The Power of Peace Project works redirecting at-risk youth by inspiring young people to discover and develop their untapped power and potential. Standout student leaders are chosen, both positive and negative, to participate in an eight-week character and leadership development program. The program culminates with a community event where graduates are celebrated and awarded, and standout students are featured. For more information visit the website at www.powerofpeaceproject.com.
This a powerful story that is hard to communicate in just a few words how amazing it really is, but I will try. Just three weeks ago fifty men in a tough Mexican prison began the Power of Peace Project’s “40 Days of Peace” Program. Many of these men are affiliated with gangs and cartels and many are rivals. In this prison, the men are packed twenty to a cell because it was built for 2500 but currently houses 5600 inmates. All these men went through the two day launch with us, signed the peace pledge, received the wristband and a journal, and committed to forty days of nonviolence– with daily journaling and action challenges, weekly small groups with their rivals, and a paper writing assignment that will precede a graduation celebration at the end of the project. In three short weeks this was an issue that came up this past week in the weekly meeting: out of the fifty men, only one man (named Julio) is not in a cell with any of the other POPP initiates. The cell he is packed into has no other POPP brothers and he is the only one with the wristband and journal—and he stands out. One of the brothers stood up and said: “Our brother Julio is all alone in his cell! What can we do to protect him?” My partner Jeff asked why he was in a cell all alone. They responded: “He’s not all alone, he just doesn’t have any Power of Peace brothers with him.” I am in awe. In three short weeks, these men are concerned that their brother is “all alone” because he is not surrounded by the POPP group. They have already owned it and are protecting it. Imagine what could happen over months and years… The Power of Peace.
Tonight at Hays State Prison the following story was told about Frank, one of our Power of Peace Leaders who was shipped out to another prison two weeks ago. One of our other POPP Brothers was there and witnessed it before he was sent back to Hays this week… The day that Frank arrived, he went to chow at the usual time. When he returned, he realized that somebody had stolen all his store goods out of his box– this is a very big deal, especially when you are new to a prison. There were about fifteen Hispanic inmates there who knew Frank from other prisons and who he is cool with. They decided they were ready to “go to war” to get his stuff back, as everyone knew who was behind the theft. Before anything could happen, Frank got all those men together and got his “40 Days of Peace” journal out and began to teach them the nonviolent principles he was practicing in the program, and how there were other alternatives to violence. The beef was settled nonviolently and now we have more men in yet another prison who are interested in the POPP Program…
The fascinating thing? Anyone can back down and “decide to be a peacemaker” when they’re afraid and outnumbered. But Frank had the muscle and the numbers to get his stuff back AND send a message, but he still chose peace. And he began leading the other inmates and modeling peace in the process. I’m so proud of him… The Power of Peace.
Right now the Power of Peace Project has convicts from Michigan, Georgia
Yesterday when I was at Hays State Prison I found out that one of our Power of Peace guys spent the week in the hole (segregation unit). His spirits were high and he said he wrote the 40 Days of Peace steps on the wall in that dark cell: 1) I will seek first to understand my opponent 2) I will find common ground with my adversary 3) I will walk a mile with the other before I judge 4) I will practice active listening and pause before responding 5) I will practice compassionate communication and use my influence for peace 6) When wrong I will promptly admit it and quickly make amends 7) I will treat my enemy with dignity and respect even when we disagree. (The Seven Power of Peace Principles). Every man that gets sent to that cell will see the POPP Principles every day– many are sent there for nine months at a time. These convicts are becoming Ambassadors of Peace… I wish our presidential candidates would practice them– the prisoners are.