The Heart of the Matter
February 21, 2019
Six Years with the Bloods of Ibarra

Gang reps after signing Peace Pact.JPG

What follows is in interview with Paul Murtha -- the Director of Mountains of Hope Foundation in Ecuador and Coordinator for Calle Paz y Respeto, the legalized entity for the Ibarra Bloods gang. His six years of work with the Bloods and other gang members has resulted in their well-documented transformation to peace that has become an exemplary model for other development programs seeking to support marginalized youth.

How did this work get started? What is your back story?

In 2012 I was presenting the Peace Education Program in the Ibarra Social Rehabilitation Center (prison). The Director got wind that the local Bloods and Latin Kings gangs were in a state of tenacious detente after two killings. The gangs were confronting the raw certainty that ongoing revenge only made matters outrageously worse and, after years of this, they had had enough! But what then? How to manage this tense hold-off and engage some kind of non-violent approach?

A meeting was arranged where a few gang leaders watched short clips of Prem Rawat's peace message. I think that something clicked here. Perhaps some new perspectives hit home on how to approach the dire situation, some common sense about what is truly important. It was a feeling that, whether or not they recognized what was happening, their angst had been addressed and a kind of relief had been initiated.

How were you able to gain their trust?

During the first meeting, a few gang leaders broke out into a rap song. It sounded great. At the time, I was partner in a recording studio and asked the rappers if they had ever recorded. The next week we were in the studio and the recorded songs were soon the impetus for the Bloods first public initiative, marching in the Ibarra Christmas parade with peace torches, their songs blaring away. So, I was straight up listed as "cool". They accepted this uncommon package of a white-haired gringo.

What were your first attempts to work with them like?

Four leaders, in particular, took to the message of peace and we began to meet every week to review a video clip of Prem and talk openly. It was interesting how the message played on them. I mostly just tried to get out of the way. The unfolding was theirs, at their own pace, according to their own understanding. Slowly, there evolved a sense of direction and an implication of recovered value.

From another person's perspective, our get-togethers would have seemed scattered, impulsive, and borderline outrageous. But the lively exchange actually gave honor to the new level of acceptance they were feeling. It was their way of rolling with it, even testing the boundaries.

I always said that the street youth, coming from years of deceit and treachery, could smell a falsehood four blocks away. That they kept returning and finding ways to make the peace message their own spoke volumes to how deeply they felt touched, to how important and real this feeling of unconditional acceptance was in their lives.

What do the gangs you are working with find compelling about your offer?

In essence, success has come by providing opportunities for the youth to self-express via creative projects. Rather than imposing my ideas on them, I have simply recognized and supported their innate talents and vision.

This practical kind of acceptance was and has been very compelling to them, especially after a long history of being rejected and marginalized. A prime example was the offer from Ecuador's national public radio (RPE) for them to produce a weekly radio program. Imagine street kids, failing students, and drop-outs now writing, recording interviews, rapping, editing, recording songs, and producing and delivering a weekly 40-minute broadcast.

RPE interview.JPG

We built a simple studio and they got technical training from RPE staff. The gang leaders developed some great voice characters and the show became popular, each week focusing on a positive theme and always asserting the importance of personal peace.

Another compelling aspect for them was my approach not to disassemble, disrupt, or change the gang's existence. Rather, I was inspired to build on their positive characteristics. From the get-go, I was taken by their brotherhood, their joking around and jamming with each other, the prevalent sense of "family," and their commitment to watch-each-others-back. Even the rituals of the gatherings -- the colors, handshakes, sworn oaths, assented hierarchy, rap competitions, and shout-outs -- contributed to a sense of belonging that was decidedly sane considering the deprived and dysfunctional conditions that most gang members lived under.

How were you able to broker a truce between the Bloods and the Latin Kings?

Gang leaders from both sides were immediately impressed with the positive socio-economic impacts from their decision to embrace peace. They could now leave their homes without the fear of being attacked. Greetings instead of threats were shared across the streets. For some, family life started to normalize, valuable employment stabilized, and illicit activities diminished.

The peace pact between the gangs was an idea generated by leaders in Ibarra and Quito to formalize and, hopefully, solidify their newfound perspective. It was a surprising show of maturity and decisiveness on their part, demonstrating their hopes for the future.

Pre gathering to discuss strategy.JPG

The first meeting generated a set of rules of the pact that outlined mutually agreed upon behaviors such as showing respect for each other and their distinctive groups, maintaining positive communications and seeking collaborations with authorities. Prem Rawat's message of peace played out in the process by reminding participants that simple respect for human life is the foundation for any meaningful success.

What kind of support, if any, have you received from the local or national government?

Last month, the Ibarra mayor fulfilled a long-standing dream for the Bloods by providing them with a cultural center, CultivArte, in their tough neighborhood Alpachaca. Here they plan to promote community outreach and provide job training and workshops in life skills including Prem Rawat's Peace Education Program (PEP). They now have to seriously step-up to a new level of responsibility, which is fantastic.

What have been your biggest challenges with the work you are doing in Ecuador?

Poverty creates many challenges both in its potential to affect a dysfunctional upbringing and the resulting denial of education and career opportunities. It is a condition that is very tricky to escape from, even more so for gang members due to the problematic/low-life stigma that gets attached to them. They have a hard time getting jobs. Leaving behind illicit activities is challenging, especially for those with families to support. But they understand the writing on the wall and most make more conscious choices that can be attributed to the entire gang's self-imposed mandate to pursue constructive means.

Ibarra Bloods.jpg

What have you learned about yourself in all of this? How have you grown?

I have learned patience in this culture. There is a pervasive Latin "manana" attitude, a laid-back mode that defeats gringo-style punctuality, get-it-done-now compulsion and overly coerced goal agendas. Meetings always occur an hour later than planned. Folks wander in. Keeping to a schema is a pipe dream.

Nevertheless, eventually, something begins to gel. A point gets made that pulls strings. Decisions happen. More often than not, the outcome surpasses what I thought was possible and in an almost matter-of-fact manner, as if, "Of course, what was I thinking?"

I have also come to appreciate the power of choice and the operative self-discovery process. The transformation of the gang members happened because they chose to accept it. Even the first exploratory steps towards peace were remarkably effective. The charged ingredients of sheer necessity and openness merged together with Prem Rawat's forthright words to kick-start the progression. It's true, the human being is hot-wired to go for fulfillment.

Do you think the successes you've had with Ibarra's street gangs would "scale" to other cities and countries around the world?

In 2018, London, England featured the Blood's transformation documentary Peace is Inevitable as the center piece of a concerted conference aimed at resolving gang violence.

Recently, a packet of information was sent to interested people in Toronto, Canada. Program materials are available that describe this model of transformation. Overall, the solution lies in providing positive projects for the youth -- projects that promote their own talents and interests.

Can you tell us one memorable story of something that happened in your work with street gangs that is particularly memorable?

The Calle Paz y Respeto team presented successful anti-drug/bullying events in 22 high schools, combining their rap talents with personal testimony and video clips of the peace message. One school of 4,000 students invited the team back three times; first for 200 selected students with marked drug and delinquency issues, and second, for 100 parents of challenged youth, and the third time presenting four times, in one day, for the student body, at large.

In the Q&A session with the parents, a distraught mother asked Cunini what to do about her problem son. Now, here was a gang leader who left home as an adolescent and as recently as a year earlier, lived on the street fighting vengeful turf wars. Cunini spoke confidently to the mother telling her, "First, be a friend to your son. Simply listen and be supportive. Don't judge, dictate or be upset. Just offer your friendship. Be there for him!"

It was a potent moment. The experience behind his words was irrefutable. This honest street wisdom was what the parents had come to hear.

To contact Paul: myrthope@fastmail.fm


TPRF (The Prem Rawat Foundation)

PremRawat.com

CPR PII evento 2.jpg

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2019
Peace Comes to Two Street Gangs in Ecuador

Wow. All I can say is wow. COMING SOON: An interview with Paul Murtha, the out-of-the-box gent who played such a vital role in helping The Bloods and Latin Kings of Ibarra find common ground, go beyond violence, and become contributing members of their communities.

TimelessToday
TPRF
PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2018
LIGHT UP THE WORLD: TPRF's Peace Education Program

TPRF
TimelessToday
PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2017
Ending Violence in Colombia

Here is an inspring, 9-minute video about the impact of Prem Rawat's Peace Education Program in Colombia -- a program that has recently been adopted by 500 schools in an effort to end the cycle of violence in that country.

PEP intro video
TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2017
INSIDE PEACE: The PBS Broadcast Schedule for September

logo_pbs.png

Click here to see the upcoming PBS broadcast schedule for Inside Peace, the extraordinary documentary that follows a group of inmates doing hard time in a Texas prison as they embark on a journey of personal discovery while struggling with society's roadblocks and dangers.

Inside Peace website
Inside Peace on Facebook

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2017
INSIDE PEACE ON PBS!

PBS ideas.jpg

Inside Peace trailer

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2017
INSIDE PEACE Launches a $25,000 Crowdfunding Campaign

70775da6-1ed7-4a66-afe0-20eac2af87a3_profile.jpg

The fine folks who created the award-winning documentary, Inside Peace, about the extraordinary impact of the Peace Education Program in a Texas prison have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to take the project to the next level. Click here for more details and to make a donation.

Inside Peace Trailer

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2017
Peace Education in California!



TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2017
REPORT FROM GHANA: "I'm a Star Because of Peace Education"

Agbrey-David-PEP-Ghana-1080x675.jpg

Stone walls do not a prison make, especially when the inmates behind those walls find freedom within themselves. If you want to see what's possible when all hope seems to be gone, check this out.

More about the Peace Education Program

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:36 AM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2017
The Power of Gratitude

ThankYou2.jpg

Here is a collection of expressions of gratitude from people around the world who have experienced some of the benefits of Prem Rawat's message of peace via their participation in the Peace Education Program.

About Prem Rawat
TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:59 PM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2016
INSIDE PEACE in Rosendale, NY!


Inside Peace - Official Trailer from Studio View Productions on Vimeo.

Inside Peace, winner of several film festival awards, including three for Best Documentary, two Humanitarian awards, and two Audience Choice awards, will be shown Tuesday, November 29th, 7:15 PM, Rosendale Theater, 408 Main St, Rosendale, NY 12472.

845.658.8989

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2016
Roberto Piriz Needs Our Help

photo.jpg

If you are familiar with the work of the Peace Education Program in the Dominquez State Jail in San Antonio, TX, you are probably familiar with Roberto Piriz, the wonderful man who started that program, along with his wife, Chantal, some years ago.

Recently, Roberto was hospitalized, in intensive care, for three days, and is suffering the financial consequences. This is why Mirtha West has launched a GoFundMe campaign on his behalf and why both of us are inviting you to contribute to it. It takes a village. Every little bit helps.

Here's a brief story in a San Antonio newspaper about the PEP program in San Antonio, with reference to Roberto's involvement.

Inside Peace Trailer

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2015
Peace Education in Prison

Here is a very inspiring video about the impact of the TPRF's Peace Education Program (PEP) on inmates of the Zonderwater Prison in South Africa. Imagine if this program was available in prisons all around the world!

More about PEP

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2015
What I Learned from Our Independent Valentine's Day Fundraising Project

combo.jpg

Recently, my good buddy, Stuart Hoffman and I collaborated on an independent fundraising initiative to help support our favorite charity, The Prem Rawat Foundation. It was a ton of fun. So far, we've raised $4,981 and gotten more than 13,000 hits on our video. Here's a bunch o' stuff I learned (or remembered) along the way:

1. It feels good to serve.
2. Most people want to give.
3. If you want to create something new, it's helpful to have a collaborator.

AATW caveman.gif

4. It takes a village and a few village idiots to make magic.
5. Some people don't like Valentine's Day.

6. Twelve saints named "Valentine" have been canonized by the Catholic church.
7. Googling "love quotes" reveals hundreds of inspiring quotes from known and unknown sources.
8. Everybody has an opinion.

9. The staff of The Prem Rawat Foundation is very committed and easy to work with.
10. Some people think 5:23 is a long time.

11. More people will participate in a fundraising effort if they are invited to participate and have a clearly defined role that makes sense to them.
12. Daya Rawat is an extraordinary singer.

13. Any effort made to personalize a fundraising effort is an effort well-made.
14. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.
15. Fundraising success can be measured in many ways. HINT: It's not all about the money.

16. Coffee is an excellent fundraising catalyst.
17. Many people suffer from "fundraising fatigue."
18. Posting a video on my friends' FB pages is a good way to get the word out, as long as I don't overdo it and only choose the friends who won't be bothered by my taking that liberty.

19. I have a tendency to obsess.
20. I never really knew that my dog, Chili, could become part of a fundraising campaign.

10991323_10152719505476158_4361530914044172870_n.jpg

21. Donors to a fundraising campaign appreciate getting updates and progress reports.
21. Some people perceive a request to donate to a charity as a botheration.

22. Publishing an article about the History of Valentine's Day in the Huffington Post is an excellent way to publicize a Valentine's Day-themed fundraising campaign.
24. It's inspiring to set seemingly impossible goals as long as I don't get attached to them.
25. Keep my emails short.

26. It's useful to pay attention to feedback, especially the feedback I judge as irrelevant or absurd. It's also good to thank the people who give me feedback, even if I don't agree with them.
27. Murphy's Law has a way of creeping into any project.
28. The path is made by walking on it.

29. TPRF could use some more volunteers.
30. In some places around the world, $1.00 feeds a hungry child for a day.

3boys.jpg

31. Some people won't get to #31 on my list of 40 things I've learned (but YOU have, so, congratulations!) You either have nothing better to do, are slightly crazy, or are a patient friend of mine.

32. Stuart Hoffman and Jennifer Edwards are a great songwriting team.
33. No matter what you think of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook is an awesome platform to facilitate communication.

34. The Peace Education Program is working wonders to help people in prison get a fresh start in life.
35. When your Mac keyboard stops working in the middle of a project like this, buying a $49 plug-in keyboard at Best Buy is the way to go.

36. Doing anything on behalf of a charity, whatever the cause, works way better when you are actually feeling grateful.
37. Love rules!
38. The Food for People program is a shining example of how a good idea can work wonders.

39. Thinking I don't have time to volunteer for a charity (in this case TPRF) because I need to focus on "making a living" is a bogus thought, originating from a weird place of fear and anxiety. There is always time to be of service. And the amazing thing (even though I can't really prove it and the concept of "cause and effect" is a slippery slope to walk), two well-paying gigs came to me out of the blue while I was working on this project. That's two month's worth of income, folks. Coincidence? Maybe. But maybe not. Just saying...

40. These two independent fundraisers walk into a bar...

The Valentine's Day Love Quotes show

It's not too late to donate
The Prem Rawat Foundation

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:20 PM | Comments (1)

November 27, 2014
Truly a Free Man

10410881_562573080541115_7087885359877492348_n.jpg

ED. NOTE: The following guest post was written by Mike Krause who, just three weeks ago, was released from San Antonio's Dominguez Jail after being incarcerated there for the past year. While Mike was on the inside at Dominguez, he had a chance to attend TPRF's Peace Education Class and hear about the message of Prem Rawat. What follows is a letter Mike wrote to his fellow inmates after he got out of jail on November 3rd.

My Dear Friends:

I just wanted to let you guys know that I am thinking about you and hope you are doing well. Although things haven't gone as smoothly as I had hoped for upon my release, the lessons I learned in the Peace Education class have allowed me to stay focused and moving forward in a manner I have never experienced in my life before now.

As I was walking through the doors of Dominguez, upon my release, it dawned on me that I was truly a free man. The irony in that thought was that it had nothing to do with being in jail.

I think very few people get the opportunity, in life, to discover their true character -- what they stand for and who they are. I look back at what I've been through and realize that I am truly blessed to have gone through what I have gone through.

A lot of people talk a good game when it comes to doing the right thing, but so many fall short, or are never truly tested.

Reading the book A Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, I was able to get a glimpse of what conviction in one's beliefs is all about. Mr. Mandela went to prison for 27 years to uphold those beliefs. His courage, bravery, and determination showed me what was possible.

Joel Osteen once asked, "Are you willing to do whatever it takes to do what is right?" For the first time in my life, I was.

As it so happened, this epiphany coincided with my being introduced to the concept of "Inner Peace" by my friend, and former classmate, Wallie Reschman.

While in our Computer Aided Drafting class one day, Wallie started to explain the transformation he had experienced brought about by his participation in the Inner Peace class at Dominquez. As I listened to this former hard core drug dealer talk about the changes he had made and the enlightened perspective and appreciation of life that had happened for him, I was beyond intrigued. I had to see what this was all about.

My own journey that led me to jail was one brought about by my fruitless search for a way to fill the emptiness that had been in my heart for as long as I could remember. I had everything and nothing all at the same time and I could never figure out how to change it.

Thanks to Wallie introducing me to the Peace Education Class -- and thanks to Roberto Piriz -- my life was forever changed. For the first time in my life I came to understand that in order to find true peace in my life I would have to start looking within, instead of all of the external places I had looked before.

sat_prem_rawat_visit_25jan2012b600.jpg

When I made the decision to take to heart the principals of Prem Rawat that Roberto did such a great job presenting, I was set free -- set free from the imagined expectations of a father who was never there -- set free from the poor decisions in my life -- set free to know what I was truly about -- and set free to finally understand and be happy with who I am.

Socrates once said, "Know thyself". What he should have said was, "Know thyself and you will be free".

It's been a long journey and an incredible sacrifice not just for myself, but for my family as well. The result is the man I am today. The man I am today is a better and more loving father to my two beautiful children, a more appreciative and understanding son to my mother, a better friend and member of society, and when God blesses me with the opportunity, I will be the most loving and caring husband a wife could have.

Was the price to get to where I am now a high one? Definitely, yes. Was it worth becoming the man I am today?. Absolutely.

In an average lifetime, 25,550 days is all we have. When I first heard this number, I was shocked at how low it was. And that, my friends, is just the point. That number IS low. Like anything else that is in high demand and in short supply, it becomes extremely valuable.

So that brings up the question: "Since you are giving up such a valuable commodity each day, what do you have to show for it?" In exchange for this valuable commodity (a day of your life), do you have something positive to show for it or something negative? The choice is yours and yours alone.

Prem Rawat says, "We start living the moment we embrace the peace that lies in our heart". My hope for you is that you will find, as I have, that divine force that is within you -- just waiting to be discovered the entire time.

Take these lessons to heart and your life will never be the same.

PremRawat.com
The Prem Rawat Foundation
Words of Peace Global

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2014
Peace Education Program Slide Show

Take a look at what various participants in TPRF's Peace Education Program (PEP) have to say about their experience of it. This show is a recent collaboration between Stuart Hoffman and myself, with the kind support of Sherry Weinstein and Mary Wishard of TPRF.

TPRF.org
PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2014
My Name is Wallie Reschman, #1813248

424869_10150664123124512_1482421492_n.jpg

My name is Wallie Reschman #1813248. I am currently serving an 8-year prison sentence in The Texas Department Of Criminal Justice and I am housed at The Dominguez State Jail/TDCJ Transfer Unit.

Recently, I was asked by one of the volunteers of The Inner Peace Class that I have been faithfully attending for six months to write a few words on what I have gotten out of the class. So here is a little bit on my personal experience and what I would say to Mr. Prem Rawat if given the chance to meet and greet him in person.

For those who don't know much about Prem Rawat -- he is a motivational speaker with a message of PEACE. He has traveled the world for four decades, inspiring people to find peace within themselves and also provides humanitarian relief around the world.

In the time that I have attended the Inner Peace class I have received the message of peace and really absorbed it. Every time I watch a video of him speaking, the message becomes clearer and I always find something new that I can do to apply it to myself and my everyday life.

class.png

This program has helped me find that special gift that we all have inside of us, that we were born with, but somehow have lost or just put away on the back burner because we got so wrapped up with what we believe is a better way of living.

It's like Prem Rawat points out in his message -- we cannot simply believe, we have to know. We don't have to search very far because all we need is to be clear, to be content, and to be at PEACE within us. It's in our hearts!

I have learned how to live my life in a very different way. Despite my current incarceration, I can do this. I can handle many situations differently, in a more positive way.

What I feel and what I know now is so wonderful. It sometimes feels like there are no worries in the world. It's a feeling that's priceless to me and no one can take that away from me, nor will I ever lose it or misplace it again.

Our breath is the #1 blessing anyone can have. But to have clarity on what LIFE and PEACE are all about and having the proper knowledge, well, that, in itself, is a blessing. too!

Mr. Prem Rawat, if you are reading this, you remind us of something that we already have inside of us that is great. For myself, and I know, for the others in the class, it has been and it is a life changing experience.

We all need someone in our life to open our eyes one time or another and for me, Sir, this is my time.

120125_San_Antonio_Jail_mk_144crp.jpg

I wish I could have heard your message years ago. Maybe it would have steered me in a different direction. But it's OK, because it's never too late and if it has to be from in here to learn what I have from your message, so be it. Just knowing that I now have peace, contentment, and clarity makes me special in my own unique way.

I would like to end with two simple words for you Mr. Rawat -- simple just like your message, and that is THANK YOU!!!

PS: And thank you Roberto and Chantal Piriz who bring the message of Peace twice a week to us here at The Dominguez Unit. If anyone would like to keep in touch with me and know more about my experience and progress or share yours, please feel free to write:

Dominguez Unit D1-40
Wallie Reschman # 1813248
6535 Cagnon Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78252

VIDEO: Peace on the Inside
PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:52 PM | Comments (2)

November 09, 2013
Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make

If you have four minutes and an interest in the possibility of peace for people everywhere, listen to Premlata Hudson Rawat (the daughter of Prem Rawat), talk about the Peace Education Program (PEP) -- an innovative educational program that helps people discover their inner resources. The four videos below provide a clear picture of the impact the program is having in prisons and other places around the world.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:36 AM | Comments (0)

Welcome to Mitch Ditkoff's blog about what's really important in this life: Peace, gratitude, love, joy, clarity, and the effort required to wake up and smell the roses. Enjoy!

   Contact me   
© MITCH DITKOFF