by Efren Paredes, Jr.
November 5, 2014 I began participating in "Forty Days to Peace," a program created by Kit Cummings, author, motivational speaker, and founder of The Power of Peace Project.
Kit traveled from his home in Atlanta, Georgia to visit the Muskegon Correctional Facility and speak to potential candidates, encouraging their participation in the Forty Days to Peace. Kit's inspiring message resonated with those in attendance and generated wide interest in the program. He delivered his message to nearly 200 prisoners about peace, responsibility, transformation, and other important issues germane to self-development.
For some, Kit's message was the catalyst they needed to help unlock their consciousness and awaken the desire to end the cycle of violence that destroys our communities. One prisoner told me that hearing Kit's message was the first time he felt compelled to engage in service to others and become an agent of positive change.
Forty Days to Peace teaches people to cultivate inner peace, foster peace in others and, by extension, produces harmonious communities. At the onset of the program participants are given a black rubber wristband that states, "I Am the Power of Peace," to wear daily and a copy of the "Forty Days to Peace" booklet.
For 40 days participants wear their wristband as a symbol of peace and a reminder of their commitment to sincerely work on one step a week for the entire 40-day journey. These steps include working to break th destructive habits and patterns of complaining without gratitude, blaming without integrity, excuse-making without effort, playing the victim, never saying "I'm sorry," never saying "thank you," and never asking for help.
Participants also pledge to live by the following Seven Steps to Peace during that time: being a peacemaker wherever they go; treating their adversaries with respect; when provoked not retaliating, but finding a better way; when cursed not cursing back, and using deliberate language; not lying, cheating or stealing; when they are wrong promptly admitting it and quickly making amends; and treating their enemies the way that they wish to be treated.
The program requires reading and meditating on inspirational quotes from various twentieth century peacemakers daily, visualizing themselves living that way that day, and journaling about epiphanies, ideas and breakthroughs.
Each week participants meet in the facility auditorium to view a brief 10 minute video message from Kit about the lesson that week. Afterwards they convene in small study groups with program facilitators to engage in discussions about progress, obstacles and failures in their daily program.
At the end of the program Kit returned to the prison to deliver an important message at a graduation ceremony held January 15, 2015. The day had special significance because it was the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and marked the fourth annual anniversary of the inception of The Power of Peace Project. Sadly, it was also the anniversary of the death of Kit's father; a story he shared with us in his message.
Three prisoners read essays they wrote about a peacemaker who has influenced their lives and six speakers selected by the program facilitators spoke a few minutes about how the program impacted them and/or others around them.
A few songs were performed by one of the program facilitators and afterwards Kit issued certificates of completion to those who successfully completed the program. Kit then invited all the graduates to join him in the gymnasium for turkey deli sandwiches, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and fruit punch. The meal was purchased by the Prisoner Benefit Fund.
This was the fourth time the program had been launched at the prison. The men who participated thoroughly enjoyed the program, but most of all, they were able to develop important communication, conflict resolution, and life skills to foster internal and external peace.
The Power of Peace Project has proven to reduce violence in some of the most dangerous prisons in the country. Kit has shared his program in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. He also works with high school students, organizations and others.
The day of the graduation participants of Forty Days of Peace, me included, were invited to take a new pledge to begin another 40-day program named "Forty Days to Freedom." I accepted the invitation and am embarking on a new journey I know will be as rewarding and edifying as the first program.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Kit for creating these programs and also thank Warden Sherry Burt, Special Activities Director Sharon Haner, and the program facilitators for bringing the program to the Muskegon Correctional Facility and providing participants the space and opportunity to generate and foster peace.
The entire prison is a safer an better place when we produce new ambassadors of peace.
As we wrap up this phase of the program we should all be encouraged to continue expanding our consciousness and building on the foundation we have established. Participating in programs that reinforce positive growth and development is one way to keep contributing to this positive Movement.
It all begins with us. None of this would be possible absent our participation. We serve as the nexus between yesterday and tomorrow. Through our actions we will carry on the legacy of the Power of Peace project and sustain its success.
We should all be grateful for this opportunity and proud of our accomplishments.