On April 21, the Guiding Rage Into Power Training Institute held its second graduation since rebounding from the pandemic.
Sixty-five graduates took seats on the stage in San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel and waited for their friends and families to arrive.
The Grip program, founded by Jacque Verduin, is a 52- week in-person processing group, whose motto is “leaving prison before you get out.”
The four elements of the program focus on the application of emotional processing techniques.
“I learned from the four elements — Stop My Violence, Cultivating Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence, and Victim and Survivor Impact — including coping skills to quit taking things personal,” said graduate Peter Shui.
As visitors and guests entered the chapel, their incarcerated loved ones embraced them.
Kim Moore, executive director of GRIP, hosted the event. She welcomed the families, saying, “You are a part of the journey, we know you have been doing time with your loved ones.”
Then she expressed appreciation for the graduating “tribes,” numbers 716, 773, and 766.
“The tribal name represents the total amount of years each tribe has spent in prison,” said Thai Hieu, a graduate of tribe 766.
Moore introduced Robin Gullien, a former SQ resident and GRIP facilitator, as “my esteemed colleague and facilitator-member.”
Before Gullien entertained the graduates and guests with a solo flute performance, he explained why he came to speak at the graduation after his release from SQ in 2018.
FRIENDS AND FAMILIES
More than five dozen incarcerated
graduates took the stage in their caps
and gowns to received their hard-earned
certificates from Guiding Rage Into
Power, one of San Quentin’s flagship
Among the visitors was formerly
incarcerated Sak Uppassay (top photo,
in black shirt), who earned his release
in 2019. Uppassay was a powerhouse
of positivity while at San Quentin, and
continued his work in the community
as a guest lecturer at high schools and
universities, leading discussions on
rape, domestic violence and immigration
“I want my people to know I have not
forgotten about them,” Uppassay said. “I
want to motivate my people to continue
to walk the right path.”
“I want the brothers to know I haven’t forgotten about them. I came back into this iron house, because I know what it is like to be in blue — I send you all my love,” Gullien said.
“I spent 45 years in prison, and 25 of them here at San Quentin. I was with Jacque from the beginning.”
His flute performance reflected his Native American heritage. The audience was very quiet as his melodies filled the room.
Moore thanked Acting Warden Oak Smith for his support of the event. She also praised Gov. Gavin Newsom for his plan to change the focus of California’s prison system to more rehabilitation.
“We will roll up our sleeves and work with the Department of Corrections,” she told the audience.
The graduates talked about what they learned from the program. “GRIP is the best program I have ever experienced; it changed my life,” said Ajimani Henderson.
“I learned a lot about myself, and that I am not alone. All the stories the guys told me really helped me know myself better,” said Jamie Paredes.
“The most positive and powerful thing I learned was emotional intelligence and learning to be aware of my body’s signals that lead to bad thoughts,” said Christopher German.
Some of the graduates talked about how the program gave them a sense of transparency and the ability to recognize situations that can lead to violence.
“GRIP gave me the ability to open up, to understand I am not my crime. The group also gave me the tools to recognize my triggers of imminent danger,” said James Settles.
“The program gave me tools to use in the form of emotional intelligence, helping me deal with stressful situations in a non-violent manner,” said Drake Walker.
According to Moore, GRIP has served 1,300 students, with 600 of those found suitable for parole. The recidivism rate for those parolees is less than 1%.
“I want all incarcerated people to experience GRIP,” she said.
A video trailer on the chapel’s large screen showed a previous group “processing circle,” and featured former GRIP participant David Jassy playing guitar and singing.
His song included the lyrics, “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people.”
“If it was not for this group, I could not respond in a positive way,” said Vaughn Miles in the video. Miles paroled from SQ in 2019.
Also in the video was Tommy Ross, who paroled in 2022. “I realized what accountability was about. I was open about the things I have done.”
Bernard Moss, Tribe 773 staff facilitator, then introduced Melissa Caseri, a crime survivor who previously attended a GRIP processing circle to tell the story of her father’s murder.
She told the audience that before that encounter with the group, she did not see herself working with the incarcerated, that she only wanted to work with survivors. But after sharing her story in the circle, she walked out feeling safer than she ever felt.
“Thanks to every graduate, I know where I [am] supposed to be,” said Caseri. “Thank you all for allowing me into your space.”
Today she communicates with the person who killed her father, as well as with his daughter.
“It’s never too late to change; he was a hurt person who hurt someone, I realized how hurt people, hurt people,” said Caseri. “I want each and every one of you to know I am proud of the accomplishments you have made.”
Nina Gold, staff facilitator, organized the family guest list and got event information out to families.
“I got to speak to moms and aunties, and some family members I did not get to speak with. I listened to their messages. I would like to extend love to them,” Gold said.
She then introduced Kimberly Hilliard, GRIP graduate Andre Davis’s wife.
“I met Dre at church when I was 12 years old,” said Hilliard. “We’ve known each other a long time. GRIP has taught him self-love and how to accept things he cannot change. The program taught him mindful meditation, and how to heal from past trauma. I love you Dre.”
The time had come for graduates to receive their “honor cords” and certificates of completion. The honor cord is braided fabric of brown and orange colors that symbolizes peace.
Incarcerated facilitators helped the group’s staff drape an honor cord on each student’s shoulders as they received their certificate.
The conclusion of the ceremony consists of two rituals, “a rite of passage,” and the signing of a “peace pledge,” a vow never to hurt another person.
“I commit myself to a lifetime of nonviolence and peacemaking as if my life depends on it, because I understand it does,” reads the peace pledge.
After this, the graduates left the stage to embrace their family and friends once again, and to enjoy refreshments and pose for pictures, sealing memories of the event.