AVP originated as a prison program

In the 1970’s, a group of inmates (the “Think Tank”) at Greenhaven Prison in New York had witnessed the Attica riots and were also concerned with the “revolving door” they clearly saw in their institution. Youth were appearing in prison for fairly minor offenses, only to return (sometimes multiple times) for increasingly more serious and violent crimes.

That era saw conflict on our streets around the Vietnam War. The Society of Friends (Quakers), were active in the prison and were known to have conducted non-violence training and intervention around the war demonstrations. Together, the inmates and the Quakers developed non-violence workshops, with the involvement of people like inmate Eddie Ellis (who later became nationally recognised for his work on prison reform) and Bernard Lafayette (SNCC and CORE Freedom March activist). The first workshop was held at Greenhaven in 1975.

The early workshops worked and were improved upon, drawing from diverse material and philosophy of other programs working in the non-violence field. The effectiveness of the workshops had obvious benefit to prison staff and word spread in their circles, culminating in a widespread demand and eventual spread throughout the New York prison system. Early Quakers developing and spreading the program were Larry Apsey, Lee Stern, Steve Angell, Marge Zybas, and many more.

Inherent in the AVP model is the presence of outside community facilitators in workshops, and an increasingly expanding number of facilitators became needed to staff all the prison workshops. All AVP facilitators go through the AVP workshop series, so more and more people were exposed to AVP. It became obvious that violence is occurring in our lives just as much outside prison walls as inside. Community and Youth programs arose from that recognition, and AVP spread across the USA, and eventually worldwide. Today, AVP workshops are present in 35 States and over 40 countries.