Fred Sly, Program Director &
Vika Miller, Executive Director, The
Oregon Prison Project.
with Compassionate Communications to transform prisons
and make them cultures of empathy. Fred says
empathy is like a puppy dog pile that no-one is embarrassed to play in and
all are included versus coldness and mechanical robots.
Vika says it's like a compassionate room where we can be
everything that we are. There is room for all that we are as human beings.
The opposite of empathy would be like a closed fist of disconnection,
resistance and closed heartedness.
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Oregon Prison Project at Madras Prison
Why do we teach Compassionate (Nonviolent) Communication at the Deer
Ridge Correction Institution in Madras? There is overwhelming evidence
that those who receive empathy training increase their pro-social
behavior, and further evidence that parolees who receive Nonviolent
Communication training show an increase in empathy. Inmates taking our
trainings report enjoying the changes that occur in all of their
relationships including with their families, other inmates, and the
correctional officers in prison.
Is there a way to handle criminal justice
that is more effective and humane than the current approach being used
in the U.S, with its focus on long, mandatory prison sentences? Do
prisons even meet our collective need for long-term public safety?..
Empathy, which according to Sly, is “a felt sense of what is alive in
another person, coupled with a holistic understanding of what these
feelings mean to the person, all without becoming that person.” Empathy
is very similar to compassion, which is for many Buddhists the essence
of the Buddha’s teachings. Whereas compassion could be thought of as the
heart’s natural response to suffering, empathy could be thought of as
the heart’s natural response to whatever is alive in another person,
whether or not it involves suffering.
Edwin, thanks for the work you’re doing to further educate and promote
the use of empathy for healing. I get so enthused to see how our work is
spreading, believing that empathic connection is the surest way to
peace. I loved your site and am still watching the empathy clips from
Barack and Michelle Obama’s speeches and interviews. I’ll be pasting
your URL on my Facebook site today.
My wife and I teach as part of a 40-member Oregon Prison Project effort
in NW Oregon prisons. Begun and still directed by Fred Sly (you may know
him from his work with Bay Area NVC and San Quentin penitentiary) we are
currently offering a 4-level NVC training to incarcerated men and women,
a year-long course (96 hours) that is focused through the lens of
empathy. Even in revisiting their crime (one of four 12-week modules) and
its impact on their victims, each person is guided and supported in
that process via empathic connection…a wholly different perspective than
the old “stories” they’ve told and retold.
Gary Baran, who you may remember as the CNVC executive director for 8
years, is also on our OPP team. Gary also offers training to those
“reentering” community from incarceration, in Eugene. My wife and I do
the same in Salem and Fred and others are offering reentry NVC training
in the Portland area. Having both “inside” training and ongoing
“outside” practice is crucial to successful reintegration in society,
especially when the public-at-large is indifferent or against such a
I’d be happy to be part of your effort to publicize NVC and
empathy…. however, I think perhaps Fred Sly would be a better candidate
to represent the work we’re doing. Incidentally, Fred has just completed
his Ph.D (on this very topic) and his dissertation has been accepted.
You may be aware of the recent scholarly study done on NVC and empathy
in prison. I’ve attached it in case you didn’t. While a small study, it
does point to a scientific underpinning of the efficacy of empathy.
Again, my appreciation for your efforts because it meets needs I have
for greater sharing of an effective method towards peaceful resolution