Author Archives: Danielle Olson

HTF 033 Elevating All Voices

In this episode Danielle and Jen interview Shiva Farrokhi, founder of in-it, a video crowdsourcing platform focusing on social change. The phrase video virtual memory is mentioned, so you know this is going to be good.

Shiva is an Iranian designer, strategist and social entrepreneur currently living in Portland, Oregon. She started in-it due to her experience of living through 2 important socio-political times that negatively impacted her life in Iran & USA -Green movement and the Muslim ban-. They made her realize that we, the people, don’t really have a voice in deciding anything that pertains to us socially, politically and economically. So she decided to use the power of design and technology to fix that.

 

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Coming soon.

 

The post HTF 033 Elevating All Voices appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 32: Advocating for Psilocybin

In this episode, Collin Gabriel and Danielle Olson interviewed Tom and Sheri Eckert who are both counselors and the founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They are the forces behind getting a 2020 ballot measure to legalize the facilitated use of psilocybin.

You’ll learn about:

  • the history of psilocybin
  • it’s current status in terms of the law and social perceptions
  • the potential benefits of “facilitated use” are (guided experience with a trained professional)
  • the steps that Tom and Sheri have taken to create an organization and campaign to change people’s minds and the law

Links

The New Yorker article by Michael Pollan – The Trip Treatment, 2015

Oregonian article – First Marijuana. Are ‘Magic’ Mushrooms Next?, 2018

psi-2020.org

Oregon Psilocybin Society Facebook group

 

 

 

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Coming soon.

The post HTF 32: Advocating for Psilocybin appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 032 Advocating for Psilocybin

In this episode, Collin Gabriel and Danielle Olson interviewed Tom and Sheri Eckert who are both counselors and the founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They are the forces behind getting a 2020 ballot measure to legalize the facilitated use of psilocybin.

You’ll learn about:

  • the history of psilocybin
  • it’s current status in terms of the law and social perceptions
  • the potential benefits of “facilitated use” are (guided experience with a trained professional)
  • the steps that Tom and Sheri have taken to create an organization and campaign to change people’s minds and the law

Links

The New Yorker article by Michael Pollan – The Trip Treatment, 2015

Oregonian article – First Marijuana. Are ‘Magic’ Mushrooms Next?, 2018

psi-2020.org

Oregon Psilocybin Society Facebook group

 

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Collin Gabriel:                 00:02:19
Hey everyone, I’m Collin Gabriel here along with Danielle Olson and we’re really excited to have our guests Tom and Sheri Eckert here today of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They have a really exciting campaign that they’re going to talk about and we’re just going to kind of dive right in. So, Tom and Sheri, thanks so much for showing up. Can you introduce yourselves and kind of give us a little bit of your background?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:02:44
Sure. And thank you. Yeah, it’s Sheri. It’s hard. So we are Tom and Sheri Eckert, we are psychotherapists in the Portland area. We also run a batterer’s intervention program, a better man program, and we are the chief petitioners of the psilocybin service initiative.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:02:59
I think what you’re doing is pretty incredible. And so we’re going to go on a journey today of an information download. So prepare yourselves, but first can you just give us a little bit of your background on, you know, some of your historical experiences and maybe even share with us a little bit of the other stuff too. So I’m just opening it up. Maybe Tom, you can start us off.

Tom Eckert:                     00:03:22
Yeah, we have a little bit of a different background so that makes it kind of interesting and actually kind of works together in a cool way. I’ve had an interest in psychedelics since college and I got into psychology as well and that’s been my, professional direction. Been in private practice for a while now. Kinda had it in the back of my head that there was a merger possible, but of course being that these compounds aren’t legal yet, there wasn’t really an opportunity other than to think about that. But then we started seeing the research out there. and specifically an article by Michael Pollan who’s now well known for his interest in psychedelics. But about three or four years ago, I think it was 2015 an article, came out in the New Yorker, I believe, called the Trip Treatment that really laid out everything that was going on in a psychedelic science. And I knew a little bit that that was kind of going on, but I didn’t fully realize the extent of the renaissance that was happening, in this area. And it started to click. And then Sheri and I started really talking about possibilities.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:04:42
And Mike Tom says, my background is different. I kind of grew up a little bit with adversity and fear of psychedelics because I’m a product of the sixties. And I was with a parent who kind of, you know, gave me experiences that set up a little bit of fear. So it wasn’t until I moved to Oregon and we read the Trip Treatment and I started to have an interest because I care about people’s psyche and I want people to heal. And when I saw that there was these healing experiences taking place that were so transformational in such a short period of time, something in me said, “you have to move past your fear, you have to dive into the science, you have to research this because something’s happening.” And that’s what we did.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:05:31
Yeah, I think is really interesting is, is that fear and how that’s sort of been cultivated. It kind of leads into, and I’m not sure if you’re, if you kind of have all this background. So everybody seems to nowadays and when we have access to the Internet, we can, we can do a lot of reading. But can you, can you go into a little detail about how a psilocybin has been present culturally for a long time and then sort how it became demonized? I think it is the sort of Timothy leary’s sixties and seventies that produced that.

Tom Eckert:                     00:06:05
Absolutely. Of course all the psychedelics have a deep history in indigenous cultures, although mysteriously psilocybin’s deep history isn’t all that well understood as opposed to say ayahuasca and things of that nature. But as far as western culture and here in the United States, it came out in the 19 fifties of course with a article in life magazine that brought a lot of attention to a indigenous use in Mexico. And then, from there it actually went into a very kind of clinically oriented place. A company called Sandoz overseas was making psilocybin and giving it to a psychiatrist and therapist to work with for free. So a lot of psychiatrists were interested and it was this very exploratory time. And no one really understood what, what to make of it other than it was powerful.

And I think they kind of got it wrong in the beginning. They thought of it as a mimicker of a psychotic state and we can kind of see why. But that turned out to be not exactly accurate. It’s not just a mimicking of schizophrenia or whatnot. It’s something different than that. I’ve heard it said that while they initially thought of it as mimicking insanity, I can’t remember who said this, but someone started talking about it as being ‘unsane’. It’s a different place than sanity, but it’s not exactly what we consider to be a kind of mental illness mimicker. But in the beginning, that’s the way they looked at it. So that was the first container in the 1950’s and research started in that regard.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:07:46
I think it’s good to also note that during this time, about 40,000 incidents of people using this for clinical studies, so it was widely used. It wasn’t small like what we’re seeing in the research today comparatively.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:08:03
Oh really? So you’re saying that the research field was much more broad.

Tom Eckert:                     00:08:07
Booming, and it was seen as this transformational, again, it wasn’t understood, but it was the power that there was something, there was very much understood and there was a lot of, interest in those areas. And then there was a book by Aldous Huxley, that brought it even more into the culture and started talking about it differently. I think that’s when it first started being talked about as a mystical type experience and he took it in a different direction. That book was very popular, so that started bringing it into a different kind of cultural context. So what you, what you can see is this evolution of understanding of this compound and just the interpretation of it has been kind of at play for a long time.

And then the sixties began. Of course there were a cultural factors, Vietnam, things of that nature, a countercultural movements. And Timothy Leary who of course was a Harvard psychologist and was doing serious research when he decided that the clinical, container wasn’t gonna do it. And so he changed the narrative, in favor of bringing it to everybody, across the board without any limitations with the idea that, that could save the world essentially. So that caused a lot of problems. It’s understandable, I suppose, in the cultural context, but in hindsight it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So fast forwarding, I think we all know that, you know, after Nixon and these kinds of things then, it was all, all psychedelics were outlawed when 1970?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:10:03
1971. Well, the Nixon era. What stimulated that fear that we have, that stigma that we’re currently fighting during this psychedelic renaissance.

Tom Eckert:                     00:10:16
So in the, in the seventies, things went underground. There was a moratorium on all research. That’s one of the many tragedies here is that when these drugs were made illegal, the research stopped. And there was just silence in psychedelic science for 45 years, something like that. So, I mean, there’s a lot to say about that technology advanced, but we didn’t look at what these compounds really are about both neurochemically and therapeutically.

So fast forward, of course, during those decades there was underground work happening. There was kind of covert scene of therapists that would still work with these compounds, and a lot of our information as to what direction to go in terms of therapeutic use came from those underground therapists. But more recently, last 15 years, the door is opened to psychedelic research. Specifically, places like Johns Hopkins, NYU, UCLA, Imperial College of London. In very reputable, high end research, kind of moving forward in a especially clear way because of all the stigma that got attached to this. They’re very, very calculated, very cautious doing everything right. And these are like Roland Griffiths at Hopkins is a decorated researcher and so he took up the cause and that’s kind of led the charge.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:12:00
Yeah. And he did a great job of making sure that when working with the FDA to get approval for the initial research that they were doing it in such a way that they could move forward progressively with their clinical study. And so the first study done was, they looked at the Good Friday experiment. They decided they wanted to see how psilocybin specifically would treat existential anxiety with those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer living with cancer diagnoses and they were very happy to see what the results were and they wanted to understand it further. Why? Why is this transformation, this piece coming upon these people who are sitting with this diagnosis? And so that stimulated other credible organizations, and institutes to also start getting on that bandwagon, to do the research, that scientific research that was needed to make it possible for us to understand how psilocybin specifically works in the brain.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:13:06
It does kind of make you sad to think that you had this booming era of research and development and life changing experiences that was kind of, you know, turned around or upside down during the seventies. And we’ve lost all that time.

Tom Eckert:                     00:13:20
Yeah, we did lose time. I think we need to look at it in a very wide angle view that was just one little tiny part of the story of the greater story that’s being written about psychedelics. It was unfortunate to lose all that opportunity, but we are making ground. The science is fantastic. Now we’re learning a lot and it’s a transformational idea in the sense that there’s nothing that, you know, this is a different angle on clinical work. Different angle on pharmacology. This is about an experience that is facilitated by a compound, but it’s the experience itself that is the mechanism of change. Compare that to kind of a typical Pharma based approach where you have to have something in your bloodstream to tweak your brain day after day. And that works for Pharma of course. But here we have a one time or maybe a couple of times, having an experience and integrating that experience afterwards and working with it to make change. And the results are off the charts in a lot of ways and there’s lots more research that will happen to kind of continue to flesh out all the areas where this is of import. But yeah, this is, this is something else.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:14:54
And I think along those lines, it’s important to talk about also the fact that there is thousands of years of history of psychedelic psychedelic compounds being used as a rite of passage for their cultures, for their, their leadership, for the coming into yourself. And then, understand that, that it’s had a profound effect on humanity in ways that we probably don’t currently understand because we haven’t enough, history consolidated into one space. But it’s there, the history is there and it’s been used in to be able to kind of generate for our culture, the same type of rite of passage in a way that allows us to experience that transformative change that is that rite of passage for our consciousness. So to say, I think that’s really important. Sam Harris has a quote where he had said that he’d be really scared of his daughters came to him and said, you know, dad, “I want to do this, I want to do that drug.” And, and he’d be like, freaked out. But then he said, you know, I would feel like my daughters had missed out on a right of passage had they never tried a psychedelic. And so I think that’s a really interesting and profound statement as to where our minds are at right now and where we’re headed as a people.

Tom Eckert:                     00:16:20
Yeah. I think just to add to that, the deep history, the use of psychedelics and indigenous cultures set fort the container. You know, it was always used carefully with elders as and guidance and safety. So a lot of, so we’re reformatting a lot of things for the western mind, but the roots are there in some of those indigenous practices.

Danielle Olson:                00:16:48
So you mentioned existential anxiety for cancer patients. What are some of the other particular scenarios that have been shown to be really effective for?

Tom Eckert:                     00:16:59
Depression, anxiety, addictions, including things like alcoholism and even nicotine addiction, which is amazing. And a little PTSD, OCD. So if you step back, you gotta think about this a little bit differently because, you know, usually medications are kind of zeroed in on a particular condition. This is an experience, once again, it’s a psycho spiritual type experience you could say that facilitates openness and flexibility in the mind.

And so when we look at the whole spectrum of mental illness, you can kind of see that there’s a whole kind of side of issues that are about rigidity about stuck thinking and feeling repetitive patterns, negative cycles. So look at depression. You’re stuck in negative cycles of thinking and feeling. Look at addictions. You’re caught in a stuck state of mind. You can’t break yourself loose of this particular disposition which leads to behaviors. Things like OCD are clearly a tightly stuck state of mind. PTSD. So they all have this, even though they’re all different, they all have a certain commonality and you could just generally call stuckness. So psilosybin opens up the mind and we can talk about that finally from a neurochemical level because we’re finally getting that research to see exactly what happens in the brain. But in terms of how it affects your consciousness, it brings you, it liberates you from your being stuck. And at the same time it opens up this kind of huge, a mystical type experience that leaves quite an impression. And with proper integration afterwards, it creates results.

Danielle Olson:                00:19:01
It sounds like it’d be easier to compare it almost to like living abroad or you know, a life changing experience rather than a pointed drug treatment.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:19:17
It’s often referred to as one of the top five experiences in an individual’s life compared to something like childbirth or marriage or some really opening and experience. Yeah, and so it’s often compared to that and it’s really exciting to see that it does have that impact on people and it’s interesting to look at the science as Tom was mentioning, why is this happening, what’s going on in the brain? And the fact that we know that there is what’s happening in the default mode network, which is a diffused system within the prefrontal cortex to be able to see the activity, to be surprised at what’s going on and to discover the connectivity that’s happening that allows for what Tom was talking about in terms of being able to look at yourself. Especially when it comes to smoking, the addictions that he was talking about.

What are people seeing and why is that possible? And it’s because of this connectivity, this novel crosstalk that’s happening in the brain, that cannot happen without a compound like psilosybin. So that’s really fascinating. I mean, it can happen sometimes for people who have been working with meditation and things of that nature and very much into a meditational practice. They can achieve this after decades perhaps. But here we have a compound that allows an individual to come in, get prepared to understand what their experience is gonna be, and then have that experience and then work with somebody afterwards to kind of integrate it into their, what they’re going to do with their life in just like possibly one dose. Usually one, maybe two.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:21:05
Yeah. You know, there’s a couple points that I kind of want to dive a little bit deeper into, especially considering your expertise. one is this default mode network and kind of understanding that a little bit better. But, you know, I heard I’m Michael Pollan, a quote, a doctor. He made this analogy that made me recall my own experiences with psilosybin, that, you know, the brain is like a hill covered in snow. And every time we complete an action it creates a groove and we fall back into these grooves just because of the way the brain is built and psilocybin, the chemical is like laying down fresh powder and it allows the brain to make new grooves over it. And I’ve also heard it called ego dissolution is, the reference that happens. So can you kinda talk a little bit more. I’m really curious about this default mode network because it does seem like we, we understand what that means. Is it like the autopilot that the brain goes on? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

Tom Eckert:                     00:22:05
Yeah, I think you’re definitely on the right track there. I can’t say that I’m an expert expert, but I can, I can summarize. I think what, what’s going on a little bit in layman’s terms and that’s that you know, in the neuro world, they talked about neuroplasticity. The ability to kind of escape these, these patterns. And I think you’re right that we all feel the pull of our own consciousness toward habits and becoming kind of automated. That works for us in a lot of ways. But once you get things that aren’t working for you, they’re hard to escape. Right? So with regard to the default mode network, so again, as Sheri mentioned, this is kind of a diffused system of parts in the brain and the prefrontal Cortex, and it’s associated with things like self reflection, like kind of considering yourself in the future and the past. And some will go as far to say that it’s kind of associated with the sense of self. So now you’re getting into this, is this kind of the seed of the ego? So the default mode network obviously is an important place in organizing our sense of consciousness, it’s kind of like the orchestra conductor. So it’s really important.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:23:26
It does run on autopilot for the most part though. That’s, kind of what we need to hold onto is that, as you’re talking about, there’s these pathways that are created in that, we’re skiing down em every day, automatically, because that is the group that has been created in our mind. And so the idea, as you said, is to lay the layer of fresh snow.

Tom Eckert:                     00:23:49
So this is very human function. We say the prefrontal, that means like that kind of Cortex area, not the deep regions of the brain. And this is our higher functioning. And so that gets, when that gets away from us, we developed some negative patterns. In other words, in people who are depressed, they have kind of a hyper connectivity in this default mode region. They get stuck in these patterns like I was mentioning. So when they, again, no one looked at the brain, even though the technology was developing. Nobody was allowed to look at the brain on psychedelics for just the longest time, decades and decades. So it was a big mystery for a long time. So finally we got to do this and this is happening at the Imperial College of London, primarily. And part of it I’d say was predictable and part of it was very surprising.

The predictable part was that the deeper regions of the brain, the limbic system, the emotional systems and various things going on in there lit up. You know, imagine looking at the, the FMRI, you know, at what’s going on there. And those parts of the brains got very active. So much so that there was this kind of novel crosstalk is Sheri was saying between different parts of the brain that don’t usually connect. And so that’s kind of what you might expect from a psychedelic experience. Your brain is active, right? But the other part was a little more surprising, which was that this default mode network shut down. It reduced to almost nonexistent. Now again, this is the part of the brain that’s associated with your everyday sense of self. And so now it does make sense when you put that together with, the, kind of subjective experience of ego death dissolution, which is often talked about. And so you have these two things happening at the same time. you have the reduction of the dmn default mode network, which is a reduction of these kind of stuck patterns and at the same time you have this very unusual and very profound, a psychedelic state rising up from the deeper…

Sheri Eckert:                    00:26:06
And many people describe that as like a realer than real or a truer than true experience because it’s so holistic that they are able to see, and we’ve had this experience ourselves, we’re able to perceive everything from a place of, without a mental filter that we have in place before we go in. So we’re able to see things kind of at this, with a wide angle view as Tom has used.

Tom Eckert:                     00:26:36
It’s what a Huxley talked about, right? The doors of perception. He named the book, opening those filters and seeing reality in a state that we usually filter down to something we can handle. Instead, we’re seeing it open. We’re getting ourself out of the way. I guess the way we usually see things is the nature sense of ourself. yeah. So when you put all that together, this kind of flash of consciousness from the deeper regions and the reduction of the kind of ego functioning you get what I’m Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins calls a mystical type experience and now this is what is considered the mechanism of change. It’s the degree to which this mystical flash is experienced and integrated is correlated highly to the degree of change that the person is wanting to make based on their intent going in and whatever issues they’re dealing with.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:27:35
Yeah. And I, I know that, you know, for a lot of these experiences, the conditions upon which the experience happens is really important. If it’s, you know, it can go south very quickly, which is why I think it was put into like a schedule one position with the FDA. But one thing that, you know, I know that the campaign is about, is it’s not so much the legalization of psilocybin. It’s the legalization of, and let me get the wording right here, “the access to the facilitated use of psilocybin.” And it kind of goes into things that, you know, Michael Pollan’s talked about this sort of underground network you, you alluded to earlier, these folks who are doing the research during the dark times, I guess we can call them that, where they were discovering things about it, and guiding people through the experience or facilitating the experience. Can you talk a little bit about what, what that, what does that mean? What does that whole. Is the idea here that you would have a trained physician along for the ride that helps make this not scary?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:28:40
Well, let me preface this with that, the heart of our initiative has everything to do with set and set in. As Tom had mentioned earlier than the people of the indigenous tribes who have used this medicine for many, many thousands of years, kind of gave us a blueprint in terms of this is there’s an intention in going into it and it’s important that your environment supports that intention. And so this initiative is based around that, a very structured and overseen use to help you achieve whatever your intention is. And so from that, maybe you can go a little bit more into the actual.

Tom Eckert:                     00:29:27
I think that can’t be overstated. I was saying that the mechanism of changes the mystical experience, but you know a caveat on that is in conjunction with proper facilitation. Because you can have a mystical experience kind of using recreationally and without integration, without intent going in, it becomes an interesting experience, but it doesn’t lead to the results necessarily that we’re talking about with this modality. So the modality is super important and it involves preparation beforehand. Things like stating intent, having an assessment done essentially to make sure you’re not contraindicated, you know, there are people that shouldn’t do this.

And you can kind of think about that until I was talking about how for some this kind of opening experience is super helpful. For others, it’s exactly what they don’t need. Think about schizophrenia. The issue there in kind of layman’s terms is too much openness. You’re connecting things that don’t, other people don’t connect you’re loosely associating. You’re kind of becoming untethered in that way. So this only makes that worse. You see what I mean? So, but for a lot of us, we are stuck in certain ways and that’s where it helps. There might be medication issues as well. You gotta kind of be aware of all of that. So a proper assessment is key.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:30:52
And then the second part would be the actual experience itself. You know, that the person is prepped in the proper assessment. They know what they’re getting into. They talk about, what the experience might look like so that they’re prepared, they agree on dosage and then you come into the part where you actually have your session and it’s very non directive. It’s very important that we really emphasize that because this is an individual experience so it shouldn’t be directive. But we do need to make sure that the people who are having this experience feel safe. So during this experience a person would come in, they’d lie down. They take the medicine, they’d cover their eyes. They’ve listened to some previously curated music and they would just begin their experience knowing that there are certified licensed facilitators sitting with them in the event that they need to hold somebody’s hand. In the event that they need to say I’m scared or in the event they need to talk about some magical experience they’re having or if they simply need to use the restroom. So the role of the facilitator during the actual process is very minimal, but it’s primarily to help the individual have that sense of safety so that their experience can be as great as it can possibly be.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:32:20
Really. I’d like to know what you see, career path wise. Do you see this being an additional certification to current, you know, medical practitioners? What do you see this opening up like economically for folks to help with these treatments?

Tom Eckert:  Very interesting.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:32:41
Before we answer that, let’s first point out that Oregon has one of the highest rates of depression and addictions in our country. So before we talk about the work that could be generated, let’s talk about the fact that billions of dollars are lost every year in this state due to mental health problems and addictions. So part of what we’re hoping to see through the passing of this campaign and this initiative is that we will reduce that bill to the people of this state.

Tom Eckert:  Huge economic toll. Obviously a huge human toll. so that’s one focus of this initiative is to address the mental health crisis in Oregon.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:33:25
So while we, yes, to your question. There will be a certification program for anybody, whether you’re a licensed doctor, a naturopath, a psychotherapist, or if you just simply have the heart to do this and you’re willing to invest your time and whatever the training program requirements are for you to have a licensure. And so that we’re hoping to see expand to the people that are currently interested and they already have a lot of experience working with people with mental health issues. So probably it’s likely that the time that they would spend in certification process would be less than somebody maybe who doesn’t have that expertise.

Tom Eckert:                     00:34:11
And I think, you know, a main point in there is that this is not locked up in the medical world. This is not the spirit of the initiative and we’re putting safeguards into allow anyone who has the heart and disposition to do this kind of work to get involved and we don’t see this as just something that’s going to be in hospitals. This is something that’s going to be community based. It’s going to be very regulated and professional and in the sense of that there will be training and there will be a code of ethics and all kinds of things like that. But this is the people’s medicine, if you will. This is for, this is on the ground, you know. And I just want people to understand that because sometimes we get, people are cynical these days and think that, well, this is a moneymaker. That’s not who we are and, and it’s not the spirit of the language or the initiative. At some point it’ll leave our hands and you know, what happens, happens. But we are putting every safeguard in place to safeguard the spirit of what we’re trying to do, which I think is in line with what most people know about psychedelics.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:35:23
And also to safeguard the individuals who will be having the experience. There is a reason that the Zendo project exists. There is a reason that Dance Safe exists. So for us to not look at that part of it is really important. But again, to Tom’s point, this is the people’s initiative and we want it to be a community-based community-thought-out, expansion of business because it will be business so to say. But what we’re hoping is that all the people that are currently working underground who are jeopardizing, perhaps they’re licensure with this state right now as a licensed psychotherapist or just jeopardizing their freedom, will have the opportunity to come above ground and get recognized for their expertise and get certified, get that ability to practice what they’re already doing and create their own industry from this with their own context in terms of how they want their service center to look, how they want to design their practice.

Danielle Olson:                00:36:32
So we bring people on this podcast who are entrepreneurs, and you are entrepreneurs in the sense, not that it’s like you referred to earlier that it’s a moneymaking scheme, but that you are, how we define entrepreneurship, that you are assuming the risk and something you’re taking something on to make change in the world to provide value for people. Could you talk about what that journey has been like in terms of, you know, for someone who, may be seeing something in the world that they would want to take on and might involve similar components of, you know…you created the Oregon Psilocybin Society, you’ve put out these media pieces, you’re getting a ballot initiative…what that journey has been like, the challenges and ups and downs.

Tom Eckert: Absolutely. Yeah.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:37:32
It’s very hard work first of all to write an initiative and then to get it legally transcribed so that it can be put into the law. So that’s taken time and quite awhile, but we’re working literally our job, which, which makes us money and then we’re working the, the initiative itself. So maybe you can expand more on that.

Tom Eckert:                     00:37:57
I think we should start at the beginning. It starts with imagination envisioning a future that doesn’t exist. You know. And obviously this isn’t just out of our heads only, we all are kind of looking at the history and kind of sensing the possibility of a future. But to actually capture that in a detailed framework to create regulations around it. It’s like measuring a possibility until it feels more palpable and getting it on paper. And, and that’s a very entrepreneurial type feeling. You know, I enjoy it. It’s difficult. The legislation itself is 40 pages of dense regulatory language. I mean, there’s a lot of detail that goes into this. It’s really kind of measuring exact…I mean everything you do raises other questions kind of thing. And so to get to the end of that process is, is, is fulfilling, you know, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

And now we’re into the campaign phase of really bringing this to the people. We’re just, even though we’ve been working on this awhile, we’re just really at the beginning of the full intensity of the, of campaigning and developing an organization. Getting the job descriptions together, getting it all, you know, getting everyone in their roles, getting coordinated, getting a media plan, getting you know, a fundraising plan, kind of on the ground, unfolding of a canvassing operation that’s going to be very significant. So all of that is campaigning is its own kind of entrepreneurship, you know, you have to have an organization to do it. And so that’s going on. Hectic but fun, you know. It’s just like because of the kind of ethos of what we’re doing. It’s just inspirited with a certain energy. And so it’s all, it’s a lot of fun.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:39:57
It’s really exciting to be a part of change that will impact our globe, not just our state. And it’s really exciting, as Tom said, to be able to imagine our future, to imagine society in a different way, utilizing all the tools that help us to heal. It’s very exciting to be able to develop, to be the architect in a sense of a modality that could best represent what the what psilocybin can do and bring about the best possibilities for the individuals who are experiencing this mystical experience. It’s very exciting to be able to think about what are the future possibilities for our consciousness personally and how that’s going to impact us socially and change our culture and thereby change our world. It’s exciting for it to be an Oregon because this is unprecedented. There’s no other initiative like this on the planet. So for our state to be able to lead the way in this really revolutionary way of healing is exciting.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:41:12
Huge, huge. And even your, your affirmation that this is sort of a community led effort. I mean, I worked in healthcare for a number of years and it has got a lot of issues and a lot of it has to do with the education and the bottleneck. And you want healthcare practitioners to be these super mega, ultra trained individuals, but how realistic is that as we get further and further out and fewer and fewer of them can be trained to meet the needs of the society. Especially one that is war ridden, politically divided in its current state. You’ve got all these, you know, these, horrible statistics about suicide and depression and drug overdose. But yeah, it just, it seems to go on and on and you know, if you can think of something that, you hate to call anything a panacea, but to think of something with so many applications that there could be, spearheaded and started right here in the state for the medicinal use is really, really exciting.

Tom Eckert:                     00:42:12
It’s much needed good News. Let’s talk about something positive that we can do and, or one of the, one of the things you were making a list of things that are exciting to me. It’s exciting to have this organization and be interfacing and open and kind of have a permeable boundary with the public, you know, as the volunteer force grows and people are reaching out all the time to support and, “where can I fit in?” which is a challenge in its own right How to kind of manage the energy out there and get people going. But it feels great that this is, it’s not like a closed door think tank. There’s an openness to it.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:42:50
And it’s exciting also to kind of think of the fact that maybe perhaps what we’re providing is a modality for other states and then other nations that wish to implement the same type of change. So we know the world’s going to be watching and it’s really important to us that it is a community state adopted people oriented, “let’s make this change,” kind of change.

Tom Eckert:                     00:43:13
So, speaking of kind of the bigger entrepreneurial picture, it’s to you know, longer term if we find success or you know, wherever this goes. I think it’s gonna, we’re optimistic that we’re going to make this happen. Then we’re looking at an unfolding across the country. You know, we have this language now that is, you know, we want to be careful about who we work with, to think about things like strategy and the right kind of allocation of resources not getting in each other’s way.Creating alliances that make sense. There’s a big picture here that’s that if we think this through and we have good communication and we strategize together, this could unfold across the country.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:44:03
So I think that it’s important that we, we collaborate in our messaging because our messaging is so important to the change, to diffusing the perspective that people have of it right now. The stigmas, that’s the word I was looking for. And so what Tom and I are really desire is to join with other likeminded people who are sensitive to that, who are sensitive to the messaging, who are going to develop something that is positive, that will help to change that stigma that exists, not just in our state, in this country, but on this globe.

Tom Eckert:                     00:44:41
And it just gets back to our first point about the containers. You know, the first container in the fifties didn’t quite fit the sixties container, didn’t work and actually worked against us. And now we’re presenting a different, a new container. There’s medical aspects, there’s therapeutic aspects, spiritual aspects. There’s creative aspects, personal growth aspects, but what that is has never been fully defined and it hasn’t existed yet. And so we’re taking something that, that we’ve shaped the new narrative and, you know, I think rooted in truth and science, but that new narrative, you know, it’s like to take root in reality is the challenge in there. And it starts with the campaign.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:45:32
Can you give us the nuts and bolts? I mean, since we, if we want to be actionable, if you want it to be international, if you wanted to be state based, I mean, based on our analytics, we do have an international audience. We do have people across the United States listening to this podcast. So what I’d like you to do, if you could bullet point out the process of the writing the law and then describe to us what stage you’re at right now and then let’s see how the next stage as it progresses, people can plug in. Wonder if you could bullet pointed out, instead of like going into the nitty gritty of it, what are the main pieces to getting a law on a ballot and voted into, into whatever it is.

Tom Eckert:                     00:46:13
Sure, sure, sure. So the legislation itself is written and going through a final, the legislative council in Salem who we worked with. By the way, the legislative council is a body of lawyers that draft bills for congress here in Oregon. They’re also charged with working with ballot initiatives. If you approach them the right way with a bunch of signatures and a detailed summary,

Sheri Eckert:                    00:46:39
Can I interrupt you really quick? The first thing is to the individual who wants to bring an initiative into being, must understand the truth about what they’re trying to bring to the community to the state. So it takes a lot of research. It takes understanding the science and slash or the laws that currently exist that prevent what we’re trying to change. So that’s the first and foremost part is that you’re knowledgeable, deeply knowledgeable about about the science that will support why you’re trying to change this law around psychedelics and about the current laws, how they were developed and how they can be brought down.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:47:20
And that’s really because there’s no law inexistence like this one yet. Right? But you know, like we had one that we helped enact here at Hatch about around state based crowdfunding. It was kind of like taking pieces from other laws that were in existence and helping mold them for Oregon. But you’re not working with something like that right now. This is a wholly new thing that’s being crafted.

Tom Eckert:                       00:47:41
Yeah. Yeah. And quite honestly in writing it at the beginning phase was like writing science fiction. It was, you’re imagining a world that doesn’t exist. You’re thinking 20 years, 100 years, a thousand years. What is this? I mean, I think that’s true with a lot of entrepreneurs. You have to be creative, you have to envision something new and of course there’s lots of influences around that. But to, you know, put the pen to paper, you start with a detailed idea. And so that was the first phase and just talking all that through and having great conversation. And, and then for us it was starting a society starting opening up just a channel of communication.

Collin Gabriel:  The Oregon Psilocybin Society?

Tom Eckert:                     00:48:29
Yeah, the Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of the loose network of people who support this idea and just creating events around that and, and, and communication. So then, then it’s about writing the initiative and having that dialogue with the lawyers. Meanwhile, getting out there a little more, talking about this possibility and then now it’s about creating and finalizing an organization which we call PSI20/20, the psilocybin service initiative, PSI, which is the campaign organization and we’d like to see that live beyond the campaign as a lobbying organization that could go national or something like that. Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of moving in the direction of a 501(c)(3) I think. All of this is kind of being fleshed out.

Collin Gabriel:  Careful with that. Danielle will have some words with you about nonprofits later.

Tom Eckert:  It’s an educational organization basically. So yeah,

Sheri Eckert:                    00:49:36
So it’s really, we’re at the stage now where we are getting ready to get the ballot titled. And once we get the ballot titled, we are simultaneously gathering up our volunteer signature gatherers as we currently have a fundraising canvassing team out in the city, bringing in the funds to help support the initiative in terms of getting the signatures and all various other elements and events and things of that nature that need to take place to inform the people, the constituents of this state about the initiative and what it is and what it is not.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:50:14
Okay. And just to to clarify, there are two different avenues there. There’s a fundraising canvasser, someone who’s out there gathering funds for the campaign and then there are canvassers for signatures. Now. Is that process over with yet? Are you still gathering signatures?

Tom Eckert:                     00:50:31
It hasn’t started. So this is where it is. So that as I said, the language is finished, but it’s being published by the Legislative Council to give us a final document. We take that document and give it to the secretary of state. They title it, they go through some kind of titling process back and forth there to the actual verbiage for what would be on the ballot. And at that point they give that back to us and we’re greenlighted to start the gathering petition signatures, which we’ll need somewhere around 100,000 or more.

Collin Gabriel:  And that’s to get it actually on the ballot?

Tom Eckert:                     00:51:05
Yep. So that’s really the big project ahead of us. The phase number one is to get it on the ballot. And so we’re developing an organization that can handle that project in terms of managing a volunteer for us as well as raising money to make up the gap if we have to pay a canvassers to do that, which is usually the case, although there’s a lot of energy around this. So I think we can get pretty far on, on volunteers.

Collin Gabriel: And remember these are paper signatures. Nothing can be done digitally. Correct?

Tom Eckert:                     00:51:37
Yeah, I want to plug the other canvases that the, fundraising canvassing team is amazing. They go out and make each one of them makes like $2-300 a day. Just talking to people and bringing in funds. And so that team is growing, is working and they’re just awesome. They just have this great energy all in and of themselves. So that’s one wing of our…

Sheri Eckert:                    00:52:01
They are our number one face on this initiative right now. They’re out there every day talking to the people in this city informing them and we get so many positive emails about our canvassers and that they were, “oh, I didn’t even know what psilocybin was. Oh my gosh. I have somebody who’s struggling with, with PTSD right now.” I mean, it’s really exciting to get the feedback from them. You know the polling from them is so positive.

Tom Eckert:                     00:52:33
Yeah. They’re kind of messaging masters. That’s pretty neat. And they keep the wheels moving on the day to day stuff, you know, because it takes money. And so fundraising is another area to talk about. The canvassers are doing a great job, as I said, giving us a baseline of funding. But the next phase is once the language is in that final form, being able to present that to organizations and larger donor potentials. So that’s on the horizon and that could fund things like getting polling done. You know, we have a sense that there’s a lot of good energy around this, but to have polling done that affirms that would make more fundraising a whole lot easier. And so polling costs money and that takes, you know.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:53:25
And that would also positively encourage people who might be on the fence who aren’t quite sure which way to go with this initiative and to be able to see that the populace of the state actually is for something, a change like this would be very helpful. So polling is one thing that we definitely would like to see happen very soon.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:53:47
It’s so interesting, right? Because you know, the, the I5 corridor of Oregon is assumed to be liberal largely. And then anything in the Eastern portion is assumed to be conservative. And, you know, with this particular issue, at least it’s been my experience with my family that the conservative side is just as pro psilocybin as the liberal side. It’s sort of one of those things. Like we said, this is an experience you don’t forget. You usually do it when you’re younger and you know, currently in a non-clinical setting. And I think it lasts with you even into your grade years where you start to get, you know, I’m not assuming here that all conservatives are old, but when we get older we do tend to lean conservative and because we have more to lose I guess or something like that. But it will be interesting to see, in my opinion how Eastern Oregon fairs, because I don’t think you’re going to have a heavy lift on the I5 corridor. Yeah. And the green spaces, especially because the psilocybin mushrooms grow all over Oregon.

Tom Eckert:                       00:54:56
There’s so many different angles and supportive arguments, for the initiative that apply to different folks and resonate with different folks. And so it’s, it’s an interesting messaging piece, given all the right messages out there. Like we were talking about with PTSD and combat veterans. That’s powerful stuff, you know, that works on many levels and it’s just true and important. Getting those kinds of messages out there as well as the, you know, kind of this is your liberty kind of message messenger or you know, personal growth message or mental wellness message. You know, there’s, there’s a whole array of things to talk about that kind of fit different audiences.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:55:46
Yeah. I was actually thinking as you said that about the notes I’d written in my little Scout Book here is that, you know, I just don’t care who you are, there’s no way that you don’t have someone in your family or your relationships that’s being affected by something that could be treated with psilocybin. I mean, just those testimonials that we filmed and just, you know, you hear. All it could make me think about was all the people who have not had that experience and are going through what those people, the cluster headache gentleman who said he would just be writhing on the ground in pain. I mean all of those things just kind of shocked me to think they’re going out there. There is a potential treatment and it’s not being administered. And that that to me is what I would hope crosses the political spectrum, is that people realize that this is a potential treatment for things that are currently, needs that are not being met.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:56:40
That’s key right now. We have a mental health crisis right now. We have an addiction crisis. It’s impacting whether you’re liberal or Conservative, you’re being impacted by it and as you say, if it’s not you, if it’s not a family member, it’s a neighbor. This is a huge problem that we are facing and there’s very few solutions out there in psychiatry. There’s been very little done in the last 20 years. That’s providing some sort of answer. So this is not the end all answer, but it is a solution.

Tom Eckert:                     00:57:16
And it represents something, you know. I think there’s a general disillusionment with Pharma in the incentives behind it and, and this is representing something natural. It’s representing a reclaiming of something within ourselves, you know, that we’re not dependent on pills. That an experience can help us unlock ourselves as something you do yourself, you know, it’s not done to you via a pill in the same way. So this is a very different modality and I think people are ready for that.

Danielle Olson: Yeah. So what are your current needs of the campaign? Where you at?

Tom Eckert:  Yeah, well certainly fundraising like we talked about is key.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:58:07
I think also our lot of our need is to, to make sure that we have the right staff to message this campaign. So we are working very hard to bring that into being. That’s a strong need. You always want to have the right people working on your campaign. You can’t do that without funds. So fundraising and is our number one and then of course, ultimately, the biggest need is the volunteers to gather the signatures to get this on the ballot.

Tom Eckert:                     00:58:39
Yeah. So I’m just giving you a heads up on the horizon on that because I know a lot of people are waiting for the green light on that. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re tiny bit behind. We’re hoping to be up and running on the signature gathering in July. It’s looking more like this month, maybe the end of this month or early September. Actually we haven’t talked about the event where it will be speaking with Paul Stamets where we’re doing an event in September 20th. and that’s looking like a good kind of launch of the whole thing. That’s what we’re hoping everything’s in order at least by then if not before.

So we’ll be dropping a new website. On that website there’s going to be a little video, a training video for signature gathering. So if you’re interested in gathering signatures as a volunteer, you watched the video, there’ll be a little quiz attached to it. You’ll pass the quiz. It’s not hard, it’s just kind of reflecting that we want everyone to kind of understand the ins and outs of how to do this so they can feel really comfortable and confident going out to do this. So pass the quiz, we get that information, we get your name and whatnot. We send out what you need to succeed as a canvasser, including the petition sheets and we start a relationship from there. So that’s how, that’s gonna work and it’s on the horizon. and we plan on developing a really awesome volunteer canvassing force.

Danielle Olson:  And what is the url of your website and where else can people go to get involved?

Tom Eckert:                     01:00:14
The new website is actually going to be different than the old one. It’ll redirect, but the new website is psi-2020.org. The current website is opsbuzz.com. So PSI-2020 again is the new campaign organization specifically geared to the campaign.

Collin Gabriel:                 01:00:40
All right, and might I add that the campaign has one of the most well organized slack channels I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So now you, you mentioned the Paul stamets event, so is that one of a number of events that you have planned? I know you just did the Oregon Country Fair Country Fair?

Sheri Eckert:  Yes. That was so exciting.

Tom Eckert:                     01:00:59
Yeah, we got such a great ride on that. We got a drawn in by the founders of the entire fair because we have these great people and Eugene that connected us and things happened and all of a sudden we’re staying at this wonderful camp, the a spoken word camp with all these other great artists and people. So we made lots of amazing connections and that was an awesome experience.

Sheri Eckert:                    01:01:23
Yeah, it was a really great experience and stuff. For this year we actually have only one planned event here in the state of Oregon and that’s the Stamets event and that’s on 9/20, so that will, there’s basically eight left, so pretty much the show is sold out, or the event is sold out. Then Tom and I will be speaking at the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in Canada in November. We’ll also be on panel at the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Conference also in Canada in November as well. We kind of have possibly an event coming up in October that will be kind of educational, informational, but that’s that’s on the TBD.

And then we’ll come up with our schedule of our new schedule of events for the year 2019 will have posted on our psi-productions.com page. That’s our events page that says, well, where we’ll be and what will be speaking on.

Tom Eckert:                     01:02:25
All of that by the way, will be simplified to psi-2020.org. Yeah. So I’m pulling everything together into a website that will have ticketing for events. It’ll have, you know, training for canvas saying it will have a store which is cool and merchandise moves really well and it’s really kind of…I’m so happy about that because not only does it is succeeding, but it reflects that people are willing to put psilocybin on their chest and it’s kind of like represents kind of coming out into the community and stuff like that. Because I don’t think a couple of years ago people, we had this dialogue, we’re like, “are people are really gonna wear the mushroom on it?”

Collin Gabriel: I wear mine like my Superman badge when I go out there and people meet my eyes and give me a nod and it’s the greatest thing ever.

Sheri Eckert:                    01:03:11
Well we have our canvassers that were at the Oregon country fair that said that they had to take their shirt off so they can have peace. People were asking “what, what is that? What are you doing?”

Collin Gabriel:  Well, I guess we will, we’ve got the website, we know now about the needs of the campaign. We know when you’re putting it on, or the signatures need to be gathered by to put it on the ballot.

Tom Eckert:   I think we should, I don’t know if we clearly stated this is aimed at 2020.

Collin Gabriel:                 01:03:42
That’s what I was thinking too as is, did we ask that explicitly? But the psi-2020 is a good indicator. But yes. On the ballot for 2020. So I mean, I think we’re about out of time. We, Tom and Sheri, I really can’t thank you enough for this kind of deep dive on something that’s been your side job, your passion, your probably sleepless nights. I know for my involvement it’s been a very emotional experience as well to see this thing. So I just can’t thank you enough.

Danielle Olson:  Thank you so much for you joining us here.

Tom Eckert:  It’s been great.

Sheri Eckert:  Thank you so much for giving us the chance to continue to inform the public. Thank you.

The post HTF 032 Advocating for Psilocybin appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 032 Advocating for Psilocybin

In this episode, Collin Gabriel and Danielle Olson interviewed Tom and Sheri Eckert who are both counselors and the founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They are the forces behind getting a 2020 ballot measure to legalize the facilitated use of psilocybin.

You’ll learn about:

  • the history of psilocybin
  • it’s current status in terms of the law and social perceptions
  • the potential benefits of “facilitated use” are (guided experience with a trained professional)
  • the steps that Tom and Sheri have taken to create an organization and campaign to change people’s minds and the law

Links

The New Yorker article by Michael Pollan – The Trip Treatment, 2015

Oregonian article – First Marijuana. Are ‘Magic’ Mushrooms Next?, 2018

psi-2020.org

Oregon Psilocybin Society Facebook group

 

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Collin Gabriel:                 00:02:19
Hey everyone, I’m Collin Gabriel here along with Danielle Olson and we’re really excited to have our guests Tom and Sheri Eckert here today of the Oregon Psilocybin Society. They have a really exciting campaign that they’re going to talk about and we’re just going to kind of dive right in. So, Tom and Sheri, thanks so much for showing up. Can you introduce yourselves and kind of give us a little bit of your background?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:02:44
Sure. And thank you. Yeah, it’s Sheri. It’s hard. So we are Tom and Sheri Eckert, we are psychotherapists in the Portland area. We also run a batterer’s intervention program, a better man program, and we are the chief petitioners of the psilocybin service initiative.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:02:59
I think what you’re doing is pretty incredible. And so we’re going to go on a journey today of an information download. So prepare yourselves, but first can you just give us a little bit of your background on, you know, some of your historical experiences and maybe even share with us a little bit of the other stuff too. So I’m just opening it up. Maybe Tom, you can start us off.

Tom Eckert:                     00:03:22
Yeah, we have a little bit of a different background so that makes it kind of interesting and actually kind of works together in a cool way. I’ve had an interest in psychedelics since college and I got into psychology as well and that’s been my, professional direction. Been in private practice for a while now. Kinda had it in the back of my head that there was a merger possible, but of course being that these compounds aren’t legal yet, there wasn’t really an opportunity other than to think about that. But then we started seeing the research out there. and specifically an article by Michael Pollan who’s now well known for his interest in psychedelics. But about three or four years ago, I think it was 2015 an article, came out in the New Yorker, I believe, called the Trip Treatment that really laid out everything that was going on in a psychedelic science. And I knew a little bit that that was kind of going on, but I didn’t fully realize the extent of the renaissance that was happening, in this area. And it started to click. And then Sheri and I started really talking about possibilities.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:04:42
And Mike Tom says, my background is different. I kind of grew up a little bit with adversity and fear of psychedelics because I’m a product of the sixties. And I was with a parent who kind of, you know, gave me experiences that set up a little bit of fear. So it wasn’t until I moved to Oregon and we read the Trip Treatment and I started to have an interest because I care about people’s psyche and I want people to heal. And when I saw that there was these healing experiences taking place that were so transformational in such a short period of time, something in me said, “you have to move past your fear, you have to dive into the science, you have to research this because something’s happening.” And that’s what we did.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:05:31
Yeah, I think is really interesting is, is that fear and how that’s sort of been cultivated. It kind of leads into, and I’m not sure if you’re, if you kind of have all this background. So everybody seems to nowadays and when we have access to the Internet, we can, we can do a lot of reading. But can you, can you go into a little detail about how a psilocybin has been present culturally for a long time and then sort how it became demonized? I think it is the sort of Timothy leary’s sixties and seventies that produced that.

Tom Eckert:                     00:06:05
Absolutely. Of course all the psychedelics have a deep history in indigenous cultures, although mysteriously psilocybin’s deep history isn’t all that well understood as opposed to say ayahuasca and things of that nature. But as far as western culture and here in the United States, it came out in the 19 fifties of course with a article in life magazine that brought a lot of attention to a indigenous use in Mexico. And then, from there it actually went into a very kind of clinically oriented place. A company called Sandoz overseas was making psilocybin and giving it to a psychiatrist and therapist to work with for free. So a lot of psychiatrists were interested and it was this very exploratory time. And no one really understood what, what to make of it other than it was powerful.

And I think they kind of got it wrong in the beginning. They thought of it as a mimicker of a psychotic state and we can kind of see why. But that turned out to be not exactly accurate. It’s not just a mimicking of schizophrenia or whatnot. It’s something different than that. I’ve heard it said that while they initially thought of it as mimicking insanity, I can’t remember who said this, but someone started talking about it as being ‘unsane’. It’s a different place than sanity, but it’s not exactly what we consider to be a kind of mental illness mimicker. But in the beginning, that’s the way they looked at it. So that was the first container in the 1950’s and research started in that regard.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:07:46
I think it’s good to also note that during this time, about 40,000 incidents of people using this for clinical studies, so it was widely used. It wasn’t small like what we’re seeing in the research today comparatively.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:08:03
Oh really? So you’re saying that the research field was much more broad.

Tom Eckert:                     00:08:07
Booming, and it was seen as this transformational, again, it wasn’t understood, but it was the power that there was something, there was very much understood and there was a lot of, interest in those areas. And then there was a book by Aldous Huxley, that brought it even more into the culture and started talking about it differently. I think that’s when it first started being talked about as a mystical type experience and he took it in a different direction. That book was very popular, so that started bringing it into a different kind of cultural context. So what you, what you can see is this evolution of understanding of this compound and just the interpretation of it has been kind of at play for a long time.

And then the sixties began. Of course there were a cultural factors, Vietnam, things of that nature, a countercultural movements. And Timothy Leary who of course was a Harvard psychologist and was doing serious research when he decided that the clinical, container wasn’t gonna do it. And so he changed the narrative, in favor of bringing it to everybody, across the board without any limitations with the idea that, that could save the world essentially. So that caused a lot of problems. It’s understandable, I suppose, in the cultural context, but in hindsight it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So fast forwarding, I think we all know that, you know, after Nixon and these kinds of things then, it was all, all psychedelics were outlawed when 1970?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:10:03
1971. Well, the Nixon era. What stimulated that fear that we have, that stigma that we’re currently fighting during this psychedelic renaissance.

Tom Eckert:                     00:10:16
So in the, in the seventies, things went underground. There was a moratorium on all research. That’s one of the many tragedies here is that when these drugs were made illegal, the research stopped. And there was just silence in psychedelic science for 45 years, something like that. So, I mean, there’s a lot to say about that technology advanced, but we didn’t look at what these compounds really are about both neurochemically and therapeutically.

So fast forward, of course, during those decades there was underground work happening. There was kind of covert scene of therapists that would still work with these compounds, and a lot of our information as to what direction to go in terms of therapeutic use came from those underground therapists. But more recently, last 15 years, the door is opened to psychedelic research. Specifically, places like Johns Hopkins, NYU, UCLA, Imperial College of London. In very reputable, high end research, kind of moving forward in a especially clear way because of all the stigma that got attached to this. They’re very, very calculated, very cautious doing everything right. And these are like Roland Griffiths at Hopkins is a decorated researcher and so he took up the cause and that’s kind of led the charge.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:12:00
Yeah. And he did a great job of making sure that when working with the FDA to get approval for the initial research that they were doing it in such a way that they could move forward progressively with their clinical study. And so the first study done was, they looked at the Good Friday experiment. They decided they wanted to see how psilocybin specifically would treat existential anxiety with those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer living with cancer diagnoses and they were very happy to see what the results were and they wanted to understand it further. Why? Why is this transformation, this piece coming upon these people who are sitting with this diagnosis? And so that stimulated other credible organizations, and institutes to also start getting on that bandwagon, to do the research, that scientific research that was needed to make it possible for us to understand how psilocybin specifically works in the brain.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:13:06
It does kind of make you sad to think that you had this booming era of research and development and life changing experiences that was kind of, you know, turned around or upside down during the seventies. And we’ve lost all that time.

Tom Eckert:                     00:13:20
Yeah, we did lose time. I think we need to look at it in a very wide angle view that was just one little tiny part of the story of the greater story that’s being written about psychedelics. It was unfortunate to lose all that opportunity, but we are making ground. The science is fantastic. Now we’re learning a lot and it’s a transformational idea in the sense that there’s nothing that, you know, this is a different angle on clinical work. Different angle on pharmacology. This is about an experience that is facilitated by a compound, but it’s the experience itself that is the mechanism of change. Compare that to kind of a typical Pharma based approach where you have to have something in your bloodstream to tweak your brain day after day. And that works for Pharma of course. But here we have a one time or maybe a couple of times, having an experience and integrating that experience afterwards and working with it to make change. And the results are off the charts in a lot of ways and there’s lots more research that will happen to kind of continue to flesh out all the areas where this is of import. But yeah, this is, this is something else.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:14:54
And I think along those lines, it’s important to talk about also the fact that there is thousands of years of history of psychedelic psychedelic compounds being used as a rite of passage for their cultures, for their, their leadership, for the coming into yourself. And then, understand that, that it’s had a profound effect on humanity in ways that we probably don’t currently understand because we haven’t enough, history consolidated into one space. But it’s there, the history is there and it’s been used in to be able to kind of generate for our culture, the same type of rite of passage in a way that allows us to experience that transformative change that is that rite of passage for our consciousness. So to say, I think that’s really important. Sam Harris has a quote where he had said that he’d be really scared of his daughters came to him and said, you know, dad, “I want to do this, I want to do that drug.” And, and he’d be like, freaked out. But then he said, you know, I would feel like my daughters had missed out on a right of passage had they never tried a psychedelic. And so I think that’s a really interesting and profound statement as to where our minds are at right now and where we’re headed as a people.

Tom Eckert:                     00:16:20
Yeah. I think just to add to that, the deep history, the use of psychedelics and indigenous cultures set fort the container. You know, it was always used carefully with elders as and guidance and safety. So a lot of, so we’re reformatting a lot of things for the western mind, but the roots are there in some of those indigenous practices.

Danielle Olson:                00:16:48
So you mentioned existential anxiety for cancer patients. What are some of the other particular scenarios that have been shown to be really effective for?

Tom Eckert:                     00:16:59
Depression, anxiety, addictions, including things like alcoholism and even nicotine addiction, which is amazing. And a little PTSD, OCD. So if you step back, you gotta think about this a little bit differently because, you know, usually medications are kind of zeroed in on a particular condition. This is an experience, once again, it’s a psycho spiritual type experience you could say that facilitates openness and flexibility in the mind.

And so when we look at the whole spectrum of mental illness, you can kind of see that there’s a whole kind of side of issues that are about rigidity about stuck thinking and feeling repetitive patterns, negative cycles. So look at depression. You’re stuck in negative cycles of thinking and feeling. Look at addictions. You’re caught in a stuck state of mind. You can’t break yourself loose of this particular disposition which leads to behaviors. Things like OCD are clearly a tightly stuck state of mind. PTSD. So they all have this, even though they’re all different, they all have a certain commonality and you could just generally call stuckness. So psilosybin opens up the mind and we can talk about that finally from a neurochemical level because we’re finally getting that research to see exactly what happens in the brain. But in terms of how it affects your consciousness, it brings you, it liberates you from your being stuck. And at the same time it opens up this kind of huge, a mystical type experience that leaves quite an impression. And with proper integration afterwards, it creates results.

Danielle Olson:                00:19:01
It sounds like it’d be easier to compare it almost to like living abroad or you know, a life changing experience rather than a pointed drug treatment.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:19:17
It’s often referred to as one of the top five experiences in an individual’s life compared to something like childbirth or marriage or some really opening and experience. Yeah, and so it’s often compared to that and it’s really exciting to see that it does have that impact on people and it’s interesting to look at the science as Tom was mentioning, why is this happening, what’s going on in the brain? And the fact that we know that there is what’s happening in the default mode network, which is a diffused system within the prefrontal cortex to be able to see the activity, to be surprised at what’s going on and to discover the connectivity that’s happening that allows for what Tom was talking about in terms of being able to look at yourself. Especially when it comes to smoking, the addictions that he was talking about.

What are people seeing and why is that possible? And it’s because of this connectivity, this novel crosstalk that’s happening in the brain, that cannot happen without a compound like psilosybin. So that’s really fascinating. I mean, it can happen sometimes for people who have been working with meditation and things of that nature and very much into a meditational practice. They can achieve this after decades perhaps. But here we have a compound that allows an individual to come in, get prepared to understand what their experience is gonna be, and then have that experience and then work with somebody afterwards to kind of integrate it into their, what they’re going to do with their life in just like possibly one dose. Usually one, maybe two.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:21:05
Yeah. You know, there’s a couple points that I kind of want to dive a little bit deeper into, especially considering your expertise. one is this default mode network and kind of understanding that a little bit better. But, you know, I heard I’m Michael Pollan, a quote, a doctor. He made this analogy that made me recall my own experiences with psilosybin, that, you know, the brain is like a hill covered in snow. And every time we complete an action it creates a groove and we fall back into these grooves just because of the way the brain is built and psilocybin, the chemical is like laying down fresh powder and it allows the brain to make new grooves over it. And I’ve also heard it called ego dissolution is, the reference that happens. So can you kinda talk a little bit more. I’m really curious about this default mode network because it does seem like we, we understand what that means. Is it like the autopilot that the brain goes on? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

Tom Eckert:                     00:22:05
Yeah, I think you’re definitely on the right track there. I can’t say that I’m an expert expert, but I can, I can summarize. I think what, what’s going on a little bit in layman’s terms and that’s that you know, in the neuro world, they talked about neuroplasticity. The ability to kind of escape these, these patterns. And I think you’re right that we all feel the pull of our own consciousness toward habits and becoming kind of automated. That works for us in a lot of ways. But once you get things that aren’t working for you, they’re hard to escape. Right? So with regard to the default mode network, so again, as Sheri mentioned, this is kind of a diffused system of parts in the brain and the prefrontal Cortex, and it’s associated with things like self reflection, like kind of considering yourself in the future and the past. And some will go as far to say that it’s kind of associated with the sense of self. So now you’re getting into this, is this kind of the seed of the ego? So the default mode network obviously is an important place in organizing our sense of consciousness, it’s kind of like the orchestra conductor. So it’s really important.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:23:26
It does run on autopilot for the most part though. That’s, kind of what we need to hold onto is that, as you’re talking about, there’s these pathways that are created in that, we’re skiing down em every day, automatically, because that is the group that has been created in our mind. And so the idea, as you said, is to lay the layer of fresh snow.

Tom Eckert:                     00:23:49
So this is very human function. We say the prefrontal, that means like that kind of Cortex area, not the deep regions of the brain. And this is our higher functioning. And so that gets, when that gets away from us, we developed some negative patterns. In other words, in people who are depressed, they have kind of a hyper connectivity in this default mode region. They get stuck in these patterns like I was mentioning. So when they, again, no one looked at the brain, even though the technology was developing. Nobody was allowed to look at the brain on psychedelics for just the longest time, decades and decades. So it was a big mystery for a long time. So finally we got to do this and this is happening at the Imperial College of London, primarily. And part of it I’d say was predictable and part of it was very surprising.

The predictable part was that the deeper regions of the brain, the limbic system, the emotional systems and various things going on in there lit up. You know, imagine looking at the, the FMRI, you know, at what’s going on there. And those parts of the brains got very active. So much so that there was this kind of novel crosstalk is Sheri was saying between different parts of the brain that don’t usually connect. And so that’s kind of what you might expect from a psychedelic experience. Your brain is active, right? But the other part was a little more surprising, which was that this default mode network shut down. It reduced to almost nonexistent. Now again, this is the part of the brain that’s associated with your everyday sense of self. And so now it does make sense when you put that together with, the, kind of subjective experience of ego death dissolution, which is often talked about. And so you have these two things happening at the same time. you have the reduction of the dmn default mode network, which is a reduction of these kind of stuck patterns and at the same time you have this very unusual and very profound, a psychedelic state rising up from the deeper…

Sheri Eckert:                    00:26:06
And many people describe that as like a realer than real or a truer than true experience because it’s so holistic that they are able to see, and we’ve had this experience ourselves, we’re able to perceive everything from a place of, without a mental filter that we have in place before we go in. So we’re able to see things kind of at this, with a wide angle view as Tom has used.

Tom Eckert:                     00:26:36
It’s what a Huxley talked about, right? The doors of perception. He named the book, opening those filters and seeing reality in a state that we usually filter down to something we can handle. Instead, we’re seeing it open. We’re getting ourself out of the way. I guess the way we usually see things is the nature sense of ourself. yeah. So when you put all that together, this kind of flash of consciousness from the deeper regions and the reduction of the kind of ego functioning you get what I’m Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins calls a mystical type experience and now this is what is considered the mechanism of change. It’s the degree to which this mystical flash is experienced and integrated is correlated highly to the degree of change that the person is wanting to make based on their intent going in and whatever issues they’re dealing with.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:27:35
Yeah. And I, I know that, you know, for a lot of these experiences, the conditions upon which the experience happens is really important. If it’s, you know, it can go south very quickly, which is why I think it was put into like a schedule one position with the FDA. But one thing that, you know, I know that the campaign is about, is it’s not so much the legalization of psilocybin. It’s the legalization of, and let me get the wording right here, “the access to the facilitated use of psilocybin.” And it kind of goes into things that, you know, Michael Pollan’s talked about this sort of underground network you, you alluded to earlier, these folks who are doing the research during the dark times, I guess we can call them that, where they were discovering things about it, and guiding people through the experience or facilitating the experience. Can you talk a little bit about what, what that, what does that mean? What does that whole. Is the idea here that you would have a trained physician along for the ride that helps make this not scary?

Sheri Eckert:                    00:28:40
Well, let me preface this with that, the heart of our initiative has everything to do with set and set in. As Tom had mentioned earlier than the people of the indigenous tribes who have used this medicine for many, many thousands of years, kind of gave us a blueprint in terms of this is there’s an intention in going into it and it’s important that your environment supports that intention. And so this initiative is based around that, a very structured and overseen use to help you achieve whatever your intention is. And so from that, maybe you can go a little bit more into the actual.

Tom Eckert:                     00:29:27
I think that can’t be overstated. I was saying that the mechanism of changes the mystical experience, but you know a caveat on that is in conjunction with proper facilitation. Because you can have a mystical experience kind of using recreationally and without integration, without intent going in, it becomes an interesting experience, but it doesn’t lead to the results necessarily that we’re talking about with this modality. So the modality is super important and it involves preparation beforehand. Things like stating intent, having an assessment done essentially to make sure you’re not contraindicated, you know, there are people that shouldn’t do this.

And you can kind of think about that until I was talking about how for some this kind of opening experience is super helpful. For others, it’s exactly what they don’t need. Think about schizophrenia. The issue there in kind of layman’s terms is too much openness. You’re connecting things that don’t, other people don’t connect you’re loosely associating. You’re kind of becoming untethered in that way. So this only makes that worse. You see what I mean? So, but for a lot of us, we are stuck in certain ways and that’s where it helps. There might be medication issues as well. You gotta kind of be aware of all of that. So a proper assessment is key.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:30:52
And then the second part would be the actual experience itself. You know, that the person is prepped in the proper assessment. They know what they’re getting into. They talk about, what the experience might look like so that they’re prepared, they agree on dosage and then you come into the part where you actually have your session and it’s very non directive. It’s very important that we really emphasize that because this is an individual experience so it shouldn’t be directive. But we do need to make sure that the people who are having this experience feel safe. So during this experience a person would come in, they’d lie down. They take the medicine, they’d cover their eyes. They’ve listened to some previously curated music and they would just begin their experience knowing that there are certified licensed facilitators sitting with them in the event that they need to hold somebody’s hand. In the event that they need to say I’m scared or in the event they need to talk about some magical experience they’re having or if they simply need to use the restroom. So the role of the facilitator during the actual process is very minimal, but it’s primarily to help the individual have that sense of safety so that their experience can be as great as it can possibly be.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:32:20
Really. I’d like to know what you see, career path wise. Do you see this being an additional certification to current, you know, medical practitioners? What do you see this opening up like economically for folks to help with these treatments?

Tom Eckert:  Very interesting.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:32:41
Before we answer that, let’s first point out that Oregon has one of the highest rates of depression and addictions in our country. So before we talk about the work that could be generated, let’s talk about the fact that billions of dollars are lost every year in this state due to mental health problems and addictions. So part of what we’re hoping to see through the passing of this campaign and this initiative is that we will reduce that bill to the people of this state.

Tom Eckert:  Huge economic toll. Obviously a huge human toll. so that’s one focus of this initiative is to address the mental health crisis in Oregon.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:33:25
So while we, yes, to your question. There will be a certification program for anybody, whether you’re a licensed doctor, a naturopath, a psychotherapist, or if you just simply have the heart to do this and you’re willing to invest your time and whatever the training program requirements are for you to have a licensure. And so that we’re hoping to see expand to the people that are currently interested and they already have a lot of experience working with people with mental health issues. So probably it’s likely that the time that they would spend in certification process would be less than somebody maybe who doesn’t have that expertise.

Tom Eckert:                     00:34:11
And I think, you know, a main point in there is that this is not locked up in the medical world. This is not the spirit of the initiative and we’re putting safeguards into allow anyone who has the heart and disposition to do this kind of work to get involved and we don’t see this as just something that’s going to be in hospitals. This is something that’s going to be community based. It’s going to be very regulated and professional and in the sense of that there will be training and there will be a code of ethics and all kinds of things like that. But this is the people’s medicine, if you will. This is for, this is on the ground, you know. And I just want people to understand that because sometimes we get, people are cynical these days and think that, well, this is a moneymaker. That’s not who we are and, and it’s not the spirit of the language or the initiative. At some point it’ll leave our hands and you know, what happens, happens. But we are putting every safeguard in place to safeguard the spirit of what we’re trying to do, which I think is in line with what most people know about psychedelics.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:35:23
And also to safeguard the individuals who will be having the experience. There is a reason that the Zendo project exists. There is a reason that Dance Safe exists. So for us to not look at that part of it is really important. But again, to Tom’s point, this is the people’s initiative and we want it to be a community-based community-thought-out, expansion of business because it will be business so to say. But what we’re hoping is that all the people that are currently working underground who are jeopardizing, perhaps they’re licensure with this state right now as a licensed psychotherapist or just jeopardizing their freedom, will have the opportunity to come above ground and get recognized for their expertise and get certified, get that ability to practice what they’re already doing and create their own industry from this with their own context in terms of how they want their service center to look, how they want to design their practice.

Danielle Olson:                00:36:32
So we bring people on this podcast who are entrepreneurs, and you are entrepreneurs in the sense, not that it’s like you referred to earlier that it’s a moneymaking scheme, but that you are, how we define entrepreneurship, that you are assuming the risk and something you’re taking something on to make change in the world to provide value for people. Could you talk about what that journey has been like in terms of, you know, for someone who, may be seeing something in the world that they would want to take on and might involve similar components of, you know…you created the Oregon Psilocybin Society, you’ve put out these media pieces, you’re getting a ballot initiative…what that journey has been like, the challenges and ups and downs.

Tom Eckert: Absolutely. Yeah.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:37:32
It’s very hard work first of all to write an initiative and then to get it legally transcribed so that it can be put into the law. So that’s taken time and quite awhile, but we’re working literally our job, which, which makes us money and then we’re working the, the initiative itself. So maybe you can expand more on that.

Tom Eckert:                     00:37:57
I think we should start at the beginning. It starts with imagination envisioning a future that doesn’t exist. You know. And obviously this isn’t just out of our heads only, we all are kind of looking at the history and kind of sensing the possibility of a future. But to actually capture that in a detailed framework to create regulations around it. It’s like measuring a possibility until it feels more palpable and getting it on paper. And, and that’s a very entrepreneurial type feeling. You know, I enjoy it. It’s difficult. The legislation itself is 40 pages of dense regulatory language. I mean, there’s a lot of detail that goes into this. It’s really kind of measuring exact…I mean everything you do raises other questions kind of thing. And so to get to the end of that process is, is, is fulfilling, you know, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

And now we’re into the campaign phase of really bringing this to the people. We’re just, even though we’ve been working on this awhile, we’re just really at the beginning of the full intensity of the, of campaigning and developing an organization. Getting the job descriptions together, getting it all, you know, getting everyone in their roles, getting coordinated, getting a media plan, getting you know, a fundraising plan, kind of on the ground, unfolding of a canvassing operation that’s going to be very significant. So all of that is campaigning is its own kind of entrepreneurship, you know, you have to have an organization to do it. And so that’s going on. Hectic but fun, you know. It’s just like because of the kind of ethos of what we’re doing. It’s just inspirited with a certain energy. And so it’s all, it’s a lot of fun.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:39:57
It’s really exciting to be a part of change that will impact our globe, not just our state. And it’s really exciting, as Tom said, to be able to imagine our future, to imagine society in a different way, utilizing all the tools that help us to heal. It’s very exciting to be able to develop, to be the architect in a sense of a modality that could best represent what the what psilocybin can do and bring about the best possibilities for the individuals who are experiencing this mystical experience. It’s very exciting to be able to think about what are the future possibilities for our consciousness personally and how that’s going to impact us socially and change our culture and thereby change our world. It’s exciting for it to be an Oregon because this is unprecedented. There’s no other initiative like this on the planet. So for our state to be able to lead the way in this really revolutionary way of healing is exciting.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:41:12
Huge, huge. And even your, your affirmation that this is sort of a community led effort. I mean, I worked in healthcare for a number of years and it has got a lot of issues and a lot of it has to do with the education and the bottleneck. And you want healthcare practitioners to be these super mega, ultra trained individuals, but how realistic is that as we get further and further out and fewer and fewer of them can be trained to meet the needs of the society. Especially one that is war ridden, politically divided in its current state. You’ve got all these, you know, these, horrible statistics about suicide and depression and drug overdose. But yeah, it just, it seems to go on and on and you know, if you can think of something that, you hate to call anything a panacea, but to think of something with so many applications that there could be, spearheaded and started right here in the state for the medicinal use is really, really exciting.

Tom Eckert:                     00:42:12
It’s much needed good News. Let’s talk about something positive that we can do and, or one of the, one of the things you were making a list of things that are exciting to me. It’s exciting to have this organization and be interfacing and open and kind of have a permeable boundary with the public, you know, as the volunteer force grows and people are reaching out all the time to support and, “where can I fit in?” which is a challenge in its own right How to kind of manage the energy out there and get people going. But it feels great that this is, it’s not like a closed door think tank. There’s an openness to it.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:42:50
And it’s exciting also to kind of think of the fact that maybe perhaps what we’re providing is a modality for other states and then other nations that wish to implement the same type of change. So we know the world’s going to be watching and it’s really important to us that it is a community state adopted people oriented, “let’s make this change,” kind of change.

Tom Eckert:                     00:43:13
So, speaking of kind of the bigger entrepreneurial picture, it’s to you know, longer term if we find success or you know, wherever this goes. I think it’s gonna, we’re optimistic that we’re going to make this happen. Then we’re looking at an unfolding across the country. You know, we have this language now that is, you know, we want to be careful about who we work with, to think about things like strategy and the right kind of allocation of resources not getting in each other’s way.Creating alliances that make sense. There’s a big picture here that’s that if we think this through and we have good communication and we strategize together, this could unfold across the country.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:44:03
So I think that it’s important that we, we collaborate in our messaging because our messaging is so important to the change, to diffusing the perspective that people have of it right now. The stigmas, that’s the word I was looking for. And so what Tom and I are really desire is to join with other likeminded people who are sensitive to that, who are sensitive to the messaging, who are going to develop something that is positive, that will help to change that stigma that exists, not just in our state, in this country, but on this globe.

Tom Eckert:                     00:44:41
And it just gets back to our first point about the containers. You know, the first container in the fifties didn’t quite fit the sixties container, didn’t work and actually worked against us. And now we’re presenting a different, a new container. There’s medical aspects, there’s therapeutic aspects, spiritual aspects. There’s creative aspects, personal growth aspects, but what that is has never been fully defined and it hasn’t existed yet. And so we’re taking something that, that we’ve shaped the new narrative and, you know, I think rooted in truth and science, but that new narrative, you know, it’s like to take root in reality is the challenge in there. And it starts with the campaign.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:45:32
Can you give us the nuts and bolts? I mean, since we, if we want to be actionable, if you want it to be international, if you wanted to be state based, I mean, based on our analytics, we do have an international audience. We do have people across the United States listening to this podcast. So what I’d like you to do, if you could bullet point out the process of the writing the law and then describe to us what stage you’re at right now and then let’s see how the next stage as it progresses, people can plug in. Wonder if you could bullet pointed out, instead of like going into the nitty gritty of it, what are the main pieces to getting a law on a ballot and voted into, into whatever it is.

Tom Eckert:                     00:46:13
Sure, sure, sure. So the legislation itself is written and going through a final, the legislative council in Salem who we worked with. By the way, the legislative council is a body of lawyers that draft bills for congress here in Oregon. They’re also charged with working with ballot initiatives. If you approach them the right way with a bunch of signatures and a detailed summary,

Sheri Eckert:                    00:46:39
Can I interrupt you really quick? The first thing is to the individual who wants to bring an initiative into being, must understand the truth about what they’re trying to bring to the community to the state. So it takes a lot of research. It takes understanding the science and slash or the laws that currently exist that prevent what we’re trying to change. So that’s the first and foremost part is that you’re knowledgeable, deeply knowledgeable about about the science that will support why you’re trying to change this law around psychedelics and about the current laws, how they were developed and how they can be brought down.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:47:20
And that’s really because there’s no law inexistence like this one yet. Right? But you know, like we had one that we helped enact here at Hatch about around state based crowdfunding. It was kind of like taking pieces from other laws that were in existence and helping mold them for Oregon. But you’re not working with something like that right now. This is a wholly new thing that’s being crafted.

Tom Eckert:                       00:47:41
Yeah. Yeah. And quite honestly in writing it at the beginning phase was like writing science fiction. It was, you’re imagining a world that doesn’t exist. You’re thinking 20 years, 100 years, a thousand years. What is this? I mean, I think that’s true with a lot of entrepreneurs. You have to be creative, you have to envision something new and of course there’s lots of influences around that. But to, you know, put the pen to paper, you start with a detailed idea. And so that was the first phase and just talking all that through and having great conversation. And, and then for us it was starting a society starting opening up just a channel of communication.

Collin Gabriel:  The Oregon Psilocybin Society?

Tom Eckert:                     00:48:29
Yeah, the Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of the loose network of people who support this idea and just creating events around that and, and, and communication. So then, then it’s about writing the initiative and having that dialogue with the lawyers. Meanwhile, getting out there a little more, talking about this possibility and then now it’s about creating and finalizing an organization which we call PSI20/20, the psilocybin service initiative, PSI, which is the campaign organization and we’d like to see that live beyond the campaign as a lobbying organization that could go national or something like that. Oregon Psilocybin Society’s kind of moving in the direction of a 501(c)(3) I think. All of this is kind of being fleshed out.

Collin Gabriel:  Careful with that. Danielle will have some words with you about nonprofits later.

Tom Eckert:  It’s an educational organization basically. So yeah,

Sheri Eckert:                    00:49:36
So it’s really, we’re at the stage now where we are getting ready to get the ballot titled. And once we get the ballot titled, we are simultaneously gathering up our volunteer signature gatherers as we currently have a fundraising canvassing team out in the city, bringing in the funds to help support the initiative in terms of getting the signatures and all various other elements and events and things of that nature that need to take place to inform the people, the constituents of this state about the initiative and what it is and what it is not.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:50:14
Okay. And just to to clarify, there are two different avenues there. There’s a fundraising canvasser, someone who’s out there gathering funds for the campaign and then there are canvassers for signatures. Now. Is that process over with yet? Are you still gathering signatures?

Tom Eckert:                     00:50:31
It hasn’t started. So this is where it is. So that as I said, the language is finished, but it’s being published by the Legislative Council to give us a final document. We take that document and give it to the secretary of state. They title it, they go through some kind of titling process back and forth there to the actual verbiage for what would be on the ballot. And at that point they give that back to us and we’re greenlighted to start the gathering petition signatures, which we’ll need somewhere around 100,000 or more.

Collin Gabriel:  And that’s to get it actually on the ballot?

Tom Eckert:                     00:51:05
Yep. So that’s really the big project ahead of us. The phase number one is to get it on the ballot. And so we’re developing an organization that can handle that project in terms of managing a volunteer for us as well as raising money to make up the gap if we have to pay a canvassers to do that, which is usually the case, although there’s a lot of energy around this. So I think we can get pretty far on, on volunteers.

Collin Gabriel: And remember these are paper signatures. Nothing can be done digitally. Correct?

Tom Eckert:                     00:51:37
Yeah, I want to plug the other canvases that the, fundraising canvassing team is amazing. They go out and make each one of them makes like $2-300 a day. Just talking to people and bringing in funds. And so that team is growing, is working and they’re just awesome. They just have this great energy all in and of themselves. So that’s one wing of our…

Sheri Eckert:                    00:52:01
They are our number one face on this initiative right now. They’re out there every day talking to the people in this city informing them and we get so many positive emails about our canvassers and that they were, “oh, I didn’t even know what psilocybin was. Oh my gosh. I have somebody who’s struggling with, with PTSD right now.” I mean, it’s really exciting to get the feedback from them. You know the polling from them is so positive.

Tom Eckert:                     00:52:33
Yeah. They’re kind of messaging masters. That’s pretty neat. And they keep the wheels moving on the day to day stuff, you know, because it takes money. And so fundraising is another area to talk about. The canvassers are doing a great job, as I said, giving us a baseline of funding. But the next phase is once the language is in that final form, being able to present that to organizations and larger donor potentials. So that’s on the horizon and that could fund things like getting polling done. You know, we have a sense that there’s a lot of good energy around this, but to have polling done that affirms that would make more fundraising a whole lot easier. And so polling costs money and that takes, you know.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:53:25
And that would also positively encourage people who might be on the fence who aren’t quite sure which way to go with this initiative and to be able to see that the populace of the state actually is for something, a change like this would be very helpful. So polling is one thing that we definitely would like to see happen very soon.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:53:47
It’s so interesting, right? Because you know, the, the I5 corridor of Oregon is assumed to be liberal largely. And then anything in the Eastern portion is assumed to be conservative. And, you know, with this particular issue, at least it’s been my experience with my family that the conservative side is just as pro psilocybin as the liberal side. It’s sort of one of those things. Like we said, this is an experience you don’t forget. You usually do it when you’re younger and you know, currently in a non-clinical setting. And I think it lasts with you even into your grade years where you start to get, you know, I’m not assuming here that all conservatives are old, but when we get older we do tend to lean conservative and because we have more to lose I guess or something like that. But it will be interesting to see, in my opinion how Eastern Oregon fairs, because I don’t think you’re going to have a heavy lift on the I5 corridor. Yeah. And the green spaces, especially because the psilocybin mushrooms grow all over Oregon.

Tom Eckert:                       00:54:56
There’s so many different angles and supportive arguments, for the initiative that apply to different folks and resonate with different folks. And so it’s, it’s an interesting messaging piece, given all the right messages out there. Like we were talking about with PTSD and combat veterans. That’s powerful stuff, you know, that works on many levels and it’s just true and important. Getting those kinds of messages out there as well as the, you know, kind of this is your liberty kind of message messenger or you know, personal growth message or mental wellness message. You know, there’s, there’s a whole array of things to talk about that kind of fit different audiences.

Collin Gabriel:                 00:55:46
Yeah. I was actually thinking as you said that about the notes I’d written in my little Scout Book here is that, you know, I just don’t care who you are, there’s no way that you don’t have someone in your family or your relationships that’s being affected by something that could be treated with psilocybin. I mean, just those testimonials that we filmed and just, you know, you hear. All it could make me think about was all the people who have not had that experience and are going through what those people, the cluster headache gentleman who said he would just be writhing on the ground in pain. I mean all of those things just kind of shocked me to think they’re going out there. There is a potential treatment and it’s not being administered. And that that to me is what I would hope crosses the political spectrum, is that people realize that this is a potential treatment for things that are currently, needs that are not being met.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:56:40
That’s key right now. We have a mental health crisis right now. We have an addiction crisis. It’s impacting whether you’re liberal or Conservative, you’re being impacted by it and as you say, if it’s not you, if it’s not a family member, it’s a neighbor. This is a huge problem that we are facing and there’s very few solutions out there in psychiatry. There’s been very little done in the last 20 years. That’s providing some sort of answer. So this is not the end all answer, but it is a solution.

Tom Eckert:                     00:57:16
And it represents something, you know. I think there’s a general disillusionment with Pharma in the incentives behind it and, and this is representing something natural. It’s representing a reclaiming of something within ourselves, you know, that we’re not dependent on pills. That an experience can help us unlock ourselves as something you do yourself, you know, it’s not done to you via a pill in the same way. So this is a very different modality and I think people are ready for that.

Danielle Olson: Yeah. So what are your current needs of the campaign? Where you at?

Tom Eckert:  Yeah, well certainly fundraising like we talked about is key.

Sheri Eckert:                    00:58:07
I think also our lot of our need is to, to make sure that we have the right staff to message this campaign. So we are working very hard to bring that into being. That’s a strong need. You always want to have the right people working on your campaign. You can’t do that without funds. So fundraising and is our number one and then of course, ultimately, the biggest need is the volunteers to gather the signatures to get this on the ballot.

Tom Eckert:                     00:58:39
Yeah. So I’m just giving you a heads up on the horizon on that because I know a lot of people are waiting for the green light on that. And as I mentioned earlier, we’re tiny bit behind. We’re hoping to be up and running on the signature gathering in July. It’s looking more like this month, maybe the end of this month or early September. Actually we haven’t talked about the event where it will be speaking with Paul Stamets where we’re doing an event in September 20th. and that’s looking like a good kind of launch of the whole thing. That’s what we’re hoping everything’s in order at least by then if not before.

So we’ll be dropping a new website. On that website there’s going to be a little video, a training video for signature gathering. So if you’re interested in gathering signatures as a volunteer, you watched the video, there’ll be a little quiz attached to it. You’ll pass the quiz. It’s not hard, it’s just kind of reflecting that we want everyone to kind of understand the ins and outs of how to do this so they can feel really comfortable and confident going out to do this. So pass the quiz, we get that information, we get your name and whatnot. We send out what you need to succeed as a canvasser, including the petition sheets and we start a relationship from there. So that’s how, that’s gonna work and it’s on the horizon. and we plan on developing a really awesome volunteer canvassing force.

Danielle Olson:  And what is the url of your website and where else can people go to get involved?

Tom Eckert:                     01:00:14
The new website is actually going to be different than the old one. It’ll redirect, but the new website is psi-2020.org. The current website is opsbuzz.com. So PSI-2020 again is the new campaign organization specifically geared to the campaign.

Collin Gabriel:                 01:00:40
All right, and might I add that the campaign has one of the most well organized slack channels I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So now you, you mentioned the Paul stamets event, so is that one of a number of events that you have planned? I know you just did the Oregon Country Fair Country Fair?

Sheri Eckert:  Yes. That was so exciting.

Tom Eckert:                     01:00:59
Yeah, we got such a great ride on that. We got a drawn in by the founders of the entire fair because we have these great people and Eugene that connected us and things happened and all of a sudden we’re staying at this wonderful camp, the a spoken word camp with all these other great artists and people. So we made lots of amazing connections and that was an awesome experience.

Sheri Eckert:                    01:01:23
Yeah, it was a really great experience and stuff. For this year we actually have only one planned event here in the state of Oregon and that’s the Stamets event and that’s on 9/20, so that will, there’s basically eight left, so pretty much the show is sold out, or the event is sold out. Then Tom and I will be speaking at the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in Canada in November. We’ll also be on panel at the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Conference also in Canada in November as well. We kind of have possibly an event coming up in October that will be kind of educational, informational, but that’s that’s on the TBD.

And then we’ll come up with our schedule of our new schedule of events for the year 2019 will have posted on our psi-productions.com page. That’s our events page that says, well, where we’ll be and what will be speaking on.

Tom Eckert:                     01:02:25
All of that by the way, will be simplified to psi-2020.org. Yeah. So I’m pulling everything together into a website that will have ticketing for events. It’ll have, you know, training for canvas saying it will have a store which is cool and merchandise moves really well and it’s really kind of…I’m so happy about that because not only does it is succeeding, but it reflects that people are willing to put psilocybin on their chest and it’s kind of like represents kind of coming out into the community and stuff like that. Because I don’t think a couple of years ago people, we had this dialogue, we’re like, “are people are really gonna wear the mushroom on it?”

Collin Gabriel: I wear mine like my Superman badge when I go out there and people meet my eyes and give me a nod and it’s the greatest thing ever.

Sheri Eckert:                    01:03:11
Well we have our canvassers that were at the Oregon country fair that said that they had to take their shirt off so they can have peace. People were asking “what, what is that? What are you doing?”

Collin Gabriel:  Well, I guess we will, we’ve got the website, we know now about the needs of the campaign. We know when you’re putting it on, or the signatures need to be gathered by to put it on the ballot.

Tom Eckert:   I think we should, I don’t know if we clearly stated this is aimed at 2020.

Collin Gabriel:                 01:03:42
That’s what I was thinking too as is, did we ask that explicitly? But the psi-2020 is a good indicator. But yes. On the ballot for 2020. So I mean, I think we’re about out of time. We, Tom and Sheri, I really can’t thank you enough for this kind of deep dive on something that’s been your side job, your passion, your probably sleepless nights. I know for my involvement it’s been a very emotional experience as well to see this thing. So I just can’t thank you enough.

Danielle Olson:  Thank you so much for you joining us here.

Tom Eckert:  It’s been great.

Sheri Eckert:  Thank you so much for giving us the chance to continue to inform the public. Thank you.

The post HTF 032 Advocating for Psilocybin appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative (Teaching Entrepreneurship in Prison)

We interviewed Sonja Skvarla, founder and Executive Director of A Social Ignition.

“Those who have been incarcerated come out facing a tremendous number of barriers to success. From feeling isolated by limited social interaction to no access to current trends in workplace culture, technology, and emotional intelligence, they lack the skills necessary to build a positive productive lifestyle. They also face legal discrimination for housing, employment, and some support services.”

A Social Ignition addresses this problem by teaching entrepreneurship inside and outside of prison.

Links

A Social Ignition’s website

Columbia River Correctional Institution

Facebook Live recording with Sonja at Hatch from 11/30/17

Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons by the Sentencing Project, August 2018

Private Prisons, Immigrant Detention and Investment Risks by American Federation of Teachers, August 2018

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Shownotes

Danielle Olson: 01:18
Sonja, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what A Social Ignition is?

Sonja Skvarla: 01:23
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, first of all. So, A Social Ignition is an organization that I started working on about five or six years ago. I recognized a need for programming in prison, supporting the real needs of men as they transition out into the world after incarceration. And so it took us a couple of years to get approved to be inside, but now we have been teaching a class inside called The Ignition Option, it’s a six week entrepreneurial program. And that works with the guys from the power of choice all the way through simulating a business model and presenting it in a pitch competition. Quite like the competencies that we participate in out here. And so we’ve been doing that for four years inside and we also work with the men as they transition out into the world to find housing or to start their own businesses or find employment or whatever that is.

Danielle Olson: 02:26
And where did this concept come from for you?

Sonja Skvarla: 02:30
So it’s not a new concept, truthfully. There are a couple other organizations across the country that do this type of work in different ways. But for me, the most important pieces that really needed to be addressed were the social transition. So they teach welding inside, they teach gardening, they teach other things. You can get your handlers permit, things like that, very vocational skills based.

But what isn’t addressed is the fact that we put people in a box essentially of various sizes for anywhere from three to 15 to 20 to 35 years and expect them to come out well adjusted and ready to face the world in a new way. And it doesn’t do that at all. It doesn’t even begin to do that. In fact, I had a gentleman say to me the other day, well, I have two choices here. I can really buckle down and try to figure something out and go into legitimate business when I’m out or I could spend time here getting better at what I was doing before and go out and make more money illegally. And I think that really shows us what we’re up against is the fact that we put people together who are really interested in learning and it can go one of two ways. And I feel very fortunate that our class is there for him to take to see a legitimate way out of that situation. If A Social Ignition didn’t exist in there, he almost is left with only one choice in order to really dig in and spend his days productively. There’s only one choice to do that.

Danielle Olson: 04:19
And you emphasized the REAL needs of the men in prison. How would you define those or expand upon that?

Sonja Skvarla: 04:27
Yeah. I would say the deeper needs are this social piece. How do I look at myself in such a way that I can convince maybe or that I can encourage other people to also look at me that way. when men and women come out of incarceration, they are seeped in self doubt in fear and anxiety. The world has moved on without them and not only are they left behind, but there is a stigma attached that says you’re a bad person. You are a felon. That’s a label. That’s an identity and we’re very conscious in our country right now around identity and people being able to choose and we give them no choice. We labeled them, we label them a felon. I correct guys in class all the time. I say, “you’re not a felon. You have committed a felony or you have been convicted of a felony.” That’s a completely different thing than the identity of a felon, but again, if folks aren’t there in the prisons talking with them, showing them that there are people on the outside that believe this of them, it’s very, very difficult to see what joy you can bring to the world and what joy you can actually experienced for yourself.

So the real needs that I’m referring to are that, that social piece to recognize that you have things in common with the outside world and that you are able to participate in the conversations, the business conversations of social conversations that are important that are happening out there. Um, yeah, those social connections are the biggest, the biggest piece. And we hit that in such a way that it’s been pretty successful.

Jenn Theone: 06:24
Yeah. So I’ve listened to a few of your talks and sometimes you can get pretty emotional and I think one time I heard you maybe almost tearing up and I wanted to talk to you about that and where do you think that conviction really came from that social need to need to change things? Where, where did that come from?

Sonja Skvarla: 06:46
Yeah, you probably heard me tear up more than one time, um, especially if it was on a stage of some sort. But really I think in the beginning I didn’t know where it came from. My Dad would say, “oh, that’s very altruistic of you.” Like, oh, that it wasn’t that wonderful, you know? And, you know, I said, well, no, but it’s not, it’s just what we need to do it all of this. Right. Um, and I didn’t really know where it came from. There was a gentleman or there is a gentleman associated with A Social Ignition who was incarcerated at one time and he would ask me maybe a couple times a year, “why are you doing this? Why do you come in here and spend time with those guys instead of, you know, being out in the world or in addition to being out in the world?”

And I said, “Oh, well,” my standard answer was “because in order to change the world, we need to have all the world’s voices.” It doesn’t make sense to me that one group of people have the loudest voice because we’re only going to change the world in that direction. That doesn’t actually solve problems. It’s usually more cyclical, right? We get back into the same problems we’ve been in before. What I realized over the course of this time, and so now you’ll probably hear me get emotional again. Is the fact that that’s all true. I mean, that, that is true.

What is more true for me is that through working with these men, here we go, through working with these men, I actually learned to love myself. In loving them, in seeing their joy and seeing their hardship and they’re really heartfelt desire to be loved and to love other people. And yeah, we’re a business class, but all of that comes up like that. That’s all relevant in class. And we talk about their connection with their kids when they call home and say, hey, can you google this for me? I’m working on this thing. And it’s through those interactions that they find, they begin to find themselves, which can be difficult. One of the gentlemen in our class at one point said, “Sonja!” he came in and he was so mad at me. He came into a coaching session and it was so mad. “Chris, what, why, what did I do?” And he said, “you opened my eyes and now I can’t shut them again.”

Jenn Theone:  Wow.

Sonja Skvarla: 09:11
And it was being expressed as anger and upset because there wasn’t. There are only so many places he could put that right now in this moment, still being incarcerated. But being around them, it really, it showed me that I could have those things myself, that I could have confidence that I could have love in just a really global sort of spiritual way.

Jenn Theone: 09:37
And more to the model of A Social Ignition how, how you use mentors that come from the professional world and then you bring them into the prisons and like you were just saying is it’s an exchange, an enriching exchange. So it’s not just for the, the prisoners, but it’s also for those outside and that. Could you elaborate on that?

Sonja Skvarla: 10:00
Absolutely. So despite all the love talk and all of that, what we do is play business. We work on business. Business is one of the most universal skills. If you can know how to run a business, it doesn’t matter if you actually own one or if you participate in somebody else’s. Pretty much all the jobs we have are in a business. And so being familiar with those skills and those tools is really important, really useful.

And so we do bring into each one of our 12 sessions. We bring in a business person from the outside, usually someone either with a skill specialized like marketing or finance, something like that, or someone who has started or run a company. We bring them in, not only to lend their experience, to have that exchange where they can bring experience to the men who are building business models, but also so that they can see and experience the brilliance of these men, the strategy, the smart, all of those things that they bring to the table.

In fact, it’s more common than not that as I’m walking out to the parking lot, with a mentor after class and I say, “Oh, you know, what, what do you think?” knowing full well what they’re going to say. And nine times out of ten they say, “That was amazing! It was normalized really quickly and I had just as many the conversations were the same as pretty much any conversation I have with other entrepreneurs on the outside.” And I smiled to myself a little bit and I go, yeah, I know. Uh, but the point is that seeing people in that environment, not only is there a little bit of compassion, but when you see somebody in that environment and then have conversations on the same level that you’re used to having every day, it’s not a pity conversation. It’s not compassion because I feel sorry for you. It’s compassion because, wow, this place sucks. But look how smart you are. Let’s have coffee when you get out. And that’s an entirely different dynamic than some sort of compassion that is unequal in the power play.

Danielle Olson: 12:10 Do you have any stats that you can share with us about recidivism?

Sonja Skvarla: 12:14
Sure. Recidivism is the big buzzword and post-incarceration programming. And I can tell you that our recidivism is about the same as any other well-designed prison program. So recidivism rates are under reported there also, again, hyperlocal. They’re all calculated in very different ways. So Oregon, we report ours. Different numbers go into our recidivism rate as Virginia as New Orleans, any other place they get to the side, how they calculate recidivism. So ours is about two to five percent. That is actually pretty standard for, like I said, well designed prison programs and really hard to track over time. The big thing that I’ll say about recidivism rates and a social ignition is that we set our bar way higher than that. So recidivism for those of y’all who don’t know, is essentially the rate at which people go back into prison within three years after release. There are lots of different numbers go into that, but that’s the basic.

And we had one gentleman, we talk about goals a lot and I said, what do you want to be when you grow up? Right? He’s already 35, but what do you want to be? What’s the future look like? He said, “I just don’t want to come back to prison”. Because recidivism has taught us. That term has taught us that that’s the goal. Just don’t go back. And I said, well, we won’t actually know that until you’re dead. So maybe we could find some goals between here and there to accomplish, to keep us busy. While that’s true, while that is also happening, that’s my recidivism.

Jenn Theone: 14:04
Can you talk to us about some of the entrepreneurial skills that prisoners might already have before they come to your class?

Sonja Skvarla: 14:10
Absolutely. Many of the men who are in our class have some sort of experience with illegitimate businesses or illegal businesses and some of them did them well and some of them do not do them well. But there are a lot of transferable skills. So one of my favorite moments, actually from this current class is when one of the gentleman, we were talking about markets, we were talking about customers, we were talking about distribution channels. He goes, “I know this!” And I said, yeah, you just didn’t know all the right words for it, but this was the business he’s been in for quite some time. And so it really an eye opening moment for him. The rest of us, this is old hat now, but for him it was really eyeopening to see that he actually knew the structure of legitimate business. He now knows the terms of legitimate business and so it doesn’t feel like such a big leap to go from where he has been to where he wants to be.

Danielle Olson: 15:11
So you, you talked a little bit about the change that you’re trying to create. I liked what you said about how in order to change the world, we need all of the world voices. I think that’s a really good idea to keep in mind in all of the work that we do. Could you lay out a little bit for us, what your theory of change is for a social ignition and just background for audience, if anyone’s not familiar with that term, theory of change is kind of a, a model for a social enterprise or nonprofit that says this is the vision that we see in the future and these are the strategies and activities that build towards that vision, that change that we’re trying to make in the world.

Sonja Skvarla: 16:09 So A Social Ignition uses business as I mentioned because it is so pervasive in a really positive way. All the stories of the rags to riches stories, the people who have come up from somewhere have used business in some way to make that travel. And so we use business as a strategy, it’s a tactic, to help to level the playing field because if you can learn those skills, you can move up in a way that hearts and minds is slower. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to change. We want people to see each other. We want people to love each other. We want people to accept each other and one way to do that, especially in a world of men, is to play on the same playing field, speak the same language, and we can start with business.

Business is an emotional thing. It’s a personal thing, but on it’s very surface it isn’t. It’s just numbers and if we can connect on those numbers first, bring people from different environments that are playing on the same field and then allow them to make those sort of superficial connections at first and then realize all the juice that comes underneath it. That’s what we’re looking to do. It’s slow. It’s not, “oh, we’ve worked with a thousand some people and now they have jobs and so yay, we win.” It’s much more about bringing people together and it’s slow. It’s very, very slow, but the hope is when we bring these mentors and they go back to their own work environment, they’re like, “oh man, where were you today?” And they puff up a little. “I was in prison today.” And then they talk about why and what that experience like and every time we do that, it’s just this little click on the timeline of moving closer and moving those hearts and minds closer together through business.

Jenn Theone: 18:01
I love it. Maybe could you talk, so you mentioned it’s like a small ripple effects, but there is something disruptive about what you’re doing. Can you as social entrepreneurship is meant to be positively disruptive, can you explain how even though it’s small ripple effects, how it might be disruptive for people in specific moments?

Sonja Skvarla: 18:26
So I really think of disruption as things that are happening differently to throw a wrench in the status quo of what’s moving forward. Right? And a lot of the status quo of what’s moving forward right now is fast results. In the entrepreneurial world. It’s 10 x, right? We need to make 10 x in five years so we can all go home rich. So I believe we are positively disruptive because we’re taking our damn time.

Jenn Theone: Beautiful.

Sonja Skvarla: 18:56
And slowing down and saying we have time. We’re not going to change this the way that we want to in five years. We’re not going to change it the way we want to in 10 years, we’ll make a dent in it. But when we use business to spread love, that’s a positive place and the disruption in it is, it’s not to make a shit ton of money in a short time. It’s to make a difference and build connection between people.

Danielle Olson: 19:28
Thank you. So you talked about mentors that come in. What other people and entities does a social admission rely on to be successful?

Sonja Skvarla: 19:38
Absolutely. So essentially ignition at this time is hugely reliant on the department of corrections. The Oregon Department of corrections and truthfully is a fantastic relationship. We have really great support. We are a volunteer program. They don’t need to keep us around at any time. They could say to us, you know, “we don’t have space, we don’t have the classroom space, so we’ll call you.” And we could never hear from again. That could happen any day, but it doesn’t. In fact, they continued to make space for us literal classroom space because prisons were not built for classrooms. And so that’s an issue, or it’s time we, the fact that we bring people in through security, every time we go in, that’s a big pain in the butt. They allow us to do it. We brought a video camera and a couple of weeks ago, because to tell, to tell a certain piece of this story, they allowed us to do that.

We have a really phenomenal relationship and the prison system gets a bad rap because the system in general is broken. It works fairly well in the wrong direction, right? But there are people in it who get it. There are people in it who really understand where we’re all trying to go and what’s useful to us as a society and we’re lucky enough that we’ve met those people. We work with those people. So we actually have a great relationship with the Oregon Department of corrections, which we rely on in order to come and do this work.

We also rely now financially on my other company off road. So I started a company after spending three years fundraising and writing grants and all of that for a social ignition to help it be sustainable and be a nonprofit and be a thing. And being very frustrated with that system. Danielle, we’ve talked about that before. You’ve heard those rants. After three years or so of doing that, I decided to stop writing grants to stop trying to participate in a system that wasn’t built to support men who are incarcerated. It was built to support babies and people in other countries and maybe puppies and all of these people who can’t fight for themselves. You can’t work for themselves. So I started a company taking my business acumen and this love that I have for business and going back to my roots of working with entrepreneurs and people who run nonprofits to help them do their work better. So we’re essentially a consulting and implementation firm for nonprofits and businesses all over the world and we earn money, just like any other company earns money, and we take a piece of that and give it to a social ignition in order to buy books. A Social Ignition is 100 percent volunteer run, no people get paid, but we do buy books and materials and some of those things and so off road pays for that.

Danielle Olson: 22:40
So that hybrid model, a nonprofit and for profit, um, is common or common enough that it’s you know, talked about as, as practice in the social enterprise sphere. Is there any advice or insights you would give for how, how well it works for social cognition, how it may or may not work for other people looking to create an appropriate social enterprise?

Sonja Skvarla: 23:17
Truthfully, it works really well. There’s a time challenge. So essentially now I’m actually running two or three companies instead of just one, but it’s, I actually have more time on my hands now because trying to fit into a system that isn’t useful for you is exhausting and time consuming.

As far as sort of advice I would give or how it might work for others. I’ll tell you what I tell the guys inside. Build a business model first. Figure out how you’re going to support this effort financially first and then decide if it should be a nonprofit or social enterprise or a B Corp or an S corp or whatever it’s going to be. If there’s a gap because it just takes so much labor or time. If there is a gap in the funding, then consider a 501(c)(3) or some sort of nonprofit model to take donations, but try as hard as you can first to earn your own money. Because if you can earn it through some sort of business capacity, then you’re in control of how that works, instead of having the government and the 501(c)(3)’s and the grant makers and all of that. They are really the tails wagging the dog. But if you earn your own money, then you are in control of your mission. You are in control of how that rolls out and you don’t have to make compromises.

I mentioned before that the prison system, along with the grant writing system, but the prison system is broken and that’s a term we hear a lot. And it’s also, I think, well designed for some of the things it was designed to do, which was take people who we are fearful of, mostly because we don’t understand them, and move them away from us to isolate them, to put them somewhere else. And so it’s done well that way. One of the reasons why it has grown out of control is because the prison system itself is fairly small. Unfortunately it’s feeded by the justice system and the way that we have had mandatory minimums. The way we have taken the humanity out of so many crimes that has fed more people than ever into the prison system.

And so whereas way back in the day, the only people who were incarcerated were people that we could be legitimately fearful of. They were physically dangerous people. That’s not the case anymore. Now the mass majority of people who are incarcerated are just different from us. Either they grew up in a different neighborhood that operated on different rules or there are a lot of people who are incarcerated who think differently. More and more I’m meeting autistic men in prison or dyslexic or they just think differently and if they had grown up with money, they’d probably be a dyslexic entrepreneur now making millions of dollars, but instead they’re incarcerated because somewhere along the line they didn’t fit in.

And along with that we hear about the prison industrial complex. Which is a term that talks about the amount of money that’s made by the system. Right? Whether that’s private prisons, whether that’s making money off of phone calls from people who are incarcerated to their families, whatever that is, and there is a lot of money to be made there. I do encourage people to check their portfolios because there are three private prison industries, and we can put this in some show notes, but they that are publicly traded. So usually they are listed under names that you wouldn’t recognize. And if you have a nicely diversified portfolio that your financial manager put together for you, you probably don’t know that they’re there and you may own some prison stock that you don’t know about. So those things are all true. It’s also very complicated system that I think few people have a handle on the whole piece.

In part one of the complexities is the theoretical piece of private prisons being in the business of holding people in prison and getting people back to prison because they need to fill their beds to make money. The state is the same way. If you’re not using any business to its full capacity, you’re losing money. And so it doesn’t really matter who owns or runs the prison. That’s the same.

One thing I will say about the private prisons that I have been, some of them are awful and but some of them, in fact, one of the best prison entrepreneurship programs in the country called PEP in Texas, operates in private prisons. And they are able to do so much more because it doesn’t take a literal act of Congress, state legislature to make change there. The private prison just gets to say, “Oh, you want an entire residential unit where your where the people in your entrepreneurship program can come and live together positively without going back into general population. Okay, let’s figure out how to make that happen.” They can just say, okay, let’s figure it out. Whereas state run prisons, it’s just nothing moves that fast and so there are opportunities in some of those systems to do things that the state prisons wouldn’t allow us to do.

Jenn Theone: 29:06
I’m actually really relieved to hear you say that because I know you got your masters in business and when I heard that you were starting a nonprofit, I was a little bit confused. I was like, “doesn’t she want to use the market to really propel her ideas forward.” So it actually really makes sense that you’ve done this.

Sonja Skvarla: 29:25
Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about that. In my personal journey, my personal entrepreneurship journey, I often wonder why the heck did I ever start a nonprofit? I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to. In the beginning I was always sort of temporary. I was like, “okay, well I’ll do this until we start making our own money and then just abandon it.” Which eventually happened, but went on longer than I thought and mostly I listened to other smart people, so I was humbled in the beginning and I was small and I said, oh, I just want to do this little effort. Right? I was altruistic, right? Daddy said, and I said, okay, this is how. This is how this work gets done, and all of these really smart people that I look up to just sort of made that general assumption. They said, “oh, you’re doing good things in the world. You’re a nonprofit.” Tada, done. Right? And so I said, “oh, okay, if you think so then let’s. Okay, let’s do it.”

And it was exactly what needed to happen to get me here, but it was an arduous process and I think now more and more these alternative models, like you say, now they’re common. That’s fantastic. Even five years ago when I started that, the only people who are starting nonprofits from corporations were huge corporations that somehow had some money leftover because they made so much of it that they’re like, well, we’ll give this away. Maybe it’s a tax credit. Maybe we actually believe in it. Either way. That was the model. We didn’t see a lot of that small stuff bubbling up from underneath until much more recently.

Danielle Olson: 30:56
It takes a lot of guts to create something from scratch in that, especially when it’s something like a social enterprise, trying to do something new in the world that there is no roadmap for.

Sonja Skvarla: 31:08
I think there’s a lot of people, if you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they probably won’t agree with you. In some ways it doesn’t feel like it takes guts. It feels like there isn’t another option. That this is the only way forward either for ourselves personally or for the community or whatever, and I will say that if there is something that I could change going back, it’s that equal number of people who challenged me and said, I don’t get it, there were the people who cheerleaded me to death. Who were just so happy that I was doing something good in the world and they said, “oh, that’s so wonderful. Good job.” Which doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help it make it better. You know, I’d go to funders and I’d say, here, here it is. And they’d say, oh no, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. No, we’re not giving you money, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. That’s not useful. What’s useful is we’re not giving you money because. And what I realized is that sometimes they don’t know why they’re not giving you money or they don’t want to say why they’re not giving you money because they’re not, show me, don’t tell me reasons they are because I just don’t believe in it actually, or I don’t want to be that close to the prison system or it’s too hard or it’s too depressing.

Those are the reasons why, but to just say, oh, it’s so great. This is what you’re doing in the world. I think we do a disservice to our peers and to the people that we mentor and to our students to say, “oh, it’s just so good, just keep doing it.” Because there’s always things that we can do better and so we do a disservice to sort of pat them on the head and just be glad that they’re doing it. We need to help them dig in and really sort of play in the dirt

Are there some ways you’re seeing that you want to do better? For what’s next for A Social Ignition?

Always, always I want to do better. And so, I mean, first it was to stop trying to fundraise. That was the first thing is how can I take these 850 hours literally half a year and put them to better use instead of trying to write grants are having parties to raise money or whatever. So that was one big, “how can we do better?”

And now beyond that it’s how can I better engage the people who want to be engaged? So we’re actually in September, October, somewhere in there we’re having a sort of a mini summit to the people who have with the mentors and the people who’ve been supportive of social cognition and that often say, “what else can I do?” to say, “okay, here’s what else you can do.” Here’s the way that you can engage. One way that entrepreneurs put on the face of I have everything together is because they are doing everything and so people don’t always know where the gaps are. It’s sort of a a founder’s dilemma where you have to do everything, but then it doesn’t present a place where others can become engaged easily.

So I think one thing that I’ve learned over this time is ways to organize what needs to be done, even if it’s all phantom right now because nobody’s doing it, but organize it in such a way that someone could grab on and make that piece their own, instead of handing them a task. Like, “your job is to bring in such and such amount of dollars or we need tables set up at our next function.We would love for you to do that or will you handle the graphic design for that?” Those are tasks and they’re okay, but they don’t get people engaged long term. People need to have ownership and truthfully, I mean a nonprofit and these sorts of organizations, they should belong to the community in some way because that’s who’s being served by them. Not only just the people who are incarcerated but the business folks out here are being served by the fact that we are better training men to enter the workforce after incarceration.

And so giving them a piece of ownership, whether that’s “okay, we want to enhance programming outside of prison because now we have all these guys that have gotten out and we continue to coach them and we have a men’s group,” and that sort of thing, but we can do more. We can do better, and so engaging the mentors and saying, what would a program like that look like and how would you want to be involved in it?

Jenn Theone: 35:38
It’s almost like you’re asking everyone to be an entrepreneur. When you ask them to engage with the social ignition and you. It’s like the ownership piece where each person who participates in this, including the prisoners is like their birthing something. I think I heard you say that once from themselves that they’re creating something completely original.

Sonja Skvarla: 35:59
Absolutely, absolutely. And so asking people, business people are very busy and so asking them to have an ownership over a small but meaningful piece is useful and allowing them support to say this is yours, we will help you do it. We’ll support you, but you let us know how you think this should go and we’ll support it into the world.

Danielle Olson: 36:26
So instead of handing people tasks, you’re framing it more as kind of big potential outcomes, but keeping it and then framing it as a question so that people can kind of engage and put their own ideas and ownership into that.

Sonja Skvarla: 36:46
Yeah, and the idea being that again, we all have busy lives, especially business people, people running businesses, usually it’s more than one. They’re not sitting on the beach from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM. They’re doing things. So helping them to design their own structure also. So one of the things that we’re talking about is creating, this is very tangible stuff I’m getting into now, but essentially creating nodes that are all a piece of A Social Ignition, but each of the nodes are according to a program. So maybe one’s all about the inside program, maybe one’s all about the outside program, maybe one is all about the upcoming tablet content channel that we’re developing for prisons across the country. But then to engage with that node and decide for yourself what’s useful.

So one of my criticisms of nonprofits is that they’re very strict for reasons, good reasons I’m sure that somebody came up with, but they’re very strict in terms of they have to have annual, they have to have a certain number of board members and you have to have annual meetings and you have to have minutes. And so we end up putting our mental models on that. And what we’re hoping to do here is open up each of these nodes to organize themselves in whatever way is most useful for what they’re trying to do. And so each one of these nodes will require a different level of engagement based on how they’re, depending on whether it’s an inside program that’s already sort of established but just needs more boost or if it’s the tablet program, which is pretty much a really great idea with some interested customers, there’s going to be a different of engagement there.

And so deciding for themselves what level of engagement. It’s not really new, but it’s new to A Social Ignition. It is a model that’s a little beyond where a lot of organizations are. And so it’s something that we’ll be trying in this fall.

Danielle Olson: 38:53
And did you find that somewhere or come up with. How did that come about?

Sonja Skvarla: 38:58
I made it up. That doesn’t mean it’s new, it just means that, I may have seen pieces of it in other places and I don’t always recognize where those things come from. But usually on Sunday in the perfect storm, it shows up for me. And so then I take advantage of that.

Jenn Theone: 39:18
That reminds me of something else you said about how experiences are. Our lives are cumulative. So every new instance comes with new lessons learned, even if it were doing the same thing that we did yesterday. What we’ve done since then changes the way we act. Right?

Sonja Skvarla: 39:37
Absolutely. I really tried to trends the #lifeiscumulative. Unfortunately we don’t really know how to spell it usually, so it never trended and most people laughed at me that it’s just not catchy enough for a Hashtag, but you know, #lifeiscumulative. And the idea of that being that it does take every moment of our lives previously to get us to this moment here. And so we need to recognize that we couldn’t be here in whatever glory or awfulness or whatever without all the moments that came before. And if this is a moment of awfulness, take heart that there is glory later because of this moment and awfulness here. So #lifeiscumulative.

Danielle Olson: 40:32
Right. We’ll make sure to put that into the social media for the podcast. I want to make sure that it’s clear for listeners what the programs are that you do. So you mentioned the ignition option and then outside of prison because you…. Yeah, just clarify.

Sonja Skvarla: 40:55
Yes, absolutely. So we start with a six week entrepreneurial course inside a prison called the ignition option and like I said, that cumulates in or culminates in a presentation day where they present their business models that they came up with throughout the course to members of the community that come inside. The mentors come back, other people come. We have actually had some people be offered jobs that day and started work when they get out a few months later. It’s really cool and yeah, all really good stuff and then they. Everybody who finishes that course, which is most. We have some attrition but not very much. Those guys are invited into the long haul, which is individual and small group coaching based on their particular goals. So twice a month they get to meet with an executive coach, someone who does that work on the outside and comes to prison specifically to do it with them one on one or twice a month for an hour.

And then the opposite. Our like workshops, we call it group coaching, which is a little bit of a misnomer, but they’re workshops on all kinds of different topics. So some of it’s articulating your values. Some of it is how to tell the story of your financial story of your business on the back of a napkin. All kinds. It really runs the gamut. And, and sometimes we just play games because you also just need to laugh and have fun. So that runs inside and then through the gate. So when they’re released they are lifetime members of The Long Haul and they continued to get business coaching, employment coaching. We connect them with mentors who were interested in helping them with their journey and having coffee and, you know, very organic just like you and I would have coffee with somebody and interview them and whatnot. There is also a men’s group on the outside, which for obvious reasons I do not participate in. But that really helps the men to have some time to just be themselves and to be vulnerable with each other in a way that they may not feel comfortable with women in the room. And support each other through this journey.

Danielle Olson: 43:13
How would you recommend people learn more or get engaged with a social ignition if they’re interested?

Sonja Skvarla: Yeah. Well, if you’re in the Portland area, come to prison with me. Nodding. Yes.

Jenn Theone: I would come.

Sonja Skvarla: 43:27
So in fact August 13th this year is our next presentation day, so next month, August 13th. And so that’s a really great way to come in and meet the guys and see what they’ve been working on and hear about their business models. That’s the best way to get started, truthfully. If you have a workshop, if you have some sort of value to offer, we would love to have you in to work with the guys in the long haul on that. In the workshop space also, sponsoring books is an option. Some of those kinds of things. If you’re not in the Portland area.

I also really encourage people that if you’re not in the Portland area, you find the thing that does this in your area because incarceration is actually hyperlocal. People are confined to a prison which is in a particular area and when they’re released, they are released back into the community that was troublesome for them and are required to stay there, in fact need permission to leave. Usually paperwork and all kinds of things to leave that situation. So getting involved in your local community is the best thing that you can do, including just talking to people on the bus next to you or smiling at somebody at the grocery store. Those are the little things that do the same things that we’re trying to do in prison on a smaller scale, so get involved in your local community, go to those prisons, volunteer with those organizations and keep it local.

Danielle Olson: 45:05
And in people’s individual communities. Is looking through the prisons probably the best way to find those programs? Or are there other good ways?

Sonja Skvarla: 45:14
So most prisons will. You can talk to their sort of PR department and they should be able to hook you up with the volunteers that already go inside. Sometimes it’s listed on their website. Those are good places to start.

Jenn Theone: Sonja, thank you so much for coming out. We really enjoyed this conversation.

Sonja Skvarla: Thank you so much for having me.

 

The post HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative (Teaching Entrepreneurship in Prison) appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative (Teaching Entrepreneurship in Prison)

We interviewed Sonja Skvarla, founder and Executive Director of A Social Ignition.

“Those who have been incarcerated come out facing a tremendous number of barriers to success. From feeling isolated by limited social interaction to no access to current trends in workplace culture, technology, and emotional intelligence, they lack the skills necessary to build a positive productive lifestyle. They also face legal discrimination for housing, employment, and some support services.”

A Social Ignition addresses this problem by teaching entrepreneurship inside and outside of prison.

Links

A Social Ignition’s website

Columbia River Correctional Institution

Facebook Live recording with Sonja at Hatch from 11/30/17

Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons by the Sentencing Project, August 2018

Private Prisons, Immigrant Detention and Investment Risks by American Federation of Teachers, August 2018

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Shownotes

Danielle Olson: 01:18
Sonja, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what A Social Ignition is?

Sonja Skvarla: 01:23
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, first of all. So, A Social Ignition is an organization that I started working on about five or six years ago. I recognized a need for programming in prison, supporting the real needs of men as they transition out into the world after incarceration. And so it took us a couple of years to get approved to be inside, but now we have been teaching a class inside called The Ignition Option, it’s a six week entrepreneurial program. And that works with the guys from the power of choice all the way through simulating a business model and presenting it in a pitch competition. Quite like the competencies that we participate in out here. And so we’ve been doing that for four years inside and we also work with the men as they transition out into the world to find housing or to start their own businesses or find employment or whatever that is.

Danielle Olson: 02:26
And where did this concept come from for you?

Sonja Skvarla: 02:30
So it’s not a new concept, truthfully. There are a couple other organizations across the country that do this type of work in different ways. But for me, the most important pieces that really needed to be addressed were the social transition. So they teach welding inside, they teach gardening, they teach other things. You can get your handlers permit, things like that, very vocational skills based.

But what isn’t addressed is the fact that we put people in a box essentially of various sizes for anywhere from three to 15 to 20 to 35 years and expect them to come out well adjusted and ready to face the world in a new way. And it doesn’t do that at all. It doesn’t even begin to do that. In fact, I had a gentleman say to me the other day, well, I have two choices here. I can really buckle down and try to figure something out and go into legitimate business when I’m out or I could spend time here getting better at what I was doing before and go out and make more money illegally. And I think that really shows us what we’re up against is the fact that we put people together who are really interested in learning and it can go one of two ways. And I feel very fortunate that our class is there for him to take to see a legitimate way out of that situation. If A Social Ignition didn’t exist in there, he almost is left with only one choice in order to really dig in and spend his days productively. There’s only one choice to do that.

Danielle Olson: 04:19
And you emphasized the REAL needs of the men in prison. How would you define those or expand upon that?

Sonja Skvarla: 04:27
Yeah. I would say the deeper needs are this social piece. How do I look at myself in such a way that I can convince maybe or that I can encourage other people to also look at me that way. when men and women come out of incarceration, they are seeped in self doubt in fear and anxiety. The world has moved on without them and not only are they left behind, but there is a stigma attached that says you’re a bad person. You are a felon. That’s a label. That’s an identity and we’re very conscious in our country right now around identity and people being able to choose and we give them no choice. We labeled them, we label them a felon. I correct guys in class all the time. I say, “you’re not a felon. You have committed a felony or you have been convicted of a felony.” That’s a completely different thing than the identity of a felon, but again, if folks aren’t there in the prisons talking with them, showing them that there are people on the outside that believe this of them, it’s very, very difficult to see what joy you can bring to the world and what joy you can actually experienced for yourself.

So the real needs that I’m referring to are that, that social piece to recognize that you have things in common with the outside world and that you are able to participate in the conversations, the business conversations of social conversations that are important that are happening out there. Um, yeah, those social connections are the biggest, the biggest piece. And we hit that in such a way that it’s been pretty successful.

Jenn Theone: 06:24
Yeah. So I’ve listened to a few of your talks and sometimes you can get pretty emotional and I think one time I heard you maybe almost tearing up and I wanted to talk to you about that and where do you think that conviction really came from that social need to need to change things? Where, where did that come from?

Sonja Skvarla: 06:46
Yeah, you probably heard me tear up more than one time, um, especially if it was on a stage of some sort. But really I think in the beginning I didn’t know where it came from. My Dad would say, “oh, that’s very altruistic of you.” Like, oh, that it wasn’t that wonderful, you know? And, you know, I said, well, no, but it’s not, it’s just what we need to do it all of this. Right. Um, and I didn’t really know where it came from. There was a gentleman or there is a gentleman associated with A Social Ignition who was incarcerated at one time and he would ask me maybe a couple times a year, “why are you doing this? Why do you come in here and spend time with those guys instead of, you know, being out in the world or in addition to being out in the world?”

And I said, “Oh, well,” my standard answer was “because in order to change the world, we need to have all the world’s voices.” It doesn’t make sense to me that one group of people have the loudest voice because we’re only going to change the world in that direction. That doesn’t actually solve problems. It’s usually more cyclical, right? We get back into the same problems we’ve been in before. What I realized over the course of this time, and so now you’ll probably hear me get emotional again. Is the fact that that’s all true. I mean, that, that is true.

What is more true for me is that through working with these men, here we go, through working with these men, I actually learned to love myself. In loving them, in seeing their joy and seeing their hardship and they’re really heartfelt desire to be loved and to love other people. And yeah, we’re a business class, but all of that comes up like that. That’s all relevant in class. And we talk about their connection with their kids when they call home and say, hey, can you google this for me? I’m working on this thing. And it’s through those interactions that they find, they begin to find themselves, which can be difficult. One of the gentlemen in our class at one point said, “Sonja!” he came in and he was so mad at me. He came into a coaching session and it was so mad. “Chris, what, why, what did I do?” And he said, “you opened my eyes and now I can’t shut them again.”

Jenn Theone:  Wow.

Sonja Skvarla: 09:11
And it was being expressed as anger and upset because there wasn’t. There are only so many places he could put that right now in this moment, still being incarcerated. But being around them, it really, it showed me that I could have those things myself, that I could have confidence that I could have love in just a really global sort of spiritual way.

Jenn Theone: 09:37
And more to the model of A Social Ignition how, how you use mentors that come from the professional world and then you bring them into the prisons and like you were just saying is it’s an exchange, an enriching exchange. So it’s not just for the, the prisoners, but it’s also for those outside and that. Could you elaborate on that?

Sonja Skvarla: 10:00
Absolutely. So despite all the love talk and all of that, what we do is play business. We work on business. Business is one of the most universal skills. If you can know how to run a business, it doesn’t matter if you actually own one or if you participate in somebody else’s. Pretty much all the jobs we have are in a business. And so being familiar with those skills and those tools is really important, really useful.

And so we do bring into each one of our 12 sessions. We bring in a business person from the outside, usually someone either with a skill specialized like marketing or finance, something like that, or someone who has started or run a company. We bring them in, not only to lend their experience, to have that exchange where they can bring experience to the men who are building business models, but also so that they can see and experience the brilliance of these men, the strategy, the smart, all of those things that they bring to the table.

In fact, it’s more common than not that as I’m walking out to the parking lot, with a mentor after class and I say, “Oh, you know, what, what do you think?” knowing full well what they’re going to say. And nine times out of ten they say, “That was amazing! It was normalized really quickly and I had just as many the conversations were the same as pretty much any conversation I have with other entrepreneurs on the outside.” And I smiled to myself a little bit and I go, yeah, I know. Uh, but the point is that seeing people in that environment, not only is there a little bit of compassion, but when you see somebody in that environment and then have conversations on the same level that you’re used to having every day, it’s not a pity conversation. It’s not compassion because I feel sorry for you. It’s compassion because, wow, this place sucks. But look how smart you are. Let’s have coffee when you get out. And that’s an entirely different dynamic than some sort of compassion that is unequal in the power play.

Danielle Olson: 12:10 Do you have any stats that you can share with us about recidivism?

Sonja Skvarla: 12:14
Sure. Recidivism is the big buzzword and post-incarceration programming. And I can tell you that our recidivism is about the same as any other well-designed prison program. So recidivism rates are under reported there also, again, hyperlocal. They’re all calculated in very different ways. So Oregon, we report ours. Different numbers go into our recidivism rate as Virginia as New Orleans, any other place they get to the side, how they calculate recidivism. So ours is about two to five percent. That is actually pretty standard for, like I said, well designed prison programs and really hard to track over time. The big thing that I’ll say about recidivism rates and a social ignition is that we set our bar way higher than that. So recidivism for those of y’all who don’t know, is essentially the rate at which people go back into prison within three years after release. There are lots of different numbers go into that, but that’s the basic.

And we had one gentleman, we talk about goals a lot and I said, what do you want to be when you grow up? Right? He’s already 35, but what do you want to be? What’s the future look like? He said, “I just don’t want to come back to prison”. Because recidivism has taught us. That term has taught us that that’s the goal. Just don’t go back. And I said, well, we won’t actually know that until you’re dead. So maybe we could find some goals between here and there to accomplish, to keep us busy. While that’s true, while that is also happening, that’s my recidivism.

Jenn Theone: 14:04
Can you talk to us about some of the entrepreneurial skills that prisoners might already have before they come to your class?

Sonja Skvarla: 14:10
Absolutely. Many of the men who are in our class have some sort of experience with illegitimate businesses or illegal businesses and some of them did them well and some of them do not do them well. But there are a lot of transferable skills. So one of my favorite moments, actually from this current class is when one of the gentleman, we were talking about markets, we were talking about customers, we were talking about distribution channels. He goes, “I know this!” And I said, yeah, you just didn’t know all the right words for it, but this was the business he’s been in for quite some time. And so it really an eye opening moment for him. The rest of us, this is old hat now, but for him it was really eyeopening to see that he actually knew the structure of legitimate business. He now knows the terms of legitimate business and so it doesn’t feel like such a big leap to go from where he has been to where he wants to be.

Danielle Olson: 15:11
So you, you talked a little bit about the change that you’re trying to create. I liked what you said about how in order to change the world, we need all of the world voices. I think that’s a really good idea to keep in mind in all of the work that we do. Could you lay out a little bit for us, what your theory of change is for a social ignition and just background for audience, if anyone’s not familiar with that term, theory of change is kind of a, a model for a social enterprise or nonprofit that says this is the vision that we see in the future and these are the strategies and activities that build towards that vision, that change that we’re trying to make in the world.

Sonja Skvarla: 16:09 So A Social Ignition uses business as I mentioned because it is so pervasive in a really positive way. All the stories of the rags to riches stories, the people who have come up from somewhere have used business in some way to make that travel. And so we use business as a strategy, it’s a tactic, to help to level the playing field because if you can learn those skills, you can move up in a way that hearts and minds is slower. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to change. We want people to see each other. We want people to love each other. We want people to accept each other and one way to do that, especially in a world of men, is to play on the same playing field, speak the same language, and we can start with business.

Business is an emotional thing. It’s a personal thing, but on it’s very surface it isn’t. It’s just numbers and if we can connect on those numbers first, bring people from different environments that are playing on the same field and then allow them to make those sort of superficial connections at first and then realize all the juice that comes underneath it. That’s what we’re looking to do. It’s slow. It’s not, “oh, we’ve worked with a thousand some people and now they have jobs and so yay, we win.” It’s much more about bringing people together and it’s slow. It’s very, very slow, but the hope is when we bring these mentors and they go back to their own work environment, they’re like, “oh man, where were you today?” And they puff up a little. “I was in prison today.” And then they talk about why and what that experience like and every time we do that, it’s just this little click on the timeline of moving closer and moving those hearts and minds closer together through business.

Jenn Theone: 18:01
I love it. Maybe could you talk, so you mentioned it’s like a small ripple effects, but there is something disruptive about what you’re doing. Can you as social entrepreneurship is meant to be positively disruptive, can you explain how even though it’s small ripple effects, how it might be disruptive for people in specific moments?

Sonja Skvarla: 18:26
So I really think of disruption as things that are happening differently to throw a wrench in the status quo of what’s moving forward. Right? And a lot of the status quo of what’s moving forward right now is fast results. In the entrepreneurial world. It’s 10 x, right? We need to make 10 x in five years so we can all go home rich. So I believe we are positively disruptive because we’re taking our damn time.

Jenn Theone: Beautiful.

Sonja Skvarla: 18:56
And slowing down and saying we have time. We’re not going to change this the way that we want to in five years. We’re not going to change it the way we want to in 10 years, we’ll make a dent in it. But when we use business to spread love, that’s a positive place and the disruption in it is, it’s not to make a shit ton of money in a short time. It’s to make a difference and build connection between people.

Danielle Olson: 19:28
Thank you. So you talked about mentors that come in. What other people and entities does a social admission rely on to be successful?

Sonja Skvarla: 19:38
Absolutely. So essentially ignition at this time is hugely reliant on the department of corrections. The Oregon Department of corrections and truthfully is a fantastic relationship. We have really great support. We are a volunteer program. They don’t need to keep us around at any time. They could say to us, you know, “we don’t have space, we don’t have the classroom space, so we’ll call you.” And we could never hear from again. That could happen any day, but it doesn’t. In fact, they continued to make space for us literal classroom space because prisons were not built for classrooms. And so that’s an issue, or it’s time we, the fact that we bring people in through security, every time we go in, that’s a big pain in the butt. They allow us to do it. We brought a video camera and a couple of weeks ago, because to tell, to tell a certain piece of this story, they allowed us to do that.

We have a really phenomenal relationship and the prison system gets a bad rap because the system in general is broken. It works fairly well in the wrong direction, right? But there are people in it who get it. There are people in it who really understand where we’re all trying to go and what’s useful to us as a society and we’re lucky enough that we’ve met those people. We work with those people. So we actually have a great relationship with the Oregon Department of corrections, which we rely on in order to come and do this work.

We also rely now financially on my other company off road. So I started a company after spending three years fundraising and writing grants and all of that for a social ignition to help it be sustainable and be a nonprofit and be a thing. And being very frustrated with that system. Danielle, we’ve talked about that before. You’ve heard those rants. After three years or so of doing that, I decided to stop writing grants to stop trying to participate in a system that wasn’t built to support men who are incarcerated. It was built to support babies and people in other countries and maybe puppies and all of these people who can’t fight for themselves. You can’t work for themselves. So I started a company taking my business acumen and this love that I have for business and going back to my roots of working with entrepreneurs and people who run nonprofits to help them do their work better. So we’re essentially a consulting and implementation firm for nonprofits and businesses all over the world and we earn money, just like any other company earns money, and we take a piece of that and give it to a social ignition in order to buy books. A Social Ignition is 100 percent volunteer run, no people get paid, but we do buy books and materials and some of those things and so off road pays for that.

Danielle Olson: 22:40
So that hybrid model, a nonprofit and for profit, um, is common or common enough that it’s you know, talked about as, as practice in the social enterprise sphere. Is there any advice or insights you would give for how, how well it works for social cognition, how it may or may not work for other people looking to create an appropriate social enterprise?

Sonja Skvarla: 23:17
Truthfully, it works really well. There’s a time challenge. So essentially now I’m actually running two or three companies instead of just one, but it’s, I actually have more time on my hands now because trying to fit into a system that isn’t useful for you is exhausting and time consuming.

As far as sort of advice I would give or how it might work for others. I’ll tell you what I tell the guys inside. Build a business model first. Figure out how you’re going to support this effort financially first and then decide if it should be a nonprofit or social enterprise or a B Corp or an S corp or whatever it’s going to be. If there’s a gap because it just takes so much labor or time. If there is a gap in the funding, then consider a 501(c)(3) or some sort of nonprofit model to take donations, but try as hard as you can first to earn your own money. Because if you can earn it through some sort of business capacity, then you’re in control of how that works, instead of having the government and the 501(c)(3)’s and the grant makers and all of that. They are really the tails wagging the dog. But if you earn your own money, then you are in control of your mission. You are in control of how that rolls out and you don’t have to make compromises.

I mentioned before that the prison system, along with the grant writing system, but the prison system is broken and that’s a term we hear a lot. And it’s also, I think, well designed for some of the things it was designed to do, which was take people who we are fearful of, mostly because we don’t understand them, and move them away from us to isolate them, to put them somewhere else. And so it’s done well that way. One of the reasons why it has grown out of control is because the prison system itself is fairly small. Unfortunately it’s feeded by the justice system and the way that we have had mandatory minimums. The way we have taken the humanity out of so many crimes that has fed more people than ever into the prison system.

And so whereas way back in the day, the only people who were incarcerated were people that we could be legitimately fearful of. They were physically dangerous people. That’s not the case anymore. Now the mass majority of people who are incarcerated are just different from us. Either they grew up in a different neighborhood that operated on different rules or there are a lot of people who are incarcerated who think differently. More and more I’m meeting autistic men in prison or dyslexic or they just think differently and if they had grown up with money, they’d probably be a dyslexic entrepreneur now making millions of dollars, but instead they’re incarcerated because somewhere along the line they didn’t fit in.

And along with that we hear about the prison industrial complex. Which is a term that talks about the amount of money that’s made by the system. Right? Whether that’s private prisons, whether that’s making money off of phone calls from people who are incarcerated to their families, whatever that is, and there is a lot of money to be made there. I do encourage people to check their portfolios because there are three private prison industries, and we can put this in some show notes, but they that are publicly traded. So usually they are listed under names that you wouldn’t recognize. And if you have a nicely diversified portfolio that your financial manager put together for you, you probably don’t know that they’re there and you may own some prison stock that you don’t know about. So those things are all true. It’s also very complicated system that I think few people have a handle on the whole piece.

In part one of the complexities is the theoretical piece of private prisons being in the business of holding people in prison and getting people back to prison because they need to fill their beds to make money. The state is the same way. If you’re not using any business to its full capacity, you’re losing money. And so it doesn’t really matter who owns or runs the prison. That’s the same.

One thing I will say about the private prisons that I have been, some of them are awful and but some of them, in fact, one of the best prison entrepreneurship programs in the country called PEP in Texas, operates in private prisons. And they are able to do so much more because it doesn’t take a literal act of Congress, state legislature to make change there. The private prison just gets to say, “Oh, you want an entire residential unit where your where the people in your entrepreneurship program can come and live together positively without going back into general population. Okay, let’s figure out how to make that happen.” They can just say, okay, let’s figure it out. Whereas state run prisons, it’s just nothing moves that fast and so there are opportunities in some of those systems to do things that the state prisons wouldn’t allow us to do.

Jenn Theone: 29:06
I’m actually really relieved to hear you say that because I know you got your masters in business and when I heard that you were starting a nonprofit, I was a little bit confused. I was like, “doesn’t she want to use the market to really propel her ideas forward.” So it actually really makes sense that you’ve done this.

Sonja Skvarla: 29:25
Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about that. In my personal journey, my personal entrepreneurship journey, I often wonder why the heck did I ever start a nonprofit? I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to. In the beginning I was always sort of temporary. I was like, “okay, well I’ll do this until we start making our own money and then just abandon it.” Which eventually happened, but went on longer than I thought and mostly I listened to other smart people, so I was humbled in the beginning and I was small and I said, oh, I just want to do this little effort. Right? I was altruistic, right? Daddy said, and I said, okay, this is how. This is how this work gets done, and all of these really smart people that I look up to just sort of made that general assumption. They said, “oh, you’re doing good things in the world. You’re a nonprofit.” Tada, done. Right? And so I said, “oh, okay, if you think so then let’s. Okay, let’s do it.”

And it was exactly what needed to happen to get me here, but it was an arduous process and I think now more and more these alternative models, like you say, now they’re common. That’s fantastic. Even five years ago when I started that, the only people who are starting nonprofits from corporations were huge corporations that somehow had some money leftover because they made so much of it that they’re like, well, we’ll give this away. Maybe it’s a tax credit. Maybe we actually believe in it. Either way. That was the model. We didn’t see a lot of that small stuff bubbling up from underneath until much more recently.

Danielle Olson: 30:56
It takes a lot of guts to create something from scratch in that, especially when it’s something like a social enterprise, trying to do something new in the world that there is no roadmap for.

Sonja Skvarla: 31:08
I think there’s a lot of people, if you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they probably won’t agree with you. In some ways it doesn’t feel like it takes guts. It feels like there isn’t another option. That this is the only way forward either for ourselves personally or for the community or whatever, and I will say that if there is something that I could change going back, it’s that equal number of people who challenged me and said, I don’t get it, there were the people who cheerleaded me to death. Who were just so happy that I was doing something good in the world and they said, “oh, that’s so wonderful. Good job.” Which doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help it make it better. You know, I’d go to funders and I’d say, here, here it is. And they’d say, oh no, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. No, we’re not giving you money, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. That’s not useful. What’s useful is we’re not giving you money because. And what I realized is that sometimes they don’t know why they’re not giving you money or they don’t want to say why they’re not giving you money because they’re not, show me, don’t tell me reasons they are because I just don’t believe in it actually, or I don’t want to be that close to the prison system or it’s too hard or it’s too depressing.

Those are the reasons why, but to just say, oh, it’s so great. This is what you’re doing in the world. I think we do a disservice to our peers and to the people that we mentor and to our students to say, “oh, it’s just so good, just keep doing it.” Because there’s always things that we can do better and so we do a disservice to sort of pat them on the head and just be glad that they’re doing it. We need to help them dig in and really sort of play in the dirt

Are there some ways you’re seeing that you want to do better? For what’s next for A Social Ignition?

Always, always I want to do better. And so, I mean, first it was to stop trying to fundraise. That was the first thing is how can I take these 850 hours literally half a year and put them to better use instead of trying to write grants are having parties to raise money or whatever. So that was one big, “how can we do better?”

And now beyond that it’s how can I better engage the people who want to be engaged? So we’re actually in September, October, somewhere in there we’re having a sort of a mini summit to the people who have with the mentors and the people who’ve been supportive of social cognition and that often say, “what else can I do?” to say, “okay, here’s what else you can do.” Here’s the way that you can engage. One way that entrepreneurs put on the face of I have everything together is because they are doing everything and so people don’t always know where the gaps are. It’s sort of a a founder’s dilemma where you have to do everything, but then it doesn’t present a place where others can become engaged easily.

So I think one thing that I’ve learned over this time is ways to organize what needs to be done, even if it’s all phantom right now because nobody’s doing it, but organize it in such a way that someone could grab on and make that piece their own, instead of handing them a task. Like, “your job is to bring in such and such amount of dollars or we need tables set up at our next function.We would love for you to do that or will you handle the graphic design for that?” Those are tasks and they’re okay, but they don’t get people engaged long term. People need to have ownership and truthfully, I mean a nonprofit and these sorts of organizations, they should belong to the community in some way because that’s who’s being served by them. Not only just the people who are incarcerated but the business folks out here are being served by the fact that we are better training men to enter the workforce after incarceration.

And so giving them a piece of ownership, whether that’s “okay, we want to enhance programming outside of prison because now we have all these guys that have gotten out and we continue to coach them and we have a men’s group,” and that sort of thing, but we can do more. We can do better, and so engaging the mentors and saying, what would a program like that look like and how would you want to be involved in it?

Jenn Theone: 35:38
It’s almost like you’re asking everyone to be an entrepreneur. When you ask them to engage with the social ignition and you. It’s like the ownership piece where each person who participates in this, including the prisoners is like their birthing something. I think I heard you say that once from themselves that they’re creating something completely original.

Sonja Skvarla: 35:59
Absolutely, absolutely. And so asking people, business people are very busy and so asking them to have an ownership over a small but meaningful piece is useful and allowing them support to say this is yours, we will help you do it. We’ll support you, but you let us know how you think this should go and we’ll support it into the world.

Danielle Olson: 36:26
So instead of handing people tasks, you’re framing it more as kind of big potential outcomes, but keeping it and then framing it as a question so that people can kind of engage and put their own ideas and ownership into that.

Sonja Skvarla: 36:46
Yeah, and the idea being that again, we all have busy lives, especially business people, people running businesses, usually it’s more than one. They’re not sitting on the beach from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM. They’re doing things. So helping them to design their own structure also. So one of the things that we’re talking about is creating, this is very tangible stuff I’m getting into now, but essentially creating nodes that are all a piece of A Social Ignition, but each of the nodes are according to a program. So maybe one’s all about the inside program, maybe one’s all about the outside program, maybe one is all about the upcoming tablet content channel that we’re developing for prisons across the country. But then to engage with that node and decide for yourself what’s useful.

So one of my criticisms of nonprofits is that they’re very strict for reasons, good reasons I’m sure that somebody came up with, but they’re very strict in terms of they have to have annual, they have to have a certain number of board members and you have to have annual meetings and you have to have minutes. And so we end up putting our mental models on that. And what we’re hoping to do here is open up each of these nodes to organize themselves in whatever way is most useful for what they’re trying to do. And so each one of these nodes will require a different level of engagement based on how they’re, depending on whether it’s an inside program that’s already sort of established but just needs more boost or if it’s the tablet program, which is pretty much a really great idea with some interested customers, there’s going to be a different of engagement there.

And so deciding for themselves what level of engagement. It’s not really new, but it’s new to A Social Ignition. It is a model that’s a little beyond where a lot of organizations are. And so it’s something that we’ll be trying in this fall.

Danielle Olson: 38:53
And did you find that somewhere or come up with. How did that come about?

Sonja Skvarla: 38:58
I made it up. That doesn’t mean it’s new, it just means that, I may have seen pieces of it in other places and I don’t always recognize where those things come from. But usually on Sunday in the perfect storm, it shows up for me. And so then I take advantage of that.

Jenn Theone: 39:18
That reminds me of something else you said about how experiences are. Our lives are cumulative. So every new instance comes with new lessons learned, even if it were doing the same thing that we did yesterday. What we’ve done since then changes the way we act. Right?

Sonja Skvarla: 39:37
Absolutely. I really tried to trends the #lifeiscumulative. Unfortunately we don’t really know how to spell it usually, so it never trended and most people laughed at me that it’s just not catchy enough for a Hashtag, but you know, #lifeiscumulative. And the idea of that being that it does take every moment of our lives previously to get us to this moment here. And so we need to recognize that we couldn’t be here in whatever glory or awfulness or whatever without all the moments that came before. And if this is a moment of awfulness, take heart that there is glory later because of this moment and awfulness here. So #lifeiscumulative.

Danielle Olson: 40:32
Right. We’ll make sure to put that into the social media for the podcast. I want to make sure that it’s clear for listeners what the programs are that you do. So you mentioned the ignition option and then outside of prison because you…. Yeah, just clarify.

Sonja Skvarla: 40:55
Yes, absolutely. So we start with a six week entrepreneurial course inside a prison called the ignition option and like I said, that cumulates in or culminates in a presentation day where they present their business models that they came up with throughout the course to members of the community that come inside. The mentors come back, other people come. We have actually had some people be offered jobs that day and started work when they get out a few months later. It’s really cool and yeah, all really good stuff and then they. Everybody who finishes that course, which is most. We have some attrition but not very much. Those guys are invited into the long haul, which is individual and small group coaching based on their particular goals. So twice a month they get to meet with an executive coach, someone who does that work on the outside and comes to prison specifically to do it with them one on one or twice a month for an hour.

And then the opposite. Our like workshops, we call it group coaching, which is a little bit of a misnomer, but they’re workshops on all kinds of different topics. So some of it’s articulating your values. Some of it is how to tell the story of your financial story of your business on the back of a napkin. All kinds. It really runs the gamut. And, and sometimes we just play games because you also just need to laugh and have fun. So that runs inside and then through the gate. So when they’re released they are lifetime members of The Long Haul and they continued to get business coaching, employment coaching. We connect them with mentors who were interested in helping them with their journey and having coffee and, you know, very organic just like you and I would have coffee with somebody and interview them and whatnot. There is also a men’s group on the outside, which for obvious reasons I do not participate in. But that really helps the men to have some time to just be themselves and to be vulnerable with each other in a way that they may not feel comfortable with women in the room. And support each other through this journey.

Danielle Olson: 43:13
How would you recommend people learn more or get engaged with a social ignition if they’re interested?

Sonja Skvarla: Yeah. Well, if you’re in the Portland area, come to prison with me. Nodding. Yes.

Jenn Theone: I would come.

Sonja Skvarla: 43:27
So in fact August 13th this year is our next presentation day, so next month, August 13th. And so that’s a really great way to come in and meet the guys and see what they’ve been working on and hear about their business models. That’s the best way to get started, truthfully. If you have a workshop, if you have some sort of value to offer, we would love to have you in to work with the guys in the long haul on that. In the workshop space also, sponsoring books is an option. Some of those kinds of things. If you’re not in the Portland area.

I also really encourage people that if you’re not in the Portland area, you find the thing that does this in your area because incarceration is actually hyperlocal. People are confined to a prison which is in a particular area and when they’re released, they are released back into the community that was troublesome for them and are required to stay there, in fact need permission to leave. Usually paperwork and all kinds of things to leave that situation. So getting involved in your local community is the best thing that you can do, including just talking to people on the bus next to you or smiling at somebody at the grocery store. Those are the little things that do the same things that we’re trying to do in prison on a smaller scale, so get involved in your local community, go to those prisons, volunteer with those organizations and keep it local.

Danielle Olson: 45:05
And in people’s individual communities. Is looking through the prisons probably the best way to find those programs? Or are there other good ways?

Sonja Skvarla: 45:14
So most prisons will. You can talk to their sort of PR department and they should be able to hook you up with the volunteers that already go inside. Sometimes it’s listed on their website. Those are good places to start.

Jenn Theone: Sonja, thank you so much for coming out. We really enjoyed this conversation.

Sonja Skvarla: Thank you so much for having me.

 

The post HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative (Teaching Entrepreneurship in Prison) appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative

We interviewed Sonja Skvarla, founder and Executive Director of A Social Ignition.

“Those who have been incarcerated come out facing a tremendous number of barriers to success. From feeling isolated by limited social interaction to no access to current trends in workplace culture, technology, and emotional intelligence, they lack the skills necessary to build a positive productive lifestyle. They also face legal discrimination for housing, employment, and some support services.”

A Social Ignition addresses this problem by teaching entrepreneurship inside and outside of prison.

Links

A Social Ignition’s website

Columbia River Correctional Institution

Facebook Live recording with Sonja at Hatch from 11/30/17

Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons by the Sentencing Project, August 2018

Private Prisons, Immigrant Detention and Investment Risks by American Federation of Teachers, August 2018

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Danielle Olson: 01:18
Sonja, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what A Social Ignition is?

Sonja Skvarla: 01:23
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, first of all. So, A Social Ignition is an organization that I started working on about five or six years ago. I recognized a need for programming in prison, supporting the real needs of men as they transition out into the world after incarceration. And so it took us a couple of years to get approved to be inside, but now we have been teaching a class inside called The Ignition Option, it’s a six week entrepreneurial program. And that works with the guys from the power of choice all the way through simulating a business model and presenting it in a pitch competition. Quite like the competencies that we participate in out here. And so we’ve been doing that for four years inside and we also work with the men as they transition out into the world to find housing or to start their own businesses or find employment or whatever that is.

Danielle Olson: 02:26
And where did this concept come from for you?

Sonja Skvarla: 02:30
So it’s not a new concept, truthfully. There are a couple other organizations across the country that do this type of work in different ways. But for me, the most important pieces that really needed to be addressed were the social transition. So they teach welding inside, they teach gardening, they teach other things. You can get your handlers permit, things like that, very vocational skills based.

But what isn’t addressed is the fact that we put people in a box essentially of various sizes for anywhere from three to 15 to 20 to 35 years and expect them to come out well adjusted and ready to face the world in a new way. And it doesn’t do that at all. It doesn’t even begin to do that. In fact, I had a gentleman say to me the other day, well, I have two choices here. I can really buckle down and try to figure something out and go into legitimate business when I’m out or I could spend time here getting better at what I was doing before and go out and make more money illegally. And I think that really shows us what we’re up against is the fact that we put people together who are really interested in learning and it can go one of two ways. And I feel very fortunate that our class is there for him to take to see a legitimate way out of that situation. If A Social Ignition didn’t exist in there, he almost is left with only one choice in order to really dig in and spend his days productively. There’s only one choice to do that.

Danielle Olson: 04:19
And you emphasized the REAL needs of the men in prison. How would you define those or expand upon that?

Sonja Skvarla: 04:27
Yeah. I would say the deeper needs are this social piece. How do I look at myself in such a way that I can convince maybe or that I can encourage other people to also look at me that way. when men and women come out of incarceration, they are seeped in self doubt in fear and anxiety. The world has moved on without them and not only are they left behind, but there is a stigma attached that says you’re a bad person. You are a felon. That’s a label. That’s an identity and we’re very conscious in our country right now around identity and people being able to choose and we give them no choice. We labeled them, we label them a felon. I correct guys in class all the time. I say, “you’re not a felon. You have committed a felony or you have been convicted of a felony.” That’s a completely different thing than the identity of a felon, but again, if folks aren’t there in the prisons talking with them, showing them that there are people on the outside that believe this of them, it’s very, very difficult to see what joy you can bring to the world and what joy you can actually experienced for yourself.

So the real needs that I’m referring to are that, that social piece to recognize that you have things in common with the outside world and that you are able to participate in the conversations, the business conversations of social conversations that are important that are happening out there. Um, yeah, those social connections are the biggest, the biggest piece. And we hit that in such a way that it’s been pretty successful.

Jenn Theone: 06:24
Yeah. So I’ve listened to a few of your talks and sometimes you can get pretty emotional and I think one time I heard you maybe almost tearing up and I wanted to talk to you about that and where do you think that conviction really came from that social need to need to change things? Where, where did that come from?

Sonja Skvarla: 06:46
Yeah, you probably heard me tear up more than one time, um, especially if it was on a stage of some sort. But really I think in the beginning I didn’t know where it came from. My Dad would say, “oh, that’s very altruistic of you.” Like, oh, that it wasn’t that wonderful, you know? And, you know, I said, well, no, but it’s not, it’s just what we need to do it all of this. Right. Um, and I didn’t really know where it came from. There was a gentleman or there is a gentleman associated with A Social Ignition who was incarcerated at one time and he would ask me maybe a couple times a year, “why are you doing this? Why do you come in here and spend time with those guys instead of, you know, being out in the world or in addition to being out in the world?”

And I said, “Oh, well,” my standard answer was “because in order to change the world, we need to have all the world’s voices.” It doesn’t make sense to me that one group of people have the loudest voice because we’re only going to change the world in that direction. That doesn’t actually solve problems. It’s usually more cyclical, right? We get back into the same problems we’ve been in before. What I realized over the course of this time, and so now you’ll probably hear me get emotional again. Is the fact that that’s all true. I mean, that, that is true.

What is more true for me is that through working with these men, here we go, through working with these men, I actually learned to love myself. In loving them, in seeing their joy and seeing their hardship and they’re really heartfelt desire to be loved and to love other people. And yeah, we’re a business class, but all of that comes up like that. That’s all relevant in class. And we talk about their connection with their kids when they call home and say, hey, can you google this for me? I’m working on this thing. And it’s through those interactions that they find, they begin to find themselves, which can be difficult. One of the gentlemen in our class at one point said, “Sonja!” he came in and he was so mad at me. He came into a coaching session and it was so mad. “Chris, what, why, what did I do?” And he said, “you opened my eyes and now I can’t shut them again.”

Jenn Theone:  Wow.

Sonja Skvarla: 09:11
And it was being expressed as anger and upset because there wasn’t. There are only so many places he could put that right now in this moment, still being incarcerated. But being around them, it really, it showed me that I could have those things myself, that I could have confidence that I could have love in just a really global sort of spiritual way.

Jenn Theone: 09:37
And more to the model of A Social Ignition how, how you use mentors that come from the professional world and then you bring them into the prisons and like you were just saying is it’s an exchange, an enriching exchange. So it’s not just for the, the prisoners, but it’s also for those outside and that. Could you elaborate on that?

Sonja Skvarla: 10:00
Absolutely. So despite all the love talk and all of that, what we do is play business. We work on business. Business is one of the most universal skills. If you can know how to run a business, it doesn’t matter if you actually own one or if you participate in somebody else’s. Pretty much all the jobs we have are in a business. And so being familiar with those skills and those tools is really important, really useful.

And so we do bring into each one of our 12 sessions. We bring in a business person from the outside, usually someone either with a skill specialized like marketing or finance, something like that, or someone who has started or run a company. We bring them in, not only to lend their experience, to have that exchange where they can bring experience to the men who are building business models, but also so that they can see and experience the brilliance of these men, the strategy, the smart, all of those things that they bring to the table.

In fact, it’s more common than not that as I’m walking out to the parking lot, with a mentor after class and I say, “Oh, you know, what, what do you think?” knowing full well what they’re going to say. And nine times out of ten they say, “That was amazing! It was normalized really quickly and I had just as many the conversations were the same as pretty much any conversation I have with other entrepreneurs on the outside.” And I smiled to myself a little bit and I go, yeah, I know. Uh, but the point is that seeing people in that environment, not only is there a little bit of compassion, but when you see somebody in that environment and then have conversations on the same level that you’re used to having every day, it’s not a pity conversation. It’s not compassion because I feel sorry for you. It’s compassion because, wow, this place sucks. But look how smart you are. Let’s have coffee when you get out. And that’s an entirely different dynamic than some sort of compassion that is unequal in the power play.

Danielle Olson: 12:10 Do you have any stats that you can share with us about recidivism?

Sonja Skvarla: 12:14
Sure. Recidivism is the big buzzword and post-incarceration programming. And I can tell you that our recidivism is about the same as any other well-designed prison program. So recidivism rates are under reported there also, again, hyperlocal. They’re all calculated in very different ways. So Oregon, we report ours. Different numbers go into our recidivism rate as Virginia as New Orleans, any other place they get to the side, how they calculate recidivism. So ours is about two to five percent. That is actually pretty standard for, like I said, well designed prison programs and really hard to track over time. The big thing that I’ll say about recidivism rates and a social ignition is that we set our bar way higher than that. So recidivism for those of y’all who don’t know, is essentially the rate at which people go back into prison within three years after release. There are lots of different numbers go into that, but that’s the basic.

And we had one gentleman, we talk about goals a lot and I said, what do you want to be when you grow up? Right? He’s already 35, but what do you want to be? What’s the future look like? He said, “I just don’t want to come back to prison”. Because recidivism has taught us. That term has taught us that that’s the goal. Just don’t go back. And I said, well, we won’t actually know that until you’re dead. So maybe we could find some goals between here and there to accomplish, to keep us busy. While that’s true, while that is also happening, that’s my recidivism.

Jenn Theone: 14:04
Can you talk to us about some of the entrepreneurial skills that prisoners might already have before they come to your class?

Sonja Skvarla: 14:10
Absolutely. Many of the men who are in our class have some sort of experience with illegitimate businesses or illegal businesses and some of them did them well and some of them do not do them well. But there are a lot of transferable skills. So one of my favorite moments, actually from this current class is when one of the gentleman, we were talking about markets, we were talking about customers, we were talking about distribution channels. He goes, “I know this!” And I said, yeah, you just didn’t know all the right words for it, but this was the business he’s been in for quite some time. And so it really an eye opening moment for him. The rest of us, this is old hat now, but for him it was really eyeopening to see that he actually knew the structure of legitimate business. He now knows the terms of legitimate business and so it doesn’t feel like such a big leap to go from where he has been to where he wants to be.

Danielle Olson: 15:11
So you, you talked a little bit about the change that you’re trying to create. I liked what you said about how in order to change the world, we need all of the world voices. I think that’s a really good idea to keep in mind in all of the work that we do. Could you lay out a little bit for us, what your theory of change is for a social ignition and just background for audience, if anyone’s not familiar with that term, theory of change is kind of a, a model for a social enterprise or nonprofit that says this is the vision that we see in the future and these are the strategies and activities that build towards that vision, that change that we’re trying to make in the world.

Sonja Skvarla: 16:09 So A Social Ignition uses business as I mentioned because it is so pervasive in a really positive way. All the stories of the rags to riches stories, the people who have come up from somewhere have used business in some way to make that travel. And so we use business as a strategy, it’s a tactic, to help to level the playing field because if you can learn those skills, you can move up in a way that hearts and minds is slower. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to change. We want people to see each other. We want people to love each other. We want people to accept each other and one way to do that, especially in a world of men, is to play on the same playing field, speak the same language, and we can start with business.

Business is an emotional thing. It’s a personal thing, but on it’s very surface it isn’t. It’s just numbers and if we can connect on those numbers first, bring people from different environments that are playing on the same field and then allow them to make those sort of superficial connections at first and then realize all the juice that comes underneath it. That’s what we’re looking to do. It’s slow. It’s not, “oh, we’ve worked with a thousand some people and now they have jobs and so yay, we win.” It’s much more about bringing people together and it’s slow. It’s very, very slow, but the hope is when we bring these mentors and they go back to their own work environment, they’re like, “oh man, where were you today?” And they puff up a little. “I was in prison today.” And then they talk about why and what that experience like and every time we do that, it’s just this little click on the timeline of moving closer and moving those hearts and minds closer together through business.

Jenn Theone: 18:01
I love it. Maybe could you talk, so you mentioned it’s like a small ripple effects, but there is something disruptive about what you’re doing. Can you as social entrepreneurship is meant to be positively disruptive, can you explain how even though it’s small ripple effects, how it might be disruptive for people in specific moments?

Sonja Skvarla: 18:26
So I really think of disruption as things that are happening differently to throw a wrench in the status quo of what’s moving forward. Right? And a lot of the status quo of what’s moving forward right now is fast results. In the entrepreneurial world. It’s 10 x, right? We need to make 10 x in five years so we can all go home rich. So I believe we are positively disruptive because we’re taking our damn time.

Jenn Theone: Beautiful.

Sonja Skvarla: 18:56
And slowing down and saying we have time. We’re not going to change this the way that we want to in five years. We’re not going to change it the way we want to in 10 years, we’ll make a dent in it. But when we use business to spread love, that’s a positive place and the disruption in it is, it’s not to make a shit ton of money in a short time. It’s to make a difference and build connection between people.

Danielle Olson: 19:28
Thank you. So you talked about mentors that come in. What other people and entities does a social admission rely on to be successful?

Sonja Skvarla: 19:38
Absolutely. So essentially ignition at this time is hugely reliant on the department of corrections. The Oregon Department of corrections and truthfully is a fantastic relationship. We have really great support. We are a volunteer program. They don’t need to keep us around at any time. They could say to us, you know, “we don’t have space, we don’t have the classroom space, so we’ll call you.” And we could never hear from again. That could happen any day, but it doesn’t. In fact, they continued to make space for us literal classroom space because prisons were not built for classrooms. And so that’s an issue, or it’s time we, the fact that we bring people in through security, every time we go in, that’s a big pain in the butt. They allow us to do it. We brought a video camera and a couple of weeks ago, because to tell, to tell a certain piece of this story, they allowed us to do that.

We have a really phenomenal relationship and the prison system gets a bad rap because the system in general is broken. It works fairly well in the wrong direction, right? But there are people in it who get it. There are people in it who really understand where we’re all trying to go and what’s useful to us as a society and we’re lucky enough that we’ve met those people. We work with those people. So we actually have a great relationship with the Oregon Department of corrections, which we rely on in order to come and do this work.

We also rely now financially on my other company off road. So I started a company after spending three years fundraising and writing grants and all of that for a social ignition to help it be sustainable and be a nonprofit and be a thing. And being very frustrated with that system. Danielle, we’ve talked about that before. You’ve heard those rants. After three years or so of doing that, I decided to stop writing grants to stop trying to participate in a system that wasn’t built to support men who are incarcerated. It was built to support babies and people in other countries and maybe puppies and all of these people who can’t fight for themselves. You can’t work for themselves. So I started a company taking my business acumen and this love that I have for business and going back to my roots of working with entrepreneurs and people who run nonprofits to help them do their work better. So we’re essentially a consulting and implementation firm for nonprofits and businesses all over the world and we earn money, just like any other company earns money, and we take a piece of that and give it to a social ignition in order to buy books. A Social Ignition is 100 percent volunteer run, no people get paid, but we do buy books and materials and some of those things and so off road pays for that.

Danielle Olson: 22:40
So that hybrid model, a nonprofit and for profit, um, is common or common enough that it’s you know, talked about as, as practice in the social enterprise sphere. Is there any advice or insights you would give for how, how well it works for social cognition, how it may or may not work for other people looking to create an appropriate social enterprise?

Sonja Skvarla: 23:17
Truthfully, it works really well. There’s a time challenge. So essentially now I’m actually running two or three companies instead of just one, but it’s, I actually have more time on my hands now because trying to fit into a system that isn’t useful for you is exhausting and time consuming.

As far as sort of advice I would give or how it might work for others. I’ll tell you what I tell the guys inside. Build a business model first. Figure out how you’re going to support this effort financially first and then decide if it should be a nonprofit or social enterprise or a B Corp or an S corp or whatever it’s going to be. If there’s a gap because it just takes so much labor or time. If there is a gap in the funding, then consider a 501(c)(3) or some sort of nonprofit model to take donations, but try as hard as you can first to earn your own money. Because if you can earn it through some sort of business capacity, then you’re in control of how that works, instead of having the government and the 501(c)(3)’s and the grant makers and all of that. They are really the tails wagging the dog. But if you earn your own money, then you are in control of your mission. You are in control of how that rolls out and you don’t have to make compromises.

I mentioned before that the prison system, along with the grant writing system, but the prison system is broken and that’s a term we hear a lot. And it’s also, I think, well designed for some of the things it was designed to do, which was take people who we are fearful of, mostly because we don’t understand them, and move them away from us to isolate them, to put them somewhere else. And so it’s done well that way. One of the reasons why it has grown out of control is because the prison system itself is fairly small. Unfortunately it’s feeded by the justice system and the way that we have had mandatory minimums. The way we have taken the humanity out of so many crimes that has fed more people than ever into the prison system.

And so whereas way back in the day, the only people who were incarcerated were people that we could be legitimately fearful of. They were physically dangerous people. That’s not the case anymore. Now the mass majority of people who are incarcerated are just different from us. Either they grew up in a different neighborhood that operated on different rules or there are a lot of people who are incarcerated who think differently. More and more I’m meeting autistic men in prison or dyslexic or they just think differently and if they had grown up with money, they’d probably be a dyslexic entrepreneur now making millions of dollars, but instead they’re incarcerated because somewhere along the line they didn’t fit in.

And along with that we hear about the prison industrial complex. Which is a term that talks about the amount of money that’s made by the system. Right? Whether that’s private prisons, whether that’s making money off of phone calls from people who are incarcerated to their families, whatever that is, and there is a lot of money to be made there. I do encourage people to check their portfolios because there are three private prison industries, and we can put this in some show notes, but they that are publicly traded. So usually they are listed under names that you wouldn’t recognize. And if you have a nicely diversified portfolio that your financial manager put together for you, you probably don’t know that they’re there and you may own some prison stock that you don’t know about. So those things are all true. It’s also very complicated system that I think few people have a handle on the whole piece.

In part one of the complexities is the theoretical piece of private prisons being in the business of holding people in prison and getting people back to prison because they need to fill their beds to make money. The state is the same way. If you’re not using any business to its full capacity, you’re losing money. And so it doesn’t really matter who owns or runs the prison. That’s the same.

One thing I will say about the private prisons that I have been, some of them are awful and but some of them, in fact, one of the best prison entrepreneurship programs in the country called PEP in Texas, operates in private prisons. And they are able to do so much more because it doesn’t take a literal act of Congress, state legislature to make change there. The private prison just gets to say, “Oh, you want an entire residential unit where your where the people in your entrepreneurship program can come and live together positively without going back into general population. Okay, let’s figure out how to make that happen.” They can just say, okay, let’s figure it out. Whereas state run prisons, it’s just nothing moves that fast and so there are opportunities in some of those systems to do things that the state prisons wouldn’t allow us to do.

Jenn Theone: 29:06
I’m actually really relieved to hear you say that because I know you got your masters in business and when I heard that you were starting a nonprofit, I was a little bit confused. I was like, “doesn’t she want to use the market to really propel her ideas forward.” So it actually really makes sense that you’ve done this.

Sonja Skvarla: 29:25
Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about that. In my personal journey, my personal entrepreneurship journey, I often wonder why the heck did I ever start a nonprofit? I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to. In the beginning I was always sort of temporary. I was like, “okay, well I’ll do this until we start making our own money and then just abandon it.” Which eventually happened, but went on longer than I thought and mostly I listened to other smart people, so I was humbled in the beginning and I was small and I said, oh, I just want to do this little effort. Right? I was altruistic, right? Daddy said, and I said, okay, this is how. This is how this work gets done, and all of these really smart people that I look up to just sort of made that general assumption. They said, “oh, you’re doing good things in the world. You’re a nonprofit.” Tada, done. Right? And so I said, “oh, okay, if you think so then let’s. Okay, let’s do it.”

And it was exactly what needed to happen to get me here, but it was an arduous process and I think now more and more these alternative models, like you say, now they’re common. That’s fantastic. Even five years ago when I started that, the only people who are starting nonprofits from corporations were huge corporations that somehow had some money leftover because they made so much of it that they’re like, well, we’ll give this away. Maybe it’s a tax credit. Maybe we actually believe in it. Either way. That was the model. We didn’t see a lot of that small stuff bubbling up from underneath until much more recently.

Danielle Olson: 30:56
It takes a lot of guts to create something from scratch in that, especially when it’s something like a social enterprise, trying to do something new in the world that there is no roadmap for.

Sonja Skvarla: 31:08
I think there’s a lot of people, if you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they probably won’t agree with you. In some ways it doesn’t feel like it takes guts. It feels like there isn’t another option. That this is the only way forward either for ourselves personally or for the community or whatever, and I will say that if there is something that I could change going back, it’s that equal number of people who challenged me and said, I don’t get it, there were the people who cheerleaded me to death. Who were just so happy that I was doing something good in the world and they said, “oh, that’s so wonderful. Good job.” Which doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help it make it better. You know, I’d go to funders and I’d say, here, here it is. And they’d say, oh no, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. No, we’re not giving you money, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. That’s not useful. What’s useful is we’re not giving you money because. And what I realized is that sometimes they don’t know why they’re not giving you money or they don’t want to say why they’re not giving you money because they’re not, show me, don’t tell me reasons they are because I just don’t believe in it actually, or I don’t want to be that close to the prison system or it’s too hard or it’s too depressing.

Those are the reasons why, but to just say, oh, it’s so great. This is what you’re doing in the world. I think we do a disservice to our peers and to the people that we mentor and to our students to say, “oh, it’s just so good, just keep doing it.” Because there’s always things that we can do better and so we do a disservice to sort of pat them on the head and just be glad that they’re doing it. We need to help them dig in and really sort of play in the dirt

Are there some ways you’re seeing that you want to do better? For what’s next for A Social Ignition?

Always, always I want to do better. And so, I mean, first it was to stop trying to fundraise. That was the first thing is how can I take these 850 hours literally half a year and put them to better use instead of trying to write grants are having parties to raise money or whatever. So that was one big, “how can we do better?”

And now beyond that it’s how can I better engage the people who want to be engaged? So we’re actually in September, October, somewhere in there we’re having a sort of a mini summit to the people who have with the mentors and the people who’ve been supportive of social cognition and that often say, “what else can I do?” to say, “okay, here’s what else you can do.” Here’s the way that you can engage. One way that entrepreneurs put on the face of I have everything together is because they are doing everything and so people don’t always know where the gaps are. It’s sort of a a founder’s dilemma where you have to do everything, but then it doesn’t present a place where others can become engaged easily.

So I think one thing that I’ve learned over this time is ways to organize what needs to be done, even if it’s all phantom right now because nobody’s doing it, but organize it in such a way that someone could grab on and make that piece their own, instead of handing them a task. Like, “your job is to bring in such and such amount of dollars or we need tables set up at our next function.We would love for you to do that or will you handle the graphic design for that?” Those are tasks and they’re okay, but they don’t get people engaged long term. People need to have ownership and truthfully, I mean a nonprofit and these sorts of organizations, they should belong to the community in some way because that’s who’s being served by them. Not only just the people who are incarcerated but the business folks out here are being served by the fact that we are better training men to enter the workforce after incarceration.

And so giving them a piece of ownership, whether that’s “okay, we want to enhance programming outside of prison because now we have all these guys that have gotten out and we continue to coach them and we have a men’s group,” and that sort of thing, but we can do more. We can do better, and so engaging the mentors and saying, what would a program like that look like and how would you want to be involved in it?

Jenn Theone: 35:38
It’s almost like you’re asking everyone to be an entrepreneur. When you ask them to engage with the social ignition and you. It’s like the ownership piece where each person who participates in this, including the prisoners is like their birthing something. I think I heard you say that once from themselves that they’re creating something completely original.

Sonja Skvarla: 35:59
Absolutely, absolutely. And so asking people, business people are very busy and so asking them to have an ownership over a small but meaningful piece is useful and allowing them support to say this is yours, we will help you do it. We’ll support you, but you let us know how you think this should go and we’ll support it into the world.

Danielle Olson: 36:26
So instead of handing people tasks, you’re framing it more as kind of big potential outcomes, but keeping it and then framing it as a question so that people can kind of engage and put their own ideas and ownership into that.

Sonja Skvarla: 36:46
Yeah, and the idea being that again, we all have busy lives, especially business people, people running businesses, usually it’s more than one. They’re not sitting on the beach from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM. They’re doing things. So helping them to design their own structure also. So one of the things that we’re talking about is creating, this is very tangible stuff I’m getting into now, but essentially creating nodes that are all a piece of A Social Ignition, but each of the nodes are according to a program. So maybe one’s all about the inside program, maybe one’s all about the outside program, maybe one is all about the upcoming tablet content channel that we’re developing for prisons across the country. But then to engage with that node and decide for yourself what’s useful.

So one of my criticisms of nonprofits is that they’re very strict for reasons, good reasons I’m sure that somebody came up with, but they’re very strict in terms of they have to have annual, they have to have a certain number of board members and you have to have annual meetings and you have to have minutes. And so we end up putting our mental models on that. And what we’re hoping to do here is open up each of these nodes to organize themselves in whatever way is most useful for what they’re trying to do. And so each one of these nodes will require a different level of engagement based on how they’re, depending on whether it’s an inside program that’s already sort of established but just needs more boost or if it’s the tablet program, which is pretty much a really great idea with some interested customers, there’s going to be a different of engagement there.

And so deciding for themselves what level of engagement. It’s not really new, but it’s new to A Social Ignition. It is a model that’s a little beyond where a lot of organizations are. And so it’s something that we’ll be trying in this fall.

Danielle Olson: 38:53
And did you find that somewhere or come up with. How did that come about?

Sonja Skvarla: 38:58
I made it up. That doesn’t mean it’s new, it just means that, I may have seen pieces of it in other places and I don’t always recognize where those things come from. But usually on Sunday in the perfect storm, it shows up for me. And so then I take advantage of that.

Jenn Theone: 39:18
That reminds me of something else you said about how experiences are. Our lives are cumulative. So every new instance comes with new lessons learned, even if it were doing the same thing that we did yesterday. What we’ve done since then changes the way we act. Right?

Sonja Skvarla: 39:37
Absolutely. I really tried to trends the #lifeiscumulative. Unfortunately we don’t really know how to spell it usually, so it never trended and most people laughed at me that it’s just not catchy enough for a Hashtag, but you know, #lifeiscumulative. And the idea of that being that it does take every moment of our lives previously to get us to this moment here. And so we need to recognize that we couldn’t be here in whatever glory or awfulness or whatever without all the moments that came before. And if this is a moment of awfulness, take heart that there is glory later because of this moment and awfulness here. So #lifeiscumulative.

Danielle Olson: 40:32
Right. We’ll make sure to put that into the social media for the podcast. I want to make sure that it’s clear for listeners what the programs are that you do. So you mentioned the ignition option and then outside of prison because you…. Yeah, just clarify.

Sonja Skvarla: 40:55
Yes, absolutely. So we start with a six week entrepreneurial course inside a prison called the ignition option and like I said, that cumulates in or culminates in a presentation day where they present their business models that they came up with throughout the course to members of the community that come inside. The mentors come back, other people come. We have actually had some people be offered jobs that day and started work when they get out a few months later. It’s really cool and yeah, all really good stuff and then they. Everybody who finishes that course, which is most. We have some attrition but not very much. Those guys are invited into the long haul, which is individual and small group coaching based on their particular goals. So twice a month they get to meet with an executive coach, someone who does that work on the outside and comes to prison specifically to do it with them one on one or twice a month for an hour.

And then the opposite. Our like workshops, we call it group coaching, which is a little bit of a misnomer, but they’re workshops on all kinds of different topics. So some of it’s articulating your values. Some of it is how to tell the story of your financial story of your business on the back of a napkin. All kinds. It really runs the gamut. And, and sometimes we just play games because you also just need to laugh and have fun. So that runs inside and then through the gate. So when they’re released they are lifetime members of The Long Haul and they continued to get business coaching, employment coaching. We connect them with mentors who were interested in helping them with their journey and having coffee and, you know, very organic just like you and I would have coffee with somebody and interview them and whatnot. There is also a men’s group on the outside, which for obvious reasons I do not participate in. But that really helps the men to have some time to just be themselves and to be vulnerable with each other in a way that they may not feel comfortable with women in the room. And support each other through this journey.

Danielle Olson: 43:13
How would you recommend people learn more or get engaged with a social ignition if they’re interested?

Sonja Skvarla: Yeah. Well, if you’re in the Portland area, come to prison with me. Nodding. Yes.

Jenn Theone: I would come.

Sonja Skvarla: 43:27
So in fact August 13th this year is our next presentation day, so next month, August 13th. And so that’s a really great way to come in and meet the guys and see what they’ve been working on and hear about their business models. That’s the best way to get started, truthfully. If you have a workshop, if you have some sort of value to offer, we would love to have you in to work with the guys in the long haul on that. In the workshop space also, sponsoring books is an option. Some of those kinds of things. If you’re not in the Portland area.

I also really encourage people that if you’re not in the Portland area, you find the thing that does this in your area because incarceration is actually hyperlocal. People are confined to a prison which is in a particular area and when they’re released, they are released back into the community that was troublesome for them and are required to stay there, in fact need permission to leave. Usually paperwork and all kinds of things to leave that situation. So getting involved in your local community is the best thing that you can do, including just talking to people on the bus next to you or smiling at somebody at the grocery store. Those are the little things that do the same things that we’re trying to do in prison on a smaller scale, so get involved in your local community, go to those prisons, volunteer with those organizations and keep it local.

Danielle Olson: 45:05
And in people’s individual communities. Is looking through the prisons probably the best way to find those programs? Or are there other good ways?

Sonja Skvarla: 45:14
So most prisons will. You can talk to their sort of PR department and they should be able to hook you up with the volunteers that already go inside. Sometimes it’s listed on their website. Those are good places to start.

Jenn Theone: Sonja, thank you so much for coming out. We really enjoyed this conversation.

Sonja Skvarla: Thank you so much for having me.

 

The post HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative

We interviewed Sonja Skvarla, founder and Executive Director of A Social Ignition.

“Those who have been incarcerated come out facing a tremendous number of barriers to success. From feeling isolated by limited social interaction to no access to current trends in workplace culture, technology, and emotional intelligence, they lack the skills necessary to build a positive productive lifestyle. They also face legal discrimination for housing, employment, and some support services.”

A Social Ignition addresses this problem by teaching entrepreneurship inside and outside of prison.

Links

A Social Ignition’s website

Columbia River Correctional Institution

Facebook Live recording with Sonja at Hatch from 11/30/17

Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons by the Sentencing Project, August 2018

Private Prisons, Immigrant Detention and Investment Risks by American Federation of Teachers, August 2018

Sponsored by:

Use ‘HATCHPODCAST’ at checkout.

Transcript

Danielle Olson: 01:18
Sonja, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what A Social Ignition is?

Sonja Skvarla: 01:23
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, first of all. So, A Social Ignition is an organization that I started working on about five or six years ago. I recognized a need for programming in prison, supporting the real needs of men as they transition out into the world after incarceration. And so it took us a couple of years to get approved to be inside, but now we have been teaching a class inside called The Ignition Option, it’s a six week entrepreneurial program. And that works with the guys from the power of choice all the way through simulating a business model and presenting it in a pitch competition. Quite like the competencies that we participate in out here. And so we’ve been doing that for four years inside and we also work with the men as they transition out into the world to find housing or to start their own businesses or find employment or whatever that is.

Danielle Olson: 02:26
And where did this concept come from for you?

Sonja Skvarla: 02:30
So it’s not a new concept, truthfully. There are a couple other organizations across the country that do this type of work in different ways. But for me, the most important pieces that really needed to be addressed were the social transition. So they teach welding inside, they teach gardening, they teach other things. You can get your handlers permit, things like that, very vocational skills based.

But what isn’t addressed is the fact that we put people in a box essentially of various sizes for anywhere from three to 15 to 20 to 35 years and expect them to come out well adjusted and ready to face the world in a new way. And it doesn’t do that at all. It doesn’t even begin to do that. In fact, I had a gentleman say to me the other day, well, I have two choices here. I can really buckle down and try to figure something out and go into legitimate business when I’m out or I could spend time here getting better at what I was doing before and go out and make more money illegally. And I think that really shows us what we’re up against is the fact that we put people together who are really interested in learning and it can go one of two ways. And I feel very fortunate that our class is there for him to take to see a legitimate way out of that situation. If A Social Ignition didn’t exist in there, he almost is left with only one choice in order to really dig in and spend his days productively. There’s only one choice to do that.

Danielle Olson: 04:19
And you emphasized the REAL needs of the men in prison. How would you define those or expand upon that?

Sonja Skvarla: 04:27
Yeah. I would say the deeper needs are this social piece. How do I look at myself in such a way that I can convince maybe or that I can encourage other people to also look at me that way. when men and women come out of incarceration, they are seeped in self doubt in fear and anxiety. The world has moved on without them and not only are they left behind, but there is a stigma attached that says you’re a bad person. You are a felon. That’s a label. That’s an identity and we’re very conscious in our country right now around identity and people being able to choose and we give them no choice. We labeled them, we label them a felon. I correct guys in class all the time. I say, “you’re not a felon. You have committed a felony or you have been convicted of a felony.” That’s a completely different thing than the identity of a felon, but again, if folks aren’t there in the prisons talking with them, showing them that there are people on the outside that believe this of them, it’s very, very difficult to see what joy you can bring to the world and what joy you can actually experienced for yourself.

So the real needs that I’m referring to are that, that social piece to recognize that you have things in common with the outside world and that you are able to participate in the conversations, the business conversations of social conversations that are important that are happening out there. Um, yeah, those social connections are the biggest, the biggest piece. And we hit that in such a way that it’s been pretty successful.

Jenn Theone: 06:24
Yeah. So I’ve listened to a few of your talks and sometimes you can get pretty emotional and I think one time I heard you maybe almost tearing up and I wanted to talk to you about that and where do you think that conviction really came from that social need to need to change things? Where, where did that come from?

Sonja Skvarla: 06:46
Yeah, you probably heard me tear up more than one time, um, especially if it was on a stage of some sort. But really I think in the beginning I didn’t know where it came from. My Dad would say, “oh, that’s very altruistic of you.” Like, oh, that it wasn’t that wonderful, you know? And, you know, I said, well, no, but it’s not, it’s just what we need to do it all of this. Right. Um, and I didn’t really know where it came from. There was a gentleman or there is a gentleman associated with A Social Ignition who was incarcerated at one time and he would ask me maybe a couple times a year, “why are you doing this? Why do you come in here and spend time with those guys instead of, you know, being out in the world or in addition to being out in the world?”

And I said, “Oh, well,” my standard answer was “because in order to change the world, we need to have all the world’s voices.” It doesn’t make sense to me that one group of people have the loudest voice because we’re only going to change the world in that direction. That doesn’t actually solve problems. It’s usually more cyclical, right? We get back into the same problems we’ve been in before. What I realized over the course of this time, and so now you’ll probably hear me get emotional again. Is the fact that that’s all true. I mean, that, that is true.

What is more true for me is that through working with these men, here we go, through working with these men, I actually learned to love myself. In loving them, in seeing their joy and seeing their hardship and they’re really heartfelt desire to be loved and to love other people. And yeah, we’re a business class, but all of that comes up like that. That’s all relevant in class. And we talk about their connection with their kids when they call home and say, hey, can you google this for me? I’m working on this thing. And it’s through those interactions that they find, they begin to find themselves, which can be difficult. One of the gentlemen in our class at one point said, “Sonja!” he came in and he was so mad at me. He came into a coaching session and it was so mad. “Chris, what, why, what did I do?” And he said, “you opened my eyes and now I can’t shut them again.”

Jenn Theone:  Wow.

Sonja Skvarla: 09:11
And it was being expressed as anger and upset because there wasn’t. There are only so many places he could put that right now in this moment, still being incarcerated. But being around them, it really, it showed me that I could have those things myself, that I could have confidence that I could have love in just a really global sort of spiritual way.

Jenn Theone: 09:37
And more to the model of A Social Ignition how, how you use mentors that come from the professional world and then you bring them into the prisons and like you were just saying is it’s an exchange, an enriching exchange. So it’s not just for the, the prisoners, but it’s also for those outside and that. Could you elaborate on that?

Sonja Skvarla: 10:00
Absolutely. So despite all the love talk and all of that, what we do is play business. We work on business. Business is one of the most universal skills. If you can know how to run a business, it doesn’t matter if you actually own one or if you participate in somebody else’s. Pretty much all the jobs we have are in a business. And so being familiar with those skills and those tools is really important, really useful.

And so we do bring into each one of our 12 sessions. We bring in a business person from the outside, usually someone either with a skill specialized like marketing or finance, something like that, or someone who has started or run a company. We bring them in, not only to lend their experience, to have that exchange where they can bring experience to the men who are building business models, but also so that they can see and experience the brilliance of these men, the strategy, the smart, all of those things that they bring to the table.

In fact, it’s more common than not that as I’m walking out to the parking lot, with a mentor after class and I say, “Oh, you know, what, what do you think?” knowing full well what they’re going to say. And nine times out of ten they say, “That was amazing! It was normalized really quickly and I had just as many the conversations were the same as pretty much any conversation I have with other entrepreneurs on the outside.” And I smiled to myself a little bit and I go, yeah, I know. Uh, but the point is that seeing people in that environment, not only is there a little bit of compassion, but when you see somebody in that environment and then have conversations on the same level that you’re used to having every day, it’s not a pity conversation. It’s not compassion because I feel sorry for you. It’s compassion because, wow, this place sucks. But look how smart you are. Let’s have coffee when you get out. And that’s an entirely different dynamic than some sort of compassion that is unequal in the power play.

Danielle Olson: 12:10 Do you have any stats that you can share with us about recidivism?

Sonja Skvarla: 12:14
Sure. Recidivism is the big buzzword and post-incarceration programming. And I can tell you that our recidivism is about the same as any other well-designed prison program. So recidivism rates are under reported there also, again, hyperlocal. They’re all calculated in very different ways. So Oregon, we report ours. Different numbers go into our recidivism rate as Virginia as New Orleans, any other place they get to the side, how they calculate recidivism. So ours is about two to five percent. That is actually pretty standard for, like I said, well designed prison programs and really hard to track over time. The big thing that I’ll say about recidivism rates and a social ignition is that we set our bar way higher than that. So recidivism for those of y’all who don’t know, is essentially the rate at which people go back into prison within three years after release. There are lots of different numbers go into that, but that’s the basic.

And we had one gentleman, we talk about goals a lot and I said, what do you want to be when you grow up? Right? He’s already 35, but what do you want to be? What’s the future look like? He said, “I just don’t want to come back to prison”. Because recidivism has taught us. That term has taught us that that’s the goal. Just don’t go back. And I said, well, we won’t actually know that until you’re dead. So maybe we could find some goals between here and there to accomplish, to keep us busy. While that’s true, while that is also happening, that’s my recidivism.

Jenn Theone: 14:04
Can you talk to us about some of the entrepreneurial skills that prisoners might already have before they come to your class?

Sonja Skvarla: 14:10
Absolutely. Many of the men who are in our class have some sort of experience with illegitimate businesses or illegal businesses and some of them did them well and some of them do not do them well. But there are a lot of transferable skills. So one of my favorite moments, actually from this current class is when one of the gentleman, we were talking about markets, we were talking about customers, we were talking about distribution channels. He goes, “I know this!” And I said, yeah, you just didn’t know all the right words for it, but this was the business he’s been in for quite some time. And so it really an eye opening moment for him. The rest of us, this is old hat now, but for him it was really eyeopening to see that he actually knew the structure of legitimate business. He now knows the terms of legitimate business and so it doesn’t feel like such a big leap to go from where he has been to where he wants to be.

Danielle Olson: 15:11
So you, you talked a little bit about the change that you’re trying to create. I liked what you said about how in order to change the world, we need all of the world voices. I think that’s a really good idea to keep in mind in all of the work that we do. Could you lay out a little bit for us, what your theory of change is for a social ignition and just background for audience, if anyone’s not familiar with that term, theory of change is kind of a, a model for a social enterprise or nonprofit that says this is the vision that we see in the future and these are the strategies and activities that build towards that vision, that change that we’re trying to make in the world.

Sonja Skvarla: 16:09 So A Social Ignition uses business as I mentioned because it is so pervasive in a really positive way. All the stories of the rags to riches stories, the people who have come up from somewhere have used business in some way to make that travel. And so we use business as a strategy, it’s a tactic, to help to level the playing field because if you can learn those skills, you can move up in a way that hearts and minds is slower. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to change. We want people to see each other. We want people to love each other. We want people to accept each other and one way to do that, especially in a world of men, is to play on the same playing field, speak the same language, and we can start with business.

Business is an emotional thing. It’s a personal thing, but on it’s very surface it isn’t. It’s just numbers and if we can connect on those numbers first, bring people from different environments that are playing on the same field and then allow them to make those sort of superficial connections at first and then realize all the juice that comes underneath it. That’s what we’re looking to do. It’s slow. It’s not, “oh, we’ve worked with a thousand some people and now they have jobs and so yay, we win.” It’s much more about bringing people together and it’s slow. It’s very, very slow, but the hope is when we bring these mentors and they go back to their own work environment, they’re like, “oh man, where were you today?” And they puff up a little. “I was in prison today.” And then they talk about why and what that experience like and every time we do that, it’s just this little click on the timeline of moving closer and moving those hearts and minds closer together through business.

Jenn Theone: 18:01
I love it. Maybe could you talk, so you mentioned it’s like a small ripple effects, but there is something disruptive about what you’re doing. Can you as social entrepreneurship is meant to be positively disruptive, can you explain how even though it’s small ripple effects, how it might be disruptive for people in specific moments?

Sonja Skvarla: 18:26
So I really think of disruption as things that are happening differently to throw a wrench in the status quo of what’s moving forward. Right? And a lot of the status quo of what’s moving forward right now is fast results. In the entrepreneurial world. It’s 10 x, right? We need to make 10 x in five years so we can all go home rich. So I believe we are positively disruptive because we’re taking our damn time.

Jenn Theone: Beautiful.

Sonja Skvarla: 18:56
And slowing down and saying we have time. We’re not going to change this the way that we want to in five years. We’re not going to change it the way we want to in 10 years, we’ll make a dent in it. But when we use business to spread love, that’s a positive place and the disruption in it is, it’s not to make a shit ton of money in a short time. It’s to make a difference and build connection between people.

Danielle Olson: 19:28
Thank you. So you talked about mentors that come in. What other people and entities does a social admission rely on to be successful?

Sonja Skvarla: 19:38
Absolutely. So essentially ignition at this time is hugely reliant on the department of corrections. The Oregon Department of corrections and truthfully is a fantastic relationship. We have really great support. We are a volunteer program. They don’t need to keep us around at any time. They could say to us, you know, “we don’t have space, we don’t have the classroom space, so we’ll call you.” And we could never hear from again. That could happen any day, but it doesn’t. In fact, they continued to make space for us literal classroom space because prisons were not built for classrooms. And so that’s an issue, or it’s time we, the fact that we bring people in through security, every time we go in, that’s a big pain in the butt. They allow us to do it. We brought a video camera and a couple of weeks ago, because to tell, to tell a certain piece of this story, they allowed us to do that.

We have a really phenomenal relationship and the prison system gets a bad rap because the system in general is broken. It works fairly well in the wrong direction, right? But there are people in it who get it. There are people in it who really understand where we’re all trying to go and what’s useful to us as a society and we’re lucky enough that we’ve met those people. We work with those people. So we actually have a great relationship with the Oregon Department of corrections, which we rely on in order to come and do this work.

We also rely now financially on my other company off road. So I started a company after spending three years fundraising and writing grants and all of that for a social ignition to help it be sustainable and be a nonprofit and be a thing. And being very frustrated with that system. Danielle, we’ve talked about that before. You’ve heard those rants. After three years or so of doing that, I decided to stop writing grants to stop trying to participate in a system that wasn’t built to support men who are incarcerated. It was built to support babies and people in other countries and maybe puppies and all of these people who can’t fight for themselves. You can’t work for themselves. So I started a company taking my business acumen and this love that I have for business and going back to my roots of working with entrepreneurs and people who run nonprofits to help them do their work better. So we’re essentially a consulting and implementation firm for nonprofits and businesses all over the world and we earn money, just like any other company earns money, and we take a piece of that and give it to a social ignition in order to buy books. A Social Ignition is 100 percent volunteer run, no people get paid, but we do buy books and materials and some of those things and so off road pays for that.

Danielle Olson: 22:40
So that hybrid model, a nonprofit and for profit, um, is common or common enough that it’s you know, talked about as, as practice in the social enterprise sphere. Is there any advice or insights you would give for how, how well it works for social cognition, how it may or may not work for other people looking to create an appropriate social enterprise?

Sonja Skvarla: 23:17
Truthfully, it works really well. There’s a time challenge. So essentially now I’m actually running two or three companies instead of just one, but it’s, I actually have more time on my hands now because trying to fit into a system that isn’t useful for you is exhausting and time consuming.

As far as sort of advice I would give or how it might work for others. I’ll tell you what I tell the guys inside. Build a business model first. Figure out how you’re going to support this effort financially first and then decide if it should be a nonprofit or social enterprise or a B Corp or an S corp or whatever it’s going to be. If there’s a gap because it just takes so much labor or time. If there is a gap in the funding, then consider a 501(c)(3) or some sort of nonprofit model to take donations, but try as hard as you can first to earn your own money. Because if you can earn it through some sort of business capacity, then you’re in control of how that works, instead of having the government and the 501(c)(3)’s and the grant makers and all of that. They are really the tails wagging the dog. But if you earn your own money, then you are in control of your mission. You are in control of how that rolls out and you don’t have to make compromises.

I mentioned before that the prison system, along with the grant writing system, but the prison system is broken and that’s a term we hear a lot. And it’s also, I think, well designed for some of the things it was designed to do, which was take people who we are fearful of, mostly because we don’t understand them, and move them away from us to isolate them, to put them somewhere else. And so it’s done well that way. One of the reasons why it has grown out of control is because the prison system itself is fairly small. Unfortunately it’s feeded by the justice system and the way that we have had mandatory minimums. The way we have taken the humanity out of so many crimes that has fed more people than ever into the prison system.

And so whereas way back in the day, the only people who were incarcerated were people that we could be legitimately fearful of. They were physically dangerous people. That’s not the case anymore. Now the mass majority of people who are incarcerated are just different from us. Either they grew up in a different neighborhood that operated on different rules or there are a lot of people who are incarcerated who think differently. More and more I’m meeting autistic men in prison or dyslexic or they just think differently and if they had grown up with money, they’d probably be a dyslexic entrepreneur now making millions of dollars, but instead they’re incarcerated because somewhere along the line they didn’t fit in.

And along with that we hear about the prison industrial complex. Which is a term that talks about the amount of money that’s made by the system. Right? Whether that’s private prisons, whether that’s making money off of phone calls from people who are incarcerated to their families, whatever that is, and there is a lot of money to be made there. I do encourage people to check their portfolios because there are three private prison industries, and we can put this in some show notes, but they that are publicly traded. So usually they are listed under names that you wouldn’t recognize. And if you have a nicely diversified portfolio that your financial manager put together for you, you probably don’t know that they’re there and you may own some prison stock that you don’t know about. So those things are all true. It’s also very complicated system that I think few people have a handle on the whole piece.

In part one of the complexities is the theoretical piece of private prisons being in the business of holding people in prison and getting people back to prison because they need to fill their beds to make money. The state is the same way. If you’re not using any business to its full capacity, you’re losing money. And so it doesn’t really matter who owns or runs the prison. That’s the same.

One thing I will say about the private prisons that I have been, some of them are awful and but some of them, in fact, one of the best prison entrepreneurship programs in the country called PEP in Texas, operates in private prisons. And they are able to do so much more because it doesn’t take a literal act of Congress, state legislature to make change there. The private prison just gets to say, “Oh, you want an entire residential unit where your where the people in your entrepreneurship program can come and live together positively without going back into general population. Okay, let’s figure out how to make that happen.” They can just say, okay, let’s figure it out. Whereas state run prisons, it’s just nothing moves that fast and so there are opportunities in some of those systems to do things that the state prisons wouldn’t allow us to do.

Jenn Theone: 29:06
I’m actually really relieved to hear you say that because I know you got your masters in business and when I heard that you were starting a nonprofit, I was a little bit confused. I was like, “doesn’t she want to use the market to really propel her ideas forward.” So it actually really makes sense that you’ve done this.

Sonja Skvarla: 29:25
Yeah, I’ll tell you a little bit about that. In my personal journey, my personal entrepreneurship journey, I often wonder why the heck did I ever start a nonprofit? I shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to. In the beginning I was always sort of temporary. I was like, “okay, well I’ll do this until we start making our own money and then just abandon it.” Which eventually happened, but went on longer than I thought and mostly I listened to other smart people, so I was humbled in the beginning and I was small and I said, oh, I just want to do this little effort. Right? I was altruistic, right? Daddy said, and I said, okay, this is how. This is how this work gets done, and all of these really smart people that I look up to just sort of made that general assumption. They said, “oh, you’re doing good things in the world. You’re a nonprofit.” Tada, done. Right? And so I said, “oh, okay, if you think so then let’s. Okay, let’s do it.”

And it was exactly what needed to happen to get me here, but it was an arduous process and I think now more and more these alternative models, like you say, now they’re common. That’s fantastic. Even five years ago when I started that, the only people who are starting nonprofits from corporations were huge corporations that somehow had some money leftover because they made so much of it that they’re like, well, we’ll give this away. Maybe it’s a tax credit. Maybe we actually believe in it. Either way. That was the model. We didn’t see a lot of that small stuff bubbling up from underneath until much more recently.

Danielle Olson: 30:56
It takes a lot of guts to create something from scratch in that, especially when it’s something like a social enterprise, trying to do something new in the world that there is no roadmap for.

Sonja Skvarla: 31:08
I think there’s a lot of people, if you talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, they probably won’t agree with you. In some ways it doesn’t feel like it takes guts. It feels like there isn’t another option. That this is the only way forward either for ourselves personally or for the community or whatever, and I will say that if there is something that I could change going back, it’s that equal number of people who challenged me and said, I don’t get it, there were the people who cheerleaded me to death. Who were just so happy that I was doing something good in the world and they said, “oh, that’s so wonderful. Good job.” Which doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help it make it better. You know, I’d go to funders and I’d say, here, here it is. And they’d say, oh no, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. No, we’re not giving you money, but we’re so glad that you’re doing it. That’s not useful. What’s useful is we’re not giving you money because. And what I realized is that sometimes they don’t know why they’re not giving you money or they don’t want to say why they’re not giving you money because they’re not, show me, don’t tell me reasons they are because I just don’t believe in it actually, or I don’t want to be that close to the prison system or it’s too hard or it’s too depressing.

Those are the reasons why, but to just say, oh, it’s so great. This is what you’re doing in the world. I think we do a disservice to our peers and to the people that we mentor and to our students to say, “oh, it’s just so good, just keep doing it.” Because there’s always things that we can do better and so we do a disservice to sort of pat them on the head and just be glad that they’re doing it. We need to help them dig in and really sort of play in the dirt

Are there some ways you’re seeing that you want to do better? For what’s next for A Social Ignition?

Always, always I want to do better. And so, I mean, first it was to stop trying to fundraise. That was the first thing is how can I take these 850 hours literally half a year and put them to better use instead of trying to write grants are having parties to raise money or whatever. So that was one big, “how can we do better?”

And now beyond that it’s how can I better engage the people who want to be engaged? So we’re actually in September, October, somewhere in there we’re having a sort of a mini summit to the people who have with the mentors and the people who’ve been supportive of social cognition and that often say, “what else can I do?” to say, “okay, here’s what else you can do.” Here’s the way that you can engage. One way that entrepreneurs put on the face of I have everything together is because they are doing everything and so people don’t always know where the gaps are. It’s sort of a a founder’s dilemma where you have to do everything, but then it doesn’t present a place where others can become engaged easily.

So I think one thing that I’ve learned over this time is ways to organize what needs to be done, even if it’s all phantom right now because nobody’s doing it, but organize it in such a way that someone could grab on and make that piece their own, instead of handing them a task. Like, “your job is to bring in such and such amount of dollars or we need tables set up at our next function.We would love for you to do that or will you handle the graphic design for that?” Those are tasks and they’re okay, but they don’t get people engaged long term. People need to have ownership and truthfully, I mean a nonprofit and these sorts of organizations, they should belong to the community in some way because that’s who’s being served by them. Not only just the people who are incarcerated but the business folks out here are being served by the fact that we are better training men to enter the workforce after incarceration.

And so giving them a piece of ownership, whether that’s “okay, we want to enhance programming outside of prison because now we have all these guys that have gotten out and we continue to coach them and we have a men’s group,” and that sort of thing, but we can do more. We can do better, and so engaging the mentors and saying, what would a program like that look like and how would you want to be involved in it?

Jenn Theone: 35:38
It’s almost like you’re asking everyone to be an entrepreneur. When you ask them to engage with the social ignition and you. It’s like the ownership piece where each person who participates in this, including the prisoners is like their birthing something. I think I heard you say that once from themselves that they’re creating something completely original.

Sonja Skvarla: 35:59
Absolutely, absolutely. And so asking people, business people are very busy and so asking them to have an ownership over a small but meaningful piece is useful and allowing them support to say this is yours, we will help you do it. We’ll support you, but you let us know how you think this should go and we’ll support it into the world.

Danielle Olson: 36:26
So instead of handing people tasks, you’re framing it more as kind of big potential outcomes, but keeping it and then framing it as a question so that people can kind of engage and put their own ideas and ownership into that.

Sonja Skvarla: 36:46
Yeah, and the idea being that again, we all have busy lives, especially business people, people running businesses, usually it’s more than one. They’re not sitting on the beach from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM. They’re doing things. So helping them to design their own structure also. So one of the things that we’re talking about is creating, this is very tangible stuff I’m getting into now, but essentially creating nodes that are all a piece of A Social Ignition, but each of the nodes are according to a program. So maybe one’s all about the inside program, maybe one’s all about the outside program, maybe one is all about the upcoming tablet content channel that we’re developing for prisons across the country. But then to engage with that node and decide for yourself what’s useful.

So one of my criticisms of nonprofits is that they’re very strict for reasons, good reasons I’m sure that somebody came up with, but they’re very strict in terms of they have to have annual, they have to have a certain number of board members and you have to have annual meetings and you have to have minutes. And so we end up putting our mental models on that. And what we’re hoping to do here is open up each of these nodes to organize themselves in whatever way is most useful for what they’re trying to do. And so each one of these nodes will require a different level of engagement based on how they’re, depending on whether it’s an inside program that’s already sort of established but just needs more boost or if it’s the tablet program, which is pretty much a really great idea with some interested customers, there’s going to be a different of engagement there.

And so deciding for themselves what level of engagement. It’s not really new, but it’s new to A Social Ignition. It is a model that’s a little beyond where a lot of organizations are. And so it’s something that we’ll be trying in this fall.

Danielle Olson: 38:53
And did you find that somewhere or come up with. How did that come about?

Sonja Skvarla: 38:58
I made it up. That doesn’t mean it’s new, it just means that, I may have seen pieces of it in other places and I don’t always recognize where those things come from. But usually on Sunday in the perfect storm, it shows up for me. And so then I take advantage of that.

Jenn Theone: 39:18
That reminds me of something else you said about how experiences are. Our lives are cumulative. So every new instance comes with new lessons learned, even if it were doing the same thing that we did yesterday. What we’ve done since then changes the way we act. Right?

Sonja Skvarla: 39:37
Absolutely. I really tried to trends the #lifeiscumulative. Unfortunately we don’t really know how to spell it usually, so it never trended and most people laughed at me that it’s just not catchy enough for a Hashtag, but you know, #lifeiscumulative. And the idea of that being that it does take every moment of our lives previously to get us to this moment here. And so we need to recognize that we couldn’t be here in whatever glory or awfulness or whatever without all the moments that came before. And if this is a moment of awfulness, take heart that there is glory later because of this moment and awfulness here. So #lifeiscumulative.

Danielle Olson: 40:32
Right. We’ll make sure to put that into the social media for the podcast. I want to make sure that it’s clear for listeners what the programs are that you do. So you mentioned the ignition option and then outside of prison because you…. Yeah, just clarify.

Sonja Skvarla: 40:55
Yes, absolutely. So we start with a six week entrepreneurial course inside a prison called the ignition option and like I said, that cumulates in or culminates in a presentation day where they present their business models that they came up with throughout the course to members of the community that come inside. The mentors come back, other people come. We have actually had some people be offered jobs that day and started work when they get out a few months later. It’s really cool and yeah, all really good stuff and then they. Everybody who finishes that course, which is most. We have some attrition but not very much. Those guys are invited into the long haul, which is individual and small group coaching based on their particular goals. So twice a month they get to meet with an executive coach, someone who does that work on the outside and comes to prison specifically to do it with them one on one or twice a month for an hour.

And then the opposite. Our like workshops, we call it group coaching, which is a little bit of a misnomer, but they’re workshops on all kinds of different topics. So some of it’s articulating your values. Some of it is how to tell the story of your financial story of your business on the back of a napkin. All kinds. It really runs the gamut. And, and sometimes we just play games because you also just need to laugh and have fun. So that runs inside and then through the gate. So when they’re released they are lifetime members of The Long Haul and they continued to get business coaching, employment coaching. We connect them with mentors who were interested in helping them with their journey and having coffee and, you know, very organic just like you and I would have coffee with somebody and interview them and whatnot. There is also a men’s group on the outside, which for obvious reasons I do not participate in. But that really helps the men to have some time to just be themselves and to be vulnerable with each other in a way that they may not feel comfortable with women in the room. And support each other through this journey.

Danielle Olson: 43:13
How would you recommend people learn more or get engaged with a social ignition if they’re interested?

Sonja Skvarla: Yeah. Well, if you’re in the Portland area, come to prison with me. Nodding. Yes.

Jenn Theone: I would come.

Sonja Skvarla: 43:27
So in fact August 13th this year is our next presentation day, so next month, August 13th. And so that’s a really great way to come in and meet the guys and see what they’ve been working on and hear about their business models. That’s the best way to get started, truthfully. If you have a workshop, if you have some sort of value to offer, we would love to have you in to work with the guys in the long haul on that. In the workshop space also, sponsoring books is an option. Some of those kinds of things. If you’re not in the Portland area.

I also really encourage people that if you’re not in the Portland area, you find the thing that does this in your area because incarceration is actually hyperlocal. People are confined to a prison which is in a particular area and when they’re released, they are released back into the community that was troublesome for them and are required to stay there, in fact need permission to leave. Usually paperwork and all kinds of things to leave that situation. So getting involved in your local community is the best thing that you can do, including just talking to people on the bus next to you or smiling at somebody at the grocery store. Those are the little things that do the same things that we’re trying to do in prison on a smaller scale, so get involved in your local community, go to those prisons, volunteer with those organizations and keep it local.

Danielle Olson: 45:05
And in people’s individual communities. Is looking through the prisons probably the best way to find those programs? Or are there other good ways?

Sonja Skvarla: 45:14
So most prisons will. You can talk to their sort of PR department and they should be able to hook you up with the volunteers that already go inside. Sometimes it’s listed on their website. Those are good places to start.

Jenn Theone: Sonja, thank you so much for coming out. We really enjoyed this conversation.

Sonja Skvarla: Thank you so much for having me.

 

The post HTF 031: #LifeIsCumulative appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

Hatch and BGood featured on USDA

The Rural Development office in the US Department of Agriculture has featured a story on our work in Eastern Oregon with Judy Goodman of BGood Bars, part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem development in Northeast Oregon, which also included the development of HatchLab Baker.

The post Hatch and BGood featured on USDA appeared first on Hatch Innovation.

HTF 030: Tea Fleets and Painted Streets

Picture yourself strolling down the beautiful tree-lined streets of Portland when suddenly you are struck by the sight of a large mural painted right in the middle of a 4-way stop. As you stand there, thinking to yourself “how did this get here? Who made this place?”, you notice a bench made out of clay, open and inviting, placed on the sidewalk and right next to a tiny neighborhood library. You sit and take in this odd, idyllic scene—spending a moment to connect with your surroundings.

Very often these murals and sculptures are the work of collaborative, community projects facilitated by City Repair, a group of permaculturists, anthropologists, environmentalists, and citizens devoted to bringing neighbors together through neighborhood projects.

In this episode, Collin Gabriel and Frankie Ku sit down with RIdhi D’Cruz, Adrian Haley, and Jasmine Co from City Repair to discuss placemaking, houselessness, chocolate cake, a tea “horse”, and the upcoming 17th Annual Village Building Convergence, a 10-day spread of permaculture, natural-building, and intersection painting events open to all!

Hosts

Collin Gabriel, Channelsmith, Hatch Innovation

Frankie Ku, Brand and Marketing Manager, Hatch Innovation

Guests

Ridhi D’Cruz, Co-Director of City Repair

Ridhi D’Cruz is a Co-Director with City Repair. This is her sixth year working with City Repair and the Village Building Convergence. As an intercontinental cross-pollinator, sociocultural anthropologist and permaculture educator who has been living in Portland since 2010, Ridhi participates, facilitates and supports Placemaking capacity building, houseless advocacy, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Cultural Sustainability, Social Permaculture and transformational leadership development. She is also a passionate herbalist, urban wild-crafter, natural building enthusiast, participatory technology activist, animal lover and permaculture urban homesteader.

 

Adrian Thalasinos Haley, Volunteer at City Repair

Adrian Thalasinos Haley, a BFA alumni in sculpture from UW Madison, joined the larger movement of Portland’s creative, justice driven, and growth motivated communities over 13 years ago. His unique blend of skills and experience in metal fabrication, construction, and marine engineering has empowered his gadgeteer and mad-scientist spirit.

He served as welder for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an ocean going environmental organization, from 2003-2005, and occupied his time inventing and implementing various ocean defence projects around the world. In 2006, he co-formed the Gadgetron, a community shop in the Portsmouth neighborhood of North Portland that explored appropriate technology(1). Its intention was to liberate technology from industry and empower individuals to be makers, fixers, and creators. Adrian also served as the tool coordinator at the North Portland Tool Library in 2007.

Crows Foot Creatives is a project that Adrian started up to crystallize his maker skills and make them available to the larger Portland community. He has since served small business and co-ops, organizations, and individuals in their desire to implement their visions.

 

Jasmine Co, Intern at City Repair

Jasmine Co is a PSU student, artist, and massage therapist. She has a passion for ecological change and collective growth. This year she is excited to be interning with City Repair and the Village Building Convergence. Jasmine has been focusing on their newest mobile placemaking project, the T-crab.

In this episode you’ll learn

  1. The inspiring history of City Repair and how it was founded.
  2. All about the Village Building Convergence and how you can get involved.
  3. Shared experiences that deepen community by connecting neighbors and neighborhoods
  4. How to work with local government to develop codes and laws that meet the needs of community members
  5. How the team at City Repair utilizes a largely volunteer staff.
  6. Decision-making strategies for building community
  7. Why process development is the primary goal of the VBC
  8. Where and when you can find yourself under the T-Horse and the rest of the T-Fleet.

The post HTF 030: Tea Fleets and Painted Streets appeared first on Hatch Innovation.