Choice Theory Graduation a Highlight for Women Prisoners By Jodie Lawston

24 Aug

On July 15, 2011, several graduations were held at the California Institution for Women (CIW).  These graduations marked a milestone of accomplishments.  One hundred and forty-one women graduated from an educational or vocational program.  I had the honor of attending the evening Choice Theory graduation ceremony.

Choice Theory, proposed by Dr. William Glasser in his 1998 book Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, has three general premises:

(1)  All we do is behave

(2)  Almost all behavior is chosen

(3)  We are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

The principles of this program have been implemented in the Choice Theory Connection Program at CIW.  Like most prison programs, it is a volunteer run program that is a collaboration between the William Glasser Institute, Loyola Marymount University, and CIW.  As such, it is dependent on outside grants and funding sources, in addition to the very committed volunteers and CIW staff who have implemented the program.

Women in the program, who have been certified in Choice Theory addiction coaching, report that it has changed and empowered them.   One of our contributors to Razor Wire Women, Jane Dorotik, graduated from the program and facilitated my invitation to the celebration.  Senator Carol Liu, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System, was the keynote speaker, and Mrs. Carleen Glasser read a letter from her husband, Dr. William Glasser.  In addition, Dr. Cheryl Grills, from Loyola Marymount University, reported on the effectiveness of Choice Theory (0% recidivism!), and CIW staff such as Kyri Owens and Les Johnson spoke of the program and their commitment to it.

The ceremony was beautifully put together, and the graduates, their friends and families were in a festive mood.  It felt wonderful to finally see some good coming out of the prison system.  Although this program fails to provide any analysis of structural issues (like racism, poverty, and violence—especially state sanctioned violence) that channel people of color and the poor into prison, the program itself means a great deal to women who are deprived of programs due to budget cuts and a punitive approach toward our friends, families, partners, and loved ones who are incarcerated.

While at the graduation, I learned that Razor Wire Women has made its rounds at CIW.  The women inside pass it around to one another, sharing their own testimonies and stories about their lives and how they relate to the book.  One of our contributors, Je’Anna Redwood, is writing her own book about her life experiences, and Jane Dorotik continues to write about and advocate for prisoner rights.  It is our hope that Razor Wire Women furthers the discussion of incarceration, but also, gets people to think through the structural issues that lead to mass imprisonment.

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