Alternatives to Violence Project

Breanna McKinney, Copy Editor

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Guards surround you, some are being held hostage by the other prisoners, others are coming after you trying to stop the riot. It started with racial comments, then a man was killed by a guard in another prison, now you’re furious and terrified. If they could kill another man just because of his race, they could do it to you.

The Attica riots went on for years starting in 1971 and while it was a very violent time in the prisons, one group of men in Green Haven Prison decided to go against the violence and towards peace. They created a program called the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, which was originally created to prevent youth from going to prison.

“AVP is a program that has been around since 1975 and it was started in joint between a group of men who were in prison in New York after the Attica riots, they were in Green Haven Prison and they reached out to local civil rights activists and Quakers to develop a curriculum to help keep youth in their communities from ending up in prison,” AVP facilitator Archer Bunner said.

The program’s goals have changed and it has spread to other communities since 1975.

“Since then it has evolved and changed a lot with the help of a lot of people in prison, who are still to this day the number one group of facilitators in the program,” Bunner said. “It is an experiential workshop where you are asked to learn about yourself, share about yourself and be vulnerable, to actively listen to other people’s stories, to figure out what makes you emotional, angry or excited or any other emotion you have and how that interacts with conflict.”

The program is meant to encourage less violence, but it also helps participants learn about themselves.

“It’s called Alternatives to Violence Project and you do activities to lead a nonviolent lifestyle,” senior and AVP facilitator Erin Williams said. “But it’s so much more than that and you learn a lot about yourself and others and how to become a good person.”

The Alternatives to Violence Project has also been integrated into schools, RHS is one of a few schools in the United States that has an AVP class.

“AVP class is a class you can take to get out of your comfort zone and learn about the different types of violence, how to speak to someone in different situations and it helps you with future situations, how you communicate with one another and it just helps you in the long run,” junior and AVP facilitator Janet Boatman said.

But AVP is not an ordinary class where you sit in a desk, take tests, or memorize vocabulary.

“The class is not a normal classroom setting,” Williams said. “It’s a small group and we sit in a circle and we talk and share things about ourselves and do really fun activities.”

The class opens with a gathering question, which is just an everyday question that everyone answers. After the gathering the class moves onto the activity for the day which could involve sharing stories, drawing with a group, or acting out conflicts. The class closes with a light and lively.

“Light and livelies are just games we play to lighten the mood and just for fun,” senior Sydney Thompson said.

Just as the Alternatives to Violence project is not an ordinary class, it is not exclusively for those who are violent, as the name might suggest.

“It is not for people who are violent, its for anyone who feels like they want to learn how to interact with people or learn about themselves more,” Bunner said.

The goal of AVP, improving conflict resolution skills, can benefit everyone.

“The ultimate goal being when you are in conflict that you neither avoid conflict nor do you turn the conflict towards violence,” Bunner said. “The goal of AVP is to provide people with the skills they need to actively work through a conflict while it is hard and come out the other end without violence or ignoring it.”

There is also an AVP club to help students achieve these goals.

“In the club, it’s like a small version of the class,” Bunner said. “We always go around and share something about ourselves and have conversations about historical issues or violence or sometimes bullying. Then we do hands-on activities where we might draw something together, like what we want our community to look like, or we might build a 3D model of some concept like power or love or things like that. It’s pretty fun and people can come and go, you don’t have to come every week.”

The club and class have helped students in many ways.

“AVP has helped me in the way I expected it to, it helped me speak up for myself a lot better and it helped me in little ways but ways to control my emotions a lot better,” junior and AVP facilitator Katelyn Ferguson said.

It has helped others to have better communication skills.

“What I’ve gotten from it is patience, empathy, understanding, and I’ve gotten better at communication skills, listening skills,” Williams said.

The goal of AVP has always been to help people deal with conflict in a positive way.

“AVP really helped me deal with my conflict avoidance,” Bunner said. “I hate conflict. I always want to lie and get out of it. AVP helped me accept that conflict is an everyday part of life and that my life is actually better, and my relationships are better when I address it instead of ignoring it or avoiding it.”

AVP has helped some people on a more personal level.

“AVP has helped me learn how to express my feelings,” Thompson said. “It has helped me open up more and be more welcoming of my own emotions and other people’s emotions and it has helped me to be a better listener.”

When the program was started, the prisoners wanted to stop youth from ending up in their shoes. the program has since helped people such as the students and teachers of RHS lead a more peaceful life full of self-discovery.

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