Julianne Hinkel (Part 1)

Facilitator for Pathfinders of Oregon

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Community Service, Education

Julianne Hinkel is a Facilitator, Correctional Instructor and Counselor for Pathfinders of Oregon, which contracts with the Department of Corrections. Through teaching forgiveness, trust, short-term vs. long-term decision making, among other life-skills, Julianne helps transform the inmates' lives so that they're able to return successfully to family, friends, and society. Read on to be amazed. Don't miss next month when she shares how she prayerfully prepares for her work and how biblical ideas help her and parallel the lives of the prisoners.

What do you teach the inmates? What do the inmates learn?
In Oregon, Pathfinders owns a curriculum used in all the prisons and in some high schools (with modification). The curriculum begins with group dynamics and team building, and then goes into trust building, communication skills, stress and anger management, problem-solving, values, and motivation. The motivation chapter at the end is a wrap-up of everything, asking the prisoners to think in general about what motivates people and what will specifically motivate them to use all the skills they've learned during the class. Each unit builds on the previous one, creating a thread that runs through the whole program. It's obvious that these skills are all related: you can't talk about anger management without talking about communication.

How successful is the program?
Pathfinders is one of the required elements of the SUMMIT program, which is an AIP (an Alternative Incarceration Program). They have found that the AIPs significantly lower the recidivism rate. For instance, the California recidivism rate averages around 67%, and San Francisco alone has a rate of 78.3%. Oregon has an over all recidivism rate of (average) 32% after three years. Graduates of the SUMMIT program average around 12%.

We've been able to prove that giving people skills, helping them with cognitive restructuring, connecting thinking to behavior, enables people to become successful individuals. It's all about accountability: when I accept responsibility, I also get the power that comes with it. The inmates learn that they can make a choice to say no. It's amazing to see them change. They come back and speak. It could be 5 years later, and they're still clean and sober. They have hope; they've felt love; now they know what love is.

How do you help them face the poor choices that got them in prison in the first place?
We focus a lot on defining forgiveness -- of themselves and others. Rather than thinking that forgiveness means to make things okay in their minds and accept what's happened to them (such as thinking it's okay they were abused and neglected), we try to help them realize they can perceive their past differently. Forgiving isn't necessarily about forgetting, but about creating space for a new relationship with their past, and therefore, others. Many inmates talk about addictions to anger, violence, crime, money, gambling, drugs, alcohol. Helping them learn to let go of toxic memories and feelings that make them resist moving forward is central to our work.

What do you do to show them alternative ways to deal with the pain of their past?
We present a model that shows the difference between short and long-term thinking and choices. It's not that what they were doing was without motivation or reason -- to feel better or to avoid feeling worse. It's just that by making the short-term decision to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb themselves and avoid their fears or pain, they end up with long-term destruction. Light bulbs go on for a lot of them. Many have been carrying around a lot of guilt, anger, and resentment. They begin to see that they have the power to create new relationships. It begins with forgiveness.

You mentioned trust. How do you build trust?
A lot of them come in from prison with all the unwritten rules, thinking they can't trust. Though I've never seen it from the correctional side, what I've learned is that everything in prison is judgmental and racial. There's a hierarchal system that has its own little culture. When they come into the Summit program, we tell them to wipe out all the beliefs they've been living by – whether it's been 1½, 9, 12, or 15 years they've been in prison. Now, to be successful in the program and graduate, they have to trust each other.

There's a structure that breaks them out of their comfort zone and helps them find a relationship with themselves that allows them to be free, to be themselves, and not to fear what others may say or do. For the six months of this program, they are put into a community. They start and finish together. They are expected to live like a family. They don't want me to say that in the beginning, but at the end, they love each other like a family.

We expect them not only to participate in their classes, but to live what they've learned in their dorm -- to approach each other with issues and problems using their newly acquired communication skills because they care for each other. We have them examine their lives within this family environment. We have them look closely at how they behave, and how their actions affect the people they love – their children, spouse, parents, girlfriend.

In the alcohol and drug part of the program, each person has to give his life story to the others. It has to be real. Their counselor gives them parameters. They recognize from the beginning that they can't do it alone. They also have to be accountable for themselves and for the rest of their community. If one of them is making choices that won't help him graduate, the others are expected to help the person.

They have community meetings, and write what's called a "pull-up" for that person. Then that person is supposed to do a future direction. A pull-up is the part when they hold each other accountable. The future direction is the act of taking accountability by making a specific commitment to the community to work on attitudes or behaviors that are creating problems in the group. An example of a future direction might be keeping an "anger log" for a couple weeks in which a prisoner would write down instances when he feels angry, how he behaved, what the primary emotions were. This would help him become more aware of his anger and maybe identify patterns