Program brings healing to prisoners and formerly incarcerated, works toward reducing recidivism
Inside Circle Foundation is a successful rehabilitation program that was founded in prison to help men become better men.
It’s a program that empowers system-impacted people to adopt change from within by providing opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to heal and serve both themselves and others. It has impacted more than 100 men to date.
The program welcomes people from all walks of life, every race, and every region. Members gather in a circle and perform a ritualistic cleansing of the “trauma demons” that exist inside of them, which have been built up by years of pain. A candle is lit to symbolize the fire in which they sit.
Men from the community also go into a prison to assist the men in prison as part of Inside Circle. What is at the core of the men’s work is stripping away the layers of false masculinity, bridging the gap, and establishing more in-depth male friendships. The objective: better husband, better father, better leader.
“We exist to reduce recidivism and all forms of violence — physical, emotional and psychological — in our prisons and communities,” the organization’s website reports.
Inside Circle Foundation is an idea born out of a race riot that occurred on Facility “B” at CSP-Sacramento (new Folsom) in 1996.
The men’s group is the brainchild of Patrick Nolan, Rob Albee, Don Morrison, Eldra Jackson III, Aaron Burris, Manuel Ruiz, and Rick Mis-ner. Each became a member of the group during its infancy stages at new Folsom. All were gang members, all were lifers, and all of them were trying to become better men.
Nolan, the program’s founder, was a participant in the riot and landed in the Hole. He thought to himself, “I need to change my life. There has to be a better way to live in prison.”
He began to write poems about his life, his experiences, and the changes he wanted to make — to shift the dynamics of violence and hatred to one of love and support.
“I’m just a dude doing a life sentence, one of the countless thousands shelved away in institutions statewide, who will probably die here on the inside,” said Nolan. “I accept this. But just because a guy is serving life doesn’t necessarily mean life is over. The quality of our existence, even under the worst conditions, can still be determined by us in how we approach this road we are on.”
Nolan died in custody on April 7, 2000.
Eldra Jackson III is now the executive director of the Inside Circle Foundation, Burris is the business development director, and Misner is the lead community circle facilitator. Ruiz is the board chair and oversees Inside Circle Foundation’s larger relationship with the community and holds the intent of Patrick Nolan’s vision of what the Foundation could be in the world.
They, along with other men who have paroled and some of the original Inside Circle members from the streets, have expanded Nolan’s vision. Inside Circle is now nationwide and efforts are underway to establish a circle at San Quentin.
The Foundation has linked with other community-based organizations in Boston, Washington D.C., New Jersey and New York. As recently as June, Burris traveled to Boston to train staff with the Jericho Circle Project, which operates a circle in a federal prison in Norfolk, Va.
Burris wrote, “Something happened when circles began to happen. Hope began to be born and held quietly in men’s hearts that there was another way to live their lives, even if they would never leave prison alive. Inside Circle is proof that dreams can survive, even after death.”
Inside Circle was the subject of a 2017 documentary called “The Work” which was created by San Rafael resident James McLeary.
The documentary follows three civilians on a four-day, group-therapy retreat with men who were incarcerated at Folsom. “For four days let’s be what we could be” a voice states in the film’s opening scene.
The original founders have dedicated their lives to moving the Inside Circle mission forward in the world and behind prison walls.