What is Insight-Out?

  1. Insight-Out refers to the process the GRIP Prison Program teaches. This process guides people on a healing journey deeply inside of themselves where they come back out transformed and ready to serve others. (For an excerpt on the program, scroll down to find link: GRIP Program: An Excerpt of the Work in Action).

  2. Insight-Out also refers to the former prisoners who work for the organization, men who once were in prison and are now out. These men have become Change Agents, trained and ready to give back to the communities they once took from. They work with challenged youth and teach their brothers and sisters who are still incarcerated.

  3. Lastly, Insight-Out seeks to reform the prison system from the inside out. Perhaps only in directly supporting our prisoners in transforming themselves can we transform our prison system as well. Working firmly outside the 'us and them' fallacy, we represent a movement of engaged citizens that includes law enforcement, victims, prisoners and at-risk youth. All of us consider ourselves stakeholders in the prison environment; all of us wish to restore and secure our communities by playing a role in how we do prisons- and how not. We hold a vision of incarceration that goes beyond punishment to rehabilitation, giving prisoners the opportunity to learn how to take responsibility and honor their victims, heal the pain they lashed out from and learn the skills that give them a second chance. This vision also seeks to up the money the state spends on education, saved from what it spends on incarceration.


GRIP Program: An Excerpt of The Work In Action:

Excerpt from: "Leaving Prison Before You Get Out."

In San Quentin, Insight-Out currently facilitates 5 year-long GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) classes annually. Each Tribe consists of 30 men, a cumulative total of 150 men. Within each Tribe 4 GRIP Trainee Facilitators (G.T.F.s) function as interns; most often they are selected prisoners who have graduated from a previous GRIP program series and are now in Facilitator Training. (In 2017, we are serving a total of 500 prisoners in 5 different prisons). The four elements of the program are: 1. Heal and stop my violence. 2. Develop emotional intelligence. 3. Cultivate mindfulness. 4. Understand victim impact.

The Diné (Navajo) people of America describe an offender as “He or she who acts as if they have no relatives.” The GRIP community functions to provide those relatives. It’s a place to bond deeply as brothers or sisters that undertake a profoundly transformational journey together and it accepts all races and gang affiliations. In some ways it also operates a bit like a gang, except that destructive values have been flipped into constructive values. 

Every year, when we start another year-long session of the G.R.I.P. (Guiding Rage into Power) Program, we engage in a number of rituals. The first ritual is a Welcoming Ceremony which begins to bring together the ethnic, religious and gang diversity of the prisoners, most all of whom are classified as life-sentenced violent offenders with the possibility of parole. During the second ritual, we form a Tribe. Our first task is naming the Tribe. In order to name the Tribe, we begin by taking an eye-opening inventory. When the classes start, we begin with the question: "How much time have you served?" As each man calls out the years he has served in his lifetime, the numbers are written on the white board in the front of the room and the total number of years served is calculated.

Every year when the number of years is tallied a silence falls upon the room. Rather than turn away from the news, participants are encouraged to embrace the number and to use it to name their Tribe (much like some gangs do, when they use an area code as their gang name). Tribe members grow to value each other like they may have on the streets if they belonged to a gang, except this time the gang is called a Tribe and it is used to serve a constructive purpose. At the end of each class, members of the Tribe stand in a circle, clasp hands, raise their arms and proclaim their identity, “780: For us, by us, about us - Huh!” 

In 2017, in the 5 GRIP Tribes at San Quentin, (about 170 men), participants have served a cumulative total of 4008 years together.

Establishment of the Tribe continues as members take on their next task, calculating the incalculable: the total number of lives lost through murder committed by the members. After taking another moment of silence, to let these numbers reveal their significance, I ask the participants, "How long were you in your moment of imminent danger? In the G.R.I.P. curriculum, the moment of imminent danger is the moment between anger and violence, as well as the moment between craving and using. One of our goals is to learn to "ID" this moment (ID being the abbreviation for: “identify” and the acronym for Imminent Danger). It is the moment before we “lose it” and commit our crimes. The moment has three consistent characteristics: 1. Everything speeds up, 2. Everything intensifies, and 3. There is an experience of regret afterwards. Though a certain lifestyle may have conditioned this moment to emerge, the actual moment of giving in to an impulse and crossing the boundary itself happens usually in a flash, typically lasting 5 seconds - 2 minutes (5 minutes is long for most, but there are exceptions).

For all 170 participants, who have spent over 4 millennia (a total of 4008 years in prison), we tallied 2 hours, 43 minutes and 16 seconds of time spent in the moment of imminent danger, when they committed their crimes. Once more, the room is stunned into silence when these two numbers sit side by side. We finish by tallying how many were using drugs during or around the time of the crime, how many experienced severe trauma when young and how many had a consistent positive male role model when growing up. All these measurements rank in the nineties percentile. 

At this point the participants are asked to raise their hand if they are ready to fully commit to the program – to commit to it as if life depends on it, because after being confronted by these numbers, it obviously does. The commitment consists of taking a whole year to learn how to never lose a moment like that again. 

Jesse Jackson once said: “No one is born armed and dangerous.” So we ask; “What happened?” We are not asking: “What is wrong with you?” We are asking “what happened with you - and what do you need to remember who you really are? We endeavor together to answer that question by diligently reconstructing how each man came to lose that ID moment. We do so candidly - but without shaming anyone. We engage in a lot of truth telling, disclosing traumas that were suffered and profound healing begins to take place. With the help of a thoroughly tested and well laid out Course Book of 250 pages to guide us through, the journey unfolds. 

A sheet of paper showing the Tribe’s inventory becomes the initial page of our Tribal Book. This Tribal Book also contains the names of our victims, our families and communities, the guests that visit us; all the people that do time with us. The book is with us every time we meet; it has its own chair. All of the people named in it are evoked and present in circles of people sitting around us each time the Tribe meets in its year-long G.R.I.P. journey of learning and healing. The Tribe makes its own Learning Agreements Contract and each member signs it. Each person also signs a Peacemaker Pledge, which lists the pro-social skills they vow to learn by the end of the year. These documents are also placed in the Tribal Book. 

At the end of the year, their families and the larger community is invited to enter San Quentin for a Rite of Passage, a caps and gowns graduation ceremony that breaks the house down, partially with the help of the San Quentin Choir. At this ceremony, he Tribe members testify about their transformation and the victims we have worked get to share how the dialogues they had with the men affected them. They also sign their Peacemaker Pledge for life, with the community as witness. The men graduate from being offenders to being servants; ready to dedicate themselves to peace, and give back to their communities and these communities are there to welcome them back. 

Five years after the program first started, from the first batch of 364 graduates, 96 men have been released, and 0% have returned to prison (the average recidivism rate in California is 61% of released prisoners returning to prison within 3 years). It costs $75K per year to incarcerate a prisoner in California. We’re saving 7.2 million dollars in tax payers’ money each year while improving public safety and preventing re-victimization.

 © Jacques Verduin, GRIP Program: from 'Leaving Prison Before You Get Out' 

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