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Anti-violence class moves from prison to mainstream

May 27, 2003|By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Initially, Donna Acquaviva said she had some concerns that the first community-based Alternatives to Violence workshop in the Tri-State area might be hard to fill but there are just five slots open for the May 30-31 program.

"We are reaching out to people throughout the Tri-State area who are interested in doing something about the problem of violence in our society," said Acquaviva, one of the local organizers.

The workshop has been centrally located in Shepherdstown, W.Va., at the St. Agnes Activity Center along W.Va. 480, but is drawing people from Maryland and West Virginia, Acquaviva said.

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Alternatives to Violence workshops are well-known within the walls of the Maryland Correctional Institution located just south of Hagerstown, and the upcoming workshop will be conducted by the facilitators from those MCI programs.

For years, outside facilitators have been bringing the Quaker-based programs to inmates and training them to conduct their own three-day workshops with other inmates.

Acquaviva said her experiences in prison-based Alternatives to Violence workshops often have been dramatic and very painful. She said she has heard inmates tell of how they were told every day of their lives by their fathers that they were no good.

Another prisoner said he learned that his mother "stuffed him in a paper bag and threw him in a Dumpster" right after he was born. That knowledge sparked his life of anger and violence.

But through the Alternatives to Violence workshop he attended, that inmate was able to look his mother up and forgive her after learning that she was young, scared, poor and alone when she had him.

"He said he learned that his hatred for her was only hurting himself and he was able to forgive her," Acquaviva said.

Acquaviva said this first community workshop is limited to 20 people. She said she was pleased that with less than a week to go, only five positions were left.

"It's two days instead of three, like in the prisons," Acquaviva said. On Friday, the session is from 7 to 9 p.m. On Saturday, participants will be in workshop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Participants will learn through a series of exercises how to peacefully resolve conflict in their lives, improve listening skills, and build trust, self-esteem and assertiveness.

All parts of the program, including classroom materials, are free, though participants are asked to bring a brown bag lunch on Saturday.

When the Alternatives to Violence program began in 1975 in New York, it was only done in prison settings. It quickly spread within prison communities, bolstered by statistics that showed a lower incidence of prisoners returning to the lives of violence that brought them to prison in the first place, Acquaviva said.

The community program's goal is the creation of a nonviolent society by teaching people alternative ways of resolving conflict by dealing constructively with the violence within themselves and in their lives.

The workshop is co-sponsored by Rolling Ridge Study and Retreat Center; PeaceWorks, an ecumenical group working for peace and justice; and WVPeace, a coalition of peace and justice groups in the Eastern Panhandle.

To register, contact Acquaviva at 1-304-229-9569 or by e-mail, WriteforPub@aol.com.

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