I learned that I have choices

Interviewed by Valerie Kreutzer

In 1999, into his second year of an 8-1/2-year sentence, he decided to sign up for a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) workshop at the Twin Rivers prison.

“In prison you have two choices: to abuse or be abused,” he explains. “The culture was sterile, it taught you to conform. Nobody cared who I was, and I had lost most contact with people outside. I felt very isolated. And when I came to the workshop, here was this little Asian-American woman who stepped towards me and said, ‘Welcome, I’m glad you could come.’ She looked me in the eye and allowed me to drop my guard a little.

“I learned that I have choices, that there is no need to give up who I am,” he explains. “At the workshop I realized that I can make choices that move me forward. I also learned that I need to take responsibility for my choices and accept the consequences. I stopped being a victim.”

Realizing his choices and offering choices to others dissolved tension, he observed. “For example, I may be watching TV and this big guy walks in and says, ‘You’re sitting in my chair.’ I can choose to fight and perhaps get caught and end up in the hole, or I can move, or I can say, ‘Just let me finish this show and you can get your chair back.’ It works every time, whether in the yard or with the celly.

“I also learned to accept my feelings, how to deal with my anger, to take responsibility for the pain I caused, and really feel the pain rather than run away from it like an addict.”

As soon as he was eligible, he returned to Monroe as a volunteer to assist in an ongoing class where prisoners study Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication chapter-by-chapter.

“It was very strange coming back,” he recalls. “In a way it was like coming home, it was so familiar. I also felt―icky,” he adds with a laugh. “And it was wonderful because they knew who I was. I still knew about 10 percent of the participants, and I knew where they were coming from.”

Note: To protect their privacy, names of prisoners and returnees are omitted or changed.

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