Can Female Murderers Find Peace?
Recently I was asked to write an article for a law journal about Doug Noll and Prison of Peace detailing his and Laurel Kaufer’s work with female murderers serving in California prisons. My interview with Doug was quite enlightening. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing highlights from our interview. Here is part one.
What is Prison of Peace?
Prison of Peace is a pro bono project that teaches life inmates in California prisons to be peacemakers and mediators within their prison communities. It is currently operating in three California prisons, including the Central California Women’s Facility, Valley State Prison, and the California Institute for Women. In addition, the project is expanding in 2014 into Los Angeles County juvenile facilities.
How did it start?
The project started with a letter from an inmate at the old Valley State Prison for Women. She wrote 50 letters to mediators across California asking for someone to teach her Networking Group basic mediation skills. The Networking Group comprised 100 women serving life sentences. They were interested in reducing the violence and conflict in their prison community. At the time, Valley State Prison for Women was regarded as the largest, most dangerous women’s prison in the world. The problem was that young women coming in from the gangs were disrupting daily lives. Most of the time, the guards could not prevent violence. The lifers realized that if they wanted peace, they had to create it themselves.
How did you get involved?
As far as we can tell, 49 of the requests were rejected. The 50th letter landed in Laurel Kaufer’s mail box. Laurel opened the curious-looking envelope from the state prison, read the letter, and without even leaving her mailbox, called me on her cell phone. She read the letter to me and asked me what I thought. Without hesitation, I said, “if this is for real, I think we should do it.”
Why did you say, yes?
There was something about this request that resonated deeply within me. At a practical level, I knew that there would be a lot of sacrifice as this was to be a purely pro bono project. But at a deeper level, I saw this as an opportunity to prove the true power of peacemaking. Ever since leaving the practice of law, I had faced ridicule, skepticism, and outright hostility towards the idea of a lawyer turned peacemaker. It was too soft. It was too Kumbayah.. It was completely impractical. It would never work. It might work for those other folks, but it will never work in my conflict. Objection after objection and scorn heaped upon scorn was my fate for deciding to turn away from litigation and become a peacemaker. Mind you, I am a secular human being. My concept of peacemaking is nothing like what religious people think peacemaking is about. I also recognize that the term peacemaking carries a lot of baggage. However, it truly does describe the work of transforming conflict. I thought that this project might be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to all the naysayers that practical peacemaking was powerful. If I could teach murderers to be peacemakers, who could rationally deny the power of the process and the techniques?
About the Author: Ken Strongman (www.kpstrongman.com) has years of experience and a growing national reputation as a mediator and arbitrator. He has successfully resolved more than a thousand disputes in the fields of construction defects, real estate, intellectual property, and employment. He is also a Mediator and Arbitrator for FINRA.
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