By Valerie Hurwitz
James Taylor came to Peace forum on March 1st, 2012 to speak with us about the Peace Learning Center in Indianapolis. The PLC started doing conflict resolution/transformation activities with grades 4-6 in the Indianapolis public schools and has expanded from there. The Help Increase the Peace Program (HIPP) is an AFSC program that began in Syracuse, NY in 1991, and now extends to 19 states. HIPP is described as “An Interactive conflict transformation that empowers participants to reduce violence, strengthen cross-cultural understanding and become agents of social change.” The Peace Learning Center began offering HIPP as a program and used Americorps fellows to give the workshops. As Americorps and Title I funding has been cut in the past few years, HIPP and the Peace Learning Center have fewer funds. James, after finishing his Americorps term, continued volunteering for the PLC despite the lack of funds because he believes this is important and essential work.
The most interesting part of James’ time with us was what he told us about his work in the Girl’s School and Boy’s School, the juvenile detention centers. James explained that Indiana is under federal investigation for how it runs its juvenile detention centers. James describes them by saying, “Prisons aren’t set up to do anything positive.” For those who will argue that juvenile detention centers are different than regular prisons, James would point out that the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility (for boys) is in a maximum security facility.
James says that what the children in these facilities want most is continuity. HIPP encourages them to practice critical thinking in every part of their lives. James firmly believes that conflict transformation programs in juvenile corrections facilities and prisons need to encompass both staff and residents. He illustrated the problem for us by saying, “If a kid goes through our program and then says calmly to a guard ‘I feel bad when you call me a b____ because it hurts my feelings.’ there is a good chance that child will be written up for insubordination.”
James is a longtime Quaker and sees this as part of the ongoing Quaker work towards Peace. Perhaps his visit is a reminder that Friends cannot rest on their history but rather must move forward and consider all of the forms their commitment to peace, simplicity, equality, and other testimonies apply to today.
Two other blog posts come to mind that connect here. The first is Noah Baker Merrill’s question about where God is working in the RSOF and where new life is breaking through. The second is Jordan Blevin’s comment at Peace Forum a fewweeks ago about what our budgets tell us about our values. On the other hand, why should we depend on the federal government to fund these kinds of opportunities? (Maybe there’s a little bit of a libertarian in me, which I’m sure Matt Hisrich would be glad to know.) Projects like Quaker Voluntary Service can help fill that gap.
Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.