IPP | Breaking the Cycle

image credit: Ilker

The Insight Prison Project (IPP) works with people who are incarcerated in the California penal system with a bead on transforming their lives and through them the lives of people in their communities—both the community that they are a part of inside the prison and the community they will be a part of once they leave the prison. Their aim is to break the cycle so that those who are paroled don’t end back in prison–70% of folks who get out end up back in prison after eighteen months on the outside. IPP focuses on undoing the habits that brought someone to prison in the first place. Their motto is to have those who are incarcerated “Leaving prison…before you get out.”

IPP has been around for nine years taking classes into prison that transform behavior, helping folks become more self-aware and therefore less likely to repeat the behavior that got them there. On their Web page readers learn that “there are three stages in [the] transformational process: developing the capacity for insight, practicing what is being learned while incarcerated, and integrating the new insights into durable behavioral change. [IPP’s] goal is to train the men in self-awareness and impulse control by helping them develop the ability to reflect on their experience, especially when triggered. Building the mindfulness skill of the capacity to stop and reflect produces a shift from an impulsive reaction to a skillful response, or conscious choice. Mastering this behavioral shift represents the decisive difference between committing a crime or not.”

Their classes include yoga, meditation, and VOEG, which stands for Victim Offender Education Group. VOEG is an intensive 6-8 month program that allows men to take a long look at the experiences that led them to where they are and the impact that it’s had on those around them, including those who have been victimized by them. They learn to take responsibility for what they’ve done, and in the end also practice giving back to their community. In the fall of 2011 and in February 2012 IPP will be offering classes for those that want to become Restorative Justice Trainers and train to work with prisoners.

All of the folks they work with are there because they want to be there, prisoners determined to break the cycle of keeping prison in their hearts and minds even when they’re on the outside. All of which is fostered by their own focus, on HOW the men got to where they are, not on the crime itself.

IPP’s Founding Director, Jacques Verduin, had a dream before he began the project, one that led him to understand that in our materialistic society our focus has turned away from the importance of relationship and community and towards our own wants, desires, needs, etc. in a way that is out of balance. He believes we’ve developed a strong lack of compassion to those around us, some of which leads us to forget the importance and value of others. We have forgotten we are all connected. IPP carries that out into the world, that “we have a responsibility to work with those in our community who do not live by the rules we have all agreed on,” because we are all connected.

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