In October of 2007, I was scheduled to go into the men’s prison in Monroe, WA to lead a Nonviolent Communication basics workshop with a Freedom Project team. I was bringing a guest, and after 4 hours of traveling there, the guest was not allowed to enter the prison because the paperwork could not be found. I sent the rest of the training team inside and I drove the guest back to the ferry.
Two hours later, I returned to the prison and walked into the most amazing scene. There were 25 inmates sitting in groups of five offering each other the gift of presence and deep listening. How had that happened when only a few of the men had any idea what NVC was two hours before and they had spent months or years avoiding each other on the prison grounds? They were playing “NVC poker,” a game where one person tells a story about a time in his life, the rest listen while holding a handful of cards with a need written on each. After the story is told, each player lays down the need cards they think apply and ask, “Were you feeling_____ because you were needing_____? (Ex: Were you feeling discouraged because you were needing support?) The storyteller just listens until all cards are down then picks up the ones that resonate the most.
What was amazing to me was the level of presence these men were giving each other, the sincerity of their guesses about needs and the profound look on the faces of those who were having their stories heard in this way for the first time ever. A sense of hope rushed through me that within two hours such change could occur. I was flooded with gratitude to know a practical, useable process that has the power to awaken our natural sense of compassion. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that in my work I get to experience so much beauty over and over in places few people think beauty resides. This was one of those times.