While in prison in 2017, Kevin Simnick saw a flier in the work-release office for a group that wanted to talk about reducing violence. Out of prison on parole since February, he’s seen a change since he started talking with the Alternatives to Violence Project.
The Project, known as AVP, is a volunteer based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing violence in society. Here in Lincoln, the program uses workshops that inmates are guided to as suggested by the prison administrators.
Meetings occur at the Quaker meeting house in Lincoln once a month.
“My boss has seen me turn into a better person, and I credit that to AVP,” Simnick said.
He said that the role playing exercises they did in the group were the most effective.
AVP was founded in 1975 by inmates at Green Haven Prison in New York State who wanted to reduce prison violence. The inmates asked members of the local Quaker community to help them design a program to help with conflict resolution.
The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, are advocates of non-violence. As facilitators for AVP, they work with volunteers outside of the Society of Friends to guide workshops.
“In prison, we are always told what to do. Day in and day out,” Simnick said. “But in AVP, we get to play out real life scenarios.”
Scott Royer, who has been involved in workshops since 2004, did not think that AVP would work for him.
“I showed up with a very defensive posture,” said Royer. “I had a history of violent behavior, and I was holding a lot of anger inside.”
AVP helped Royer overcome those issues better than any other program he had been in since incarceration in 2002. He said that was due to the sense of responsibility the workshops helped him develop.
“[AVP] helped me discover how I wanted to be remembered by everyday people,” Royer said. Through patience and persistence, he feels that his relationships have been better than ever before.
And that has helped him develop a relationship with the people he works with in AVP as a lead facilitator.
Marge Schlitt is the Chair of AVP Nebraska and a Quaker. She said that she can’t count how many people she has seen change due to the program.
“They learn what they’re gonna learn,” Schlitt said. “And those that keep coming back do the best.”
AVP has been offered at the Lincoln State Penitentiary(NSP) since 2007 and at the Community Corrections Center- Lincoln (CCCL)since 2011. Prisoners that are on work release are the most common participants for the work shops, however none are rejected, typically.
The workshops are three-day experiences over 18 hours. The groups learn about conflict resolution through sharing experiences and guidance by the volunteers.
The themes of the workshop revolve around developing communication skills and de-escalation ability. The keystones all revolve around creating a safe environment for the participants.
The participants choose what topics they would like to talk about, ranging from fear, power, parenting and respect. One of the main topics is about forgiveness.
“Everybody wants forgiveness and to be forgiven, and to learn how to forgive somebody else,” Schlitt said. “And it’s hard. But so important, to forgive. And they struggle with that.”
Schlitt described a situation where an inmate used the lessons learned from AVP to de-escalate a situation. A prisoner told another to get out of the way, and a conflict arose. The inmate used his learning from AVP to avoid a violent confrontation. He found that his actions were admired by his peers, Schlitt said.
“Instead of being called a wimp by his friends,” Schlitt said, “they respected how AVP training helped him choose the non-violent path.”