Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Entering the kingdom of heaven

Hal  Pepinsky,,
June 27, 2012 (my mother’s 93rd birthday)
                My fiftieth year high school class reunion is two days away.  Around thirty, of the roughly forty of us still alive who joined and left Ohio State’s k-12 university class of ’62 at various times, are a number of us who have been born again, and among those associate being born again with stopping drinking or getting drunk.  I actively correspond with a cousin who entered the priesthood as he stopped drinking. I have recently quit drinking myself.  Friends are understandably curious: Isn’t it hard for you?  Do you ever really want a drink?...
                Of course I think about drinking constantly.  Heavy drinking is still quite fresh in my mind.  So was sleeping around when I met Jill.  I find myself associating quitting drinking now with quitting sleeping with other women when I met Jill.  As I perceive it, the awakenings that have led me to stop womanizing and to stop drinking in a hospital in Iowa are as profoundly religious as to my classmates and cousin’s commitments to sobriety.  I don’t know what to call the force that has saved my butt over and over and has now brought me home with Jill near my mom.  I did come around years ago to looking skyward and saying quiet thank-yous.  I stopped worrying about my afterlife, except that I want to be remembered well by those closest to me when I die.  As of when I was asked 36 years ago to design a required course for criminal justice majors called “alternative social control systems,”  I have been preoccupied with understanding what results we get for trying to control one another’s actions.  Having nothing more profound to do with my privileged life, I have tried to figure out how we steer ships of social life away from hell on earth toward heaven.  Time and again, as when I committed myself to a partnership with Jill, I have faced with a blatant choice of entering the kingdom and steering against the tide of violence, of hell on earth, of the social sea in which we all swim.
                It has taken awhile for me to put my experience of living without drinking alcohol in religious context, but as I see it now—no blasphemy intended—as I slowly came to my wits in that Iowa hospital, I saw what I experienced in the moment as “no way out”:  If I stopped drinking, the kingdom of heaven lay before me back at 519 Evergreen Circle with Jill, as long as I let go of the hell that led to favorite uncles of mine to die drunk and alone.  I chose heaven.  So far so good.  Once again, I just say thanks.  Love and peace--hal

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Hal Pepinsky,,
June 22, 2012
                Criminological research has been the focus of my attempts to figure out my own learning methods, but methods I have chosen are—I believe—applicable to human learning in all contexts.  I distinguish “methods” from “methodology.”  This brief methodology is an account of postulates that guide my choice of how I learn today—a study of my own research methods.  At points I take the liberty of citing other places where I have elaborated on this or that point.
                As of my 1980 book surveying Crime Control Strategies, I explicitly adopted “the systems approach” taught me by my mentor and beloved colleague, the late Leslie T. Wilkins (as explained in the opening section of the book’s concluding chapter on “the potential for crime control” (at pp. 299-302).
                Where others try to discern whether a cause of an illness like criminality is biological, psychological, cultural or socio-economic, it is instead obvious to me that all change in anyone’s behavior manifest themselves biological 100% of the time, and psychologically and socially too.  A lobotomy, for instance, is 100% dependent on someone’s decision to do it, the materials and know-how to do it, triggered probably 100% by changes in the subject’s behavior (psychological), interacting with those who can’t figure out how to handle the subject socially, who live in a culture where there is a socially tolerable place for lobotomies to be done, which these days is 100% supported by “abnormalities” that show up in brain mapping…The only practical knowledge I can at least seek is of what people get, as in consequences for those who do lobotomies and those they lobotomize.  When presented with someone’s “problem behavior,” I find myself exploring possible outcomes of alternatives ways of treating his or her organism, including whether to intervene first medically, psychotherapeutically, or by exploring change with those who find the behavior “unacceptable”?  More fundamentally, whom should I consult for information about the situation first?  (My own default answer: start with the least powerful/least heard voice in the situation at hand.)
                In this methodological paradigm, a change introduced into a system one way is assumed to manifest itself in all manner of measures of system change we take.  Look hard enough, and you can find that environment can even change the genes of identical twins in divergent ways, and as with what are known as body memories, events can change eye color or induce pain or stigmata that correspond to changes in vital signs and electrical activity in the brain, and extend to how the organism is treated by others, and how it thinks, feels and behaves in social interaction.
                I focus on effects of interaction on feelings, thinking, and action, presupposing that every action has corresponding thoughts and feelings all at once.  Hence, empathy can be described as a feeling (of safety, of trust), as a thought (what one hears), movement within the actor (as in body language, blood pressure, or brain wave patterns), and as a course or process of interaction.  I call processes that manifest themselves as empathy “peacemaking,” in contrast to courses of action that inhibit empathy, which I call “violence.”  Violent courses of action are fixated on attaining substantive goals, where actors  treat others as instruments of goal achievement.  Empathic actions continually change direction, like a river allowed to change course, to meander and clean itself without human “improvements” like dredging, straightening and damming.  Empathic actors take turns listening, reflecting, and deciding what to say or do next.  In mathematical terms, empathic action is stochastic rather than causally determined.  I describe and contrast the nature of violence and peacemaking at some length in chapters 5 and 6 of my 2006 book on Peacemaking (final page proofs freely available at ).  I propose that violence generates entropy, where in physicists’ terms, social friction produces heat.  I propose that peacemaking generates synergy—a cooling of social heat.  Honest, open information sharing between actors is synergistic: When I freely give information I don’t lose it.  Any reaction I listen to not only adds to the information I gave, it adds my reaction to the reaction to my action; the sum of the interaction is different from either of its parts, just as green is neither blue nor yellow.  Potentially, empathic, that is to say honest and open interaction, defies laws of entropy, defies laws of scarcity.
                We continually rub each other the wrong way even in the strongest relationships.  Routinely, interpersonal and intergroup conflicts pass easily and are soon forgotten, violence is aborted.  Violence hardens as people get locked into holding their positions, into determination to win contests of will, into attachment to outcome, into violence.  In theory, it is never too late, as through mediation, to try responding to violence with empathy by showing parties to conflict that reasons for their position are understood and important to a listener.  It is never too early to try.  As Roger Fisher and associates put it their book on international diplomacy entitled Getting to Yes!, history shows that people can be made to move from positions to interests even when groups of people have wantonly killed each other by the millions, let alone when individuals kill in cold blood (see the 1999  Australian award-winning documentary, and an accompanying mediator commentary, on a mediation conference between those who murdered a Pizza Hut worker in an armed robbery attempt, and the victim’s family, coworkers and friends, in “Facing the Demons”; just google it).
`               Peacemaking recognizes that each case of violence and its parties are unique.  Putting people in legal categories is beside the point, which is fortunate because violence thrives on disputes over who the real villains are, as in whether those who claim al Qaeda membership or those who claim to defend US national security are the real terrorists.  As many people who practice “restorative justice” put it, in the face of violence, they and I focus is on repairing harms done rather than on righting wrongs, what they call “retributive justice.”  It’s not that empathy always repairs violence, but empathy is the only thing that ever does so.  Empathy, not making right with might, is the only remedy for violence I have found.  I would rather nurture empathy in my grandchildren by showing them empathy, than teaching them that I know right from wrong better than they do.  When it comes to personal and social security, empathy is how I learn it, empathy is how I teach it.  That’s my method of choice.  Love and peace--hal

Monday, June 18, 2012

Letter to a Prisoner

Hal Pepinsky,,
June 18, 2012
I just returned from the 14 International Conference on Penal Abolition, June 12-15, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.  The lead organizer, Catherine Ali, was founding director of the national mediation service.  She invited me to design and lead a workshop on mediation for three hours the first afternoon of the conference at the prison in Santa Rosa.  The last day of the conference, we met at the national prison officer training academy.
 The following is an excerpt from a letter to a friend who is in the “security housing unit” of the Indiana prison system.  We have corresponded for around a quarter century.  I wrote him about the upcoming workshop, including a copy of the story of prisoner/guard conflict that prison officers had made up.  It was important to me that the role play of the beginning of a mediation be grounded in the role players’ reality.  It turned out that the story itself became irrelevant after prisoners and staff all got into the act of asking each other questions and responding.  Here is the end of the letter I wrote to my Indiana friend Billy today:
….The mediation workshop and follow-up session went great.  In a room at the prison for the workshop, 25 prisoners, about 15 staff, the warden, 2 local mediators and I did the role play.  Once those playing guard and prisoner (chosen by their peers—a real prisoner facing a real guard.  After they had both started looking at each other in the eye, I went back and forth from the prisoners (sitting on one side across the aisle from staff) to raise hands and volunteer to ask those on the other side any questions they had, and respond to what someone on the other side had just said.  They quickly got to the here and now about issues they had with each other.  I was like “wow!” One of the mediators told me that everyone in the room including the warden spoke except one guard by the time our time ran out.  We had refreshments and I asked prisoners first and then staff how they liked the mediation idea.  Most of the guards and all the prisoners were enthusiastic, as was the warden.  Folks on both sides said this was the first time they had been able to raise real issues face to face with anyone on the other side.
  On Friday at the training academy for guards, the mediators who had been at the mediation and I talked about the possibilities for mediation.  One of the mediators, a woman known for doing more state-sponsored mediation than anyone else on the island, came back at the judge lined up to introduce us, with a detailed list of guarantees that would need to be built into the national mediation act.  The conference organizer had invited the judge who is in charge of court ordered mediation services.  He led by delivering a short clear and cogent paper he had written promoting expansion of mediation, and when we were done, he gave me his private email, was about to read my book, and said I might be invited to do more mediation instruction, online or perhaps by returning to Trinidad.  (Yes, I do have enough ego to feel very flattered.)  The prison was a new one just set up in a warehouse for guys about to be released only (which happened to be across the highway from the veteran member’s neighborhood, on whose association board she sat), but as the judge put it in his introduction, it is better to start with the easy cases (or settings) than not to start at all.
  I never thought I’d see the day when guards, their superiors, community activists, with judicial blessing, all were enthused by the idea of creating mediation in their own ways as diverse as victim-prisoner, prisoner-prisoner, staff among themselves, prisoner-staff singly or collectively…I don’t take for granted all the coincidences that made this moment so magical.  With a little further good fortune, the energy that built in and around the workshop will indeed let prison-centered mediation soon become practice, perhaps in ways unprecedented in prisons worldwide, and I am oh so thankful to the warm, welcoming and creative Trinidadians who made this experience so memorable for me.
  What are you up to these days?  Let me know if you’d like more books.

                                                                        Love and peace,

                                                                        Hal Pepinsky

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ten Reasons for Penal Abolition

written for the International Conference on Penal Abolition's 14 biannual conference, in Trinidad, June 12-15:

1.       To provide space for making peace,
2.       Where honesty prevails,
3.       Where trust results,
4.       Wherein lies safety,
5.       Wherein our relations become secure.
6.       This is where compassion trumps fear,
7.       And anger,
8.       Where love is requited.
9.       This is the realm where we can let down our guard,
10.   Where in safety we dare to face those we fear and loathe most.
Hal Pepinsky, June 9, 2012