Violence and conflict is a part of daily life in prison. Most often, it is covert. Guards can respond to it when they are aware of it, but they cannot prevent it. Because of this, inmates do not have the safety, peace and community they need in order to learn, grow, heal and rehabilitate, so that they can live productive lives. And when they get out, many are ill-equipped to handle the stresses of interpersonal relationships and lack of opportunity, strained by poverty, ignorance, racism, and oppression, leading to high rates of recidivism.
A group of lifers at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA, realized that if they wanted peace, they had to create it themselves. These inmates decided that they needed to take action, and began sending handwritten letters to mediators throughout California, asking for assistance in setting up a conflict resolution program at the prison where they resided. One of the letters reached Laurel Kaufer, who, with her colleague Doug Noll, responded to the request. Through their collaboration, Prison of Peace was born.
Laurel employs an innovative method of prison conflict resolution known as prisoner facilitated mediation, in which inmates are trained as peacemakers and mediators, in order to help resolve conflicts within the prison.
Prison of Peace trains inmates to be Peacemakers and Mediators in prison. Teaching them how to listen to emotions opens inmates who are shut down, allowing them to develop empathic connections with others. To begin sharing the skills with others, they learn a “peace circle” process in which such listening shows respect, tolerance and patience. By participating, inmates reconnect with their own humanity and recognize it in others, becoming morally reengaged. As mediators, they learn to intervene in conflicts and prevent violence.
Today, five years after that initial letter crossed her desk, Laurel has helped expand the work of Prison of Peace to more California institutions, including two more women’s prisons, a men’s prison and a Los Angeles County Jail facility. Laurel and her colleagues have trained more than 75 mediators and 250 peacemakers, creating a sustainable and replicable program.
Fostering peace both inside and outside the walls of prisons, Laurel is a genuine Daily Point of Light.