Printed in the Cortland Standard, March
Concern about crime and violence is skyrocketing in our society. Despite the rural nature of Cortland County, these issues are having growing impact here as well. The responses from public officials and many people is to crack down harder: build more prisons, longer jail sentences, hire more police, etc. There are other approaches.
Since the late 1970's, the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) has conducted thousands of workshops in New York State prisons and in the community-at-large. AVP's experiential three-day workshops help people learn skills and get in touch with their inner abilities to solve conflict.
AVP trainers, all of whom are volunteers, believe that all of us have the capacity to act violently or to act with caring and compassion. In our workshops we seek to build a respectful atmosphere which allows participants to speak openly about their experiences of violence. We learn how to listen actively, to express our feelings in direct, non-blaming ways, and to creatively resolve conflicts so that all parties involved feel satisfied.
In addition, AVP reminds all of us that we are valuable human beings worthy of respect. This can help empower people to work with others to confront the social injustices which are another major source of crime and violence. Finally, AVP helps many people who are full of despair to see that life can be different.
The words of AVP participants describe the program most effectively:
"Someone will not be murdered today. I'm not going to murder them. Someone will not be raped today. I'm not going to rape them...Someone will not be a crime victim today. I'm not going to victimize them. AVP reached into prison and found me in Sing Sing in 1986. AVP reached inside me and touched something that began to make a difference. I started to realize that I could choose nonviolence as freely as I had chosen violence in the past." --Jay Lieske
"Growing up in Brooklyn brought me face to face with this gruesome reality of violence. By the time I reached 16, I had already been shot six times, had resorted to illegal drugs and found myself serving an 8 to 25 year prison sentence for four violent felonies, including a homicide. At Auburn Correctional Facility I found myself sitting in a room with 24 other violent felons. We all found ourselves taking the psychological risk of letting our guards down. In a matter of hours, my opinion did a complete 360 and I found myself on the path to peace."--Miguel Cordero
In Cortland County AVP works primarily to support the program at Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia. Community workshops could be carried out with more support and involvement. There is a crying need for more volunteers to strengthen and expand the program. Coming into a prison workshop as a participant is one way to learn more about AVP. For further information, contact Andy Mager, 4211 Route 13, Truxton, NY 13158, 842-6858.