Parole agents, nonprofits and people impacted by the criminal justice system gathered in San Diego for an AVP training workshop.

Staff report

A group of people committed to making the world a more peaceful place gathered together this summer to learn conflict resolution skills.

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) basic workshop was held for a unique group of community members at the Museum of Man at Balboa Park in San Diego. Attendees included supervisory-level parole agents, the wife of an incarcerated man who facilitates AVP workshops in prison, two members of the inner-city social change youth troupe TranscenDANCE, and other diverse individuals.

AVP’s mission is to empower people to reduce violence by learning about relationships, communication and conflict resolution through workshops in prisons, jails and the community.

The five-member facilitation team was led by David Amaya, who paroled in 2015 after serving 25 years in prison and now works speaking in prisons about reentry and living a nonviolent life.

“AVP was crucial to his transition from violent gang member to powerful spokesperson for and role model of nonviolence,” said Steven Gelb, AVP prison and outreach coordinator. “His sharing the story of his transformation was inspiring and instructive for the other participants in the workshop.”

Gelb explained that AVP workshops are experiential, rather than didactic – there are no lectures or PowerPoint slides: “Participants sit in a circle and participate in a range of activities that are engaging, often fun, and which provide opportunities to reflect, connect with others, and learn practical steps that can enable them to transform conflicts into positive outcomes.

The four pillars of each workshop are affirmation (seeing the good in others and in ourselves), positive communication skills (compassionate communication), building a caring community, and conflict resolution.

In addition to an AVP outreach coordinator, Gelb has facilitated workshops at Calipatria State Prison, California Institution for Men (CIM), California Institution for Women, Centinela State Prison, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, California State Prison-Corcoran and RJ Donovan Correctional Facility, as well as community workshops in San Diego and Salinas. He is currently the AVP prison coordinator for CIM and serves on the AVP California Steering Committee.

“Facilitating AVP workshops has been my most rewarding and satisfying experience and I will continue with AVP as long as I have the strength,” Gelb said, adding that he would like to expand offerings for the San Diego community and hold more training workshops in the area.

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For more information, visit avpcalifornia.org.