Members of the Prison of Peace Mediation Workshop gather.

Members of the Prison of Peace Mediation Workshop gather.

By Lt. Gregory Bergersen, AA/PIO, Valley State Prison

A successful female “peacemaking” program is proving useful for male inmates after it was repurposed.

In 2013, Valley State Prison (VSP) completed its conversion from a female to a male facility.

In doing so, VSP wanted to introduce to the newly arriving male inmates programs which were successful in the Female Offenders Programs and Services (FOPS) mission.

Warden Ron Davis believed some of the programs could be implemented for the Level II sensitive needs yard (SNY) inmates at VSP.

One of those programs was Prison of Peace, a peacemaking and conflict resolution program.

The program is aimed at teaching inmates communication, restorative justice and conflict resolution skills, in order to help them learn how to maintain a healthy dialogue during times of conflict and high emotion.

The program was introduced to the men in September 2013, with an orientation led by Prison of Peace co-founders Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll, both attorneys, providing this program to CDCR on a pro bono basis.

Because the goal is ultimately for inmates to become the trainers in this program, this first phase was open only to lifers and long-termers, with 26 of them accepted. They began their training on Oct. 1, 2013.

The purpose of Prison of Peace is to empower inmates to resolve conflicts among their peers by giving them the tools and materials to be successful peacemakers in prison.

“Prison of Peace mediators have been effective in resolving conflicts among their peers by utilizing active listening and non-judgmental language, which helps bring them a greater understanding of the root causes of their conflict, the interests at issue and meaningful resolutions,” said Kaufer. “Peaceful resolution of conflict fosters future collaboration and builds community, rather allowing conflict to fester, leading to a divisive and stressful environment.”

On April 9, 2014, Michael Comeaux was the first male inmate in California to become a certified mediator.  He has been incarcerated for 36 years.

In April, Michael Comeaux became the first male inmate in California to become a certified mediator.

In April, Michael Comeaux became the first male inmate in California to become a certified mediator.

“I signed up for the program because it seemed concrete.  I have been involved in a number of self-help programs, but I needed something to grow from. I have always considered myself a good listener; however since my training, I now listen and understand better,” he said. “I am very proud of this certificate and I plan to put my training to good use.”

Warden Davis is pleased with the transition.

“When I first saw the Prison of Peace program with our female inmates, I believed this type of program could crossover to our new male population,” he said. “I am very impressed by the high level of training and dedication that goes into this program.  Mediation is a valuable tool for inmates in times of conflict and high emotion. They not only help themselves remain calm, but help others to resolve their differences in a productive manner.”

On June 4, 2014 Kaufer and Noll began teaching a second group of 18 lifers and long-termers, this time, using those from the first group as mentors, as they move toward becoming the first group of Prison of Peace trainers in a men’s institution. This second group has now completed the workshop and, on Aug. 20, will receive their certificates as Peacemakers.