Texas prison officials recently invited a unique group of volunteers to offer a presentation of the Peace Education Program (PEP) at the annual meeting of the Texas Community Service Association (TCSA) in San Antonio, Texas. This association is comprised of probation and parole officers and other Criminal Justice professionals from around the State. The conference, designed to be a forum for the discussion of correctional solutions for juveniles and adults, featured appearances from Mayor Julian Castro, TCSA members, and some university professors, such as Dr. Michael Tapia and Dr. Michael Gilbert.
The invitation to participate in the conference came from Pete Gonzales, president of the TCSA. Pete is the supervisor for the Community Service Restitution Program of the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department. He heard Prem Rawat’s address at the University of Texas in San Antonio earlier this year and later requested a Peace Education Pilot Program for the local Juvenile Probation Department.
The Peace Education Program was the final presentation of the three-day conference. As the last day served mostly as a wrap-up session, many people were wondering what this last session would be all about. The panel presentation began with a screening of the video Peace on the Inside, Part I. Afterwards, when the lights came back on, many audience members were surprised to see some of the same people who had just appeared in the video seated before them.
The panel members included former Dominguez Peace Education students David Sigee, Chase Cowen, Lisandro Martinez, and Trinidad Silva. Roberto and Chantal Piriz, the class founders, and Hope Cavillo, serving as moderator, rounded out the panel.
Many people will remember these former Dominguez students from the Peace on the Inside videos, and most recently, Trinidad Silva, who gave the memorable quote, “If everyone in prison were to find peace, it would shock the world.”
After the video, the presenters simply asked the audience if they had any questions for the panelists. Many of the initial questions came from people wanting to know how the program could be implemented in their areas or how it could be applied to juvenile facilities. One by one, the panelists took turns answering questions, sharing their experiences of the program and describing how it has benefited and transformed their lives.
Several of the panelists said that they regularly listened to Words of Peace videos and mentioned how they helped them to stay in tune with their inner peace.
One member of the audience asked what the students would do if, for some reason, they couldn’t watch the videos. Without missing a beat, Trinidad said that it is not only about watching the videos, but it is about a peace that is already inside of everyone. It is something that he can use in every situation.
It seemed to me the audience was completely unprepared for the level of sincerity, confidence, and passion coming from these students. Several of the panelists had traveled long distances just to be there, and the audience appeared to appreciate their dedication and efforts.
The former offenders seemed to shatter any anti-social stereotypes with the open and articulate sharing of their own life lessons.
One woman in the audience said she could understand the purpose of the program because she too was working on finding peace, and could relate to a program aimed at helping people get in touch with their hearts.
Two other participants from different parts of Texas asked if the panel would be willing to travel and give similar presentations in their districts, and the panelists expressed an interest in this suggestion.
Mrs. Calvillo, who has been working in the corrections field for 25 years, kept the presentation moving by tying questions and answers together with relevant examples from the program. Roberto and Chantal Piriz each offered insights that helped to clarify the history, goals, and purpose of the class. The hour-long presentation seemed to fly by, and everyone agreed it could have continued for much longer.
After the presentation, the audience gave the panel a rousing round of applause. One parole officer said he was completely astounded, calling it a real showstopper. The Vice-President of the TCSA said she had been in corrections for 20 years and that this was the most fantastic presentation she had ever experienced. She added that she was retiring in a couple of years and would be interested in promoting this program in her own area.
Many participants took home literature and publications and seemed genuinely interested in the possibility of learning more. In the end, there was an overwhelming consensus that the Peace Education Program was an exciting new possibility that merited further attention.
I am looking forward to viewing the video of this event when it is finally released.