On July 19, approximately 150 staff, volunteers, formerly incarcerated people and currently incarcerated people gathered in San Quentin’s Garden Chapel to process the meaning of freedom. Greeted with Starbucks coffee, herbal tea and marshmallow treats, the visitors came as part of the nonprofit Enneagram Prison Project, which first came to SQ in 2016.
An enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) is a geometric figure that maps out personality types of human nature, according to the book “The Wisdom of The Enneagram,” by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
The EPP’s mission statement is “freeing people all over the world, from the prisons of our own making.” The project is international with representation in Belgium, Australia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
According to EPP, personal growth occurs when a person identifies their personality type and can begin to understand their strengths and weaknesses. There are nine different fundamental enneagram types. They are: The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, The Challenger and The Peacemaker.
Susan Olesek founded EPP in 2012 and joined the SQ gathering as host for the third time.
“It feels like a family reunion,” Olesek said. “I am a lover of all humanity.”
Olesek asked Dustin Baldwin, an EPP board member, to lead the group in a grounding meditation. She invited Warden Ron Broomfield (prior to his promotion to the director of Adult Institutions) to the stage to share his thoughts about the program.
“As the warden, I get credit for all you do — it’s the work the volunteers and the incarcerated people do that makes me want to be in this space,” Broomfield said.
Olesek called on some of the people who have experienced the program to explain what freedom means to them.
“Being able to come in and give back to the people in blue that helped me — this is what freedom is like,” Troy Phillips, a former SQ resident, told the audience. “I was not scared to walk through the gate today, because I’m able to walk out.”
EPP graduate and resident Patrick Demery said that freedom allows him to be vulnerable. “My life has been consumed in fear of being vulnerable. It allows me to ask for help,” he said.
“The idea of freedom is not to listen to that voice that says I am not good enough. I do not have to do everything good, but to the best of my ability,” said resident Terry Hall, who has recently received a parole date. “I now can show people what hope and change looks like.”
Next, Olesek asked the audience to break into small groups to process what freedom meant to them. About 10 small groups worked together for 40 minutes.
At the end of the afternoon, Olesek asked participants to gather in a circle along the walls of the chapel. She asked everyone to say, in one word, what they were taking away from the event.
The most frequent words were love and connection, along with family, understanding, trust, unity, gratitude and loving-kindness.