The Art of Communication is a program offered to qualifying adults in custody (AICs) at a number of Oregon Department of Corrections’ institutions across the state. Developed by Chaplain Trime Persinger at Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), the course teaches AICs how to build positive relationships and manage conflict situations through everyday conversations. This post is the first in a series which aims to share the stories of AICs who have been impacted by the program.
One of the concepts emphasized by the course is the importance of stories. The Art of Communication Workbook states, “We human beings have a need to make meaning out of our world. When we are presented with circumstances for which we don’t have all the information, we fill in the gaps by making up stories about those experiences.” AICs learn how to acknowledge the existence of their stories and to ‘deconstruct’ them, or take them apart in order to understand them better.
Below, AIC Ronnie Allen explores one of the stories he has told himself, and shares how deconstructing the story gave him greater understanding and changed his perspective. AIC Allen shared his experience with Trime Persinger, who wrote it down as follows:
I was deep involved in gangs in a leadership role. One day I was having a visit in the Visiting Room. During that visit there was a little girl, 7-8 years old, sitting right next to my table. I seemed to be drawn to her. She was saying, “My daddy’s going to sit here and we’re going to play Shoots and Ladders. His favorite color is blue.” I was curious to see who her father was.
But no one came to visit her. Then I saw the Sergeant ask the mom to come and talk to him for a minute at the back of the room. I could tell it was an emotional conversation. She came back and told the girl that they had to leave because her daddy wasn’t coming.
The little girl went hysterical. She started yelling, “Mommy, you’re a liar. Daddy promised me he’d be here. I’m not going.” Everybody looked at them. It was an emotional moment for everyone. The mom had to force the child to leave—she picked her up and carried her out.
It really affected me. I went back to my cell and told my cellie what happened. I started to trash talk whoever it was who did that. I said, “Who would risk doing something to get in trouble and not be able to see his daughter?”
My cellie said, “You don’t know who that was?”
My cellie: “That was the guy you just sent on a mission.”
I went silent. I got a hot feeling—I was embarrassed. I was up that whole night going over and over what happened. I have always preached that sex offenders are bad and they hurt kids. I didn’t realize that my actions could affect kids too. It was an epiphany.
After that, everything I was doing I would think, “Is this going to hurt a kid?” Eventually I made a conscious decision to step out of my role and leave the gang altogether. It took a while, but I finally did it. I don’t ever want to risk hurting a kid again.