The Alternatives to Violence Project

I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Denison who runs the Alternatives to Violence program at the Patuxent Correctional Facility here in Maryland.  The program has had and continues to have a positive effect on many people. And when I say people, I mean inmates or offenders, but also the volunteers who run the workshops.  Perhaps most important are the family members and friends who benefit from being able to reconnect with people that previously had very little skill in handling the challenges of life. 

The program is called, AVP or Alternatives to Violence Project and its history goes back to 1975 but was introduced in Maryland prisons by the 1980’s.  Bill Denison got involved about 15 years ago and has been working to build workshops in the Patuxent facility on both the men and women side. Mr. Denison describes three workshops.  The basic, advanced, and volunteer training facilitators program. Each level progress the participant through a process of learning new skills through an experiencial method and ultimately preparing them to lead a workshop for others.

The goal, says Mr. Denison, “…is to change the culture inside of the prison.” To do that, there has to be a different way of thinking introduced and made possible for the inmates to adopt. The programs are run monthly.  The amount of people who attend varies and that is part of the challenge. 

Having programs available for inmates in the DPSCS of Maryland, is not so simple and easy.  The blame doesn’t necessarily fall on the administration of the prison system. The very real facts of prison life get in the way.  Inmates are transient. They don’t always stay in one place long enough to catch the beginning or stay to the end of a program. Alternatives to Violence is no different in having to deal with these challenges.  Scheduling issues, lock-down, and other factors outside the control of anyone get in the way of regular attendance for this program and others. Being volunteer run also has its drawbacks.

The program is lucky to have a group of dedicated volunteers who take the time out of their lives to spend time in a prison and teaching Alternatives to Violence, but things can come up for them like anyone and workshops might get put off. Consistency is important in any learning program where the goal is to help a person change.  It is a struggle that Bill Denison has managed to overcome and keep things moving for the better. 

Most workshops will have about 20 people register.  About 10 show up on the regular, but as Denison puts it, “15-20 is the sweet spot.  It’s experiencial.” Meaning you can’t have too many people in the group or some people will be left out and won’t participate.  If there are too few, then there isn’t enough sharing to make a strong impact on the participants. 

Monthly workshops take place in 8 facilities across the state. From Hagerstown to Baltimore at the Youth Detention Facility and to 4 facilities in Jessup, Maryland. Each facility has its own coordinator and they all ensure that their workshops are successful.

You can find more information at their website: They are affiliated with AVPUSA, which is a 501 (c)3 organization.