San Quentin’s Nonviolent Communication class returned to normal operation after three years of operation via correspondence due to COVID.
The class promotes personal growth through effective communication. In its interactive model, the class emphasizes group learning to improve empathy, compassion and accountability.
“We are so delighted to return to San Quentin,” said Sheila Menezes, class sponsor for six years. “Nonviolent communication can become a way of life if you dedicate yourself to our year-long course, and if you choose to practice the model in your everyday world.”
Participant Larry Ford was excited to return to the classroom model.
“I continued NVC during the pandemic,” Ford said. “But it is difficult practicing communication skills when we were locked down for over 600 days.”
The program develops communication skills by identifying the feelings and needs of the parties. It asks participants to internalize empathy, addressing feelings before expressing needs and requests.
Program sponsors help students examine their histories and discover unmet needs. They believe effective communication creates impactful results, allowing students to live and speak more authentically.
Sponsor Sunil Joseph reminded the class to “be self-aware” and to “remember awareness is the key to making change.”
“Do not react off of emotions anymore because you are now learning to speak in a centered, peaceful manner,” Joseph said.
Nonviolent communication ultimately aims to have participants learn to be accountable for their feelings. Many participants continue to voice their support for the program.
“Nonviolent communication will improve our lives,” said San Quentin resident Milton Alcantara. “Before my arrest, I only communicated angrily. I did not understand my own defects took away my ability to listen. This program allows me to speak better and improve my relationships.”
“If I had this program on the outside, I probably would never have been arrested,” said resident Ethan Crum.
Class sessions introduce residents to everyday situations to gain empathy for another person’s emotional state. Upon acceptance, students exercise a “new” language. The class promotes growth by asking students to resolve disputes, which requires conflict-resolution strategies.
“You will still get angry, but you will receive more tools to cope with anger internally and externally,” Menezes said. “Defining your feelings and emotions will clarify what the specific event means to you.”
The first class illustrated Menezes’ point about anger. As tensions rose, an argument grew from two to three participants. However, they were able to utilize tools that they learned during class to return to a healthier mode of communication.
“Nonviolent communication views may not be understood by everyone,” Menezes said. “When we see the other participant’s perspectives in any type of communication, conflict resolution can occur and we can grow and improve our communities through peaceful actions.”
Facilitators like Jereal Nelson praised the program’s effectiveness.
“Nonviolent communication changed me,” Nelson said. “It elevated my communication skills tremendously.”
Nelson encouraged participants to engage fully with the program for its full duration.
“Improvement doesn’t happen overnight,” Nelson said. “Stick and stay for the full year and you will create deeper connections with others. I am better than I have ever been and NVC allows me to illustrate this verbally