GRIP is about taking offenders and graduating them into servants of humankind
National Basketball Association veteran Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, came into San Quentin and shared part of his life story with the men of GRIP (Guiding Rage into Power).
“My father was on psychiatric medication before I was born. After I was born, my father told my mother that he was on medication; however, she stuck with him even though he would hit her.” He spoke quietly, yet clearly, to those in the room.
“I thought it was normal, for a man to hit a woman in the home, so at the time, I didn’t realize how I was being affected. Just about everyone in my family was either in jail or a mental institution when I was growing up.”
As World Peace opened up with his personal story, he walked about the room explaining his path to reach peace within himself.
“I want you to close your eyes and change the world. For whatever time it takes you to envision it, change the world. If you have tension in your body – your forehead, shoulders, wherever, just relax a little bit. Breathe slowly.”
As the men and women in the room closed their eyes, World Peace spoke evenly, guiding the room through a brief meditation process.
“Focus on your goals,” World Peace said. Some moments later, he followed with, “Now, slowly come out at your own pace, as you feel like it.”
GRIP is the brainchild of Jacques Verduin, who directs the program and invited World Peace to come in and speak. Verduin describes GRIP as a 17-year journey in seeking the right people and perfecting the curriculum. GRIP aims to take offenders and graduate them into servants of humankind.
“The Navajo believe that someone who has committed a crime is someone who is acting as if he or she has no family, no relatives,” Verduin states. “In that sense, a crime is an inarticulate plea for help. So part of the solution is to create a context where we relate to each other to heal the pain of feeling alienated.”
The program consists of four components that are central to the process:
- Stopping the violence and committing no harm
- Developing emotional intelligence
- Cultivating mindfulness
- Understanding victim impact
“In the process of healing, the person not only learns how to rehabilitate, but also becomes someone who’s able to give back to the community,” said Verduin.
The stories told by World Peace confirmed Verduin’s theories. The famous athlete went on to speak about his time with the Indiana Pacers and the angry encounter in the stands that led him to being suspended from the NBA.
“The situation while I was with the Pacers, when I went into the stands, I ended up blaming everyone else for what happened to me. It was confusing at the time. However, years later, I called the person that I went after. It turned out that he had his own personal problems that he was dealing. Now? We’re friends,” said World Peace.
He spoke about his time with the Los Angeles Lakers; how then head coach Phil Jackson helped him channel his anger by introducing him to Zen Buddhism.
“When I got to the Los Angeles Lakers, Coach Phil Jackson – the ‘Zen Master’ – had a team that had several huge egos and personalities. He had to meld all these personalities into a cohesive unit. He used Zen teachings and meditations to allow us to see things in a way that, I personally, hadn’t even thought about,” World Peace told the men of GRIP.
“Coach Jackson influenced me in so many ways. He’s part of the reason I follow Buddhist teachings.”
“When I arrived, there were different agendas inside the locker room. We were like different gangs playing in the same jersey. Coach Jackson taught us how to put everything aside that didn’t have a thing to do with achieving the goal and to focus on the same thing. Obviously it worked because, as a coach, he has 13 rings,” World Peace said with a smile.
“I was always tense; however, Buddhism has helped me to identify those moments when I am tense and to transfer those negative feelings into positive energy.”
After leaving the GRIP meeting, World Peace went to the basketball court and played a couple of games with several San Quentin inmates.
“Man I just played a four-on-four with Ron Artest (World Peace)! Can you believe that!” said one inmate who also plays in the San Quentin Intramural Basketball League.
“He’s like a regular dude, you know. He has the same type of issues that I have,” said another inmate after watching the game.