Several years ago, Reno Friends Meeting decided to dedicate most of its charitable giving to the Nevada Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a group of volunteers who go into Nevada prisons to lead non-violence workshops for inmates.
Practicing non-violence is a central Quaker principle. As the Peace Testimony of Pacific Yearly Meeting says,
Friends work for reconciliation and active nonviolent resolutions of conflict. Friends have traditionally supported conscientious objectors to military service, while holding in love, but disagreeing with, those who feel that they must enter the armed forces. Friends oppose all war as inconsistent with God’s will. Recognizing that violence and war typically arise from unjust circumstances, Friends address the causes of war by working to correct social injustice, and by strengthening communities, institutions and processes to provide nonviolent alternatives to military force.
AVP is an international association of volunteer groups, active in 33 states in the USA and in 50 countries. The Nevada branch receives no financial support from AVP’s parent organizations so Reno Friends Meeting furnishes much of what the volunteers need to cover the cost of workshop materials and travel to prison locations such as Lovelock, 100 miles northeast of Reno.
AVP began in 1975 as a collaboration between inmates in New York’s Green Haven Prison and Quakers interested in working with youth gangs and teens at risk. The program spread throughout New York State prisons and to other states as a prison program and, in some places, as a community program for people from all walks of life.
AVP, which builds on a spiritual base of respect and caring for self and others, draws participants and trainers from all religions, races, sexual identities, and walks of life. Its three-day workshops provide an intense learning experience that teaches conflict resolution skills designed to lead participants to new ways of being in the world.
And the AVP workshops appear to be working: a recent academic study in one California prison found AVP workshops were effective in reducing behavioral misconduct by those who previously had disciplinary infractions during their incarcerations and among more educated inmates.
Nevada AVP coordinator Rita Sloan visited with Reno Friends last month accompanied by a recently paroled inmate who became an AVP trainer while in prison. The parolee told us that AVP changed his life. The parolee said he had retreated to a very isolated emotional place before attending his first workshop. But AVP provided a safe environment to discuss his fears and hopes, and he learned to understand conflict and how to deal with it. Once his parole is complete, he hopes to return to the prisons to volunteer again as a trainer.
Mixing inmates and members of the community within each workshop is integral to AVP, Sloan said. Community volunteers must first be cleared to enter the prisons — a process that can take months — but the volunteers find the workshop experience is well worth the hassle. “We all have things to learn about non-violence,” said Sloan. “We all have the seeds of violence in us, even if it is just through our words and gestures. Everyone takes away something important from the workshops.”
If you are interested knowing more about AVP, go to our AVP page. You can also contact Rita Sloan by email: rwrksloan (at) hotmail.com .
In the Light,
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting
email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.