Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:   Video and Links:  Fred Sly


 Fred Sly & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy in Prisons
Fred Sly, Program Director & Vika Miller, Executive Director, The Oregon Prison Project. Working 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. 


Fred Sly & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy in Prisons



  • 00:00 Introduction

  • (transcription pending)

  • (Video Transcriptions: If you would like to take empathic action and create a transcription of this video, check the volunteers page.  The transcriptions will make it easier for other viewers to quickly see the content of this video.)


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.

Oregon Prison Project Teaches Empathy, A Key in Lowering Recidivism
David "Gator" Robidoux was released this summer after 23 years being incarcerated for felony murder, stemming from a "drug deal gone bad."  "Learning how empathy works and being able to use it in practical ways was the key for me," Robidoux said.

Nonviolent Communication Teachings Bring Peace in Oregon Prisons
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 thing.

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 of conflicts.

Tim Buckley
Salem, Oregon