By Nancy Gilbert
My 99-year-old mother took her last breath on this earth, Friday, January 4th. I was in the thick of grief and coming to terms with what my life would now be about when my friend and lead AVP facilitator, Nancy Shippen, asked if I would be available to do an AVP workshop at the pre-release facility in Lawrence, MA on the following Monday, just some 3 days later.
Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) was first introduced to me about five years ago, when I did a basic training at MCI Concord, with Minga Claggett-Borne as the lead facilitator. The depth that the program spans was quickly apparent to me. The touching on deep emotion, with the safe space provided for exploration juxtaposed by the seemingly light exercises that allow for lively release were a welcome experience and one that is applicable to those incarcerated or not.
My concerns were whether or not I would be able to focus properly in the role of facilitator. Some bit of me feared that I might become so overcome with grief that I would end up as a wet ball of tears on the floor.
However, I knew that whatever I needed to share would find a welcome and safe place within this group of people. Working as a team with both inside and outside facilitators, I knew that if I needed to cry or step back from facilitating some portion of the program, that my fellow teammates would be able to cover for me. My trust in Nancy Shippen as lead facilitator also helped inform my decision, leading me to feel comfortable with the unknown tract my grief might take and that she would be a helpful presence if needed. From the first training I ever did it was clear that these incarcerated men were well versed with what was real and what was put on. My being real with them and sharing from the heart was welcomed and encouraged.
I gave it some serious thought over some hours. I came back with a “yes”.
My personal history includes growing up in a dysfunctional family that later included significant time in a half-way house in Boston. The half-way house experience impacted my life in myriad and profound ways and through AVP I have had an opportunity to work through some of the trauma that I experienced, within my dysfunctional home and also the pain I experienced, mostly as a witness to the abuse my “brothers” experienced in the half-way home.
Over the year that I had cared for my mother, I had had the opportunity to participate with several AVP workshops, each time returning to my Mother’s home to share with her my experiences. She was always interested and supportive of the work. So many years ago, it was my Mother that sparked my interest in doing community work. It seems appropriate to continue that work, albeit with tears of grief and love in my heart for her passing.
Accompanied by Rubi, therapy dog extraordinaire, we went into the facility for our three-day AVP workshop. Rubi dutifully made the rounds and made sure that anyone who wished for some dog attention got it. She then returned to my lap and eventually curled up on her little bed to take a nap while our workshop got underway.
It seemed that the sharing went deeper faster. Was it having Rubi with us or was it my own perception from such a raw state of grief? No way of telling. What I do know is that I was greeted with love, respect and compassion from the fellow AVP facilitators and participants. One of the beautiful aspects of AVP is that we are all participants in the workshops and all have the opportunity to become facilitators. The usual hierarchy we find in every-day life to some extent fades away, leaving behind our human essence to interact and touch one another.