Dear Readers -
Sorry to break the form of the blog but
I wanted to share this with you.
“A Call To Arms on a Vermont’s Heroin Epidemic” – NEW YORK TIMES, February 27,2014
“The New Face of Heroin” ROLLING STONE, April 3, 2014
“Vermont Tackles Heroin with Progress In Baby Step” –NEW YORK TIMES, February 25,2015
REPORT OF TEACHING RUDOLF STEINER’S :”SIX SUPPLEMENTARY EXERCISES”:
TO JAIL INMATES IN RUTLAND, VERMONT 2015
In February 2014, the New York Times and regional television news channels unofficially dubbed Rutland, Vermont (my hometown) the “heroin capital” of the U.S. Like many areas, loss of jobs, bad economic times, and other social factors, made our area easy prey to dealers. This was not news to us who were residents of Rutland, but we were shocked to learn how bad it really was. We were naïve and “asleep”.
My son who moved in with my wife and I that February asked me if I knew what was really going on with frequent, short stops by cars at my neighbor’s house. I had to admit I didn’t know.” My, son, who had joined us after his own “rough patch” at age 29 who lived for months in a ghetto in Florida, informed me that it was a good bet that the boy next door was selling drugs. I was stunned.
Within a year, the community reacted to this apparent epidemic and began a large-scale effort of police, city policy wonks (housing), everyday citizens, business people and mental-health workers to attempt to change the dynamics within the community. A project “Vision” was launched which is underway today and. I have been a volunteer in this effort since it was launched. Everyone has been encouraged to get involved in any way.
SIX EXERCISES – EIGHT WEEKS
We moved to Vermont from Michigan a number of years ago. When I lived in Michigan, I taught an 8-week introduction Steiner’s “Six Supplementary Exercises” to inmates in maximum security prisons. In April 2015, I proposed to offer this program at our local jail in Rutland, the Marble Valley Correctional Institution (MVCI). I use the pamphlet, “Self Development In The Penitentiary” by Fred Janney, Board Chair of the Anthroposophic Prison Outreach (APO) program sponsored by the Anthroposophical Society in America.
This time I was to incorporate material from David Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Kahneman put important scientific research “wheels” under Steiner’s exercises in that Kahneman articulated two systems within the human psyche: System 1 (S1) an “automatic system” for thinking, feeling, and willing. S1 is our automatic “set-up” practices about which we are casual. And, research identified System 2 (S2) an “effortful” system by which we challenge our in-built, automatic system. Steiner’s exercises are all about moving from S1 behavior to S2.
Steiner offers something Kahneman doesn’t - specific exercises for S2 thinking, S2 intentions, and S2 feelings, S2 openness, S2 positivity. The exercises represent the kind of an “architecture” which actually gives inmates meaningful experiences of change which in being different – no matter how briefly. The six exercises are like spokes on a wheel which revolve around a central hub of personal integrity – a subject of much conversation – how to have a chance to change and rebuild a life.
The architecture was identified by the late John Davy many years ago when he compared the six exercises to Kűbler-Ross’ steps to recovery in Death and Dying: denial requires new thinking, anger is a rebellion of the will, bargaining requires equanimity, depression is healed with positivity, acceptance needs openness and hope comes from harmony. Certainly, the men incarcerated will go through these steps at some time, consciously or not.
Jail is different from prison. In prison men are incarcerated for years. In jail, weeks or months.I had 25 inmates over the 8 weeks. Five of those completed all eight weeks and were given “certificate” of completion which may have value in their parole process. The ages were as young as 20s and as old as 50s. Most crimes were non-violent.
The weeks were:
(1) Introductions / Overview, “Rules Of The Road”,
(2) Control of Thinking – practice in concentration, focused thinking, overcoming “flighty” thoughts, distraction and finding an undisturbed period.
(3) Control of Intentions – mastery of impulses, regularity, accomplishment.
(4) Control of Feelings – tolerance, forbearance, equilibrium and equanimity.
(5) Positivity – looking for the good, the true, and the beautiful in each situation. (The guys said to me, “Are you kidding, Jean? We’re in JAIL!” So, I replied: “Okay – what’s your option? Look for the bad (evil), the false and the ugly? Lots of that around here. Your choice.)
(6) Open mindedness – the ability to not let the past dictate the future, staying flexible, meeting other minds.
(7) Harmony / Balance – repetition of exercises.
(8) Maintenance - Creating choice architecture which eliminates S1.
The weekly sessions became opportunities for men to discuss the experience of incarceration and how to make choices to improve their experiences – inside and out of jail. Shared problem solving emerged regarding all sorts of issues: recovery, dysfunctional family dynamics (“That teenager just pushes my buttons!) and internal jail pressures were handled within Steiner’s framework.
Following the 8-weeks, I conduced a follow-on 4-weeks of “Communication Skills” which added listening, questioning, and presentation skill building. Written evaluations of the 8-week program were provided to Jail Administration and we intend to repeat the program on an ongoing basis.
I encourage each of you to get involved where you live. By teaching these very simple exercises, we get to practice them again and again, and some of us (me) need that. Are they really “supplementary”? “Supplementary” to what? These ARE the exercises.
- Jean Yeager. Rutland, Vermont
THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, Daniel Kahneman, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, NY, 2011
SIX STEPS IN SELF-DEVELOPMENT The Supplementary Exercises, Rudolf Steiner, Selected by Ates Baydur, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2010HOPE EVOLUTION AND CHANGE, John Davy, Hawthorne Press, 1990