By Amanda DeHart and Walt Opie

All BP3 volunteers are welcome to attend the upcoming Training and Community Retreat from August 9 – 11. Please note that if you have not registered yet, you will need to register no later than July 5 so we can give the Mercy Center an accurate final count one month in advance. Online registration is available here.

We ask that all BP3 volunteers attend the annual retreat at least once within the first few years of their service. Partial scholarships are still available.

The retreat is a wonderful opportunity to build community together among our beloved volunteers and to learn valuable skills for the specialized dharma work we do. The Mercy Center is located on 40 beautiful acres not far from the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

During the retreat, we will have a number of special trainings geared directly towards our volunteers. On Saturday morning, Sean Feit Oakes will offer a unique training using basic Autonomic Nervous System anatomy, Polyvagal Theory and mindfulness to help us explore identity and social justice considerations for trauma work. This will inform a framework for thinking about groups as a complex system, and is intended to help us work safely and sensitively with our prison and jail groups.

Sean has a background in Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, with a focus on text study, social justice, philosophy, and embodiment-centered approaches to meditation. He has also studied trauma counseling and somatics for 12 years. Sean initially found his path through experimental music and dance, where his focus was on contemplative movement, performance art, and states of consciousness in movement practice. He has studied and practiced Hatha Yoga in its vinyasa and flow forms for 20 years. You can find out more about Sean’s teachings here.

Last year, at our 2018 annual retreat, the topics of overfamiliarity, sexual advances and sexual assault in the prisons came up. Members of the BP3 Board realized that this discussion may not have been handled skillfully at times, and they were concerned that it may have left more questions than answers. As a result, we are pleased to announce that a new Advisory Committee was formed that has been working diligently on this topic for many months now.

Several Advisory Committee members will present a special training for our volunteers during the retreat this year. They have combined Buddhist ethics, years of experience, CDCR procedures, and mindful awareness to bring us a very thoughtful and thorough presentation on the varieties of inappropriate behaviors we may encounter and the best options for handling them skillfully and legally while caring for ourselves, as well. This session will include interactive exercises in small groups. We sincerely hope you will find their presentation very useful and supportive. This is a loving gift of time and energy from our fellow volunteers.

Ven. De Hong recently attended a Moral Injury Conference in Southern California with approximately 300 professionals. The majority of the other attendees worked for the LA County Mental Health Department, De said. During the conference, it was revealed that almost all of these attendees suffer from some form of moral injury (abuse of all types, racism, etc). De said he learned a lot at the conference and realized he still has much more to learn on this subject. “For most of us, every time we step into the prisons, we may also suffer from moral injury because of how we are treated or what we witness or are exposed to,” De said. Therefore, he plans to offer a short presentation on this topic during our 2019 retreat.

Susan Shannon (who has served as a Buddhist chaplain on Death Row at San Quentin prison) will be our lead facilitator on Friday. Jacques Verduin (pioneering founder of GRIP and other programs at San Quentin) will be our lead facilitator on Saturday. We also expect to have a number of “returning citizens” (formerly incarcerated folks) with us. On Sunday, we will lead ourselves, with no outside facilitator.

Based on their many years of direct experience, facilitators Jacques Verduin and Susan Shannon will also offer trainings related to these themes of working with populations affected by trauma as well as managing our own experiences serving in occasionally difficult and challenging situations.

If you have any questions about the retreat, online registration or scholarships, please feel free to contact us at