HEART founder and program
facilitator Cherie McNaulty works
alongside a program participant
during a recent group meeting.
Herself a survivor, McNaulty
channels her experience into
the HEART curriculum to
help participants gain healthy
into their pasts.
Forty-nine San Quentin residents made up the first graduating class of Healing, Empowerment, Accountability, Restoration and Transformation (HEART), a program aimed at eliminating domestic violence.
The graduation ceremony began as founder Cherie McNaulty took the podium to thank all of the participants for their hard work and dedication.
“Thank you for being here today, I appreciate you as survivor and perpetrator, for helping each other out,” said McNaulty. She reminded the graduates that hurt people hurt people. “I am a hurt person, but I don’t hurt others,” she added.
McNaulty talked about how she gets re-traumatized when she talks about her own pain and traumas and encouraged participants to share the tools that they have learned with others, including their own family.
“I hope that you will leave in your heart the things that you have learned today,” she said.
McNaulty introduced the program to address and fix patterns of domestic violence. Participants learn to recognize the issues surrounding abuse.
The program consists of once-per-week, two-hour classes that run for 26 weeks. They focus on participants’ written reflections, known as prompts, followed by group discussions. There are three modalities: the Duluth educational model, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and Family Values (predisposed to family violence). All are trauma-informed.
The guest speaker at the graduation was Cori Thomas. Thomas commutes from New York every few months to volunteer at SQ. She has served in various volunteer roles for more than seven years. She talked about her early experiences coming into a prison.
“I began to see people as people. Before I came inside the prison, I thought prisoners were what the media portrays; that they are all a bunch of bad people. When you meet them, you realize that they’re just people, like anyone else,” she said.
The speaker emphasized how traumas can be like an unhealed broken bone — it’s still there, but when it rains the pain returns. Thomas thanked each of the graduates for taking this program because through it they are making the world a safer place.
“Every day, from this moment on, when you wake up you have become my super hero for doing the work and for making sure that you won’t hurt another human being,” Thomas concluded.
Participants thanked McNaulty for bringing the program to San Quentin. They reminded each other to apply and not forget what they have learned; otherwise their efforts would be futile.
Graduate David Bruce, 80, who has spent more than 50 years in prison, read a poem. The graduates joined in a group cheer for McNaulty as the ceremony wound down.
“Now I have the tools to be in better and healthy relationships,” one of the graduates shouted as the program concluded.