In the field of mental health we confront so many unmet needs. We experience them personally or we observe them with compassion and wonder what to do. Changemakers are individuals for whom the problem becomes a calling. Unstoppable, they find what they need and they build some missing piece of the solution. Mental Health Changemakers is a series of interviews with individuals and grassroots organisations who work at the intersection of vision, practical skills and determination. These are the people whose innovations give us those eureka moments: yes, of course!
“If violence is the solution, that’s a mental health problem.” These profound words from philanthropist and filmmaker Fritzi Horstman encapsulate the critical intersection between societal mental health and the criminal justice system. During her visit to a prison in 2018, Horstman encountered individuals who had committed crimes, prompting her to reflect on and consider how society itself is committing crimes by perpetuating violence and relying on a flawed carceral system. Responding to violence with further acts of violence not only fails to address the underlying issues at hand, but it also neglects the crucial need for comprehensive support and rehabilitation.
Having overcome her own childhood trauma, Horstman returned to that prison in 2019 with a trauma-informed curriculum. This marked the inception of the Compassion Prison Project, a non-profit organisation committed to educating prison inmates and officers about the experiential causes of violence in their lives, with the goal of fostering healing and transformation. Based in California (and coming soon to Aotearoa-New Zealand), the project offers participants “a sense of relief, self-forgiveness and community support. It has given them awareness about their past and has opened a doorway to new levels of understanding, compassion and healing.”
Horstman currently holds the role of executive director at the Compassion Prison Project, where she skillfully combines neuroscience, spiritual conviction, and a visionary outlook to transform prisons into healing centres.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background? What it was that really inspired you to start the Compassion Prison Project?
I was a filmmaker until four years ago, in 2018. I read The Body Keeps the Score by Dr Bessel van der Kolk. And in that book, I realised that my body wasn't who I was. I mean, my behaviour wasn't who I was. That my road rage, my outbursts [were] [the expression of] my child . . . When you're traumatised, there's a level of dehumanisation that you experience from your parents. And that dehumanisation gets internalised: it's an inability to humanise anybody who your body perceives as a threat. This is all unconscious behaviour. Although I didn't heal immediately, it gave me a window into my own dysfunction, and how I was projecting that onto the world.
And then, a month later, after I finished the book, I walked into a prison . . . I've always worried about how society is doing things. Poverty—it just doesn't make sense. Why do we have poverty? We have shelves of food everywhere. We have people throwing food out all day long. Why do we have poverty? We have empty buildings, filled with offices that people could live in. We have an abundance that we're not sharing. So I went into prison, and I cried the entire day. And I realised that these weren't bad people. These were traumatised people.
I've spent my whole life like, 'What do you do? What's your job? What college did you go to? Where'd you grow up? Who are you?' We judge people on what they've done, but not who they are. But we're all caught in this trap of the doing—of proving who I am. So when you go to prison, when you commit a crime; what you've done—that becomes your legacy, instead of who you are.
I walk into prison, and I see men who are not criminals. These are not criminals. They have committed a crime—that is correct. But I would argue that we all have. And one of the crimes we've all committed is continuing this prison system that we've all agreed . . . on some level to continue. This is the way we deal with harm. So we're all complicit in a crime. And I don't even think we understand that we are.
We know something is wrong, but we're not doing anything about it. We see the homeless man on the street. That's our brother and we know something's wrong but we walk away from it, or we don't look at it, or we don't even say hello to him. We don't even recognise his humanity in the moment. And that changes things. That's a micro-compassion, as I like to call it.
So anyway, I walked into a prison, and I realised I had an obligation that day to do something about it. I just realised. I said to the man, 'This isn't a prison, this is a trauma centre, and nobody knows it.'
I spent four months writing a curriculum, walked back in and, on January 5th or 6th, 2019, I brought my curriculum [and] started a pilot, which I did for a year. Then we made the film [Step Inside the Circle] in 2020, February 2020. And then there was COVID.
What COVID did for us was, it allowed me to realise that we needed—because I couldn't be in all the prisons at all the times—we needed something for them, so that everybody would be able to access this trauma information. So we created Trauma Talks, which is a 16-part video series and eight workbooks. It's chock-filled with information about the brain science, about healing modalities, about meditation, breathing, yoga—basically everything that the world has said we need to do to heal from trauma. And a woman said to me the other day, 'You're flying the plane while you're still building it.' Yeah. I mean, we've got Trauma Talks in all kinds of facilities. We're still finishing chapter 16 . . . but we're getting calls from around the world.
And in New Zealand, actually, we just finished a six-week pilot at Manawatū prison. It was weird, 'Wow, New Zealand?' . . . They only did six weeks, but the guys were like, 'No, we want more.'
It just changes your life. Just being aware that your behaviour is not who you are. It's like an act of forgiveness. That's how I felt when I read the book, The Body Keeps the Score. I was like, 'Oh, I'm not a bad person. I'm not crazy. My road rage is just because my body's trying to keep me safe.' And that awareness just changes [a person]—it's like magic. It's a magic modality.
Trauma awareness is magic. You know, [the spiritual study program] A Course in Miracles says that a miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love. And trauma awareness is a shift in perception from fear to love because you realise that my responses and my behaviour were all based in fear. And because this is an automatic nervous system that will do what it has to do to keep yourself safe. You have no control sometimes. When you're in fight or flight, you're not in control. Or you have like a quarter of a second to claim control. If you don't get it, there it goes.
When [people] go and take these steps and they see everybody else taking these steps, it's an instant transformation. It's instant. I mean, people walk out feeling different about themselves. In two hours, they're already shifting.
I wish I could be everywhere. We go to these prisons like four or five hours away. We pack up the car. It's like a caravan. Here we go. And then, you know, you spend three days and you're exhausted, you get back and then you work on the curriculum.
You had this idea, you started building this curriculum. It can’t have been as straightforward as it sounds. How did you shape and develop that?
It was one of those magical moments again. Building the curriculum, the first episode took about six months. I would pull YouTube videos and stuff that explains instead of... Eventually we'll probably replace it with our own material, but for now, since it's an educational thing, it's okay if we use YouTube videos, Ted Talks and stuff. Like we use Nadine Burke Harris' talk about trauma [and] what trauma is.
So we started with 'What is trauma?' We teach people about the mechanics of the brain. The brain in fight and flight [mode] . . . what it is to be traumatised, what it does to the brain, what fight or flight is when you flip your lid, when your prefrontal cortex . . . [We put] all this stuff in a simpler form, because . . . some people's reading level is at sixth-grade level or below. So not simplistic, but a simpler form.
Developmental trauma is a big one for people. They really start understanding why they didn't thrive in school, why they didn't meet these developmental milestones. Traumatic brain injury—up to 80 percent [of inmates] have traumatic brain injury. And if you talk about veterans [it’s almost everyone], and women because of anoxia, which is being choked. Domestic violence. So, traumatic brain injury and the roots of violence.
And then we start moving into resilience and accountability, and forgiveness and vulnerability, and being the change and giving back, and pro-social behaviour. And finally, transformation. It's a walk from trauma to transformation. Everything is about transforming. It's about transforming on a physical level, on an emotional level—but it's also on a spiritual level.
I think one of the things that happens when you go to prison and when you're traumatised is that you lose a sense of connection to the world, to society, to your community, to your family and to yourself. And, I would say, to God or to Nature—whatever floats your boat. The miracle of being alive is lost . . . There was an article in The New York Times today about awe and about how important it is to have awe, to see the sunsets and to remember that you're a speck in this vast, incomprehensible universe. And yet, what you do matters. You're participating in the quantum field. I'm teaching them that, too.
Do you know David R. Hawkins? We give them the map of consciousness [from David R. Hawkins' Power vs. Force] in one of the workbooks so they can really start understanding where they are. Are they using power? Are they using force in how they're operating? Basically [I’m] giving them every tool I find . . . It's like, 'Oh I should put that in. Wait, we need another chapter.' You know, it was 12 parts. Now it's 16 parts.
I realised [something] though . . . going into level four [high security] prisons... See, when you talk about trauma, you really need to be in a group. You need to metabolise your trauma in a community. You can't do it by yourself . . . But for people in a level four prison, the chance to metabolise together is very limited. So what I realised is [that] we have to create something, just to give them hope. We have to give them eight weeks of hope. So that's next. That will be next, the in-cell transformation curriculum. But I drive my staff crazy, because there's a new thing we're doing every two weeks. It's like 'We're doing this now.' They're like, 'What? What? No, no, that's too much.' [laughs]
To the best of your knowledge, what was the state of mental health care within the California prison system before you brought this in? Before you started this programme? Was anyone trying to address these needs?
One of the things . . . that I know about California prisons is the men and women are currently penalised for drug abuse. They take away family visits. That in itself is very problematic. It's like the authoritarian father saying, 'You break a rule, you have to get punished.' But they have to understand that taking family visits away from someone that's an addict is like taking away all hope. And we have to stop taking hope away. Hope is the thing that keeps a prison safe. If you take away hope, they have nothing to lose. If they have nothing to lose, they'll do what they have to do to get the respect that was just taken away.
And because we're in an honour-based society, prisons are a warrior society. You have the officers—they're warriors, it's paramilitary. You have gang members, which are all basically paramilitary, honour-based. It's respect. You take away their respect, basically, you've taken away who they are.
All these punitive practices, which—I don't want to blame anybody. I really want to be very careful in making sure I'm not calling people out. But we really have to examine how we're treating people that are highly traumatised—[among the] most traumatised people in our society—who have been trying at all points of their lives to be seen and to be heard and to be adored. That's what they need. And if you take away whatever sliver of that they have, that's what creates violence. That's what creates unsafe prisons, that's what creates the PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], that's what creates gang divisions.
The algorithm is violence begets violence. But you add another algorithm: compassion and love beget transformation. It seems obvious but it's like we're living in parallel universes that don't really understand each other. The love [universe] does understand the violence, but the [one caught up in violence] doesn't understand how the love could work. That's why we go in there, to show that it does.
And when you get there, when you speak to inmates, what are their chief concerns for their own personal mental health?
I can't really answer that question because I don't even know if they understand what mental health is. They're given all these meds; they're given all these things that aren't really working. Are we talking about addiction? Are we talking about schizophrenia? What category of mental health are we talking about?
When we go in and teach them about their trauma, they at least have a sense of why this is all—why they're addicted, why they're acting out, why they're dysregulated. It gives them at least a baseline of the source of their mental health issues. For some people. I don't get to work with people that are severely mentally ill. That's not a part of our thing.
I want to read you this quote by one of the participants. Do you know what ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences] are? So he says, 'My ACE score is 10 out of 10. My first thought was, I had it messed up.' He actually said, 'Damn, I had a messed-up childhood, moreso than I originally thought. Good news is, I now have the Compassion Prison Project in my toolbox. I go to therapy, but it's only once a month. So the workbook that you gave me gives me things to work on while I'm in my cell, and on a daily basis. Thank you. This workbook is really helping me. Also, because of you, I now have guys in here who I can talk to who had similar experiences in their childhood. Thank you for that also. So far, they've only shown us two of your videos. Big help. This workbook really makes me think. Thank you for caring.'
Did you see all those elements that he was starting to get? He got to work in the workbook, but he also had this community now, that knew about the roots of their violence and their childhood trauma. The awareness, it clears the clouds of why they are the way they are. And I don't think there's anything more important for someone who lives or works in prison.
And the same thing is true with officers. We also have a curriculum we're working on for the officers—the training. We won't call it a curriculum, we'll call it training, because they've got to be trained because they're paramilitary, right? Once people start understanding that this reaction is from trauma, [they see that] it's not because they're being defiant, or because they're not listening. If you have a traumatic brain injury, you may not understand the instructions that are being told to you at that moment, or it's going to take you time to process it. We need to know where these people are at, so the officer doesn't think they're being disrespectful. Next thing you know, that guy's in the SHU [Segregated Housing Unit].
They use solitary [confinement] to teach you a lesson, but it doesn't teach you a lesson. What it does is disrupt your brain. The reason why is that we're social creatures, and we need each other, we need [the reciprocity of] serve and return, which is how we develop with our parents. When the baby says, 'Googoo,' and the mother says, 'Yes, that's a tree,' the mother shows the baby that there's empathy, that the baby is seen, that we're interested in what the baby is looking at. A lot of these people never received enough of that from their parents, and putting them in solitary starts crumbling whatever neural pathways of connection and empathy and belonging [they have]. So it’s very disruptive to the growth and betterment of a prison environment. They think it's a good solution, but it's really the worst thing you can do.
There have to be consequences, I understand, because this is a prison and people can't just do things. They're not three-year-olds. Some people are very violent and in need of correction, but it has to be rethought on a more humane level. Instead of taking away family visits, take away commissary. If the dessert was good, take away dessert. Something that doesn't rob a person of their agency and their hope.
I like to tell the people in prison that they're divine humans—that we are divine humans. There is no subcategory, there's no black and white, there's no male or female, there's no Crips and Bloods, there's no white gangs and black gangs. We're divine humans. And when we remember that, and when we see that in each other, we have a different world. We are creating a different world when we remember that we're divine humans [with] no subcategories, that who you are matters, and what you've done doesn't. If we can get that as a society.
I keep asking the guys, I say, 'How many people here could really go home? Like, would you feel safe in society having them come home?' And the numbers go . . . from 50 percent to about 75 percent. So that's 75 percent of the people. There's two million people in prisons and jails [in the U.S.]. You know, that's an empty prison system, basically . . . You've emptied the prisons. All these guys are out there helping their communities.
I've got everybody in all the prisons in California writing a book to the youth . . . A youth can go onto the website and start seeing messages like 'Don't, don't do this. The gangs are not what you want.' Just another one of my projects.
That's how the project grows, is it? You see a need and you go for it. I’d love to get a clearer picture of the Compassion Prison Project in action. What happens in an introductory session?
We have a one-day course called the Trauma to Transformation workshop. We do the compassion trauma circle, we take a step in the circle for each childhood trauma—any adverse childhood experience that we've endured—and we add ten extra supplemental questions like poverty, racism, traumatic brain injury, being in the foster care system, being in the juvenile justice system, living in a violent neighbourhood, seeing someone outside of your home commit suicide or attempt it, and a couple of other things.
We do that and then we have a discussion. I'll say something like, 'If a parent or other adults in the household would often swear at you or put you down to humiliate you, or make you afraid that you might be physically hurt, step inside the circle.' And after that question is read, I say, 'As a child, as a three-year-old or a five-year-old, what child deserves to be humiliated? And how do you feel after you've been humiliated?' And then a lot of the men that participate say, 'I'm not worthy, I'm afraid, I'm no good, I'm not loved.'
They start seeing the messages that violence in the home delivered to the child. They get to really start understanding the impact of just one ACE. We don't do this for every ACE, but that's the depth and the weight of what violence does. We all unpack it together. It's very powerful. We spend about an hour and a half doing that. And this is very heavy, and everybody's just kind of ugh, so we do a thing called the banana dance afterwards [laughs]. It's a camp song. And it's really goofy. I go from as serious as I could ever be to as childlike and as wild as I can be. And so, you look around the circle.
This is the song:
Form banana, form form banana.
Form banana, form form banana.
Peel banana, peel peel banana.
Peel banana, peel peel banana.
Go bananas, go go bananas.
We have sometimes 110 men go, 'Who is this lady? What is she doing?' Then we peel the mango, and we peel the orange, you know, do the tango or squeeze the orange or pop the corn, pop pop the corn.
And then we added this thing: 'You're amazing, you're you're amazing.' And then I also say: 'I'm amazing.' Not to me, but I let them say, 'I'm amazing.' And then, 'I am joy.' And then we end it with, 'We're amazing.'
So they really get the sense that not only is she amazing, I am amazing. All of us are amazing! But also we're joy, we're peace, we're love. So then we go around and I say, 'So what's the feeling here?' Like we did with the adverse childhood experiences, we do this. And they're saying, 'Joy, love, excitement, freedom, transformation.' So we've gone from the depths of their despair to the heights of their possibility. And I remind them that they created this together . . . They get a real sense of the whole panoply of being human. The whole spectrum of what it is to be human . . . Unconditional love and peace.
And these are people who didn't get camp songs, didn't get to be goofy. They didn't have crayons. A lot of people—we did a crayon day one day, and they said 'I've never played with crayons.' It's a developmental thing that we just did. We're rewiring their brains in real time. And then we go back to Dr Bruce Perry and Dr Bessel van der Kolk who say, yes, rhythm and play are key to helping heal trauma. So we're bringing the medicine and they don't even know it. They don't even know they're being treated. [laughs]
That day sounds so emotionally full!
Well, that's just part of it. Then we teach them about the symptoms of trauma. We do Namaste. We do this exercise where they stare at each other and see each other as human. We do other exercises . . . like what do you all have in common that you can't see? . . . [Maybe] we've all been to San Diego or we all love chocolate—all those things. They get to start seeing that we're much more alike than we think, or than we look like.
We also do an exercise, 'If you spot it, you got it.' I say name five things you hate about someone. And then they'll say, 'Well, they're greedy, and they're narcissists.' And I say, 'Well, what part of you is greedy? Or what part of you is a narcissist?' And then they're like, 'Oh, shit, yeah, I still have to work on that.' So we say, 'If you spot it, you got it.' And then we do the positive thing . . . ‘Name five things that are extraordinary about that person.' 'Well, they're kind, they're compassionate.' Well, 'If you spot it, you got it.' So they get to see that [too]. And then other exercises, a lot of snacks.
As we started stepping into the circle, we also have this stepping towards your transformation. They all come back into the circle, and turn around and step out of the circle towards their transformation. This exercise was created by an associate warden at Salinas Valley State Prison . . . His name is Ed Borla. He's working with me. We're working on bringing healing modalities to the officers like ASAP. There's some really incredible people working in prisons. And they're also bound by the rules, bound by the restrictions that [were] created 20 years ago, before we understood that this isn't the right idea. This isn't going to work. This isn't going to help anybody. Not going to help anybody.
And do you leave them the Trauma Talks book?
They get episode one and two. They haven't watched it, but they have this information, which is basically what we've covered. And then we talk about bringing the Trauma Talks curriculum, and most people want to do it.
Right now, while we're still building the plane as we're flying it, we're in [California prisons,] New Zealand, Mississippi; we're talking to Maryland and Minnesota, Massachusetts . . . There seems to be something happening every couple of days of interest. We're talking to the governors [of states] . . . because the governor rules the prisons. We want trauma-informed states first, so we can show how much the violence is going down with all this information. Our mission is to create trauma-informed prisons and communities. That's our mission.
Government institutions love and usually require measurable data to refer to when they're deciding which programmes to invest in. How have you been able to measure participant progress?
Well, right now we have them fill out surveys, because we're not allowed to do metrics yet, but . . . We're working with the University of Notre Dame . . . We're going to start doing one of those randomised trials. We're starting to do those. So probably in a year to a year and a half, we'll have some real evidence-based surveys going on.
Less formally, in your one-on-one interactions, what feedback are you hearing about the impact on participants?
First of all, it's a real sense of relief that they're not really the bad people that they've been told. That's been enforced ever since they've walked into a courtroom, since they've been arrested—that they're bad people, that they're the worst of the worst, that they're the scum of the Earth. I come in there and I say, 'No, you're a divine human, there are no subcategories.' I see them the way they really are and because I can see it, they can see it in themselves. So there's that shift. But a lot of the facilitators are like, 'We have problems getting things up and running at each prison.’ . . . It's been months of just trying to get things off the ground at each institution.
Who are the facilitators in the prisons? Once you have done the initial education and left this information with them, who is in charge of facilitating it on your behalf?
There are two paths. They all get some kind of facilitator training. We have a facilitator workbook. It's either peer-to-peer for facilitators that are prisoners or prison residents. They'll lead the groups or we'll pay a facilitator to come in and run the class. We have both going. It depends on the prison. The higher the level of prison, the more dangerous—you bring in the facilitators. But at level two, you just let them go because they've already demonstrated they're not dangerous. In a level four, you need someone with the whistle who can call in the officers if there's a violent occurrence.
What's your vision for mental health care, trauma care, emotional care within the prison system? Moving forward, what's your dream?
All prisons and jails become healing centres, because that's really what they should be. If you're committing a crime, there's a mental health issue because you cannot see a different way to solve a problem. If violence is a solution, that's a mental health problem. Violence can be an addiction—that's also evidence of a mental health problem. A suicide attempt—that's a violent solution, right? So: all prisons are mental health centres or healing centres. The food is better. There's not only vocational training, but there's computers, there's literacy, it's all included. Basically, it's like a college campus. There are citizens that need help. That's all. That's really what it is.
This guy who sent me [the thank-you note about the workbook] doesn't belong in prison. He belongs out there, helping us find ways to heal . . . All of our [potential societal] resources are being warehoused. They're being fed crap and they're being destroyed. Their health is being destroyed, their emotions—everything is being destroyed, instead of utilising this resource.
They're like Ulysses; they've been to hell and back. They're doing the heavy lifting. The ones that are healed or are healing, they've had a look at the horrors that they've created and put into the world. They're learning about accountability, vulnerability, forgiveness. They're doing all the work that's in the Bible, that's in the Koran, that's in every biblical text, every religious text. And none of us are doing it. We're worried about Kim Kardashian's new skin colour or whatever the hell we're thinking. Whatever nonsense we get distracted by, they don't even have that luxury to get distracted. So they're in there doing the work. And we need them. We need them back in the field. We don't need them festering away.
I encourage readers to visit a prison and really see what's going on in there. It will horrify you. But it will also inspire you, because those men and women, they're the leaders. Because they can lead us away from violence, they can lead us away from childhood trauma, and they can lead us to a new world. But we have to let them out.
I’ve seen your film, Step Inside the Circle, which was really beautiful and very impactful. Will there be more films like that?
We just went back and filmed [again]. It's called Veterans, A Day of Healing . . . These are incarcerated veterans . . . [and] a few veteran officers that also participated in the circle. We did that same circle. The original circle was based just on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) quiz. This one was based on ACEs, but also military trauma. I'll read you a couple of the questions, so you can get a sense of the kind of trauma we're dealing with here . . . ‘Were you verbally, physically or emotionally abused? During your military career did you ever witness one of your fellow soldiers, marines, sailors, or airmen lose their life during military operations? During your service did you experience direct combat operations? Were you the victim of hazing? Did you become exposed to and ultimately addicted to drugs? Were you the victim of sexual abuse? Were you ever pressured into drinking beyond your comfort, or what you were able to handle?’
This is a key one. ‘During combat operations, did you ever feel like you must take actions against an enemy or civilian that were against your personal moral code? Did you ever feel betrayed by your leadership? In your current military career or at boot camp were you ever made to feel lesser-than by being called derogatory names?'
I realised working with these guys—these 45 incredible incarcerated veterans—not only do they have childhood trauma, not only do they have prison trauma, but they have military trauma. They're the trifecta of trauma. The amount of trauma that they're experiencing, it's . . . off the charts. I sat with these men [who live with] unaddressed PTSD, rampant, unaddressed. And they're like, 'What can you bring? What can you do? What can you bring us?'
So we're reaching out to EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing] people to see how we can get EMDR there. How do we get any kind of healing modality for these guys? But what they do have—which normal vets don't have—is each other. And there have been no suicides in... it's called the veterans’ hub and correctional training facility. There have been no suicides in the veterans’ hub. They don't have access to all the healing technology that's in the real world, but they have each other and . . . one of the most powerful healing modalities that we have in our society is the group. Just like in a yoga class—being in a group, healing together. Meditation class, right? People getting together to work on whatever it is, right? That, I'd say, is our solution.
The veterans, coming home, do not have a container. One day they're with their band of brothers. The next day, they're isolated in an apartment in the middle of Texas or wherever they're sent home. How do you basically re-program? Because, like what one of the guys said, 'We're killing machines, and now you put us back in society.’ So it's about re-entry and really finding ways to create a container for the people that are coming home. And I think those men most likely would not be incarcerated if the government had done their due diligence in taking care of these killing machines—these people that were trained to kill. They were trained to kill by abuse. Basically, they were destroyed emotionally. Basically, they continued the child abuse that they endured.
I don't want to blame the government . . . But, as a society, we need to really start looking at the violence that we're asking our citizens to be part of. Is this, as a society, what we want to do anymore? There's a great quote by Thich Nhat Hanh. I'll just say it: 'Veterans are the light of the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war, and they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other. So we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.'
Wow, that's beautiful. Do you know how many veterans are in our US prison system right now?
I don't know throughout the United States. I know through California. I think it's about 6400.
Is aftercare just non-existent for veterans?
When people leave prison, they go to a transitional home. I believe that's what veterans need. To have their brothers transitioning, and sisters. A transitional home would be, I think, a really good idea. Just so they can discuss.
We were making this film for two days, and I didn't really know what I was getting into. And it was really good to get into it, to start seeing it. It's like another level of violence that, as a society, we've decided is acceptable, and is a solution. Childhood trauma has in some way been condoned for centuries, right? You know, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ That's in the Bible. But if you spare the rod, you actually enhance and enlighten the child. People don't know.
Me, as a mother, I didn't know that [because of] my dysregulation—my inability to deal with chaos—I basically have given my son two ACEs: emotional abuse and emotional neglect, because I didn't know how to metabolise my stress. Now, my son and I, we are in the process of healing together. But had I known this going in as a mom, had I known that my outbursts were affecting my child's brain, I would have gotten help immediately.
If your reader gets only this message, it’s that if you're a parent and you have trauma, investigate it. Find out, go to our website, do whatever you have to do to learn about ACEs and learn about child development and attachment theory and developmental trauma and what it does. Because I don't think there's a conscious parent in the world that wants to do any harm to their children.
We say ‘do no harm’ in the medical field, right? I say we should expand that to do no harm to prisons, do no harm to soldiers, do no harm to our children—do no harm. Really have that be a mantra for all of us, because we don't even know. Our nation was founded on violence. We have the NRA [or National Rifle Association] saying we have to have guns. I'm not being political, but they're double downing on 'We have to protect ourselves, because there's a threat out there.' So violence is condoned in that sense.
To conclude, what's your vision for Compassion Prison Project for the future?
When we get all the money that the world is going to give us—because the evidence is there that we are transforming the world—we'll be in every prison in the United States. We'll be in prisons throughout the world. We'll all be connected, there'll be a connection. There'll be a global connectivity of compassion ambassadors.
You know, when you walk into a poor neighbourhood, you see the lawns, you see depression, you see the inability to rise up out of your bleak circumstances. I want us to help uplift the communities. And bring healthy food, which is key to transformation and health. Not make what you are, what you've done, the priority; but who you are—which is a divine human. So we recognise the divine human in all of us. And when we see that, it's hard to ignore the homeless man on the street. It's hard to ignore the child that isn't getting fed. Because I'm a divine human, that's a divine human. And we will naturally do what it takes to make these things happen.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate this. As I listen, I’m reminded that this isn't your background. This isn't where you came from. You're a woman who had an idea to change something and you're doing it. You're making it happen. You saw the problem. There wasn't a solution and you've just stepped in to do it and figure it out as you go. Look at the incredible impact you've had already! I really hope it inspires more people to take those steps towards the things that they want to change in the world. So thank you for being an inspiration.