Compassion Games Played in Prison

Written by Sande Hart, S.A.R.A.H.

No real names are used in this article.

The California Institution for Women (CIW) is a 120 acre prison in Chino, California. The women there have committed crimes from white-collar offenses to murder. While all those whom I have personally met are deeply committed to personal growth and are some of the brightest, well educated and compassionate women, there is also a population that are “hard core bad girls” who go by names like Lucifer and Wicked.

In June of this year, during a Compassionate Los Angeles meeting, Reverend Shayna Jean Lester, a volunteer chaplain at CIW got the idea to bring the Compassion Games to the women and they went running to the starting line.

The women competed as units (or houses). Each unit would tally their compassionate actions for 11 days and the winning unit would get a cake or candies, a delicacy and rarity.

Each unit had 3 “Compassionistas”, a term the women came up with.  Their responsibilities were to keep the women inspired to play the Games and organize strategies around playing. Some of the women whom I spoke to told me they let others go ahead of them in line, gave another their food, emptied their neighbors trash, or were simply kind. Two women told me they collected 35 magazines from their unit and donated them to the Special Care Unit. They also told me they were extra kind to two other women. Later those women came to their room and asked if they could do something nice for them.

One resident told me the older women did not get it. They did not want to take credit for their compassionate action. Her solution to next year’s Games is anonymous reporting.  Another Compassionista told me that while the older women did not count their compassion, it was the young women who really got into it. “The young bad girls are some of the toughest girls here and they really got into it” she said.

A younger woman told me that the unit she is in is a drug unit with some pretty tough women. While some would play, most  just could not get it, and her sentiments reminded me of what it must be like to learn to sail in a storm. She’s hopeful the Games will catch on, albeit slowly with this unit.

A lead Compassionista told me she saw two women ready to fight. She stepped between them and reminded them they were playing the Compassion Games and “please wait just 24 hours to fight. She said, “Just give this 24 hours for the Compassion Games”  The women backed down and there was no fight the next day, or for the rest of the 11 days of the Compassion Games. Several women told me this was the first time in the history of the prison that there has been 11 days of zero incidents. I wonder what prison could make that statement.

As for the woman otherwise known as Lucifer? Well, her compassionate action was to give out suntan lotion to women everyday. When I jokingly asked if she still went by the name Lucifer, I was told, “No, her name now is Mini Angel” I asked, “Why Little?” She said because there was already an Angel alias in the prison.

Not only are the women excited to play next year, they would like to play every 3 months.

While we never know what kind of effect our compassion will have on others, and some acts may take generations to show results, we can say, with absolute certainty that transformation in Little Angel is without question.