Flagship program equips prisoners with tools for life outside of prison
Four graduating Tribes of the GRIP program (Guiding Rage into Power) were honored during a two-day event in San Quentin’s Chapel B in August.
Present to celebrate the event with the 64 graduates were state officials including a senator, San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield and other prison staff, GRIP officials and facilitators, and family and friends.
The graduates entered the chapel wearing black caps and gowns and took their seats on the stage as the ceremony was about to begin.
Patrick Baylis, a San Quentin resident and GRIP facilitator, opened the ceremony with an invocation of prayer.
The event was co-hosted by Kim Moore, executive director of The Grip Training Institute, and GRIP staff facilitator Jessie Estrin.
Director Moore thanked everyone for their attendance, especially the families. “If your family is not here today, we are your surrogate family,” she said.
GRIP is a year-long self-help group guided by four principles: Stopping My Violence, Emotional Intelligence, Cultivating Mindfulness, and Victims Impact.
GRIP arranges for survivors and family members of deceased victims to come into the class and tell their stories.
“GRIP is an intense program, the participants are asked a lot, to dig into their original pain and original trauma,” said Estrin.
During the graduation, Estrin described the challenges the program has faced due to program modifications wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The GRIP participants continued to work for one -and-a-half years through correspondence, despite the pandemic. This is a celebration of transformation, accountability, to be a peacemaker and never cause pain again,” said Estrin.
Running the program via correspondence required sending more than 8,000 pieces of mail to participants. “We did not want to abandon our students,” said Moore.
The Training Institute’s mission is to serve incarcerated Californians by creating personal and systemic change to turn violence and suffering into opportunities for learning and healing, according to Peacemaker magazine.
A video of a GRIP session at San Quentin was shown on the jumbo screen in the chapel. In the clip, the group sat in a circle listening as a woman named Jenny explained how she lost her parents.
She said her parents got into an altercation with a knife, and after a violent argument her father killed her mother. Jenny’s father is in a Texas prison, where he has been for 20 years.
Speakers included Warden Broomfield. “I spent my career at maximum security prisons where all hearts were closed. Talking to residents at San Quentin you can tell that they have changed,” said Broomfield. “This program is the real deal. This program is legit.”
State Sen. Josh Becker (D) attended the graduation. “Now you have done your job. Now it is time for me to do my job. To keep the recidivism rate less than one percent you need help. This is tough work; it’s impossible until it’s done,” said Becker, in reference to a goal of reducing recidivism.
The graduates’ accomplishments were also acknowledged by family members and friends, who talked about the behavioral transformations they have witnessed.
“I am very happy to be the wife of Harry, he is my peacemaker. He understands how he can lead a peaceful life. His experience with GRIP taught him how to decompress,” said Dominica Goodall, wife of Harry Goodall Jr., a graduate of GRIP Tribe 728. She also said, “You have to deal with anger to have peace around you.”
Jon Goldberg graduated with Tribe 864. His mother and brother praised him for his achievement.
“I’m here today to celebrate my son’s achievement. There are some things he went through that now he owns up to… In the past Jon was not a communicator,” said Goldberg’s mother.
Graduates talked about how the program has helped them cope with adversity.
“GRIP taught me how to deal with grief. Losing somebody growing up and having that bottled up inside for so long can affect you. GRIP allowed me to feel comfortable,” said Carlos Robinson, Tribe 864 graduate.
“Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people; thank you for the transformation,” said Bryan Monge of Tribe 847.
“I feel good that I got to use the tools. I got a higher power that brings me back as a peacemaker,” said William Hearn of Tribe 847.
Former residents of San Quentin who had been through the program, as well as current GRIP facilitators, shared stories about how the program changed their lives.
“I’m a peacemaker, and I want to show fellow GRIP participants that change is possible,” said Fanon “Red” Figgers. Figgers is now a facilitator at Soledad State Prison.
Another former resident who paroled earlier this year explained how a denial from the Board motivated him to get involved with self-help.
“I went to Board in 2016, I was denied seven years. The Commissioner told me, ‘Mr. Ross we can’t let you out of prison with a high risk of recidivism, the public will not allow it.’ I used that to motivate me to do the work,” said Tommy Shakur Ross.
Tranquillano Figueroa, a graduate of Spanish-speaking Tribe 315, played guitar and sang in Spanish about the four principles of GRIP.
Spanish staff facilitator Lucia de la Fuente was unable to attend the ceremony. But she sent a message that was read by San Quentin resident and Spanish-language facilitator Tare Beltranchuc.
She wrote, “Today, your life as peacemakers begins. I want you to know that my mind and prayers are with you all. I carry you all in my heart. It is your responsibility to pass the work to the next generation … We are the ones to bring healing to our communities when we get out. We will be waiting for you all with open arms and a happy soul.”
The ceremony ended with the Rite of Passage, where attendees stood side-by-side along the Chapel’s isle, forming a makeshift tunnel by raising their hands. This tradition represents readiness to reenter the community.
All the graduates then passed through the tunnel and returned to their seats to sign a peace pledge — a promise not to commit violent acts.
Afterward, everyone enjoyed sandwiches, cupcakes, and bottled water, courtesy of the GRIP Institute, and graduates mingled with their families in celebration of their accomplishments.