Hands of Peace trains offenders in alternatives to violence

Since 1975, a Homer mother and daughter, Karen and Lisa Cauble, have been working in prisons with a simple and hopeful mission: teach some of the most hardened criminal offenders alternatives to violence. Next weekend, the nonprofit Hands of Peace and The Alaska Training Cooperative will offer a workshop open to the public titled “Conflict Resolution Skills: Alternatives to Violence Basic Workshop.”

Held from 5:30-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 8-9 at Frontier Community Services in Soldotna, the workshop presents conflict resolution skills to help people make choices to reduce conflicts in work and life.

The basic workshop is required for the advanced workshop. Since 2014, Hands of Peace has presented 60 basic and advanced workshops, many of them in Alaska Department of Corrections facilities, with the larger goal of teaching offenders ways to avoid violence. The workshops not only introduce offenders to alternatives to violence, but train offenders to be facilitators themselves and teach other prisoners. Civilian facilitators learn how to teach other facilitators inside and outside prisons. That’s the goal of the upcoming workshop, to train more volunteers so Hands of Peace can be expanded into other prisons.

“We don’t have the entire power,” Lisa Cauble said of the program. “We share that power in teaching others. …They (offenders) get to be on a team and work with us to provide the training to other inmates.”

Karen Cauble started working with alternatives to nonviolence in 1975 when she lived in Syracuse, New York. Prisoners at Greenhaven State Prison held Society of Friends meetings. Also known as the Quakers, the Christian faith is known for its pacifist beliefs. Some prisoners, many of them lifers, had heard about the concept of alternatives to violence, and asked the Quakers to teach them.

“They said, ‘We need you to teach our young people. We need you to reach out to our brothers and and cousins so they don’t come into the prison,’” Karen Cauble said.

But then the Quakers “moved it up a notch,” she said. “They said, ‘We want you to teach others about nonviolence.’ That changed the whole thing. Those men became facilitators in teaching.”

Karen Cauble grew up in San Diego, California, moved to New York, got married, then moved back to San Diego. She came up to Alaska in 1984 and started working as a school counselor for the Iditarod School District.

In 1990, other Alaskans heard about alternatives to nonviolence and Cauble’s work. In 1991 Cauble started Hands of Peace as a nonprofit. Her daughter, Lisa, had worked with her mother as a teenager in Syracuse, traveled a bit, and then worked with her mom again when she followed her up her in 1997. Lisa Cauble now lives in Anchorage, where she is director of training at the College of Health, University of Alaska Anchorage, a cosponsor of the alternatives to violence workshops.

Hands of Peace is now on its third contract with Department of Corrections to run alternatives to violence workshops. Linnie Einerson, supervising probation officer and program director at Wildwood Corrections Facility in Kenai, said in 2017 she was asked if Hands of Peace could do a pilot program at Wildwood. The program has had great success, Einerson said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“From the time we had that first class the response from our offenders was amazing,” she said. “I kept getting written letters from our offenders — ‘please have them come back.’”

Initially, Einerson encouraged some long-term prisoners to take the class. The workshops are voluntary. She asked one guy, “Are you mad at me for taking the class?” Einerson said he told her, no, that he had and other inmates had opened up to each other.

“There are people I have lived with for years who are incarcerated and I didn’t know anything about them,” she said the offender told her.

That’s the crux of the workshop: to build trust in inmates. Karen Cauble said they do that by games, role playing and other exercises.

“We move around. We play games. We have fun. We have laughter,” she said. “That’s one of the things I promise them in our opening talk. I promise you laughter.”

Some exercises have a serious intent, Karen Cauble said, like role playing where they act out a scenario an offender might find when released. He’s at a barbecue with family and friends. Some of his old criminal friends show up and pressure him to do a drug deal. How does he get out of it?

“I have seen this where the role players get so stuck in the emotions that they have it’s very, very hard to try to make a change in what they see is going to happen,” she said. “… What can this person do to make a change? And then we role play it again.”

Kate Rich, a Homer volunteer who has been a facilitator since the 1990s, said she volunteered to help make a difference. At first she was skeptical.

“How is all this kumbaya b.s. Going to help stop violence?” she said in an email. But her attitude changed.

Rich said she’s seen people change right before her eyes.

“Sometimes it’s a small shift of someone’s perspective, but it’s meaningful — a little less anger or fear, a little more hope,” she wrote.

Einerson said she’s seen a change in the mood of prisoners, too.

“I see the inmates opening up to people they normally wouldn’t talk to,” she said. “I see it opening relationships as far as people who would never give them the time of day.”

Tempers can flare in prisons, Einerson said.

“The littlest things can get on their nerves. Sometimes it’s just over the remote control,” she said.

Once a situation came up where an inmate was spat on.

“He was able to walk away,” Einerson said.

He mentioned the incident in a Hands of Peace workshop.

“For him to be able to walk away from that is a good thing. He’s a big guy. It could have turned bad.”

Hands of Peace has been so successful that now when Wildwood offers workshops, there’s a waiting list. Einerson offers the workshops first-come, first-served, with the first five men signing up in each wing getting admitted. Offenders come from the pre-trial to the sentencing sections. Right now the program is limited to men, but its coordinators hope to eventually open it to women inmates. The program has become so popular that men wait by the door on workshop days in hopes they can get in if someone doesn’t show up.

Karen Cauble said the inmates have embraced the change.

“When we walk into the prison in Wildwood, it has changed,” she said. “I’m talking about the heart here. … There has been a change when we walk down the hallways, we’re sitting in the prison. We are doing this work. They are seeing the change.”

Rich shared a letter she got from one prisoner who took the workshop.

“I went into the workshop as a pessimist and I came out a changed person,” he wrote. “ … It was a real high and I’ve been doing it for two years and I love that feeling, and to see other people awakened in the workshops, to see their lives change.”

For information on signing up for the Sept. 7-9 workshops, visit https://www.aktclms.org/Training/Class/102592 or contact Lisa Cauble at 907-264-6276 or email liast@alaskachd.org.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.