Updated February 2004



The Big PROJECT!!!!! Ethics In Action-Melbourne.

In 1983 we wrote, "If prisoners are to change, the prisons themselves have to change."

We were clear then that prison officers were a crucial part of any attempts to change prisons and prisoners. We have not changed. All people are unique. In fact we believe that prison officers are a critical component not only of institutional change, but of offender change . Why?

In the early 80s we were involved with Jack Bush, a teacher with the National Institute of Corrections in the creation of a therapeutic community for violent men that was, to all intents and purposes, run by prison officers. It was they who ran the groups, worked on the offender's global issues and used CBT for the work.

We provided the experiential role work and skills rehearsal that we believe is so critical, and that meets the RESPONSIVITY needs of offenders. All of us learn in different ways: picture, action, word, metaphor etc. Drama and drama therapy are the indispensable glue for all of this. RESPONSIVITY is a key component of successful re-education for offenders learning cognitive skills .

Jack used to say of his version of CBT for offenders, "It's just cognitive science, that's all it is". He saw it as the indispensable base line to offender change. (We see it as one tiny but critical part! Human beings are more complex than behaviouralists admit.) In other words, changing offenders through CBT is not a mystery- it is not a process that psychologists and psychiatrists, for example, must do with prisoners in isolation, in secret without officers . CBT for offenders is just careful correctional science . After all, CBT is simply about what motivates you to do what you do, learning to know that, and then changing it! OR ...

... What I think affects what I do. If I can control, disturb, or change what I think, I can perhaps change what I do ...

Motivated and ethical prison officers can easily shift ancient angry mindsets using correctional science.

So, it was easy to be involved in helping to shift a system moving in thet direction of system wide offender change.

In 2002, Astrid Birgden from the Commissioner's Office of what is now Corrections Victoria, Melbourne, asked us to create a teaching to introduce the risk/needs offender management process that the system was going to put in place. Their new strategy is called the Rehabilitation Framework-it is bold, simple, and well within the usual international framework of effective offender change and management. We bid, we came, we started.
And culture is sometimes all!! They looked English, and they weren't. We had to modify all our teaching enormously for the contract. And it's a big contract: teach as many officers, administrators, community corrections officers as you can as much about ethics, cognitive skills, bullying and sabotage as you can in three day chunks over a period of one year. The core of this teaching was that rehabilitation and security would coexist to reduce the number of prison beds.

Simple - and a huge task. It's a big change. For any system.

Even though this is the global language of Caucasian corrections nowadays (assessing risk, calculating needs, and providing offense-specific treatment), and even though Canada, UK, USA have all implemented these types of changes - there have been problems. First it is axiomatic that systems appear to fear the disapproval of their officers. Canada, for instance, had great troubles introducing risk/needs because no one in the system had been informed, warned, asked, or allowed to disagree. So, the change process came to a halt.

Thus, "Ethics in Action," or "Setting The Scene" came about.

We have visited, over the last 6 years of coming to work in Australia, many of the institutions in the Victorian prison system: Lodden , Bendigo , and Ararat in particular. We have trained some of the officers in techniques to work with sexual offenders. We visited as many of the prisons as we could that were involved with the training- Barwon, Tarangower, DPFC. It helps.

For drama therapists: Don't presume that what happens in another country is what will happen in your target country. To do so is rude and arrogant. And, remember that you can change it if you got it wrong . Prison officers can be abrasive, confronting, stand-offish, or rude, but also delightful, playful and insightful.
Research, find out, listen, go to, visit sites, visit people, listen for hints and indicators, be ready to change, and teach what you know. CULTURE is often all! Saying I in the USA is normal and comfortable. In Australia it can be seen as arrogant and elitist.

From the commissioner to the line officers, and all the way in between, the staff sits in a knowledge circle to discuss, argue, listen, role play, do experiential exercises and disagree over the Rehabilitation Framework. Hot circles! Can prisoners really change?! What is the real role of custody staff?! What is cognitive?! Who can work with psychologists, they're tree huggers?! Statistics say this framework should really work?! Prove it !!!.
Debate means everyone is equal, unique, and treated uniquely - it is a critical ethical rule. We have held a lot of these knowledge circles -- approximately 700 staff members or more have gone through so far. This year we began again on January 30, and we have gone through the year - 3 days, 20 staff, at a time, group by group.

And in the middle of this, we talk about how the Rehabilitation Framework might get sabotaged, about inter-staff bullying and sabotage games like losing lists, or intimating to offenders that all programs are worthless. Interesting-the global games of sabotage can be found in the prisons of Romania, South Africa, and United States. There is nothing new in sabotage.

And that's why we teach ethics with the information about the Rehabilitation Framework. It's a potent stew.

Ethics? Why? Because it's about how to do life - how to do more good things than bad. It's about seeking the right action. It's what we do all the time, slowed down, thought about, and added to. If I stay late at work, the consequence is that the work does get done, my boss is pleased. But, if I stay late, I don't see my children, they sleep without seeing me, they just came back from camp, my wife will be distressed. What should I do- what will bring the best result, how should I do/live my life?
In some way or other, we are all ethically challenged people . Whether an officer in the yard, a community corrections worker with a client who is possibly drunk, or a boss who has to make ten decisions that affect the well-being of 2,000 people everyone must work it out- how do I decide what to do?
(For the sociopath, the answer is easy - what is the best for me?)

Moral Philosophers are Goodness-nudgers. They are an unbroken line of men and women who have thought and thought about how to work out the way to get the most good out of any situation.

In Ethics in Action we looked at the favourites - Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle, and the Utilitarians -Bentham and Mill -- all long dead all alive quietly in our minds! We find them through role-plays , Boal situations, painfully alive in dilemmas from the street to the prison-like whether or not to tell your boss that your partner on the job is a dangerous drunk.

And it all gets tested -- old dilemmas: Why do we save the life of someone who is drowning? Would we save his /her life if we knew he was a person who had murdered, or if he was a violent thief, or if he had committed sex offenses?

All life is sacred.
A good action produces more good than bad.
A good action is proportionate.
Good actions need fair attempts at honesty.
All people are unique

What do we believe?
The word "ethics" created such a storm . It is such an ancient word, so misused - and yet it created a storm. I AM ETHICAL - everyone says it, "I came for my ethics cleansing!" said one officer.
Camus says, "People will defend heaven and hell itself, just to prove that they are Innocent!" It got so hot that the powers above dropped the word ethics from the original title "Ethics in Action", and retitled the training as the innocuous "Setting The Scene".

Change in a prison is fragile. We cannot give many details in this limited report, but there have been a thousand blessed moments: The light coming on when staff realized that they had endured bullying; The difference between the first and last day -- on the first day ethical dilemmas were solved in an eye blink, while on the last day it might take 40 minutes. Connections made, staff listening to staff from other institutions, without the disruption of phone calls, and always thinking, thinking, thinking. Also, the wonderful complexity of Australian life- it looks like English and it ain't. And some magic moments of generosity to the foreigners.

It is a play still unfolding ...


Sex offender work, chemical dependency training: Bill Plum and John have worked together for Alternative Sociale in Iasi, as well as doing training with all of the Descatusarea staff in Bucharest, and now we cross our fingers for a huge new project called RUN. This is a one-hour interactive show for 10-18 year old children, and 15-25 year old young women. It will be an educational set of theatricalised strategies to keep children out of the hands of traffickers. Trafficking is a growing issue in Romania; children are being snared. This, along with the resistance to talking about sexual offending, and complex attitudes to sexuality, make the issue very hot indeed. There is an organization for children and women who have broken free of the traffickers. This project could possibly begin in June. It may well coincide with a teaching conference that will hopefully include James McGuire, whom we have invited to Bucharest for Transcena, to teach and talk about his cognitive skills program.

Descatusarea and the women's unit at the Rahova Prison both have real problems with chemical dependency. Drug use is growing. Bill Plum is a Program Director of a residential and outpatient treatment services in Duluth, Minnesota and is working on a new book of chemical dependency strategies..
Bill has 20 years of experience in all segments of CD. He has worked and taught extensively in Russian and Finland, as well as Estonia. May 2003 represented his first foray with us in to Romania. Thank you again, Christian and Catalin Luca!!!!! Bill has agreed to work with Geese and Transcena to create an entire CD based unit for work with Desctusarea. More.

An interesting caveat, though it won't be in this issue: We will ask some of our friends to write about CULTURE and therapy and hegemony and meaning. Culture becomes under-rated when money overpowers local beliefs.

Here's an example: in the Ethics in Action project, (Australia), during one session I told a young man that his answer was really brilliant. And it was!! And the rest of the group then jumped down his throat and shamed him for his behavior, saying it was an attempt to curry favour.

Teaching, finding meaning, and considering, what do your teachings really mean in another culture. During an international corrections conference that we spoke at in Hong Kong, we heard quite a few delegates say that CBT is a hegemonic therapeutic control agent used to maintain dominance.

In Iasi during training on basic sex offender treatment techniques, it became clear that there were significant differences about the meaning of sexuality. We heard the following:
We had asked for issues of sexuality. Said one, because salaries are low, sexuality is a perfectly normal way to get on. You give sex to the one you will marry, who will give you a secure future. Women at home don't wear clothes sometimes, especially in the summer. At what age should a child not see this? At 10? We have no pedophiles here. If there are, they are homosexuals, and the foreigners made them this way.

Transcena has found a theatre in Northern Romania, where we can co-create a new show on sexuality and begin to build up a culturally appropriate code of knowledge.

Caveat: What's good for the CBT-er in USA/UK may be rude and inappropriate for other cultures!!



Stonewall Arts Project Inc. is very slowly trying to negotiate with South Africa to provide training to its prison officers.

Impressions: Arriving on an airplane filled with passengers who were either fundamentalists or hunters. The shock of Soweto, it is so close to Johannesburg. The football team called the Pirates. Zonderwater Prison, so much like the company's early days: the raucous response from officers to experiential games. The unspoken tragedies of the XI International Symposium on Victimology, in Stellenbosch. The dead child on the road near the shantytown beside the beach that floods in the winter (cardboard is porous). John Prinsloo, Henk and Anni. We miss you. The fear in downtown Johannesburg. Prisons with 7,000 men. The looming moment of a real hippo. ("an imminent threat?") The light.

Nic Fine - we strongly recommend that you get in touch with Nic. Nic sees theatre as the igniter of community. He is doing masterful work in Cape Town. He runs a mentor program, finding and training older men as mentors for kids already in very grave danger. He uses metaphors from the heart of South Africa to make change. These older men-firemen, policemen, retired smugglers, go up a real and metaphoric mountain some number of times over one year, to deal first with their own work: their lost father, their sense of their child suppressed over time. Only then do they sign an 8-month contract to mentor the dangerous children. It is so heartful.

We are considering creating a huge new show for America on tolerance. More on this in July!


For more info on the cutting edge of Theatre and Drama Therapy,
contact Artistic Director
John Bergman at: Macflap@aol.com or macflap@optusnet.com.au