By Arlene Stepputat
“I found the Mind and Supermind lecture presented by Drs. Bonnie and David Paul to be especially meaningful. This was due both to hearing about the amazing work they do in prisons, and to the listening exercise they led us through. I learned something significant and very helpful about myself in doing the exercise. The other participants I talked with all had similarly revealing experiences. It was a most worthwhile evening!” – Spencer Sherman, Mind and Supermind Moderator
More than 60 people gathered on April 2nd 2018 to hear Mind and Supermind speakers, Drs. David and Bonnie Paul. The evening was billed as “How Selfless Service Can Transform You and the World.”
Bonnie and David took front and center with their usual warmth, welcome and humor. There they presented the work of FTC which included a video testimony from one of the original women inmates who attended the first FTC project at Valley State Prison when it was a women’s facility.
They engaged the audience in both the practical theory of the work – referring to Viktor Frankl as well as the neuroscience to illustrate how and why change is possible for any of us. David also discussed why service is good for your physical health and cited recent medical research that validates this idea.
As someone who has been with the program for many years, I have repeatedly watched “strangers” become connected through the experiential exercises used in FTC’s workshops. When David and Bonnie introduced the evening’s exercise with the handout Finding Your Freedom to Choose, the room buzzed in the tentative but soon intimate sharing within each exercise group.
FTC’s Pathways to Freedom workshop at Valley State Prison
Large group sharing was brief but filled with familiar comments as people realized that we all have more in common than we have differences. The idea of actually being listened to with someone seeing your loving essence was a revelation to many. One person shared that she didn’t realize that she would actually learn something in each role of the experiential exercise and that raised her awareness about engagement with people over all.
I had invited many friends to attend and spoke with two of them a few days later about their experience of the evening. Dana, an RN and long-time friend involved with social justice including a local project for tattoo removal for gang members shared, “it wasn’t long enough. There were so many golden nuggets coming from David and Bonnie I couldn’t write fast enough. The experience from the experiential exercise was very good. I wish it had been 3 hours.”
Victoria, a colleague at work, has a son who has been involved with a court case for the last year or so. He’s only 17 but will likely be sentenced as an adult. She has been confiding in me because she feels the stigma many families experience when a child or sibling or spouse is incarcerated. She came at my urging since her son will soon be sentenced to his prison term.
Victoria said this about the evening. “I was so impressed with the video of Jo, the inmate. I also felt comfortable opening up to a stranger which surprised me. I learned a lot from the others in my exercise group in a short time. We are all normal. We all go through stuff.” Then a little tearfully she added, “There are really amazing people out there with good hearts.”
For me the Freedom to Choose Project is about the loving and also a reminder that the wisdom and caring for another human being is inside each one of us. In my experience, selfless service does indeed change the world, the world inside me and all around me.
Mind and Supermind Classes are presented by Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) as part of their School for Extended Learning. Mind and Supermind has a long history in Santa Barbara of bringing cutting edge and conscious learning to the community. Past presenters have included the likes of Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie and most recently Jack Canfield.
Arlene Stepputat (FTC volunteer since 2005)
One of the most poignant and unforgettable experiences I have had with FTC took place a few years ago at a prison workshop. On the final day in an experiential exercise, I found myself sitting with two young women and I thought, “how can I possibly help them? I am too old, too white, too privileged.” I felt self-conscious and un-relatable and considered asking another volunteer to step in. My next thoughts were realizing that I was here, about to start an exercise and I made a conscious choice to just do my best.
As we shared, our stories focused on our heartfelt desire to be good mothers. What I saw and heard from these two women was the pain of being separated from their children, their shame and guilt in not being with them, and their concern for their welfare – they were so grateful to have the opportunity to talk freely without fear of being judged, to reveal their pain, to be open. In this situation, we were three people united by love for our children and all the superficial differences among us evaporated as we talked and supported one another. It was one of the most authentic conversations I have had.
What I love about FTC is that it provides the most transformational educational experience I have ever seen; not only for those who are incarcerated, but also for us volunteers. It is a privilege to be a part of the FTC process which literally gives us all practical emotional/psychological skill sets to improve our lives.
My intention as a volunteer development director is to acknowledge, support and thank all the FTC community members who make the program viable, to enhance awareness of the work, to develop our sustainability through funding and increase our outreach, both inside and outside the walls.
Karin Weber holds a master’s degree in special education and has nearly 30 years of experience in various roles in the non-profit world. Past roles include: board member, executive committee member, officer, chairman, organizer and volunteer.
I’m blessed to have opportunities like this to share about my Education For A Second Chance!!!
We are so lucky to have this lovely young lady as a part of our team!
Preparing for our upcoming Fall Workshops!
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) September 23-25, 2016
Valley State Prison (VSP) October 28-30, 2016
Here we are.. in the FTC office… so excited to prepare for our upcoming visits to Madera! Another opportunity to surround the participants with the loving service of FTC volunteers.
EVERYONE DESERVES AN EDUCATION FOR A SECOND CHANCE!
It has been only 3 1/2 years since my release and the date of this most precious visit by Bonnie, David & Angela of the Freedom to Choose Foundation!
Celebrating 3 years on the job! WOW!
FTC and me — still going strong !!!
We are preparing for two projects with two workshops in our new series: Pathways to Freedom.
Join us in Investing in Second Chances! Donate to our crowdfunding campaign! 🙂
On Memorial Day weekend a group of mentors, who were all at the very first “Freedom to Choose” workshop in 2004, reunited to celebrate their freedom!
L-R: Caroline, Cirese, Tiffany, Cari, Tammy Sue & Kristianne
“This could be me, my sister, my mother,” I remember thinking the first time I sat across from a woman at Valley State Prison for Women at the first Freedom to Choose workshop in 2004. After eagerly raising my hand to be a part of the volunteer team, I had no idea what to expect when I walked into a prison. But I do know I didn’t expect I would so completely relate to the women I came to know over that first weekend.
Like most people, I had my own ideas of what “those people” in prison were like, and it certainly wasn’t like me. I’d never been arrested, no family members served time in prison and I didn’t hang around criminals. We were worlds apart. Or were we?
I heard many stories about their lives and what they had endured – unimaginable abuse, feelings of no self-worth, homelessness, poverty and more – and how, because of their choices, they found themselves in prison, many with life sentences. And few (if any) skills to help them cope with life, create good relationships or make better choices. As I listened, I thought I could never have endured what so many of the women had experienced.
Volunteering over the past 11 years and several thousand participants, I’ve seen and heard about the positive impact that FTC has had in the lives of both women and men. I’ve heard about changes that people have made to improve their lives and relationships in and out of prison. I’ve heard how the atmosphere in the prison continues to improve as participants return time and again to learn more skills. I’ve made friends, witnessed profound growth, and seen improved levels of self-confidence and self-respect in the men and women who attend FTC workshops.
I’ve also seen many people be released and successfully create new lives in the “free world.” Among them:
I have learned more than I ever imagined possible about opening my own heart, trusting, human kindness, the power of forgiveness, taking responsibility, freedom from judgment and the depth and power of love.
Worlds apart? I don’t think so. We make different choices, go different directions in life, but we are all the same. We all want to be heard and to feel that we matter. That we are worthy and that we are loved.
— Nancy Staack, FTC Volunteer
“It’s impossible,” said Pride. “It’s pointless,” said Reason. “Give it a try,” whispered the Heart.
We are preparing for two projects with two workshops in our new series: Pathways to Freedom.