairly large group of inside facilitators/apprentice facilitators. The inside and outside coordinators and facilitators drew up a skeleton agenda, by consensus, which includes: a welcome, check-in, gathering, light and lively, business, exercise and closing for every session. At each session, different apprentices sign up for an activity they have worked on since the last meeting. Thus , the men get to practice different activities and hone their skills until the next AVP workshop. We conduct the business portion as a whole group. Call-outs have been arranged in between support group meetings so the inside facilitators can get together and organize the set of activities for the next support group.
On the 2nd Friday, only facilitators and apprentice facilitators are called out for the meeting. On the 4th Friday, half or more of the men who have completed a Basic AVP workshop are called out with some of the apprentice facilitators. The next 4th Friday, the other half of those who have taken a Basic workshop are called out.
At ECF we can have only two full workshops a year, six months apart, and those workshops must be held during the week. Being able to participate in support groups keeps AVP alive in the men's lives and hearts and gives them a chance to practice their AVP skills.
Submitted by Simply Susan.Wolf.
In Auburn, NY, we have support groups for Advanced Workshop graduates three Tuesday evenings every month (the other nights are reserved for facilitators). Since we are limited to the number of people on a callout, we ask that people note if they cannot come for a while (classes, job) but would like to be put on at a later date.
The support group meets from approximately 7-9. The first meeting after an Advanced Workshop is for brainstorming and prioritizing issues and focus topics they would like more work on. That meeting can include a "check in" (how is everyone doing, feeling), followed by a gathering and a Light and Lively.
The subsequent support group meetings, led by facilitators, are a good opportunity for apprentice facilitators to hone their skills. Each meeting consists of: Gathering. Exercise Light and Lively and break, Exercise or discussion, Closing.
We ask participants to choose and lead Light and Livelies and Gatherings. It is easy to make a copy of the gatherings from the Advanced Manual. This is an opportunity to see who may develop into facilitators and be asked to the next Training for Facilitators.
Submitted by Caring Cynthia MacBain from Upstate NY.
June Adams Johnson and I founded and have, for several years, facilitated an AVP practice/support group at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Shirley, Massachusetts. Our structure is an eight-week cycle, meeting 90 minutes every Monday evening excluding holidays.
We encourage three or four inside facilitators who have completed the Training for Facilitators (the opportunity is open each cycle) to assist in facilitating the sessions. Participants are expected to have completed a Basic Workshop.
The group chooses a theme at the beginning of each cycle, i.e., Forgiveness, Relationships, Self-Awareness, etc., as the focus for the cycle. The theme is developed through participation in a gathering/exercise/sharing structure that incorporates AVP principles.
Submitted by Nurturing Neil Whitehouse.
The Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) has an AVP support group that meets once a month for an hour. Anyone who has ever attended an AVP workshop is eligible to attend. Following prison administrative policy for support groups, one of the inside counselors is the nominal “sponsor” for the group and sits in on the meetings. (We tried to get the administration to accept a community volunteer for that role, but they did not feel they could make an exception for our group.) The inmate facilitators who have facilitated all three levels of workshops form a leadership group. They meet with me once every three months and decide who is going to facilitate each meeting for the next three months. The designated facilitator picks a gathering and a closing. The content in between varies, from discussing one of the Transforming Power guides or issues they are having with applying AVP or doing a role play and discussing it afterward.
The institution has set a limit of 30 inmates maximum in any meeting. AVP has been functioning at ISP for a little over three years and has had over 150 people participate in workshops, about 90 of whom are still at ISP, about 60 of whom are active members.
We had to write a proposal and by-laws to get started.
Submitted by Smiling Sandy Krell.
At CTF Central in Soledad, California, our support groups are called "mini workshops.” Anyone who has taken a Basic is eligible to participate. We keep a Basic group together, as the bond is strong, and pair that group with a new group so they will meet and form a bond with other AVPers as well. We have a theme each time and do two exercises, a gathering, a Light and Lively and a closing. We meet for two hours on Mondays from 4 to 6 pm. Sometimes, when we choose a long exercise, we do only one. We never drop the gathering or Light and Lively. Some of the themes we have covered, which have been chosen by the inside facilitators, are: Community, Self-Esteem, Trust, Racism & Stereotyping, Self-Discipline, Peer Pressure, Self-Examination and Transforming Ourselves. Attendance at these workshops has been quite successful as there is often a long wait between workshops due to a small number of outside facilitators. These workshops keep the participants connected to the AVP community and give them something to work on in their lives. Most of the participants keep coming back although nothing goes in their files—they welcome the support!
I urge you to start support groups in your area. They have kept the participants motivated to work toward non-violence in their lives. Submitted by Loving Linda McCue.