Ending Violent CrimeIntroduction | Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Epilogue
Terrorism and political violence are issues of great concern at the end of this century. These do not fall within the scope of this dissertation, however this mass insanity, similar to the insanities of serial killings and sex crimes, will eventually be amenable to the overall healing of society of which these programs could be a major factor.
When I first visited a prison in 1974, I was deeply moved, deeply disturbed. A sense of justice and injustice has always been very strong with me, and here was a glimpse of what I could feel was a vast hidden iceberg of injustice perpetrated upon my people, upon good native men and their families and communities. Since childhood it has always been clear to me that this earth belongs equally to all who inhabit it, that all people are entitled to an equal share in her bounty and are equally responsible for her care and for the care of our fellow creatures. Part of growing up is learning sorrowfully or angrily how many poor there are, how many are without adequate food and shelter and medicine, and that a small handful of the rich and powerful own and control most of the resources of the earth. This imbalance creates distress levels in the poor and powerless that lead to violence, rebellion, crime, and drugs - in which category I would also place aberrant sexual behavior.
I considered that four hundred years ago in North America there were no prisons, there were no police, there were no courts, no judges, no lawyers, no law books or statutes, no criminals (a Chinese philosopher said "Where there are no laws there will be no criminals"!), only human beings who sometimes made mistakes and were enjoined by the community to rectify and make restitution for their wrongs. People living in a circle don't need laws. Because in a circle all are equal, all are human and therefore are sharing and caring and are guided in heart and mind by their common humanity.
The way in which we lived, in the circle, we had no people going around robbing each other, we had no people who were kidnapping or embezzling or extorting or mistreating themselves and others because of drugs and alcohol. People who live in a circle, a true community, support each other, take care of each other, and if anybody gets into trouble, everyone helps.
In a true community if somebody does something wrong you don't put him in a cage, you try to find out how he can repay the damage he has done, to do something for the people that he has hurt, and you try to help him so that he doesn't commit such a misdeed again. But now they can't build enough prisons. There are over a million people in prison in the US alone (more people per capita than any other nation) and there are thousands of people the courts want to send to prison but can't because there's no more room and the prisons are overcrowded. There is a boom in prison construction, and the employment opportunities that are growing not shrinking are in corrections. Sometimes I think we will soon have a nation where everyone is either behind bars or guarding them.
Society cannot be changed and its injustices rectified all at once. It takes time, patience, thought, will, motivation, some plan. And vision. Here in our prison program is a piece that is already happening. One small part of society is being changed for the better. And it's an important part, because it is central to our ills - society's fundamental inequality, injustice, and violence.
Very few people are even thinking about this problem. It's easy to leave it to the government, to the law enforcement people, the courts, the corrections systems. But that is not working. Our problem isn't being solved, it's getting worse. In the US over a million men, who began life as innocent, fun-loving, curious, hopeful children, were caught in a destructive downward spiral that ended in their destroying their own lives and those of others, and languish behind walls with no knowledge of how to recover their lives, or even that it could be a possibility.
It is my hope for this writing that it will reach people who do care, who will think about these men and the progress they have made and the possibilities for enlarging that and making their success available to every prisoner, ex-prisoner, and potential criminal on the streets.
At present this program is being offered in eight prisons. None of these programs are as complete as I would like to have them, still we are having a strong effect even with a minimum of time, money and personnel. Three of our elders are now too ill to travel to the prisons any longer, one has passed on, and two are working in other communities in Canada and Alaska. Besides myself we have one elder in New Hampshire with one very devoted assistant, and one elder in Connecticut with two strong assistants. All of them are volunteering their time and paying their own travel expenses.
We have no funding of any kind from governmental or private groups. As I am the only one going into all these prisons (actually seven of them) my own expenses are considerable. These are paid by the non-profit corporation which I co-direct, Another Place, Inc., which also owns the land I live on and where we hold our gatherings for ex-prisoners and for the general public. The only trouble there is that Another Place itself has no funding from any other organization and relies on small donations from individual well-wishers and participants in its programs, which are a small part of its income. The main source of income for Another Place is my own work, lecturing, giving seminars, and telling stories for schools, colleges, private groups, festivals and other events throughout North America and Europe. It requires a great deal of my time in travel just to support the minimum level we now have in the prisons.
It is very clear what we need as a next step to expand this work. We need people and money. We need a few dedicated people who are capable of building an organization, and we need enough money to hire them and others to effect that building. Two very important parts that could then be addressed are publicity, to let the public know about the programs and get the support of government and private organizations, and fund-raising, to continue to enlarge the organization and spread it to other parts of the country and internationally. I have been speaking to groups and visiting prisons in Scandinavia and Germany, and they are very interested in this work. All over North America there are native elders and medicine people who use their own time and money to go to prisons and offer circles and sweat lodges. This is not known to the general public, and that good work should also be supported.
It is not easy to get volunteers for such programs as these, because most people have to work for a living at a regular job that doesn't give them time off to visit prisons. There are some elders who are retired, some students who can find time, and people like myself who essentially work for themselves and arrange their own schedules, but the traveling also costs money, and it's sad but true that people who have the heart and dedication to volunteer their time and energy for such things are hardly ever people who have money.
It is my hope that with greater publicity and public awareness there are many people out there in those categories who are looking for something meaningful to do with their time who would be very excited to learn that they could do something as powerful and useful as this. At the start I can easily train a few people to carry on this work and to begin to train others. Then it will be able to go on its own power without my constant attention. Just to continue the program, not even to expand it, this will be necessary soon, because I am as old as the other elders who have become ill, and, although I thank Creator daily for my good health, I know that I will not be able to be there forever.
Then there is my other vision: the place and the program for prisoners after they are released. As I am obviously not getting younger, I am eager to get started with that, because I know it will take most of my time and attention at the beginning. Here again we need money - to buy a place and to pay a small full-time staff.
The next steps are very important. They may be small, but they mean the difference between a going and growing, self-perpetuating organization and a handful of elders trying in a spontaneous way to do what their health, money, and time permit. I can see these next small steps clearly, and I can assist in them, help the organization to get off on the right foot and head in the right direction. But after that I need to let go of it. I must get on to my next task.
But the vision - yes, I can imagine an organzation growing as big as the International Red Cross, working together with Amnesty International and other groups working for justice and human rights. Whaat chould it be called? I don't know. That's for others to decide when the time comes. But I do like the name the men picked themselves for the first program we established in Connecticut's Somers Prison:
The Open Circle
The prisoners named it that with some pride because it was open to anyone who came to it with respect, because they wanted to remind themselves that an important part of the circle was being open and honest with yourself and everyone, and because they realized that their circle was not alone, not exclusive, but a part of all circles in the universe, and all things in the universe were a part of their circle - it opened outward to all Creation.
And so it is I think of the work of the circle. It is the same everywhere and open to all. Indeed we shall not be able to live in peace on this beautiful earth until we have reached out to every human soul and brought them peace. For me it is clear that the way to heal society of its violence, its struggle for dominion, its fear and hostility, its greed and addictions, its loneliness and isolation and lack of love, is to replace the pyramid of domination with the circle of equality and respect.
The great gift of my elders is the circle, which contains everything, the universe and the knowledge of how to live in it in peace and happiness. Through the circle I have found and been able to give to others healing and hope. Given enough time to penetrate the layers of distress the circle can touch and change anyone. Because all human beings ultimately want the same things. Once we have a taste of it we all want to live in peace. We want our basic needs met. We want respect. We all want freedom. We want life to be free of stress, to be interesting and fun. And we want appreciation, affection, closeness to other human beings - we want to love and be loved.
These are all things that we can give to each other or withhold from each other. When we give them we get them; when we withhold them we lose them. But in order to choose peace, respect, freedom, fun, love, we have to have some experience of them. If a person has never experienced them he can't even believe in them.
The circle is the best way I know to make that possible.