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Chowchilla – Fifteen inmates from Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) will be recognized in an awards ceremony on Saturday, October 2nd at 2pm; as recipients of the 2010 Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award by the Southern California Mediation Association. This award, named after Kenneth Cloke and the late Richard Milken, both pillars of the Southern California mediation community, is given to the person or persons who inspire others with their dedication to resolving conflicts peacefully.

These VSPW inmates were part of a new program that promotes mediation and conflict management skills within the prison. They began their training nine months ago at the hands of Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll. Both are trained mediators.

“I would like to thank Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll for believing in these inmates as I do and helping them succeed in their endeavor,” VSPW Warden Velda Dobson-Davis said.

“This is a huge step toward one of CDCR’s main goals: rehabilitation” Dobson-Davis said. “The dedication, hard work and transparency that these ladies have shown are a testament to their commitment to change. I am very proud of their desire to accept responsibility and place themselves in a position to give back.”

It was inmate Susan Russo, a lifer at VSPW, who reached out to Kaufer and Noll for assistance. With encouragement from the warden and staff, the program was born.

“Mediation interests all of us because many of us are lifers and long-timers,” said inmate Russo, “We are hoping to make a difference in teaching our peers that there is a better way.”

Kaufer and Noll said they are committed to making this project internally self-sustaining. During the next phase, they will be preparing this initial group to be trainers and mentors.

There is a waiting list for the program. The goal is to have a total of 75 “peacemakers” fully trained by the end of the year, and all inmates participating in the program by mid-2011.