Tabari: Cathy tell me a little bit about who you are. What do you do?
Cathy: Awesome. So that's a good question that I often look at the fact that I'm still who I am. Who am I. I'm a native of Bakersfield?
I'm a statistic in a lot of ways I am a teen mom from the east side of Bakersfield, and I believe that that's really shaped who I am today. I don't want to lose focus of that because it's really important and we'll talk about that I guess a little bit later. But. What do I do? I am an outreach coordinator for the Alternatives to Violence Project which is a nonprofit here in California in Bakersfield.
I'm also a mobile notary public. That's kind of my little my little business that I run on the side, and I'm a mother.
I'm a mother and guardian of six children.
Tabari: You said you have a job working with AVP. What is it all about?
Cathy: So AVP is a really interesting nonprofit. It started in 1975 in New York in the prison system with older lifer gang members in prison who wanted to teach the younger gang members an alternative to violence to really be able to get them to understand the consequences of their decisions. And so they enlisted the help of some Quakers and civil rights activists, and they put together this curriculum that we use today. We facilitate these two-day workshops in prisons and communities with youth in all types of different groups. And what's really neat about it is that it's it's totally run by volunteers. So because of that model, we are able to offer these workshops for free or were able to go into communities and train them to train the community members to become community leaders bo giving them the skills of building community building trust, giving them interpersonal communication or as you like.
You know giving people inter interpersonal communication skills. We received a grant through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to start this program here in Kern County. Part of what will happen in that process is we will identify certain volunteers from the local area who will long term sustain and support the prison program that we know that we are that we're focusing on. So my job, in particular, I am focusing on the prisons North Kern and West though which are in the northern part of Kern County. So my job is really to educate our community on AVP to recruit and identify local volunteers to become facilitators and to continue the cycle of recruiting new participants into these workshops and training them to be local workshops volunteer facilitators.
Tabari: Well when I when I listen to how you describe AVP it sounds like it's the organization that has very deep roots. It is something that's really geared toward making a difference in society.
Oftentimes you hear of how this prison life is glamorized I find it fascinating that you have the older prison, population who are kind of giving back to those who think that this is what they want to do with their life and they're trying to say hey I've been down that road. You don't want to go down that road that I've been down.
Cathy: So there was there was a news story that was done on a guy who got out after a 25-year sentence. You know he's in his 50s, and he lives just north of here in by selling. And you know it's online. If you if, you google AVP and in Bakersfield, I'm sure the story will come up. But he gave an interview on how he started taking this program in prison and how it completely changed his life. And he continues to volunteer with AVP out here in the free world. And it's making such a huge impact. You know this is this is an interesting program in my opinion because it's totally experiential so we're not going into these workshops doing things to people we're not talking to them. We're not lecturing to them. We're not assigning reading to them. We are introducing activities and exercises and games and that in itself allows them to enjoy the experience to be open to what comes up for them personally and to share this with each other. We learn from each other. We've used the collective wisdom and experiences from that group.
And I think that that's really important especially for the younger guys because you know they know everything just like we were right. They know everything. You can't teach them anything you can't tell them anything. So when it comes up for them from within. I think that's why it's so effective.
Tabari: So as a facilitator you're kind of holding that space where the conversations can happen where the dialogues can happen. You're not necessarily saying that I have all the answers. This is what you should do to get your life in order. But you simply just creating this space where they can help each other and just kind of be open. What happens at the moment is that so.
Cathy: Yeah. Yeah. And I've had people tell me that this is going through this workshop and the activities and everything is it reminds them of like an improv workshop that they've done. You know the parts of just going with the moment or losing yourself, or it is uncomfortable at first and then experiencing something new and different.
Tabari: So you told me you told me a little bit about your background. You know you mentioned how. You should have been a statistic you know based upon where you grew up you know being a single mother and so what is it that drew you to this work and how did you know that this was kind of you're calling and not necessarily your life calling but your purpose for this time in your life.
Cathy: Yeah I think that's a good way to put it. I appreciate that. So I was I was working in the banking industry the financial industry, and I knew that I knew that I was spared from a lot of things that I witnessed growing up for a reason I just kind of came to this point in my life a few years ago that. I'm sitting on a lot of a lot of knowledge and experience that could possibly be helpful to change to change the statistics in the USA to of Bakersfield particularly you know in my community as a whole and maybe even larger than that. So I started kind of looking for other ways that I can get involved. And I came across this job and this job posting as an outreach coordinator I knew that it was only for a three-year commitment which was kind of scary because I was in a pretty stable career already you know with great benefits and so to go from that to do this. It was a huge leap of faith and conviction. And I do have a very strong conviction that you know there's just so much room for improvement in Bakersfield. I was watching that before I went into banking to work for a little while in labor organizing and that really exposed me to different communities and seeing how other areas around the nation are doing things that I really like. Do you know there's there's this sense of community that is different than the way Bakersfield has been for me and my experience has also given me the motivation that you know we can do something different we can make our area better? And when I started really looking into this EVP program, I just fell in love with it because I don't think there's anything like that that's what's been done here at least not in my lifetime that I'm aware of.
Tabari: Yeah and so you mentioned earlier that this is a volunteer program and the funding doesn't last forever. And so how do you actually go about. Building this new organization that's kind of self-sustaining.
And then secondly how do you find volunteers that maybe have the same passion as you do that want to do this without pay.
Cathy: Yeah. I get a great question. It's it's not easy. I'll tell you that it takes a lot. Of.
You know as I said in the beginning just knowing who I am. It takes a lot of resiliency. I think in this in my part of it as an outreach coordinator essentially a community organizer. It just takes a lot of energy and a really firm grasp on what it is. The bigger picture. You know in all of the little the little conversations I have with people it takes a lot of no's. Yes. You know when you're asking somebody they come to this workshop it's an entire weekend you know, and we're going to have circle play though back. I don't want to go to therapy.
That's what it sounds like, or we'll hear as soon as you say the words alternatives to violence project. Some people really get rubbed a wrong way like I am not violent nor do I want to be around violent. And so there's been a lot of education in this process. There's been a lot of trial and error with messaging and marketing, and it hasn't been easy, I tell you that. When I identify a participant or workshop participant that I think through conversation or through a presentation or an appointment or whatever have you.
It's it's a hand holding process until they've actually gotten there but in that scene in the workshop then by like the first hour what usually comes out is I had no idea it would be like this. This is amazing. And they can't they. There's always a sadness when it comes to an end. The second one you know.
Tabari: So you touched on it briefly. But I want to go deeper into what would have been some of the biggest challenges that you experienced being the Outreach Coordinator.
Cathy: So some organizations do volunteer management very well you know AARP is a great example. A lot of people don't know that it's it's run by very very few staff members. And so I think the biggest one of the biggest challenge is volunteer retention because people's lives change. You know it can change from the morning to night. It can change in a matter of minutes. And just with a number of reasons why it's so even though you have a committed volunteer's something can happen and they'll be gone, or their ability diminished you know. So recognizing the need for systems and processes has been a challenge. And then developing those to create the sustainability that we need. Also funding. We have this we have this grant but in reality, what I'm learning is that. It would be nice to have maybe a million dollars to just put out a huge media marketing you know to get some quality videos created and content and build a platform presence. It's really hard. It's really hard because I am one of three staff people in the entire state of California and I believe we're the only AVP staff people in the world. It is this organization is totally run by volunteers. And when I when, I went to our national conference and our statewide conference you know I kept hearing over and over and over by these committed volunteers that they don't like them to outrage and I get it. You know you're an organizer you're a community organizer at that. There are books that have been written about the burnout that happens you know. So I totally get it. And that's. Those are probably my top three biggest challenges right now.
Tabari: And so what are your what are some of your successes that you've seen while you're doing this work or what is the. Despite those challenges. You know. What is it that keeps you going doing this work?
Cathy: So. The biggest unspoken benefit I think I don't think it's advertised or marketed but what naturally happens with us going into prison is is that the rehabilitation process right. So the biggest reward for me has been watching somebody take this workshop in prison come out and take these workshops in the community or facilitate these workshops in the community, and community members see and meet and get to know these parolees in a way that. They would have never allowed themselves to and really start to destigmatize you know everything that they're about you know. I think it's really cool when when formerly incarcerated people do these workshops but don't mention that until maybe the second day of the workshop when we're answering a question like something you don't know about me you know I love that question because just the most amazing things happen just in that in those 2 minutes you know people are faced with their own biases, and they're having to look at themselves really hard at that moment.
Tabari: That's powerful. So you're saying that the biggest benefit is to be able to see the transformation process to see a person that was incarcerated being a part of AVP, do workshops in the community and breaking down barriers that you may have about you know in this population.
Cathy: Yeah And it happens out here too but I think that's the most powerful for me because of all the a city that they're facing and all the fear that they're facing with coming out especially the guys who have been totally institutionalized or grown up in this com system babies you know they've been incarcerated since they were 8, 9, 10 and has happened there their entire adult life. Those are really powerful. But I also mentioned this because it's been really cool to be a part of as well. I went to Santa Barbara for a youth workshop that they were doing out there. I was one of three adults in this workshop, and it was all kids from 13 to 17 and watching them come to their own understandings as well is pretty powerful. For them it's I think working with youth is is a skill. I'm I'm not cut out for that because I think I think because I'm a mom of teenagers and I'm a mom I'm all you know. But my hats are off to the people who can do that and maintain healthy boundaries. But seeing that was pretty rewarding as well.
Tabari: Wow. And so. What what is maybe one of the common misconceptions or something that you want to dispel about alternatives to violence or maybe working with the prison population. What is it you want to tell the world?
Cathy: I think I think people should stop being afraid of the word violence. I think people should start to begin their destigmatization of that word because we are all violent. Every single one of us and one of the very first things we do in a workshop is a brainstorm. What is violence you know and what we soon discovered is that so many things are so many natural things so many good things so many holding things so many beautiful things necessary things are violent and in conflict will always come up? Always in our life everywhere in our lives. And there is a way for us to exchange ideas and experiences on how to resolve it in a non-violent way in a way that's healthiest for all involved. And so I think the biggest the biggest thing I would like, and I and my hope you know is that we start looking at that word of violence and violent to be violent and take ownership of our part in it to begin the process of learning a new way to deal with conflict.
Tabari: And so what are you, what are you currently working on and how can people find out about you if you want to get involved with alternatives to violence project?
Cathy: Yeah. So here in Bakersfield actually I should change that law school. We're looking at starting up these workshops in Moscow in Dili known in the communities the prison programs are running solid there. They're monthly. They're going great but really just getting more buy-in from the community is what we're 2019 is all about.
Tabari: Okay. Excellent. So if someone wanted to find out about you or our to violence where would they go?
Cathy: They would e-mail me kern [email protected] dot com. They can call 1 800 number which is 1 (800) 9 0 5 - 6 7 6 5. They can find this on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, central AVP. Yeah.
Tabari: OK. Perfect. Well thank you Cathy, and that's it for our show. All right.