The BERN Project is something that happened by accident, or by fate, destiny, or divine providence. However you choose to look at it, it's something that just...happened. I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't looking for it. I didn't even know it was growing in my brain or in my heart.
I unexpectedly began working with inmates at Alaska's maximum security prison in the spring of 2018. Why? My brother, Bern, was murdered in 1997. Twenty years later, in 2017, I published an autobiography, The Heart of the Runaway (see homepage). The book isn't entirely about my brother's death; it also includes my solo world travels...and other things.
I was invited into the prison in Alaska to give a one-time talk to the inmates about how my brother's murder affected me when it happened, and how it continues to affect my life all these years later.
That one-time talk was so profoundly powerful for me. It changed every aspect of my life. After that, I became a regular volunteer at the prison. And two years later, that prison and those inmates are so intensely special to me that after 10 years of being a nomad, I stayed. I stayed, and put down roots and built a life in one little corner of the world that I had seen so much of. I felt like I was done with traveling anyway, and finally found a place I wanted to call home.
After years of running around the world seeking my place, I finally found where I belong. I finally found my purpose. It's still shocking to me that I found it inside the concrete walls of a prison.
A desire to do more for the inmates was sparked within me, and The BERN Project was born.
What does BERN mean? Bern was my brother's name, but The BERN Project is an acronym for Begin Ending Recidivism Now. The concept behind the project is to utilize the time someone spends incarcerated to better their life, better their circumstances when they're released, and better the people they are within themselves. It's about treating them like the human beings they are, not like monsters. They are people who have made mistakes. We all have made mistakes.
Locking them up and throwing away the key does nothing to rehabilitate a person. Creating angry, feral humans and then releasing them into society at the end of their sentence has been proven ineffective judging by the recidivism (reoffending) rate.
Utilizing the time spent incarcerated to build healthy foundations is vital, not only for the benefit of the inmate and their families, but also for the community.
The BERN Project focuses on guiding inmates on a journey of personal well-being via programs such as writing classes, yoga and meditation, community involvement, accountability and restorative justice.