This project addresses historical traumas that are a possible cause of many crimes. They manifest in behaviors that prevent family and community development, personal and collective self-determination, reciprocal relationships and healthy expressions of personal and collective power. In the program, historians share previously unknown information such as how race and racism were social constructs from the 1600s. A psychologist helps cohort members sort through emotions evoked by this new knowledge. A storyteller provides techniques for delivering these discoveries to various audiences. Homeopathic technicians teach mental and physical healing practices. A family systems therapist shows how family structure influenced behaviors and how to correct unhealthy behavior and nourish positive ones. The curriculum demonstrates where they are stuck, how they became stuck, and gives skills to further personal, familial, and communal transformation. The project goals are to: 1) create a principled leadership to facilitate aftercare for individuals caught up in the revolving doors of prisons; 2) educate the public about collective power to create more equitable public policies; and, 3) create practical and holistic aftercare for the community, family, and individuals returning home from prisons and jails.
Reconstruction began 27 years ago assisting second time violent offenders who were still incarcerated. Currently, members are engaged in a three pillar curriculum. The first pillar, Leadership Awareness, focuses on helping members move from alienation to building family and community, from arrested development to self-determination, from co-dependency to reciprocity, and from individualism to collectivism. The second pillar teaches Situation Management by enhancing emotional intelligence, active listening, sensitivity to others positions, and developing the ability to maximize existing resources. The third pillar, Support System Development, teaches members how to give principled support to others and to manage unanticipated crisis. In September 2014 The History and Reconstruction project was awarded $60,000 by the Pew Charitable Trust to further develop the first pillar. This allowed cohort members to gain more knowledge from historians, psychologists, storytellers, and other behavioral health professionals.
Our philosophy is to change ourselves to change the world. In this we recognize the brilliance of each member. We teach that in order to give principled leadership one will likely have to take unpopular positions while remaining disciplined, structured and focused. To further build capacity and transferable leadership the cohort and others are invited to join the organization’s three domains: Internal Development, Public Relations, and Resources. These opportunities provide skills in consensus building, programming, and policy, procedure and resource development. Members are also in leadership roles in local and national initiatives sponsored by Reconstruction. Statistics show that nearly 80 percent of all inmates return to their home communities. We are preparing technicians to facilitate a comprehensive reentry process for themselves, which they can then teach to others within and beyond those home communities.
Sustainability is one of the hallmarks of Reconstruction. We believe that everyone wants to grow and sustain principled transformation. Most persons who get involved find this process to be “contagious.” Even if they remove themselves from the work, they very often return. Reconstruction has initiated a sub-group model in Columbus, Ohio. Most of the ten organizations and initiatives sponsored by Reconstruction have adopted our standard agenda and some of our protocols. The second pillar of the curriculum is facilitated by our youth who are being supported by two Villanova University professors and their students. Currently, Villanova and Reconstruction are exploring a future collaboration where graduates from their School of Business – both campus students and former felons – will teach in a North Philadelphia annex. The $60,000 from the Pew Charitable Trust was a discovery grant which is the first step towards securing an implementation grant for $300,000.
Each of the three pillars of the curriculum has a syllabus that can be taught and facilitated by most cohort and other members. Although, this curriculum was created for individuals returning home from incarceration, it can be used by any institution. The family, school, and other institutions could more accurately identify behaviors that fester in isolation. For all affiliates, the curriculum provides history as a foundation in order to address current behavior and situations, as well as a process for creating a healing cycle to move forward. Most profoundly, this process is inclusive and reciprocal. It does not remove the individual from, and is in dialogue with, their family and community. This structure of addressing history in order to understand behavior and develop a support system for transformation allows individuality of the individual, family, and community where it is being replicated or facilitated.
A battery of pre- and post-project tests was administered by a member of the Positive Psychology Department of the University of Pennsylvania. These included the Temporal Satisfaction with Life Scale, Meaning in Life Questionnaire, Self-Control Scale, Fordyce Happiness Measure, Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire, Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale, and a Flourishing Scale. A test of “grit” was also added. Grit is defined as the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Our cohort showed growth in six areas: flourishing, autonomy, environmental mastery, self-acceptance, both Fordyce measures, and satisfaction with future life. There was negative change in personal growth. But this may have been due to a bias effect; i.e., as each individual’s personal standards may have been raised by their experience with the project. These results were echoed in qualitative feedback collected through post-project interviews with cohort members and project staff.