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est in Prison -

General Overview

by Earl Babbie, Ph.D.

Editor's Note: This article presents an initial examination of the use of the Erhard Seminars Training (est) in the prison system. The research for this article involved interviews with inmates and staff at lompoc Federal Penitentiary and San Quentin, plus participation in the first day of the est Standard Training at leavenworth. The report should be seen as exploratory, providing a general overView on the in- troduction of est training in prisons, and as a first stage in the design and execution of more rigorous evaluations.

The Erhard Seminars Training was created by Werner Erhard in 1971. Erhard states the purpose of the training as follows: "to transform your ability to experience living so that the situations you have been try- ing to change, or have been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself." The training is usually conducted during two consecutive weekends, taking approximately 60 hours altogether. About 250 trainees participate in each training, led by one of the nine est trainers. There are three key elements in the training. First, for a part of the time, the trainer presents data, ideas, and points of view for the trainees to look at. Second, in a series of "processes," trainees sit with their eyes closed while the trainer asks questions or gives instructions: e.g., "Recall a time you were happy." "Locate a point in your left knee and notice what sensations you are experiencing there." The third element-called "shar- ing"-is an opportunity (not re- quired) for trainees to share with the group any of the things they have ex-

About the Author: Earl Babbie, Ph.D., received his A . B. from Harvard where he graduated cum laude. He

earned his



Ph . D.







Several of his books, articles and papers have been published. His most recent book is entitled "Society By Agreement. " Dr. Babbie is a pro-


Sociology, University of Hawaii. He also serves as president of Babbie En- terprises, Inc.





perienced during the training or any realizations they have had about themselves.





dollars, the training has been un- questionably popular. Since 32 peo- ple participated in the first training in October, 1971, another 100,000 have taken it during the program's first five years-despite the fact that est has never engaged in advertising. Virtually all of the participants de- cide to enroll through word-of- mouth referrals. Research on graduates, moreover, suggests that the great majority feel they have benefitted from it. (Babbie and Stone, 1976)

History of the Prison Trainings

Thomas Keohane, Jr., currently the associate warden (programs) at Leavenworth, is probably the one person most responsible for the in- troduction of est into the prison system. Keohane recalls that when he was associate warden at Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, Gene Stevens, mayor of Lompoc, took the est training and recommended that the prison staff look into it. "At that time," Keohane recalls, 'We had a lot of everything. We had 16 self- improvement groups. The institution was very active in a variety of pro- grams." Keohane and then Warden Frank Kenton decided to explore the possibility of adding est to the list. The first est training in prison was conducted at Lompoc in July, 1974, with 54 inmates and four staff mem- bers graduating. Keohane indicated that he had been accustomed to get- ting good feedback from the various programs offered to inmates, but between the two weekends of the est training "this one seemed to be

getting a little different feedback, a little higher caliber, and a more in- tense commentary about the effect it was having.


second weekend," Keohane con- tinued, "the staff that took it started talking about it. And they were talk-

ing very favorably about it." Prison staff began noticing that even the more radical inmates who took the training spoke highly of it. More importantly, perhaps, inmates who had records of problems in prison began "getting along." As a result, Lompoc officials scheduled another training- conducted during February, 1975, from which a total of 60 inmates and staff members graduated. The results of the second training were substan- tially the same as the first. Keohane himself then took the

training in San Francisco. Interviewed

a year later, he summed up his view

of the training this way: "It really handles self-contentment, I think, and satisfaction and self-fulfillment. It makes you a more effective


Directs Programs at leavenworth

Keohane has subsequently become the associate warden for programs at Leavenworth and in Oc- tober, 1976, an est training was con- ducted for inmates and staff there. A dozen staff members and 140 in- mates began the training on October 13th, with a total of 121 staff and in- mates graduating on October 21st. George Jackson, Ch ief Deputy Director of the Department of Cor- rections, State of California, met Werner Erhard and discussed est. That initial meeting eventually led to

a training at San Quentin on June

8-9, 15-16, from which 59 staff mem- bers and inmates graduated. In preparation for this report, I in- terviewed nine inmates who had

taken the training at either Lompoc or San Quentin, eight staff members who had taken the training, and a number of inmates and staff who had not. The nine inmate-graduates varied






from being quietly enthusiastic to being ecstatic about the value they had gotten from the est training. The most common result they reported involved a simple joy with living. They said they were more en- thusiastic about life, more open in their relationships with others, and more self-confident. The non- graduates I interviewed said essen- tially the same thing about those in- mates they knew who had taken the training. Many of the inmates spoke in dramatic terms about their ex- perience of the final night of the training. "That last day, something snapped within me. It was like a big cloud or something that's been weighing me down-it just lifted." Another said "That last night when I

got it

spiritually, or mentally that way


In part, their enthusiasm with liv-

ing represented a higher self-esteem. Many spoke of coming to accept

themselves as human beings for the first time.

A prisoner who stencils and sells

San Quentin T-shirts spoke of chang-

ing his attitude about his work: "I

didn't give any sense of value to my


I didn't think my work was

worth anything. That's nonsense. I do damn good work, and I know it's good work. I'm going to charge for it, and I'm not going to bicker about the

price." Several inmates spoke of the effect that understanding and accepting themselves had on their relations with others. One inmate, serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole, summed up the matter, say- ing "Once you understand yourself and like yourself and learn to love yourself, then you've got room for everybody else."

In large part, the inmate-graduates'

comments dealt with their views of prison and their feelings about being

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est In Prison (from page 23) come to the penitentiary, I come for something different, but you set yourself up." While each of the inmate- graduat~s interviewed felt personally responsible for being in prison, none seemed to express guilt, shame, or remorse. Rather, they seemed to have made a matter-of-fact discovery about the way things are. Each had "done something you get put in prison for." The realization that they were responsible for putting themselves in prison was frequently" accompanied in the interviews by comments about "accepting" the fact of being in prison. "It makes it easier to accept being here. Because you are here.

And the est training

to accept what is. "One of the things that causes a lot of the troubles in prison and causes people to get into prison in the first place is because they haven't

accepted what it is. "Some people don't do this. They say, 'I'm not the kind of person who belongs in here. I'm just not that person.' They go through their whole time saying, 'I'm not that person.' Now if somebody comes along and treats them like they are an inmate, they get uptight because they don't feel like they are an inmate, and they have troubles." Asked if that meant he no longer

desired to get out, the

allows you

inmate was





about being in here,






complish what you want to ac-

complish while you're in



other words, your mind and feelings aren't tied up in 'Gee it's terrible to

be in this place: "

Most of the

I'm happy right here.


while I'm here."

I never felt physically,

in prison themselves.

Responsibility for Being in Prison Many of those I interviewed stressed their realization, during the

training, that they had been quick to correct that impression.

personally responsible for putting "Oh no! Oh no! Never happen! It

themselves in prison. This replaced their earlier views that someone else had been responsible or that they had been the innocent victims of circumstances. This realization was not reported with regret or remorse but more as a simple discovery of the way things were. One inmate who had been in and out of prisons several times reported changing his view of why he was in prison. "I ain't got no kicks coming. I was a chump before. Every time I (Continued on page 36)

inmate-graduates in-

terviewed echoed this view. One said "I love San Quentin. I don't hate San Quentin, because I love myself.

not plan-

ning on staying here, but I'm happy


est in Prison -

by Earl Babbie, Ph.D.

General Overview

Second of Two Parts

Editor's Note: This article presents an initial examination of the use of the Erhard Seminars Training (est) in the prison system. The research for this article involved interviews with inmates and staff at Lompoc Federal Penitentiary and San Quentin, plus participation in the first day of the est Standard Training at Leavenworth. The report should be seen as exploratory, providing a general overview on the in- troduction of est training in prisons, and as a first stage in the design and execution of more rigorous evaluations.

Relationships in Prison

Most of the inmates interviewed reported changes in their rela- tionships with others. Some spoke of getting along better with fellow in- mates - reporting more open and honest interactions with fewer con- flicts. One inmate spoke of walking around, or away from, confronta- tions. Some spoke of having very dif- ferent relationships with prison of- ficials. Several said they now re- garded the corrections officers and other staff as merely being people with a job to do. One described an unsuccessful at- tempt to establish a new educational program at lompoc. He felt that prior to the training he would have retreated into animosity toward the officials; now he is looking at new ways of proposing the program, answering the previous objections. Several of the staff members I in- terviewed confirmed the general im- provement in social relationships among the est graduates. Many gave specific examples of inmates who had been in constant conflict with other inmates and with staff prior to the training and who subsequently had totally changed. Keohane summed it up by saying "II just seems fewer of them get in trouble after they've gone through the training, even if they've been troublesome since the time they got here. They become more responsi- ble." In nearly all of the interviews, the inmates mentioned the desire to share the experience of the training with others. The married inmates wanted their wives to take the train- ing. One had written to est, request- ing a scholarship for his wife. Another was making arrangements for his ex-wife to take the training. Most mentioned the desire to have friends - both those in prison and those on the street - take the train- ing.

est as a Context

Interestingly, everyone interviewed saw the est training as a supplement to other prison programs rather than as a substitute. Most described the

impact of taking the training on other things they were doing while in prison. Many spoke of participat- ing in educational programs; others were involved in community pro- grams - working with juveniles, for example. One inmate summed up his view by saying "A person should have some religion, they should have some education, and they should have some est." Ted long, the est trainer who has conducted most of the prison train- ings, agreed that est should not be seen as a substitute for other pro- grams. "Those other programs can be valuable. Where the est experience comes in is in terms of putting them in a context that reveals how valu- able they can be," he emphasized.

"The training deals with the con- text in which people hold and look at and interact with the things around them in a way that produces actual value, not apparent value or conceptual value. "The est context reveals the value of other programs so it's not a ques- tion of est versus those things. It's a question of us pointing out to peo- ple that those programs can be more than a way of manipulating the system. The training enables a person to get into a program - to get whatever value he can out of that

or out-

smart it." long saw the immediate impact of the training in terms of institutional life, giving inmates a context within which to hold their experience of prison. In the long run, he felt the training would provide ex-convicts with a context within which to hold the experience of life on the street. Another way in which the est train- ing differs from other prison pro- grams is its one-time nature. The "context" Long described is created as a lasting quality of one's ex- perience in the basic two-weekend training. While est offers graduate seminars for those who want to participate in them, the 60 hour training is regarded as complete in itself.

Interestingly, many of the non-



try to




graduates I interviewed assumed that est would require continuing ongo- ing training to reinforce its effect - like some of the self-help programs they were familiar with. The inmate and staff graduates tended to dis- agree, however. As Keohane described it: "lI's not rea lIy a pro- gram. This is an experience that only takes place on a couple of weekends, and you don't need to keep going back."

Future of est in Prisons

The four est trainings conducted so far in prisons have been donated by est without charge. In addition to deferring the normal tuition rev- enues, the organization has provided the costs of supplies, salaries, and travel. Don Cox, the president of est, in- dicated that while est may continue to donate some prison trainings, it is not in a positiol) to do so on an un- limited basis. In addition to the prison trainings, est has donated 'trainings to disadvantaged com- munities and groups, to school classes, and others . Within the three prisons, there was a consensus among those in- terviewed - graduates and non- graduates alike - in favor of more trainings. Among the prison staff members, there was a special concern that future trainings be accompanied by rigorous evaluation research efforts. The psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed felt this was essential, and they are unwilling to pass final judgment on the effectiveness of the est training until they can observe the inmate-graduates over a longer period of time. Asked if they would support a con- tinuation of trainings in the interim, they all said they would. A careful evaluation of a lompoc training is in process.


qualified in their support for future trainings. Some had personally writ- ten to est requesting more trainings, as well as graduate seminar pro- grams. II is clear from this exploratory study that est has a great deal to of- fer the prison system. The extent of that contribution and how that con- tribution can best be made available on a wider scale awaits further re-





search and study.