Empowering a culture of peace within prisons.
Welcome to Prison of Peace
Prison of Peace is a pro bono project created by professional mediators Laurel Kaufer, Esq. and Douglas E. Noll, Esq. at the request of life and long term inmates at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA.
Prisoners as Peacemakers?
How is it that women, with dark pasts, many of them serving time for murder and manslaughter, could possibly be peacemakers?
It Started With a Letter...
The story is one of personal commitment to themselves and the community in which most are destined to live out their lives.“This is an environment filled with conflict and violence. There is a dire need and want for change,” said Susan Russo, one of the fifteen initial peacemakers, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA. “Mediation interests all of us because we are lifers and long-termers hoping to make a difference in teaching our peers that there is a better way.” Beginning her quest in 2007, Ms. Russo wrote over 50 handwritten letters from prison to mediators all over California. Her letters went unanswered until August of 2009 when one of her letters made it to Laurel Kaufer, Esq., a well-known Southern California mediator and peacemaker and founder of the post-Katrina Mississippi Mediation Project. “As soon as I read the letter, I was hooked, but also knew that I couldn’t do it alone. Still standing at the mailbox, I called my friend and colleague, Doug Noll, the only person I would consider working with on a project like this,” said Ms. Kaufer. “Doug is a superb trainer, mediator, and restorative justice expert. I read the letter to him. He was silent for about a nano-second before he said, ‘I’m in. What’s our next step?’”
The Goals of Prison of Peace
- To teach personal emotional intelligence skills to inmates
- To teach essential personal problem-solving skills to inmates
- To introduce and teach the restorative process of peace circles
- To introduce and teach the principles of moral engagement
- To teach basic mediation skills as third party neutrals
- To embed peacemaking, defined as collaborative, respectful problem-solving processes to resolve interpersonal and group conflicts, within the prison.
- To create capacity to continue the expansion of training and knowledge within the prison by training inmates to be instructors and trainers.
- To create a sustainable program of peace building within the prison
- To provide an avenue for continuing education and training for correctional officers and administrators in conflict resolution, peacemaking, and restorative justice.
Read on to learn more about how this remarkable project is transforming a prison and the women who are its community.