Alternatives to Violence Program goes beyond prison

June 27, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

When the Alternatives to Violence Program first came to the Maryland Correctional Institution 11 years ago, the object was to help inmates help each other redirect their negative energies into positive forces to resolve conflicts.

The prison then was filled with tension between inmates and inmates as well as between inmates and staff, said Calvin McNeil as he explained the history of AVP's beginnings at Wednesday night's recognition night.

That tension welled up in the early 1990s into a full-fledged riot with injuries and $1 million in damages at the medium-security prison south of Hagerstown.


With the support of the warden, prison staff and volunteers in the Community Correctional Services Committee, the Alternatives to Violence Program was initiated at MCI to keep that from repeating itself.

Wednesday night, there was a glimpse of how AVP's impact is being felt beyond prison walls as inmate Steven Sanders offered his testimony.

"While I have sat in on many exercises, I never really felt the true effect until an experience with one of my daughters," Sanders said. The 10-year AVP veteran said he used what he had learned in the workshops to help his daughter through a crisis.

He said he told his daughter he loved her, cared for her and would support her and pray for her.

"So I am here to say my daughter did reconsider what she was doing," Sanders said. "It really worked."

Over the years, outside facilitators have worked with inmates inside the prison walls and helped those inmates become facilitators for other inmates.

More than 90 basic workshops have been held plus 45 advanced workshops since 1991, said McNeil. In that time, more than 8,000 inmates have come through the programs.

Guest speakers Carl French and Christi Bowers of the Washington County Community Mediation Center echoed the evening's theme of "Give Peace A Chance."

"Mediators bring people together and guide them," French said. "We don't decide who is right and who is wrong."

Noting the similarities between mediation and the AVP format, French said his program has a 95 percent success rate for conflict resolution. "Mediation is a vital tool in violence prevention."

Bowers said she believes in mediation so much that she devotes all her time to it instead of practicing law. She said she was struck by the parallel purposes of her mediations and AVP.

Several inmates echoed that.

"The power works inside the institution and outside too," said Mark Rowley who has nine years invested in the program.

Philip Johnson is committed to passing along his positive outlook to other inmates and he said AVP gives him the tools.

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