“Envision human relations without violence.”
On Friday evening the men file into the room rather sullen and quiet. After signing in, they take one of the chairs that are set in a circle. They’ve come not knowing what to expect, only that if they complete this weekend workshop on Alternatives to Violence, the certificate they receive will gain them favor with the parole board. They are willing to endure anything for one weekend in order to get that certificate.
Coordinating the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops in the two prisons in Concord, MA is one of the ways that Upriver Ministries fulfills its mission:
1. To engage in a public conversation about the violence that is embedded in our culture.
2. To assist those who have behaved violently to discover a nonviolent path.
A start-up ministry founded by Mark Richards in 2010, Upriver Ministries envisions human relations without violence. The prison work is done in partnership with Concord Prison Outreach and with the support of the national AVP organization. Upriver Ministries also participates in community dialogues around domestic violence.
Currently, Upriver Ministries seeks to expand the Alternatives to Violence workshops outside of the prison setting and into the surrounding communities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Framingham. By bringing this powerful, interactive experience to neighborhoods where overt violence prevails, we hope to build supportive communities that recognize the sources of violence so they can provide resources to aid in its prevention. A long range goal is to establish a residential reentry program based on AVP principles.
Mark meets regularly with Partners in Faith, a collaboration of agencies serving domestic violence victims in the greater Boston area hosted by the UU Urban Ministry in Roxbury. As a facilitator trained in batterer intervention, Mark engages with the domestic violence community so that effective prevention measures can be directed to the source of the problem: controlling partners.
Upriver Ministries took its name from the story of the village by the river that Rev. Richard Gilbert tells in the first chapter of The Prophetic Imperative. Violence is so embedded in our culture that, ultimately, we will not dampen it by fighting each iteration as a separate event. We must address the source of violence that lies within our own fears – our fears as individuals and our fears as societies. Where we see those who would divide us in order to attain personal power, we must speak out. When we witness institutional violence, we must repurpose that institution so that it serves to bring people together. Most all, we must believe that a culture without violence is available to the human experience.
On Sunday afternoon, during the graduation ceremony when the certificates of completion are handed out, the men are light-hearted and engaging. They have formed a community through common experience. On his way out, one man says, “This is like being out of prison for three days!” They have descended into the abyss of their hearts and come up again with hope and power. It is the power of knowing that we can have human relations without violence. Through education and outreach, Upriver Ministries seeks to empower the communities it serves with this vision.
For More Information: http://upriverministries.org