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Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion Behind Bars with Jared Seide

Updated: Mar 26

In this episode, Jared Seide speaks with cohost John MacAdams on his work as the Executive Director for the Center for Council.

  • What Council looks like inside prisons

  • How Council embodies mindfulness and supports compassion

  • Benefits of learning presence, resisting distraction, and speaking/listening from the heart

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Jared Seide is author of the book, “Where Compassion Begins: Foundational Practices to Enhance Mindfulness, Attention and Listening from the Heart.” He is the founder and Executive Director of Center for Council, a nonprofit organization that trains groups and individuals to promote wellness and resiliency, to foster compassion and to build community. Jared has developed and shepherded Council for Insight, Compassion & Resilience, an award-winning transformational insight and accountability-oriented rehabilitation program for incarcerated populations, as well as programs to promote health, relationality and compassion amongst law enforcement officers; to address burnout and disregulation amongst physicians and nurses; to help build positive organizational culture within public and private companies; as well as other mindfulness and council-based programs to support and resource impacted communities and emerging leaders. He has led trainings and retreats focusing on compassion, reconciliation and community-building throughout the U.S., as well as in Poland, Rwanda, France, Colombia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion Behind Bars Transcript

John MacAdams: 

Hi! Welcome to another session on the Prison Mindfulness Summit. My name is John MacAdams. I'll be your co-host for this session. I'm very happy to be here today with Jared Seide. Welcome, Jared. Thank you so much for being part of the summit. I've been looking forward to speaking with you. 

Jared Seide: 

Thank you, John. It's great to be here with you. 

John MacAdams: 

Well, I'm going to read from your bio to familiarize our audience with you and your work, and then we'll jump right into the conversation. How's that sound? 

Jared Seide: 

Sounds good. 

John MacAdams: 

Jared Seide is the author of the book Where Compassion Begins: Foundational Practices to Enhance Mindfulness, Attention, and Listening From the Heart. He is the founder and executive director of the Center for Council, a nonprofit organization that trains groups and individuals to promote wellness and resiliency to foster compassion and build community. 

Jared has developed and shepherded counsel for Insight, Compassion, and Resilience, an award-winning transformational insight and accountability-oriented rehabilitation program for incarcerated populations, as well as programs to promote health, relationality, and compassion amongst law enforcement officers to address burnout and dysregulation amongst physicians and nurses to help build a positive organizational culture within public and private companies, as well as other mindfulness and council-based programs to support and resource impacted communities and emerging leaders. 

Jared has led training and retreats focusing on compassion, reconciliation, and community building throughout the United States, as well as in Poland, Rwanda, France, Colombia, and Bosnia Herzegovina. 

Okay, amazing work. Thanks so much again for joining us, Jared. So, let me start with this. The prison program Center for Council offers what is called Council for Insight, Compassion, and Resilience. Describe for us, please, what the program looks like and what you see participants getting out of it. 

Jared Seide: 

Thank you for that. Yeah, that's a mouthful. The Center for Council has worked in this field where it's very difficult to reduce what we do to an elevator pitch. It has been the bane of our existence for some time. Council for Insight, Compassion, and Resilience is named for what it does rather than where we do it or who we serve. 

I think that many in the audience will be familiar with the practice of council. To kind of summarize it or make it simple, I think the council is a practice of coming together in a good way, usually in a circle, setting aside judgment and agenda, offering regard, listening from the heart, and sharing authentically what is alive and true in the moment. 

The CICR Program in prisons is built on the foundation of the council and offers very practical tools for building self-awareness and self-regulation that help participants cultivate introspection, insight, emotional intelligence, and the capacity for more skillful communication, which I believe leads to more respectful and wholesome relationships. That relationality is, I think, where we find the potential to really shift the culture in a big way. 

Participants in the program in prison learn and practice these very concrete tools for monitoring their own thoughts and responses while respectfully taking turns speaking and being heard/being listened to. I think the process helps to reinforce deeper insight and focuses emotions and expression in an authentic and contained way. 

We have had to talk about the outcomes in very down-to-earth ways as a result of our work with departments of correction, police departments, boards of education, etc. And so we have worked with evaluators beginning with the RAND Corporation, which was a grant that I started with some years ago, and moving into partnership with UCLA in which we look at very concrete measures qualitatively and quantitatively. 

And more recently, biometric measures, which I'm blown away about. I'm happy to talk about this more, which is really, I think, very exciting, but these have consistently demonstrated the impact of participation in these programs in prison, leading to reductions in anger and aggression, and hostility, improving communication skills, reinforcing, respectful listening, fostering pro-social perspectives and attitudes, building cooperation and respect and pro-social peer group activity. 

I think fundamentally increasing, I would say, trust, confidence, resilience, capacity for reflection, insight, and accountability. And so, we have validated academic scales in which we have measured these, and we have demonstrated this to folks who we want to continue to provide us with grant funding. So that while we understand what it means to be with others in this authentic way and to allow ourselves to bear witness to the emergent version of ourselves, we've also got specific deliverables that relate to what they call criminogenic factors or dynamic criminogenic factors, those that can change, rather than those that are fixed. 

In doing this, I think we've created resources for folks to start the next chapter of their lives in a good way. We can continue to demonstrate that and hopefully continue to work our way into systems that need that kind of clinical proof. 

John MacAdams: 

Wow. It was just so wonderful to get the research and sort of get that validation after you have seen it and been there and been with all of those folks through those transformations. Can you give us just a little bit of a window into what a session looks like? 

First of all, I'm going to ask you. What are the determinants on the folks who can actually enter the program? This particular program is in the California state prison system. I'm familiar with the California county jails. I know that the county jails are actually at this point able to, they're not really very well able to, but sometimes they are assigned custody of up to 10 years for people who are convicted of crimes in the state of California, so they can spend as many as 10 years in county jail. 

It's a sad thing. They're obviously not filled to do that, but then folks do get to California state prisons. How is it that you're able to put this group together? What is their path to coming into this program? 

Jared Seide: 

Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned jails. We're in the process of starting up a couple of jail-based programs because we feel like it's really important to have exposure to the possibility of this kind of work to view incarceration as an opportunity for some kind of growth. Obviously, not something one would choose, but folks who are in jail and are kind of figuring out what the next few years are going to look like. We are introducing that so that when they arrive, they will find, depending upon where they are transferred to, a variety of programs they can sign up for. 

Every prison, as you know, I'm sure very well, in CDCR has a completely different culture and a different appreciation of programming. Some are very pro programming. Some, it's really hard to really get buy-in to create these programs in a good way to make sure that participants are able to sign up, they understand what they're signing up for, and that they can navigate their work schedule and their release schedule so they can actually show up on a regular basis. 

In the ideal situation and in situations we've been able to create, and now 28 of the 34 operating prisons, we've got another four coming up next year. We offer the opportunity for folks to have a glimpse into what is possible in learning this methodology and curriculum and then practicing council on a regular basis in a group setting for a period of about 90 minutes to two hours a week, every week. An initial six months and then the opportunity to continue with this group, as long as one chooses to. Electing to be a participant in this what they call a self-help program. 

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to produce a bunch of videos now and to have the capacity to send people into prisons to talk about what it is we're doing and then demonstrate a council and invite folks to have a taste of that. And if it resonates, and it often does, folks sign up for the program, the CICR program. When they sign up, they sign up to attend a pretty intensive two-day training, usually a Saturday and a Sunday, which means they're not going to family visits. They're not on a work schedule. They need to be there, and obviously, custody needs to cooperate and get them cleared for that. And then, subsequently, once a week, they meet in this group that has been trained and self-facilitated. 

We have a series of assignments that last for the first six months. And then, we give them some guidelines for self-facilitating councils in which the real learning unfolds. The two days are a very intensive introduction to the practice of counsel. It is experiential, but there's a great deal of pedagogy and a lot of teaching around what's happening in our autonomic nervous system, what it means to live in a constant sympathetically aroused state, and what it means to slow down to take a backward step, to really be present and bear witness to what's coming up for us and in others in the benefits of that and understand that a little scientifically, but then practice different forms. 

So after these two days of intensive training, the group is empowered to create a community of practice that will meet regularly. One of the things we've been able to do over the pandemic is to create that book. We actually created the first version of the book Where Compassionate Begins. At the bottom, it says, A Handbook for Incarcerated Persons

This is how we built this book. It was with funds that were allocated for us to go into prisons. And then when we were told we couldn't go into prisons, they told us to give the money back, and we said, we're not going to give them money back, we need to do something else. So, we produced the book, which supports folks after their training. We also have this version of it. 

The blue version of it is the one that we wanted to write for general audiences. So we were able to do that during the last two years. But with this book and with weekly guidance, folks get together and create a space to show up in that kind of authentic way. They facilitate on a rotating basis, with different individuals facilitating each week. And our trainers return after a couple of months. We usually come back two or three times during the first three months to witness what's up, to answer questions, to troubleshoot, to maybe provide a little extra training, some reminders, and to watch the group evolve in the practice of council. 

It is a practice that they are given this space, hopefully, you know, a classroom or the chapel or a certain space on a regular basis. But it's also a practice that they're taking into their lives with their salaries, with folks on the yard, often in family visits, they will invite their family into a council. And so, we're hearing reports back about how it is the things that they're learning are showing up in their life outside of the actual formal official council. And hopefully, this will set the stage for a practice that they have with them and carry with them through this transition into returning back into society and beginning the next chapter of their lives. 

It has been extraordinary to see how many go to the board and really embody this speaking and listening from the heart, this capacity to create compassionate kind of communication and relationships, and find themselves with grants and parole and find themselves coming back. Those who come back to Los Angeles, hopefully all of them touch base with us. They are invited into everything we do in Los Angeles for free workshops and training and programs, and internships and many wind up working for us on staff. 

We have recently created a grant that focuses specifically on reentry. So at the end of the program Insight Prison, you can join our reentry program for this warm handoff, which combines case management and a community of practice outside. And then invitation to be part of a leadership training where those individuals who found this to be a value, when they were inside and in their process of coming home, are trained up to have the skills to work with us bringing the program to system impacted folks in the community. 

For those who can get back into facilities, we take them back with us. And again, it's case by case. And when you have a cooperative Warden, you can sometimes convince them to allow somebody to come back in and co-lead a training. But in all of the different places that we are supporting folks and learning council and seeing the value of it as a resource for transformation as a skillful means of being with suffering and with using suffering. I think there's a spark that ignites in these council groups that continue. And the ripples are extraordinary, both in terms of what happens in the yard. And also what happens as folks get out. 

I'll just say one more thing. I got to go back to Ironwood. I hadn't been there for about six years. We started a program, I guess, in 2014 or 2015. I got to go back for the first time after we had launched our grant and run out. I was invited into the group that continues to this day. And the council began, and it was led by a gentleman who had been taught by people who had been taught by those who had been taught by people that we trained. 

So it had gone on for four generations, and it had become their own practice, which was so moving and beautiful. I was so grateful to see what it had kind of grown into and to offer whatever little bits I could hear in their new games or icebreakers or ways to describe it to newcomers, but it sustains itself inside the prisons and provides this resource that not only affects the way folks experience incarceration in their own transformation, but also encourages them to leave with some tools, and in many cases, come back and want to continue this work on the outside. 

John MacAdams: 

So clearly, this program that you've developed and designed and has been bringing in, not only are you able to train, and as you say, empower, I was very much struck by this whole approach of empowering individuals to be able to carry on this community practice. And then you touch back in if the program is underway and the funding is in place, and you have folks who are able to continue on your trainers, or other facilitators will come and check back in as long as three months. These individuals may have been meeting once a week for up to 12 sessions before they're sort of touched again by your people. So this is obviously a very thorough training you do in the two weeks? 

Jared Seide: 

Well, fortunately, we've got the book now that supports folks when they have questions on a week-to-week basis. We'd like to come back no more than six to eight weeks before we come back for the first time. It's really about the grant funding. We've got to send people in who are, you know, they're not volunteers. They're folks who are well-trained and get paid to do this work for us. So when they go back in, there's a cost to that. 

As we kind of develop more resources, we send more people, more often, to places to keep these groups going. And then, you know, as I said, the climate at each one of these prison sites really determines how much encouragement these groups have to keep going. Some find it very difficult. They get released from their cell with 20 minutes left of the two hours because the correctional officers weren't really coordinating this. In other cases, we have incredible support, where folks are providing all kinds of resources and helping the group to really thrive. 

It's a great variety. We have to face each one as we encounter it. I've been told by walking into some of these training sessions by sergeants, "Don't shake their hand." "Don't get close to them." "Don't be overly familiar." I need to presence that. My inclination would be to be able to treat folks as other human beings, but in the setting and with this particular climate with the correctional officers, this is what I've been told. I'm going to work with that because I want to be here. But they're very different environments. We work with them. 

I think the tools that we teach give folks an opportunity to really make this their own and to really feel confident being facilitators of this work. The word "facilitators" puts them in your leader or the director. It means you're just making it easy in the Latin sense. You're making it easy for this practice to unfold, whether it's intimately with your cellmate or family visit, or it's more formally in something you've planned to do with the group when it meets once a week. It's a skill that they are learning. It's a strength and a muscle that they're growing. Hopefully, it will serve them on a day-to-day basis and for the rest of their lives. 

John MacAdams: 

I think for those of us in the audience who do go to incarcerated environments, I really appreciate the way you're explaining the need for patience and flexibility within those environments and understanding of our place when we're there and then we're actually being granted quite a gift to be able to go into a situation where there's a whole lot of energy behind keeping people safe and keeping people in whatever level of control they're being kept in. 

I think that's helpful for folks who are bringing any kind of programming into prison, this understanding that we really need to learn our patients and to be flexible and non-judgmental about it and know that everybody is doing what they can. When I go into jail, I never really think anybody's having the best day of their life. Nobody's having a good day when they're, for whatever reason, they're in there, whether they're getting a paycheck or not. 

Jared Seide: 

I think we're wanting to see certain results. We're wanting to see folks behave in a certain kind of way. That's the agenda. Nobody wants an unsafe environment, whether it's in the yard or when folks are moving through and eventually coming home and becoming your neighbors. Empathy is something that you want to see grow. 

I think we understand now that empathy for others develops as a result of first becoming aware of our own physical, emotional, and mental states and their training that builds the capacity to increase that awareness. And when we work with our own inner experience of suffering, both physical and emotional, spiritual and mental, we develop a greater capacity and ability to sense and understand others' distress. 

You look at the Mateo Rijkaard work and all that extraordinary kind of understanding we have now of the way brains function. This is valuable training. What we're doing is not just some folks say, you know, we often get hit with that. You're just a hug-a-thug that goes in and tries to be nice to thugs. It's really not about that. It's about building skills and starting in a way that helps folks resource themselves such that they can be more productive agents of change, both in terms of keeping things safe in the yard and also in terms of what they will do when they go home. 

That's an argument that I have a lot of. It's a conversation that I think folks can understand that we're not just doing this in a sort of Pollyannaish, kind of let's make nice with folks who are, you know, not really sincere. This is about really taking the time to build some skills, starting with what's going on inside us and cultivating some literacy and understanding of that system. 

John MacAdams: 

Let me ask you to reflect because I have done some amount of council work and a little bit of that. Some of it is tough. Some of it is personally challenging. I have found that I have gone through many different emotions within a council setting. Some are quite joyful, and some are quite painful. It's just kind of a whole raft. 

Well, I mean, there can be preconceptions of what's going on in prisons. And there's the reality that these are individuals who have a lot of suffering and pain and anguish in their daily life. It's not uncommon throughout their entire life. So, I'd like to kind of share some reflections on how people are holding that much. Like, allowing, and you're really encouraging and creating that environment and supporting people to really get in touch with the real stuff. 

Jared Seide: 

I think there's skillfulness that we need to cultivate. I think that in understanding compassion, you know, compassion is a virtue, but it's also a practice. Compassion is not sympathy or empathy. I mean, it is some of both, but it is not either of those things. It's not just about how we feel, but it's about what we do and how we behave. 

I think that compassion is that thing that requires that we step up and become skillful and build muscle, and I think it winds up as the kind of critical component in weaving social fabric through the actions and the relationships that we create. So this is a given. This is not about behaving nicely. It's not about hugging everybody or holding hands and singing Kumbaya as they often deride us as going in to do. This is about really bearing witness to some really deep suffering. Building a capacity to do that is critical. 

I have the great honor of spending two years studying with Roshi Joan Halifax in the chaplaincy program at UPaya. Roshi Joan speaks about how compassion, while it is not trainable, per se, is composed of non-compassion elements that are trainable that you can train in. And so, as you break these down, and you understand that there is a tension in attunement, and that is a skill set that we can train to. There is insight and intention. There's embodiment and engagement. 

And all of these things like going out into the yard and doing bicep curls to build your muscles and sit-ups and things. These are muscles that are built. These are capacities that increase as a result of practice. And so, I think when we look at it this way, we can understand that the things we're doing as we strengthen our capacity to bear witness are going to be valuable in encounters that we face, again, both within the world of the prison setting and also outside. 

I think that council is an environment in which we see, like the weight lifters, some dynamic tension, and resistance that is helping us build the capacity to face some hard stuff. And so, when we talk about what counsel is doing, and we understand the importance of becoming aware of one's mental and emotional state, you know, hearing and noticing others in counsel, finding words to articulate the grief, the pain, the suffering. There are guys in the council who say, "I've never seen a man cry like this." And here in council, I'm seeing tears. 

I understand that it is related to grief, but I never experienced that. When something is really hurting, you can cry, and it's not terrible. You can express things in a way that is authentic, and you're not going to fall apart. Learning that it's possible to explore those unfamiliar states to take time to slow down and bear witness in this way and create an intimacy with these very complicated sensations, very difficult to hold stirrings that maybe have not been reinforced anywhere in your life and are sort of normed in counsel as allowable, and not judged. This is unique, and it's not comfortable. In fact, it is by design outside of the comfort zone for folks. 

And then, what it means to really be encouraged in real-time, to spontaneously express whatever emergent insights and sensations and experiences and shifts may be that are arising within one. I think it's the capacity to embody our authentic humaneness. That's where it's at. A lot of folks have really resisted that and have acted out in other ways. So sometimes it's ugly. Sometimes it's difficult. Sometimes it's hard to hold. 

Being able to create a container that can hold that to witness and to acknowledge it without having to agree or disagree, or make fun of something, or have a stance about something or say, Oh, that's not me, that's you. This is to come up with an opinion about everything that's expressed by others but to just bear witness in this way creates endless possibilities, but it requires us that were able to hold some difficult stuff. It requires that we create this container that's going to be a sort of a cauldron. We're creating a crucible, and it's going to get hot. And if it's not a good container, it's going to be leaky and difficult to hold. 

Part of why we really start with really strong training and what it means to create a container to understand liminality to step in and away with the intention to practice together because we're going to need this space is really critical. It's important to understand when new people, when newcomers, kind of roll in. They need to be really intentional about what they're stepping into. Because you're right, it can be a really difficult place to be. But I think, ultimately, it's some extraordinarily valuable training in how to have the capacity to deal with suffering, which we encounter all over, even though we may not have the vocabulary or literacy around what to do with it. 

John MacAdams: 

From what I heard, you're speaking very much about a personal experience, right? You talked about intimacy and becoming intimate with unfamiliar states, unfamiliar emotional experiences, and all that entails. And also coming into contact with others going through that experience. 

So, I guess, just how do you sort of prime that crucible in terms of there may be a tendency to want to rescue or there may be a tendency to just want to block it out? Right? There can be like, "I just don't. I can't hear any more from any of these other guys." Or that's like, "Gee. I would like to give them a hug." But that's not what's going on. Right? You're holding your ground. You're bearing witness. Can you just give us a little insight there? 

Jared Seide: 

That's where it's at, John. This is about the strong back and soft front. How do we show up in a good way to stop? It's really very disorienting. And it is why the folks who go in to train in this program for us are all certified Council trainers who have gone through a lot of training, who have really had to confront shadow, who've gotten to the edge and have seen the possibilities of it going south quickly. 

Again, Roshi Joan's book Standing At The Edge and what the five states are that she talks about that we need to become super clear about and practice in navigating is critical work, and it's integrated into our curriculum for working with counsel because it is very easy to fall into rescuing or running away. 

I think when we notice in ourselves the sympathetic arousal, the real human response of fight, flight, freeze these things that we do when we're sympathetically aroused, we can recognize that, okay, I'm not discerning. My prefrontal cortex is not working the way I want it to because of the sympathetic arousal. How do I activate a parasympathetic response? What sorts of things? By breathing, by bearing witness, by scanning the environment, by kind of having a round of counsel in which we can come back into a direct real-time experience? How can we bring ourselves back to a place where we can be productive and not shut down? 

This is true for facilitators and those learning to be counseled trainers, as well as every council session we encounter. The practice of counsel is what teaches counsel. And our facilitating and offering to others is our own opportunity to grow in this practice as well. So there isn't a lot of separation between how one is trained in counsel and how one experiences counsel coming to a council session. 

I will say that in the jail setting, we're really focused on offering an experience of counsel and information so folks can take that into a more long-term program inside prisons. In prisons, it's about really empowering individuals to become facilitators, to become practitioners, and to carry this work into their lives, noting the places where things get tough, where they want to shut down, where they want to run away, where they are so sympathetically aroused that they can't discern, they can't function. 

They have a vague notion of, well, you're supposed to count to 10 and take a breath. Well, as we know, there's so much more to training in the autonomic nervous system that is so valuable. And those pieces are offered in the book and also in the council training such that folks can work with that tendency, recognizing it in themselves and in others in the circle, and then doing something about it so as to create a more coherent experience individually and collectively. 

I'll just say I'm a huge fan of Heart Math. My wife is actually a physician and a Heart Math facilitator. There is some extraordinarily powerful biometric measurement of Heart Rate Variability coherence now, which is a lot easier to capture than cortisol sampling and other things that folks have had to rely on, you know, functional MRIs and such, through a watch or a ring or a wearable. My wife has actually used a clip-on, so it's on people's fingers in council. 

You can really see in real-time how it is that you are shifting your heart rate variability into a coherent flow by gratitude practice, by bearing witness, by breathing exercises, and by being in council. And then, when you step out of that, you become incoherent. We understand that reading correlates with greater health, not just the state, but the trait. And so understanding that there are things we can do that are changing your physiology that exist internally in terms of your own coherence, but also exist in the full group. 

A group can entrain to become coherent, affecting one another in a way that becomes a really powerful force, whether it's in an organization, or a police unit, or a group inside of prison, or in a school classroom, such that we understand what I'm doing to create this coherence internally, is also affecting the coherence of this group and how group practice can actually have a profound impact on how we do our work with each other and with those we interact with. 

I think there's an enormous amount happening. I think, you know, as we become more engaged in studying this practice and learning about it, there's a whole lot we have to offer in training, more and more folks and how to enter into this wonderful journey. 

John MacAdams: 

Well, I love that you have already talked about how this is becoming sort of more holistic and rounded into reentry, which is, of course, an extremely challenging time for folks coming out of the incarcerated state going into reentry. 

I have a few colleagues who do a lot of work on reentry. It's a very challenging task. It builds lives, right? I was fortunate to meet one of the young men who came out who'd been working with you in council for a number of years there. He was solid. He was one of the folks who were able to employ your nonprofit, and he really seemed to be thriving. But can you tell us a little bit because what I also heard you describing clearly was community and culture? 

You're really talking about how these interactions as a group, that is the culture, there's that culture, and then that culture is going to show because it's going to spread out. And when we're talking about the work that you're doing with law enforcement, we know that you're doing work with corrections when you're doing work in corporate and nonprofit settings. The culture can be pretty solid. And culture is, of course, malleable. 

I guess I'd like to share some of your thoughts about our whole community. We got to a big old country, and we got a big old world here. We've got places we could go. We've got directions we could go. I think you're pointing us in a really great direction. So, please. 

Jared Seide: 

Yeah. I think we've been thinking a great deal about the impact of this work is. And so, we've begun this initiative called Beyond Us & Them, which is really the impact of this work. What is it to go beyond that thinking? It's relevant. It touches on that beautiful Rumi poem, The Great Wagon. 

What is that field beyond right and wrong, us and them, Republican and Democrat, cop and incarcerated person? What do we understand to be that place where we reside together and build culture together? What happens when we move beyond othering so that we can create space to be curious and open-hearted about the story of somebody unfamiliar? We don't just label and judge to be somehow less than and unworthy of listening. 

When my MSNBC somehow flips to Fox News, I just can't bear to hear the others. It's the same the other way. When Fox News, if, you know, folks are our fans, all of a sudden, get to hear Rachel Maddow and their heads explode. What does it mean to be with those things that seem to be not just diverse opinions but wrong? You're wrong, and I cannot be with you in the same space. 

I say this to preface something that happened to me. I mentioned this to you earlier, John. I remember being inside a level four GP yard doing a program for the general population—a very rough, violent place. We had a beautiful council training with 22 or 23 incarcerated folks. Most of them are lifers. Something had really opened and turned the vulnerability, the courage to really go to a deep place was so beautiful and tender. 

I remember on day two there was an incident in the yard that caused a commotion. The correctional officers came just like ferociously barging into this room screaming and yelling and invective and nasty and racist, and it was really intense. There was so much anger and outrage that controlled us. Those folks had to get on the floor. They went back to their cells. We had to go out, you know, it was a pretty intense moment. Somebody had been stabbed pretty viciously, and things were opening up in the yard, so that had to happen. 

I was so angry. I was so upset. It just felt like these beasts, these inhumane, non-compassionate entities, had come in and destroyed something beautiful. I remember feeling kind of pulled to that and then sort of taking a step back and recognizing, "Wait a second. What am I seeing here? What am I feeling here?" The deep fear, suffering, and overwhelm in those individuals was something I couldn't see at first, but it got me really curious about what happens when you are so upset and have only the tool of yelling and screaming and controlling. 

It began an investigation for me into what is going on here and into the immense suffering, the profound suffering that many folks experience within the correctional system, the humanizing dysfunctional correctional system, and how it's experienced by correctional officers who have suicidality that is off the chart who have rates of stress-related illness that are killing them, where it's much, much faster than most of the population. This extends to law enforcement as well. 

In investigating this and then seeing what stressors do to folks who don't have resources, I sort of realized something about this environment in which we work the culture here, and it's the culture of everyone touched by incarceration. Everyone is touched by incarceration, whether you're driving up the five freeway and you see something out there that looks like it's a Costco or a warehouse, and you turn a blind eye, or you're going into the prisons as you do and I do, and many others do to really be with this suffering. We're all impacted by this, and we all have to understand our part and how important it is for us to be practicing. 

It led us to understand that while I would never invite these correctional officers to come to sit in that circle, it would make it unsafe for the incarcerated folks as well as for the officers. There was a real deep desire for them to find their way back to health. And so, we created a program based on sort of officer wellness, self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding how it is that we can recognize our relationship to the stressors, what maladaptive responses to stress look like. Why alcoholism and domestic violence and over-sexuality, and all kinds of things are a plague that is destroying families there? How is it that officers are dying in their 50s (57-58)? How is it that the norm is for folks to be suffering so deeply? But that wasn't what the organization was doing. That wasn't what a lot of organizations working with incarcerated folks were doing, and I realized it was a miss. 

So for us, we really turn towards how it is we can create resources so that officers can bring compassion to their own journey to relationships with the others at work and at home, and to the communities that they protect and serve, that this needs to start upstream in order for there to be results downstream that are meaningful. And so, we created and constructed a program that really spoke in the language of law enforcement to them based on the council. 

We actually call them Council Huddles because they were much more comfortable huddling up than getting into Council. But the huddle became something that was such a relief to law enforcement officers. We taught them all about the autonomic nervous system, and what it is that's happening stress-wise, and then we gave them the opportunity in a peer-to-peer setting to have these structured conversations, facilitated conversations, and the way they have taken to the council huddles. 

We did seven cohorts of LAPD officers of about 25 each. We've done work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the Metropolitan Detention Center in LA Jacksonville, sheriff's office. We're now working with the Department of Justice in taking what incredible results we're finding and making them more accessible more broadly to law enforcement. We don't talk about it the way we talk about the work we do with incarcerated folks, but it's the same work. It's just translated for a language that can receive it well, such that we come out of the end of this and we are able to come together in a community. 

We weave together graduates of the work that we've done in prison, in the CICR program, and graduates of the police program, which is actually called POWER. Its Peace Officer Wellness Empathy and resilience. But we say POWER because it's easier to go to your POWER training than your wellness, empathy, and resilience training. 

When they reach the end of this program, the way they meet the other is extraordinary. It is something you could not imagine seeing if you had met these folks at the very beginning of the process. The vocabulary that they're introduced to and that they find ways to integrate into their own life, how they confront challenges in a sort of safe space with others who are also on the job in ways that are navigating issues with their families, and ultimately, beginning to bridge with community, the literacy and the skillfulness that develops in many of these folks, when woven with the folks that are coming out of prison, create the potential for extraordinary transformation on a cultural, very basic and profound cultural level. It's reweaving the torn friends of the community. It happens in an extraordinary way. 

I think that this Beyond Us & Them initiative is really pointing to us. is our new one. We're going to move into that initiative from the Center for Council because I think, while the council is the heart of this, where we go is a culture where we go Beyond Us & Them. 

The more groups we can work with, whether they're law enforcement, incarcerated folks and folks in the reentry process, educators, healthcare workers, and business folks, the more we can sort of plant the seeds and cultivate these practices, the more opportunity we will have to weave together in a way that creates these cultural changes that I think are so critically important. 

John MacAdams: 

Well, I'm going to anticipate you're going to have a whole lot of people jumping in there with you. 

Jared Seide: 

Thanks for your help. We can certainly use it. 

John MacAdams: 

We can serve you. 

Jared Seide: 


John MacAdams: 

We've had a wonderful conversation, and we're coming close to an end. I wonder if you'd be willing to offer us just a three-minute practice. Something you'd like to leave us with. Whatever you're comfortable with. 

Jared Seide: 

I think that one of the things that we learn as we practice counsel is the ability to shift the way we speak and listen to one another. So I would invite anybody who's interested in coming to join us online. We have these social connection councils that folks can join for 90 minutes. 

I think the practice of listening and speaking from the heart is something that one can contain even in a space like Zoom, even in correspondence courses that we've done, but certainly in counsel groups. I think in every instance, it's really important for us to settle ourselves to really use our breath, use our awareness to really notice the way we are present to ourselves and to that which is around us. 

Recognizing the places where all we believe to be us, while the bits and pieces are meeting everything that feels like not us, you know, the air in the room, you know, the light that is kind of constricting our pupils, the temperature in the room, the way in which we're recognizing how it is we're showing up as we become more mindful of our presence in conversations we have with others. 

I would invite us to think about what it means to make a conscious decision, hold an intention of speaking about what is alive, what feels present and emergent at the moment, and that there's time to be putting forth an agenda. There's time to speak in a way that achieves a result. But there's also an opportunity to give voice to some things that emerge in us spontaneously. 

We might sometimes surprise ourselves with what comes out. I think related to that is the opportunity to listen to the next thing that is kind of offered in a conversation. The way you might listen to nature is to notice that when we're with others, we shift away from how we listen to the waves at the beach or the sound of the wind and the rustling leaves of a tree. We don't have to agree or disagree with the wave to learn about the surfer or with the wind. 

We can take it in and listen to understand with real curiosity and a real willingness to have a deeper engagement with that thing that we're hearing and seeing and setting that intention to listen beyond our opinions, beyond the need to agree or disagree, or have a stance at all. It enables us to maybe hear something and see something that we didn't know was there in that will be a more direct experience of those we encounter. In doing that, I think the relationships that can emerge and the conversations that can happen can be fresh and new and full of potential for growth. 

John MacAdams: 

Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Jared. If folks want to learn more and want to connect with you, what's the best way to get in touch and find out more? I saw a video that you had done a number of years back. It's very moving. It sounds like you've done a few more. So, how can folks be in touch? 

Jared Seide: 

The best way to learn about us is the website which is The new website is Both of those are now emergent, but Center For Council is where you'll find not only, I think you're referring to Cops in Communities Circling Up, which is a little film we did when we brought together graduates of these programs. 

We have some remarkable videos of law enforcement, police officers, and LAPD officers talking about their experience of being in these hurdles. And we've got a lot of the evaluation work if folks are interested in the research behind this. And some of the other ways we've been talking to healthcare providers about depersonalization and burnout with physicians, nurses, and schools are to really reinforce social-emotional learning platforms, restorative justice, etc. 

I think that that website is the best. If folks want to grab a copy of the book Where Compassion Begins, that's going to give a little more background. But if there are thoughts or ideas or questions, or concerns, I would invite anybody to reach out to me through the website, and I'd be happy to engage. I really have so much gratitude for all the great work that's being done. 

Many of the folks who are participating in this summit, for sure, are doing some remarkable, powerful work. I'm grateful for it. I really appreciate learning about it. And in as much as we can ally with folks and share resources. I'm always eager to do that. So, I invite folks to reach out through the website or whoever and get in touch. 

We have, as I mentioned, ways to drop into a council online to come to a council training to learn about it, and we'd be happy to kind of share best practices to the extent that we can. 

John MacAdams: 

All right, Jared. Well, thank you very much. Be well. 

Jared Seide: 

Thank you, John. Thank you so much.


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