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Nonviolence project visits Nevada County


In August 1998, Giri Sequoya, a facilitator of the Alternatives to Violence Project, witnessed a miracle.

An inmate – a serial killer who was serving a life sentence at a prison in Perth, Australia – was physically beaten by one of her fellow inmates. Instead of retaliating, she turned around, gave the abuser a hug and walked away. Later on, the abused told Sequoya, “Nobody walks away after hurting me. That woman would have been dead meat if I hadn’t taken your course.”

Sequoya was amazed.

The Alternatives to Violence Project offers workshops teaching people tools for peaceful conflict resolution and personal growth. What started in 1975 as a project between Quakers and prison inmates at the Green Haven Prison in New York, has now expanded to 24 countries and 44 states in the U.S. Workshops are conducted in prisons, as well as in communities. They are free of cost. Participants from communities are, however, encouraged to donate $30 for the prison workshops. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

Last weekend, Alternatives to Violence held its first workshop at the Superintendent of Schools Office in Nevada City. The workshop was attended by seven people.

“It (the workshop) is to help us recognize that there is a potential for violence in all of us,” Sequoya said. “We also have the potential to diffuse violence in nonviolent ways. That is basically the aim of the basic workshop.”

The workshops do not include any books, handouts, homework, or assignments. The participants get involved in group activities and come up with conflict-resolutions often on their own, Sequoya said.

“It’s a participatory way we do things,” she added. “We play win-win games. We laugh together. We cry together, which is why we become a community, By the end of the three days (the duration of the workshop), people are so close, they are hugging each other and crying. They don’t want to go.”

According to Bob Barns, another facilitator, the workshops attract people from all walks of life.

“They are often people who are dealing with some kind of ongoing conflict situation,” he said. “They could be mechanics, teachers, neighbors, people from your church – a pretty good cross-section.”

Louise English, a resident of Nevada City, and a part-time nurse in Oakland, said she went to the workshop after hearing about it from a friend.

“We live in a culture dominated by violence, anything from gang war to the way people talk with each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of anger in our culture and I wanted to find ways to be able to communicate in situations where there is a lot of anger and misunderstanding.”

For Sea-Anna Vasilas, an intern at the Sierra Friends Center, the workshop was “a practice … to authentically speak from my heart and deeply listen to others.”

“We did team-building activities, like little games,” she said. “And what really happened was that people expressed their different concerns and difficulties and as a group we were able to explore topics such as judgment, and prejudice, and ideas of right and wrong, and good and bad. Kind of just experienced, for ourselves, our reactions to things and a way that we can respond nonviolently.”

The workshop has three levels, the basic, advanced and the one for those who want to become facilitators. Last weekend’s workshop was of the basic level. That, itself, was enough to touch Dorothy Henderson, a resident at the Sierra Friends Center.

“It’s a little soon for me to be coherent about it,” she said, sounding emotional. “Quakers talk about coming to a greater truth as a group than any of us can hold individually. I believe that is what we experienced (in the workshop). We touched a deeper truth about our capacity to be nonviolent.”


To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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