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July 31, 2013

Prisoners Become Peacemakers at San Quentin

California’s San Quentin State Prison has an infamous reputation for being overcrowded, dangerous, and home to some criminals considered to be the “worst of the worst”. In an effort to turn violence into peace, psychologist Jacques Verduin created Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP), a year long program designed for prisoners to take ownership of and understand their past behavior and learn to become peacemakers in the future.

The program uses many techniques commonly used in treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because many inmates experience trauma long before becoming violent offenders, GRIP’s group therapy sessions focus on the origins of feelings behind violent acts inmates either participated in or witnessed.

Inmates are also taught to meditate through a practice called sitting in the fire. Participants learn to face painful emotions from their past. “Sitting in the fire, in essence,” said Verduin, “is a movement of responsibility, where you say, the causes and the origins of this feeling lie within me, so you can stop blaming.”

Making amends to families of their victims is also part of the journey in GRIP. Inmate Robin Guillen feels that this is the way to inner freedom.

“I have character defects, flaws, and I’m imperfect,” he says. “But I have a walk and I have a commitment to honor and to honor those people that I’ve hurt. And I have something to give. And I could either give it in here, or I can give it out there.”

After 52 weeks of very difficult self-exploration, the inmates are ready to give back. In a closing ritual, supporters welcomed back the graduates into the community as peacemakers.


“I think it’s an enormous gift to a community to bring back groups of men that have been imprisoned and the gift is to say, these are safe men. Not only will they not create conflict and violence in your community; the can help resolve it and de-escalate it,” – Jacques Verduin

Warm up questions

1. How has violence in your community affected you?

2. Do you believe that violent criminals can change?

3. What do you know about meditation?

Discussion questions

1. Explain how the GRIP rehabilitation process works? What is its goal?

2. Is this program valuable? Would you support it becoming a national rehabilitation program for prisoners? Why or why not, and provide specific examples.

3. What methods could you use to process difficult experiences? Who could you turn to for support?

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