Before You Get Out
by Jacques Verduin
When you commit to do the work, you begin to understand that love is not just a feeling; it's a way of being present.
When we start the GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) program in San Quentin, I ask the men: how much time have you served? Together, we calculate the total. In one of the classes (26 guys) we had 551 years of time served in the room. Next, we also calculated the number of lives lost: 18. I then asked, "How long were you in your moment of 'Imminent Danger'?" This is the moment between anger and violence; also the moment between craving and using.
To get away from the "ready, shoot, aim" approach our goal here is to learn to "ID" this moment (ID being the acronym for IDentify and the abbreviation for Imminent Danger). It is the moment before we lose it and commit our crimes. It has three characteristics;
1. Everything speeds up.
2. Everything intensifies.
3. There is an experience of regret, afterwards.
The moment of Imminent Danger is usually a short moment - a flash. It usually lasts 5 seconds, 30 seconds, 5 minutes. For these 26 guys, it tallied up to 41 minutes 40 seconds. Seeing these two numbers compared - the years of time served and the ID moments - the room fell silent.
Sorrow is suffering that has not been restored and begs to be addressed. You either learn how to process this suffering or you add your drama to the drama. We call this "hurt people hurt people."
Our group then talked about how to process what in the curriculum is called original pain. Those are the wounds that have left imprints which feed our triggers. We learned there are four strategies in response to those challenges: You can run, hide, fight, or you can face the situation. Through facing we align with our power. The heart practice we employ for this is called, "Sitting in the Fire." You sit in the fire; you burn clean and leave ashes. You learn to go in, through, and out of suffering. This is a meditation the group practices together.
Through this practice we learn to understand that the cause and origin of this pain lies within ourselves, by virtue of how we react to it. Every time we practice, we face this pain, one piece at a time, until it slowly burns up. We also externalize our demons through writing and role playing, which bonds us and restores our common humanity.
The other way of reacting to pain causes additional pain. We call it secondary pain, or karmic pain. Avoiding the original pain creates a cycle of added pain. I ask the men, "Of these two cycles, which do you choose? If you're ready to do the work, raise your hand. This isn't just sweet talk about loving and forgiving. If you raise your hand, you are asked to commit to the program as if life depends on it, because you know what? It does...."
The good news is that when you commit to do the work, you begin to understand that love is not just a feeling; it's a way of being present. This commitment changes the direction of your karmic cycle 180 degrees; you become "a servant" on the spot.
It ain't like a country and western song played backwards, where you get your wife back, your dog doesn't die and your car starts working again. You may not be able to reconcile with all the people you have hurt, but you will serve others, starting with those around you. Doing your work on this level means (as the poet Rumi says) “you are now helping people that you have never met and never seen.” You've become a Change Agent at that point, someone that has learned to become worthy of his or her pain and can now serve others. In the program, we call this “healed people heal people."
© Jacques Verduin
See Jacques and some recent Insight Out students in this award-winning video, Leaving Prison Before You Get Out.
Also, on PBS's Religion & Ethics program, an interview with Jacques about the Prison Nonviolence Project.
Jacques Verduin, MA Somatic Psych. is a father, community organizer and a teacher. He is the Founding Director of the Insight Prison Project (IPP), a non-profit that since 1997 pioneers innovative in-prison rehabilitation programs in San Quentin. In 2011 he founded Insight-Out (IS0), which provides services and self-development opportunities to prisoners and challenged youth and empowers them to positively transform their predicament. Jacques has trained former prisoners to act as Change Agents in the community, working to prevent violence and incarceration. He is a subject matter expert on mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and transforming violence. He has worked in prisons for 16 years and serves as a catalyst for state-wide prison reform in California. To read more the GRIP program and other services at Insight-Out, go to his website, www.insight-out.org.