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OCTOBER 2, 1988

The Forum Can Set You Free While In Prison, Inmates Say
Program called 'pretty tough stuff'

Dave Curtin

BUENA VISTA - "I raped her," The Forum is an experiment in a calls express skepticism that this so-
Tattoo Chairez says, "because I wanted Colorado prison system devastated by called "breakthrough" will tum around
to ruin my father's day." overcrowding. The state 's 14 prisons their lives,
Tattoo's high-pitched voice and short are at 135 percent capacity: 4,873 in- "Fish can ' t see the water until they're
stature are why he was nicknamed after mates are in prisons designed for 3,538 out of the water," Norris says. "The
the character in the Fantasy Island tele- prisoners. water we swim in is a sea of human
vision show. Tattoo has been in the Colorado Department of Corrections beings. Pull yourself out of the water
Buena Vista Correctional Facility for officials, who are allowed to observe and you'll have an insight as a human
two years. He will be eligible for parole part of the program, praise it. being."
in 1992. "I've never seen a program this in- "You ' re going to get the rug pulled
"I raped that woman because I was tense. I've never seen any program as out from under you. Everyone is going
angry," he says. "Rape is a crime of demanding." says Herman Abeyta, one to get the rug pulled out about who you
anger. It was somehow to make my of two program directors for adult serv- think you are. Everything you ' ve been
father pay for what he did . .. ." ices in the Colorado prison system. sitting on in your whole life is going to
Later, Tattoo would tell how his fa- come up. By the time we're done, you'Il
ther had abused him. have a new dimension."
, Ontheday ofthe rape, Tattoo said, he On the first day of The Forum, course It' s not easy, Norris warns. The
, :wa~ 'cltllnk. "I didn't remember it the leader David Norris, a former literature inmates will go through 60 hours of
'. ,>.: ·.' ,: v~xi&~y, Tthought it was a dream . .. .I professor, stands toe-to-toe with an emotional torture. In the 4-1/2 days,
' \"' feli.a,IQ! ofhurt and shame for my crime; angry inmate named Gator who is serv- they will miss lunch and mail call.
" ! a>1ohjf,tl(~belief1did anything like that." ing his third term. "We' re going to be looking at things
' Ttitt00 h'as just completed an intense, Seventy-seven other inmates, with you ' ve never looked at before," Norris
", confrontational , group-counseling pro- names like T -Bone and Moose, are gath- says. "The stuff we're working on is
gram attheprison~ Ideally, inmat~s gain ered in a large nondescript room inside pretty tough stuff. There will be emo-
insights into themselves that become the the prison watching in disbelieving tion , anger, sadness and fear. I promise
basis for permanent change. Through amusement as 5-foot-9, ISO-pound you discomfort. If you can't handle it,
emotional conversation with the course Norris takes on the 6-foot-3, 230-pound get out."
leader, they peel away their tough exte- Gator. Seventy-eight inmates, including
riors and examine why they are crimi- "You chose a character a long time convicted murderers, are selected
nals. ago to play out your life story," Norris through a lengthy interview process
Tattoo insists that the 4-1/2 day semi- tells Gator. "In your story, you're win- from a pool of 150 volunteers. They are
nar llas changed his life. ning. Never mind that it's been costing questioned by Forum leaders on their
The long-range goal of the program, you quite a bit in your real life. You commitment to redirect their lives.
caJI The Forum, is to reduce recidivism were pretending with yourself and then Fifty-eight will finish the seminar. '
and to end the need to build more pris- you forgot you were just pretending.
ons, says Steve Randolph of Cascade. But in The Forum, the act dies.
He is the Colorado area director for the "There's going to be a breakthrough 'The ' breakthrough' is an awaken-
Michigan-based Prison Possibilities in your life," Norri s says as he turns to ing," Tattoo says at the end of the pro-
Inc. The non-profit organization raised the inmates. "We ' re going to have a gram. "It's like puncturing the bottom
$16,000 to help bring the program to the conversation unlike any you've had in of a barrel and all your anger, hate and
medium-security prison here. The your life. We ' re going to transform your rage starts seeping out. I got rid of every
Department of Corrections paid the life for the rest of your life." ounce of hate I had built up over an
balance of the $25,000 program. The inmates laugh, Their unruly cat- entire lifetime.
"I hated my father with a passion ," he for the rest of my life. I intend to do the second prison system to try The
says. "He abused me and my whole follow up seminars. It ' s made this 24- Forum.
family. We were migrant workers year sentence worth doing and that's LaMarre took The Forum as a civilian
moving wherever the work was. My saying a lot. " seven years ago and was so impressed
father was an alcoholic . I never really Other inmates talk of a new confi - with its potential for inmates that she
knew him . Not until I was adopted later dence and a new-found ability to articu- brought it into the Michigan prison. "I
did I know what a father was. The days late their feelings. saw that it has a lasting effect," she says.
that kids spend sitting on their fathers' One prisoner. who faced the parole "That it provides people with a new way
laps or helping wash their car, I spent in board two weeks ago. says,"The words to be." Now she wants to see the pro-
whorehouses with my mom looking for were just there. I didn't have to think gram in prisons nationwide.
my dad. I tried to kill my father a couple about it. They asked me to state my "What we're after ultimately is to
of times. I manipulated anyone I could number and I thought that file with my stop building prisons, to have prisoners
to get to my father. number on it is not me anymore. It's become productive, contributing mem-
"I never knew I was carrying this someone else. " bers of society." she says. "The Forum
around since I was 5 years old. I'm 28 Another says, "] used to practice what opens up the possibility for prisoners to
now. It ' s controlled me for 23 years. I was going to say in any conversation. lead their lives, to be responsible for
"For the first time in your life," Tattoo Now I don't have to practice who I am ." society. But we don't have a magic
says, "you sit down and think what's One inmate recalls a recent phone wand . They have to make it happen
given you this corrosive character, the conversation with his girlfriend. "She themselves."
ability to be this cancer to humanity. started pushing the buttons to get a reac- Colorado prison officials are desper-
You have to be so sick of yourself and tion out of me. But] changed the record . ately seeking solutions to the over-
who you are that you really want this I think we started a whole new relation- crowded conditions.
program. All it is, is a simple conversa- ship." In April, representatives of Prison
tion , a conversation that wakes you up to Others are thankful. ''I'm in prison ," Possibilities outlined The Forum pro-
reality . It takes courage to face up to the one inmate understates. " But] 'm free. gram for Colorado Department of Cor-
bad side of you - what you did and why Thanks again ." rections officials.
you did it. Usually the reason is so Another says , " I felt value from the "The timing is right," says Jack Lud-
simple . sun setting over the mountains last low, a DOC program director for adult
"In the 'breakthrough,' there are no night. For the first time I can remember, services . "The fact that people are look-
answers. Only hope," Tattoo says. "I I was thankful for living." ing at themselves and identifying the
had a vision ofthat small boy that prom- Says another prisoner, recalling a problems that brought them here is very
ised himself he was going to hurt his conversation with a prison guard , "I felt encouraging."
father. Now it doesn't matter if I hurt an intense high because I was able to get Buena Vista prison Superintendent
him. You only got one life." my point across." Warren Diesslin says , "I don't know
Michael Lewis, 29. has been locked what occurred. But I'm a little shocked
up for five years for anned robbery and and surprised at the dialogue I've heard
attempted murder. He will be eligible The Forum is a motivational training and that doesn ' t nonmilly happen in
for parole in 1994. seminar typically attended by affluent prison. "
The program, he says, "showed me professionals. Developed by San Fran- The stated benefits of the program -
everything I was chasing in life was an cisco businessman Werner Erhard, it reduced recidivism, a more economical
illusion. ] was chasing the illusion of has been presented to 600.000 people in prison system, fewer victims and in-
materialism - the fine clothes , the car. 120 countries for 17 years, Norris says. creased productivity - are easily under-
the nice things oflife. That's not impor- "We don't know that it works forever," stood. But they are not so easily meas-
tant to me now ." he says. "We know that it 's worked for ured.
Lewis says he was a technical engi- 17 years." "Right now , all we can go on is obser-
neer for a Denver TV station at the time Corporate executives, educators and vatio.n s of people who see them (partici -
of the robbery. "The salary should have military officers are among those who pating inmate~) all the time," DOC's
been sufficient. In the daytime, I was pay $595 to take the seminar to achieve Abeyta says. "Are they willing to take
straight-laced and went to work every greater personal effectiveness. advantage of the programs offered them
day. In the nighttime, I was involved in The Forum made its prison debut two in prison? We'll'also track them in the
criminal activity," he says . years ago in the State Prison of Southern streets to see if they respond differently
"] have a whole different concept of Michigan in Jackson, Mich . - the to parole than they did the last time,
life now. The things I chased before world's largest walled prison . especially the guys who have been ca-
don't matter. This showed me who I Preliminary results show a 48 percent reercriminals. We're looking for things
thought I was and who I really am . It' s decrease of repeat prison violations for that work."
not like yesterday I was a bad guy and the 204 participants, say s Peggy
today I'm a good guy. It' s a different LaMarre, a clinical social worker for the Reprinted from the Gazette Telegraph,
realization. I've chosen to pursue this Michigan prison system. Colorado is Colorado Springs, Colorado