assisting inmates convicted of sex offences
For several years I volunteered as a facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), teaching non-violence strategies to prison inmates. But when I began work at a state mental hospital I was unable to get the time needed to facilitate an AVP weekend session: from 3-9 Fri, 9-9 Sat, and 9-6 Sun.
As an alternative, the prison Rabbi who sponsored and supervised our AVP activity received permission from the Warden for me to conduct weekly, 2-hour group sessions with sexual offenders.
In California at the end of their prison terms, individuals convicted of sexual offenses are interviewed by two or more clinicians to determine whether they will be retained under state civil commitment laws governing Sexual Violent Predators (SVP’s). Sexual offenders are incarcerated in prison many years for their offense; but they receive no treatment during that time; and then at parole they can be sent to a state mental hospital—essentially for life.
About three years ago a couple of inmates who attended LDS church services at our local prison had asked if I could help them with treatment groups before their interviews. They had 2-3 years to go; and they wanted to go home, not to a state mental hospital as SVP’s. I am a California licensed psychiatric technician.
core religious beliefs
We’ve found that the optimum group size for effective communication is 8 inmates. Two of the eight have been the original LDS men who asked for help. The rest have been Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics, etc. We meet as a 12-step program by invitation only because these guys could get beat up or worse if other inmates knew the nature of their offense. Some of the guys say they have been convicted of murder rather than be known as pedophiles or as rapists.
We started with no preconceived therapy methodologies, only that we would review what was available and see what worked best. In the end we’ve settled on two books written by Latter-day Saints and cycle through them each year or so.
First, we discuss in depth Willpower is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change by A. Dean Byrd. Dr. Byrd is currently President of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (see NARTH.com) and a family friend of over twenty years.
Then, we work through He Did Deliver Me from Bondage by Colleen C. Harrison. Sister Harrison’s primary addiction was over-eating with a myriad of associated personal issues. She isn’t a clinician but provides a deeply moving, personal memoir with a set of activities that are patterned after the 12-step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous and based on readings in the Book of Mormon.
Participants in our group have strong religious loyalties, and it’s been a tribute to their trust, love, and respect for our two LDS inmate organizers that they’ve agreed to use these LDS materials. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had spirited discussions about it. But in the end we agreed that each participant would take turns presenting a chapter and supplementing the LDS readings with their own Bible references.
deeply moving, spiritual experiences
I never leave our sessions without being moved and strengthened in my own testimony and faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and in God’s abiding love for all his children -- including those who warrant incarceration.
Thus far only one of our participants has been referred to the State Hospital as an SVP, and he dropped out of the program early when the group decided not to focus on sexual offenses and relapse prevention but on Wellness and Recovery. He insisted that he needed to see why and how he got to be the way he was (almost like his offenses weren't his fault). We’ve learned that it’s best to admit where we are now and then have Heavenly Father help us become different.
So far our success has been wildly better than the secular treatment models currently used in state hospitals.
a church calling to non-member
Our group meets at 12:30 each Sunday. And every year our ward’s schedule of Sunday meetings rotates between beginning at 9am and 11am. The years we start at 9am I have a Church calling--President of the Sunday School; the years we start at 11am I attend Sacrament Meeting and then go to our group meeting at the Prison.
Notwithstanding, my bishop set me apart to work as a “Sunday School worker” for the men at the prison; and the stake president always inquires whether we’re keeping our men out of the state mental hospital.
This past summer we successfully lost our first LDS inmate to parole; the second is up for interviews and possible parole this coming June. It will be interesting to see whether our non-LDS group continues to meet and what curriculum they choose for the future.