VIP EXAMINER
Spring, 1996

Future Vision for Voluntarism

MANY-TO-ONE:
The Surround Strategy

 

Written by Dr. Ivan H. Scheier, Coordinator, The Center for

Creative Community, Madrid, New Mexico

 

Preface: This is the first in a series of two articles to be authored by Dr Ivan Scheier, who is the founder and coordinator of the Center for Creative Community located in Madrid, New Mexico. Dr Scheier is one of our major pioneer leaders in the field of volunteerism.

I can just about guarantee there is nothing new in this article; only an attempt to raise awareness of something that's been around a long time, and its implications for action on our part.

If one-to-one volunteering is good, MANY-to-one volunteering along with it, will be even better. At any rate, we often act as if we thought so.

The one-to-one volunteer informally often involves his/her family or friends in working with an offender. Sometimes this is done more officially, as when a couple, or even an entire family, are formally assigned to an offender. Sometimes it works somewhat the other way, when an offender is assigned to a family; that is, taken out of a dysfunctional social environment and placed with a (volunteer) foster family.

The one-to-one volunteer sometimes deliberately attempts to develop more positive influences on the offender by strengthening his/her family, peer group, employment situation, etc. The one-to-one volunteer often tries to involve the offender in healthy social surroundings, such as a church, club, recreational group, etc. Occasionally, we find programs deliberately constructed on what I’ll henceforth call the "positive surround" principle.

By contrast, of course, what the offender all-too-typically does have, is a "negative surround" environment - a predominance of human influences prompting towards continuing anti-social and/or failure behavior.

An excellent example can be found in chapter 12 of the book authored by Dr. Robert T. Signer and Judge Keith J. Leenhouts entitled, Management of Volunteer Programs in Criminal Justice, Yellowfire Press, Denver, Colorado, Copyright 1985. "Expeditions of North America" took six young men or six young women on a 75-day canoe trip across the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay. The combination of the beauty of the surroundings, the isolation of the experience, and the challenge of the task were used to create an environment conducive to group counseling. Along with the beauty of the physical surroundings, there was a deliberate attempt to create a healthy human environment, in this sense: the eight-person group was designed to include four non-offenders (two adult counselors and two of the six youth).

It seems to me the positive surround model has two special potentials for rehabilitation:

1.The offender has several or many positive models to emulate and/or choose from, not just one.

2.The offender gets to see how healthy people interact with one another.

Maybe the "Expeditions" program did better because it had more skilled counselors and a more thrilling environment than my front room

By contrast, of course, what the offender all-too-typically does have, is a "negative surround" environment - a predominance of human influences prompting towards continuing anti-social and/or failure behavior. This is often accompanied by a miserable physical environment as well.

The attempt to turn this around may require some skilled process intervention, of the kind I understand to be required in positive peer culture. Here, however, I'd like to deal with three other challenges.

1.The impact is likely to be relatively transitory. For example, after the fine experience at the church picnic, the offender goes back to prevailing, 'dysfunctional influences in her/his family and neighborhood (We'll deal with this more in the next article in this series).

2. The Positive influences, numerically and otherwise, typically have to be decidedly predominant, in my experience, at least. As a court psychologist (volunteer) in the 1960's, I facilitated some discussion groups in which "good kids" were a clear majority over juvenile offenders. Yet the latter seemed to have distinctively more control over the group than the former (and they did pretty well with the adult facilitator, too!). Maybe the "Expeditions" program did better because it had more skilled counselors and a more thrilling environment than my front room.

Still, to be on the safe side for now, that is to guard against manipulation by a minority of offenders, I'd suggest two things in creating a positive surround environment:

1. Some clear responsibility for monitoring and supervision of the overall situation. This would be a natural and valuable role for a one-to-one volunteer seeking to involve an offender in a positive surround situation.

2. A substantial predominance of non-offenders over offenders. I don't know what the optimum ratio would be, or even if there is one, independent of situational factors. Pending more knowledge, I'm in favor of starting with solid ratios such as five-to-one or more.

Today, the song we're singing is more often "A good volunteer nowadays is hard to find"

Also, for the time being at least, we can, wherever possible, try to avoid designing programs exclusively for offenders, or placing offenders in such programs, wherever there is a possibility of integrating the offenders in a mixed-population program.

It sounds like we're going to need lots of volunteers here (the sheer power of numbers being one of the special advantages of volunteers, anyhow). I'm not too optimistic on this, at least in terms of our present ways of defining what a volunteer is. Things have changed since pioneers like Keith Leenhouts, Ernie Shelley, Jewell Goddard and Bud Holmes re-ignited interest in volunteers in the criminal justice system, some 35-40 years ago.

The solution, if there is one, lies, I believe in the direction of using people more "in place," doing what they ordinarily do, just being who they ordinarily are

The problem then, or so it seemed, was to find good things to do for all the great people who would be pouring in to offer their volunteer services. Today, the song we're singing- is more often "A good volunteer nowadays is hard to find." Anyhow, how are you going to find five or maybe ten appropriate volunteers to surround each offender, when so often today it's hard to find just one?

The solution, if there is one, lies, I believe in the direction of using people more "in place," doing what they ordinarily do, just being who they ordinarily are. For example, a good family, club, neighborhood, A canoe trip, a church, synagogue, and office. I call these "walk around volunteers" and we could use them, "as is," with maybe just a little extra awareness, encouragement and support from us, to provide more of a positive surround for offenders.

There are many more such "in place" volunteers, I’m sure, than there are people willing and able to be trained, supervised, etc., in a formal volunteer program. Once again, these are the "natural volunteers," in the clubs, churches and neighborhoods.

I was once assigned to follow around a senior social worker and make suggestions on how she could involve more volunteers in work with her low income client. What she actually was doing was seeing the client's landlord, corner store owner, neighbors, pastor, etc., and effectively encouraging them to be more supportive to her client. In other words, she was activating "natural" volunteers in a more effective natural helping network. Anyhow, I eventually backed off trying to get her to "recruit volunteers" in the formal sense, and told her boss to back off, too. She was, in fact, getting good volunteer help for her client, and that's what it was all about, even though she couldn't list them in her annual report.

Enough for this first article in the series. As you're supposed to do at the end of the first installment, let me try to "leave you in suspense" about at least two things.

1.Drawing together suggestions scattered throughout this first part, on concrete things you can do to help create a positive surround situation.
2.More attention obviously needed to incarcerated offenders, virtually ignored in this first section.

Meanwhile, I, too will be in some suspense hoping for comments from readers which might be incorporated in the next article.

EDITORS NOTE. Your comments relative to this first part of a two-part article are requested. Please send your comments to:

VIP Examiner
163 Madison Avenue - Suite 120
Detroit, Michigan 48226

You may also fax your comments to us at (313) 964-1145


Future Vision for Voluntarism

MANY-TO-ONE:
The Surround Strategy II

Written by Dr. Ivan H. Scheier
Coordinator
The Center for Creative Community
Madrid, New Mexico

Preface: This is the second in a series of two-articles authored by Dr. Ivan Scheier, who is the founder and coordinator of the Center for Creative Community located in Madrid, New Mexico. Dr. Scheier is one of our pioneered leaders in the field of volunteerism.

Dr. Scheier has proposed the gathering of a small group of people for a "Summit" to further discuss and actualize the principles and thoughts put ‘forth through these series of articles (See ‘Editors Note’ found at the conclusion of this article for further information on how you can participate in this "Summit").

If one-to-one assignment to offenders is good, MANY-to-one along with it, should be even better ... usually. 'The basic why and how of this was explored in the first article of this series (VIP EXAMINER, Spring 1996). I hope you can arrange to read this article, if your haven’t already done so.

The positive surround situation naturally occurs, to some degree, in the criminal justice system today.

The present article builds on it, recapping, key points in the context of the following unfinished business: How can the MANY (Volunteers)-to-one (offender), also called "the surround strategy," be implemented with the following conditions:

--So that the "MANY" sufficiently predominate, e.g., ten or more-to-one if necessary instead of parity or near-parity?

--How might the surround condition be made more ongoing versus occasional, prevailing as distinct from periodic? Thus, beyond a brief visit to a church picnic, then back to the same dysfunctional family, peers and neighborhood. Instead, a new and better social neighborhood in the broadest, most continuous sense.

--Related, what can we do to enhance positive-surround situations for incarcerated or other residentially-placed offenders? For these today, the surround is many other offenders, rather than community volunteers. All this in a society (American, at least) in which prison-building is a major growth industry, largely exempt from any realistic concern about fantastic budget-busting costs and ultimate effectiveness.

Often, we could do more to capitalize on the potential of positive surround in orientation, training; job descriptions, etc.

For dealing with these challenges, four general suggestions follow, leaving the future to fill in the details:

A. Raise Awareness of the Surround Kinds of Things We Already Do and Capitalize on Them More Deliberately.

B. Deliberately Build More of a "Surround Component" into Development and Operation of Community Programs for Offenders.

C. Deliberately Enhance Surround Situations in Development and Operation of Facilities or Residences for Offenders.

D. Work Towards a Near-Future in Which We Will Construct Volunteer Communities as Positive Rehabilitative Surroundings for Selected Offenders.

Raise Awareness of the Surround Kinds of Things We Already Do and Capitalize on Them More Deliberately

The positive-surround situation naturally occurs, to some degree, in the criminal justice system today. Moreover, it often builds on the one-to-one situation, rather being an alternative to it.

Thus, according to the previous article: "The one-to-one volunteer often involves his/her family or friends in working with an offender. Sometimes this is done more officially, as when a couple or an entire family, are formally assigned to an offender ... (also) ... the one-to-one-volunteer sometimes deliberately attempts to develop more positive influences on the offender by strengthening his/her family, peer group, employment situation, etc. ... (and also) tries to involve the offender in healthy social surroundings such as a church, club, recreational group, etc."

A number of training, support and self-help programs are generally understood as potentially useful for appropriate offenders

 Often, we could do more to capitalize on the potential of positive surround in orientation, training, job descriptions, etc., for the one-to-one volunteer, to raise his/her awareness of its rehabilitative potential and to put more emphasis on appropriate strategies for such "environmental engineering."

The surrounding volunteers (e.g., the volunteer's friends or family, the church group, etc.) could also receive more recognition and support for their role. This support could, in some cases, be material as well as social-psychological. Why not, for example, offer some logistic as well as moral support for a community club group that regularly provides positive-surround experiences for offenders (thereby, among other things, encouraging them to do more of this)?

Deliberately Build More of a Surround Component into Development and Operation of Community Programs for Offenders

A number of training, support and self-help programs are generally understood as potentially - useful for appropriate offenders. For example, driver training, single parenting, life skills, job training of all kinds, literacy, GED, etc.

A positive surround strategy would give serious consideration to mixed population alternatives

There is frequently considerable temptation to design such programs solely for offender participants, because of their special needs; also, because these are the clients we are directly responsible for. By contrast, a positive surround strategy would give serious consideration to mixed population alternatives such as:

1.Wherever feasible, try to get offenders accepted as a distinct statistical minority in community programs of the above type which already exist. Of course, you will ordinarily (or always?) advise these programs that the potential participants you want accepted are in fact offenders (presumably, not dangerous ones).

Advantages to the program would include filling up their roster of participants, if that were a challenge, plus additional membership fees and perhaps other special material and logistical support from your criminal justice agency. You would probably still come out ahead compared to the financial and work-effort drain of developing your own program.

2.Where, for whatever reason, it is more feasible to develop your own program, at least try to have the kind of capacity that will invite a reasonably large number of community people to come in as participants. Inducements for them could include reduced fees and an opportunity to learn something about offenders under what would usually be non-threatening conditions, etc.

Instead of building your own halfway house or other residence, solely for offenders, try to place them in residences originally designed for and populated by non-offenders

Deliberately Enhance Surround Situations in Development and Operation of Facilities of Residences for Offenders

There is some precedent here, probably a lot more than I am aware of, and I very much hope readers will help with this.

1.Instead of building your own halfway house or other residence, solely for offenders, try to place them in residences originally designed for and populated by non-offenders.

a. Pending further research, I would NOT normally advocate placing offenders in rooming or apartment houses designed for the general population of non-offenders. I believe it would be unfair to managers and co-residents not to tell them these were offenders. Once you did tell them, you would likely encounter resistance even more deep-seated than NIMBY, that is, NUMOR (Not Under My Own Roof). It might also be a challenge to handle any extra on-site supervision needed for offenders in such a normal rooming house setting.

The Amikam Hostel is located in a village community whose main occupation is agriculture and who is willing to absorb prisoners in its midst

b. Consider placing offenders, as a statistical' minority, in appropriate Intentional Communities 'or Residential Cooperatives.

In North America, there are at least three thousand of these and, take it from someone who has been involved, the hippie/druggie stereotype is way out of date. In fact, a substantial number of these communities have the kind of spiritual/ethical grounding consistent with welcoming an offender as co-resident (Presumably, ground rules on recruiting of converts would have to be thought through in advance).

Often, Intentional Communities have so little funding that even the help modest correctional budgets could give them might look good, e.g., providing fees and other material support in return for accepting a selected offender in residence.

Sound like a wild idea? Consider this quote from a 1989 paper on "The Amikam Hostel," by Abraham Hoffman, Director of the Prisoner Rehabilitative Authority in Israel.

"The Amikam Hostel is located in a village community whose main occupation is agriculture and who is willing to absorb prisoners in its midst. Every prisoner is promised a job on the moshav (agricultural cooperative) and an adoptive family, and every prisoner is integrated into all the social and cultural activities of the moshav."

I am sure there are other precedents… please tell us about them.

"Shelleyville" (also called "New Liberty City") is a volunteer community we will create for genuine rehabilitation of offenders at a near-zero cost to taxpayers.

Finally, what about residences for special populations other than offenders already in existence, e.g., for emotionally, intellectually or physically challenged people. Could we find a way of incorporating a smaller population of offender residents who in return would help with the logistic and human support of the primary residents? The offenders would of course have to be carefully chosen, as would, indeed, their clients.

The potential benefits for the residence operators would be low cost, yet often high-quality help from the offenders, possibly also the additional revenues from rent or other fees, paid by the resident offenders and/or the criminal justice agency.

The potential advantages for offenders would be living in a positive-surround which, while it was not the "normal" general population, nevertheless, could bring out the offender's best in compassion, in feeling useful and good about themselves - maybe even provide a leg up on a career.

If your criminal justice agency does feel it best to rent, build or buy its own facility/house, consider inviting a substantial proportion of non-offender people to live there too. Thus, instead of a single house with ten offenders, maybe three houses each with 2-4 offenders and the rest non-offenders.

The community people would come in knowing fully what the situation was. Their reasons would include altruism, broadening of experience (perhaps for career exploration and preparation), and perhaps also, certain material benefits such as reduced rents. True, the criminal justice agency would have three houses to deal with instead of one, but it would also have more financial support from rents. And while supervision of offenders would also be dispersed, there would be more natural support from the non-offender residents in each of the houses.

I visited some years ago, Dismas House, which is one precedent for a designed mix offender and non-offender residence (in this case students and offenders).

Work Towards a Near-Future, in Which We Will Construct Volunteer Communities as Positive Rehabilitative Surroundings for Selected Offenders

Please stay with me on this one; it is not intended as science fiction or fantasy. First, these descriptive quotes from a 1989 article (VIP has full copies of the article, available on request. I'm also glad to discuss this with any interested person or organization).

"Shelleyville" (also called "New Liberty City") is a volunteer community we will create for genuine rehabilitation of offenders at a near-zero cost to taxpayers.

As a volunteer village, "Shelleyville" will be the ultimate in citizen participation in corrections. This is most definitely a planned community, somewhere between 500 and 5,000, composed of 'normal' people and selected offenders in a ratio somewhere between 5-to- 1 and 20-to-one (or as an ongoing experience suggests).

"New Liberty City" will never disconnect offenders from positive influences in the first place, but will place the offender in a social environment designed to make normal expectations of law-abiding behavior predominant without coddling anyone.

I plead extreme plausibility for this idea, wild as it may seem at first to some.

Idealism is still alive and well in North America and many other parts of the world

Precedent? For planning an entire community? Developers do it all the time. Well, some might say, that's only for the physical aspects of the community. Not so; that can't be separated from the social impacts of physical design, and sometimes this social purpose is quite specific, e.g., current explorations in communities deliberately designed to reduce the unfavorable impacts of motor vehicles. Moreover, there are usually clear implications in the design, for the desired mix of people.

As for special populations which have become surrounded-integrated with a broader community Gheel in Belgium evolved over many Centuries as essentially a volunteer; community for mentally ill people. The Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts began to involve the entire surrounding community, almost a century ago.

As for communities designed to encourage certain conditions and implement desirable values, there are, as noted previously, thousands of intentional communities in North America. They typically include rules or guidelines for the desired mix of people, e.g., balance in gender and age, or in student-to-offender ratio (as in Dismas House, etc.) But, it may be objected that relevance as to scale is questionable, since intentional communities are far smaller than villages or towns. Not always so; some intentional communities are village-sized, as was indeed, the Amikam example mentioned earlier.

Would the expense be prohibitive? Probably nowhere near the cost of building a new prison, especially if we did something like rebuilding an underused, but still adequate, set of buildings or even leasing a built-up area. Beyond that, there should be at least two very powerful appeals to taxpayers:

1.The non-offender population would probably be paying rent or buying property in the community, and

2.The offenders would be earning money and paying taxes instead of setting us back about $30,000 a year per person to warehouse.

*Note here too, that I am not assuming every last detail of an entire community can-or even should he planned in advance; one need only set certain general conditions and parameters and let things evolve. It is more like planting a seed than planning a bridge. You know what kind of tree will grow from a seed, but you can't predict, and don’t need to, exactly the size and shape which will be determined by the conditions if its growth.

I haven’t mentioned examples lie the open prison in Kerala and the Biblical City of Refuge because, as I understand it, they involved predominately prisoner rather than mixed-prisoner-community populations. However, such examples do show that prisoners can, under certain conditions, live successful in community.

Could you get enough volunteers to live there? I'm sure you could. Idealism is still alive and well in North America and many other parts of the world. Beyond that, in the modem tradition of volunteering, non- offender residents could be offered some concrete benefits such as somewhat lower rents, favorable mortgage rates, a chance at good jobs in town, etc.

Perhaps needing most testing out in experience, over and above theory, is selection and control of resident offenders. I assume in the first place, these would be non-violent offenders ... which is what most incarcerated people are, at least before the impact of the prison experience. Also, no sex offenders. What else? Maybe as a general starter rule, these would be offenders who would normally be considered a good risk for parole; indeed, at least at first, the effort might well concentrate on parolees. All-in-all, I'd bet (though no more than half my life savings) that New Liberty City's crime rate would be comparable, if not lower than, other towns of the same sizet (especially if some of the offenders had jobs in law enforcement!)

Punishment enough? This will probably be the main issue with the public at large and with many criminal justice professionals as well. Not that punishment by itself has such a hot track record in deterrence or "correction." Remember, in the first place, the offenders chosen for New Liberty City will be non-violent and in other ways less "deserving" of revenge. Then, maybe there is some very meaningful "retribution" as per this insightful comment by Kim Frentz, Program Director of Partners Against Crime, Detroit, Michigan: "Personally, I see New Liberty City as more stringent punishment than traditional incarceration. For the offender, being forced to confront personal existence and relationships while becoming accountable to society must seem a monumental challenge compared to a guaranteed three meals a day and a warm bed. Much like our probationers rebelling against the thought of meeting weekly with a volunteer, as opposed to their awareness of probation's traditional conditions of minimal reporting" (Letter to the author, November 14, 1995).

Finally, to the extent that prisons and jails cultivate rather than eradicate crime -- as I deeply believe they do -- the ultimate revenge is all on us. To hit the offender on the head, so to speak, by putting him or her in prison, is often to hit ourselves on the head even harder in a guaranteed higher-crime future.

After some years working in criminal justice, both as a volunteer and as staff, I am no longer panacea-prone. I am only pleading that we explore the positive-surround concept carefully, gradually, in a well-researched way. We have not so many guaranteed solutions in corrections today that we can afford to ignore any possibility for improvement.

Let’s Talk

Ivan Scheier 

Editor's Note: Dr. Scheier is interested in hearing your comments on. both this article and his previous article published in the Spring VIP Examiner. Please call or write Dr. Scheier at:

Dr. Ivan Scheier, Coordinator
The Center for Creative Community
Star Route 46
Madrid, New Mexico 87010
(505) 473-7711

Dr. Scheier has also approached VIP on organizing a small "Summit" consisting of 8-10 peo0le for the purpose of discussing further the ideas put forth in his two Examiner articles. If your are interested in participating in a 1 or possible 2 day Summit, please call or write VIP:

VIP
163 Madison Avenue - Suite 120
Detroit, Michigan 48226
(313) 964-1110

Copyrighted, 1996, VIP Examiner