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Part 2 -Do you want an answer to ACEs? Playing the Mirror Neurons Like a Harp




Listen to the ACEs in Jimmy's story in the video above. Feel the impacts. And hear him on how AVP changed that!

Part 2:

What are we talking about?

It started as an anti-violence program in prison in 1975. Very quickly, however, they learned that it was about far more than violence. As the old saw says, “Hurt people, hurt people”. So in retrospect, it should come as no surprise that the more violent an inmate had been - the more violence, abuse and neglect they had suffered in their lives.

 It followed that the way to reduce violence in their lives was to heal the suffering and the impacts of this pain. Instead of focusing on anger management, coping mechanisms, and the usual raft of ‘don’t be violent’ “lessons”, the program quickly learned the most effective answers lay in addressing the root pain and neglect. And once you set down that road, you find that you are also healing many of the collateral issues of ACEs, trauma, abuse and neglect. You end up reducing suicide, depression, addiction, PTSD, low self-esteem, shame, alienation, isolation, distrust, anger, etc., etc. And then you realize that nonviolent people also need this healing and the impacts are far wider than we thought – you might even come to think they are universal.

 Just as ACEs have been shown to unleash an avalanche of social, emotional, and health problems, when you begin healing this ACEs related pain it suddenly looks like a panacea to solve or ameliorate a wide array of issues. And so, the program has now found its way into over 100 prisons, refugee camps, juvenile detention facilities, addiction recovery centers, schools, veterans programs, and more. It is working with rape survivors in the Congo, with trafficked girls in Nepal, with genocide survivors and perpetrators in Rwanda, with child soldiers in Colombia and Liberia; - the list is long and varied and spreads into over 50 countries.

 It did not matter that we were working with people 20 to 50 years after the infliction of their ACEs. Or maybe it does – because if you are finding ways to bring effective relief after decades, these interventions prove even more effective for younger people closer to the events of their trauma. To paraphrase the old New York adage – if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. We started working with a traumatized adult population in one of the most challenging and stressful environments, prison.  With over 40 years of fine-tuning and constant reevaluation on the frontlines the program has become ever more effective, till now its results are stunning.

 In fact, they are too stunning for many to believe. With 24 to 48 hours of group work, we get a 47% reduction in prison recidivism – measured three years after release from prison.  A Minnesota prison research project saw trait anger fall by 25% to scores 18% below normal for the unincarcerated, and these levels were sustained on a 2 year follow up. In one school with a few workshops for staff over the summer, we saw police calls drop from 138/year to 15. These profound results from a few weekends work are sustained for years from exposure. I have to believe this reflects sustained new neuro pathways to deal with stress and triggering events.


  What it looks like

 So, what I am talking about is the Alternatives to Violence Project (“AVP”). I have not mentioned it yet, because its impact is clearly about so much more than violence and I did not want you to stop reading.  

 AVP is a facilitated peer circle process done in groups of 10 to 20 participants with teams of 3 to 5 facilitators. Participants are guided through three consecutive days of carefully chosen exercises. Workshops typically range from 18 to 24 hours. The work proves to be exponential, each day building on the previous to reach greater and greater impact.

 Exercises range from childish, light hearted games meant to make participants laugh and relax and find their childish side – to guided personal one on one discussions on curated topics meant to build self-esteem, connection and eventually trust – to group circle activities and discussions that bring forth group experiences, community building, inclusion, learnings, and wisdom from the participants. Mixed in with these can be role plays, grounding exercises and personal reflective exercises. It is a facilitated process – the learning comes from the group (with exercises carefully chosen to guide and deliver). In AVP we say everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Even after 200 workshops I learn something new each time.

 The process is experiential. Recalling Maya Angelou’s statement that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” we work through feeling and emotions.

 So through our guided processes we take participants on a tour of feelings, over and over again. Creating empathy, compassion, connection, community, trust and self-esteem. We play the mirror neurons like a harp.

My next post will explain how and why it works. You can follow my local AVP work at:

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Comments (3)

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Thanks for your most informative posts. I have read Part 1 and Part 2. Did I miss Part 3 or is that still in the works? Please let me know.

Over a year ago I wrote an article for the Correctional Chaplains column in Corrections Today to inform my fellow chaplains about the ACEs-to-Prison pipeline (see attached).

Keep up the good work!!




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