By Lt. Matthew Osborn, AA/Public Information Officer
Valley State Prison
Valley State Prison (VSP) recently hosted a Special Victims Rights Events sponsored through the new ILTAG (Inmate Leisure Time Activity Group) group VO-HOPE (Victim Offender – Healing Others’ Pain through Empathy).
The event which was attended by over 200 VSP inmates included two well-known victim advocate speakers, Rosario Rodriguez and Dionne Wilson.
They have spoken at institutions, churches and agencies throughout California as well as in other states regarding their experiences as victims. Speaking to the incarcerated men, they also offer profound testimonies about their healing process and journey.
The purpose of this Nov. 10 Victims Presentation Special Event was to support the recovery and rehabilitation of VSP inmates and ongoing efforts to promote victim awareness, positive self-help programming and a safer community.
“This venue gives voice to those deeply affected by crime and further facilitates healing and transcendence of trauma caused by crime,” said officials close to the event.
The inmate participants have completed prior classroom based classes as well as training components designed to prepare them to have appropriate interactions with victim and/or victim advocates.
V/O HOPE advances VSP’s rehabilitative mission by building a bridge between victims and offenders.
V/O HOPE provides the opportunity for offenders to give back to the community by offering a safe environment in which victims have a forum to express their trauma. The process of making amends aides rehabilitation and reduces recidivism.
Mission of V/O HOPE
The group’s mission is to provide a comprehensive venue for survivors of crime, their families and the community to share their experiences with offenders. The participating victims are not actual victims of offenders at VSP, but surrogate victims.
The venue gives voice to the impact of crime on victims, allowing offenders to hear firsthand the personal toll suffered by victims of crime.
Exposure to the victim experience enables offenders to develop empathy and insight through witnessing real victim testimonies, according to officials.
For many, victim and offender, this is the first time the victim experience confronts offender perception. This program provides opportunities for victim empowerment and the development of offender empathy and personal accountability.
How does it work?
VSP staff screen offender applicants for inclusion in the program. Membership criteria include completion of a victim impact curriculum and at least one-year of being disciplinary-free.
After selection in V/O HOPE, offenders undergo a six- to eight-week orientation. The training involves internal facilitators and professionals from outside agencies. It emphasizes methods for active listening, validation of the victim experience and creation of a safe environment.
V/O HOPE is designed to create an atmosphere in which victims of crime may achieve their needs. Offenders gain empathy to promote behavioral change, which in turn reduces recidivism.
Who comprises V/O Hope?
The purpose of V/O HOPE is to facilitate factual victim testimonials and examples of what crime has done to impact the lives of victims. The community is an integral partner in V/O HOPE.
Victim advocacy and other organizations interface with contacts at VSP and are encouraged to participate in the program. Because of the tremendously sensitive context in which V/O HOPE operates, stakeholders go to great lengths to prepare both victims and offenders for the actual arrival of the victim at the prison.
All V/O HOPE victim/offender interactions take place in the Visiting Room under the direct supervision of staff sponsors. Great care is taken to accommodate the comfort and safety of the victim, according to organizers.
Slain police officer’s wife involved in victim advocacy
Dionne Wilson is a victim advocate who comes to this work not by training or choice, but by a life changing experience.
In July 2005, her husband, a San Leandro police officer, was killed in the line of duty while answering a disturbance call.
For almost five years after her husband’s death, she struggled to raise her two children in the midst of a crippling grief and depression. Even though her husband’s killer was convicted and sent to death row, the promise of healing evaded her.
In her search to find meaning in this tragedy, she became a founding member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), a project of Californians for Safety and Justice, and began working with them to elevate the voices of crime victims across the state.
Now nearly 6,000 members strong, CSSJ works with crime survivors to advocate for a justice system that prioritizes healing and services for victims, crime prevention, mental health treatment, and addiction recovery.
She travels the state speaking to individuals and groups that include legislators, media, conference attendees, and prison inmates about the importance of shifting focus away from the current system and moving toward smart criminal justice policies.
She also serves on the Board of Directors of Insight Prison Project (IPP).
She serves as a facilitator for IPP’s Victim/Offender Education Group and is currently co-facilitating a group inside San Quentin State Prison which meets every Saturday. She is remarried and lives in Morgan Hill with her husband, daughter, and four dogs.
Victim of violence speaks about forgiveness
Rosario Rodriguez is a dynamic speaker who has shared her uplifting message at universities and high schools across the United States, Canada, Mexico,and Europe. She was the innocent victim of a vicious crime in the streets of Los Angeles, where a rogue act of gang violence left her near death.
But she beat the odds to survive—and thrive—and now inspires others to see how God ultimately brings greater good from tragedy.
Now Rosario is sharing her miraculous story and speaking about her journey of healing through the sacraments, finding her worth and dignity as a daughter of God, the power of prayer, and the freedom of forgiveness.
“The V/O HOPE is a new program for VSP, but it is proving to be a great success,” said officials with the prison. “V/O HOPE and VSP hope to have many more victim speakers in the future.”