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                                 ANGER & VIOLENCE
Let’s take a look at one of the things that a number of offenders have said has been a
long-term problem: ANGER!
Anger is part of man’s “fight or flight” instinct developed in prehistoric times in response
to FEAR. When a man is afraid (this can include fear of not being respected) physical
responses dump large amounts of adrenaline into the bloodstream. This natural body
chemical helped early man ready himself for flight (to run from a “saber-toothed tiger”) or
to fight off some lesser threat. Unfortunately, our world has changed much faster than
either our instincts or our body chemistry. The situations we face in today’s society are
normally very trivial compared earlier times, yet our body responds with those massive
outpourings of adrenaline. If we haven’t trained ourselves to resist overreacting to daily
situations, then we have placed ourselves “a hair-trigger away from personal disaster”.
We need to develop and practice the ability to calmly and logically examine situations
and respond in a measured way to prevent a poorly understood situation from escalating
into a tragedy for all involved. We will go into this in more detail later.
One of the exercises we sometime use with offenders follows:
Let’s get a picture of what our anger is like: I’m going to hand out some paper, and I
want you to draw a picture of a volcano that represents your anger. For some who have
really worked on their anger issues in phase-1 or elsewhere, the picture may be of a
dormant volcano, for others still working on their anger issues, it may be a smoldering
volcano. For others the volcano may be oozing lava…this might represent someone
whose anger is always at the surface and who doesn’t try to stop it. Others may have a
volcano that is under high pressure, about ready to blow it’s top and destroy everyone
and everything around it! The latter might be people who have “stuffed” their anger to
the point they are ready to explode! Let us see how the picture of your anger turns out.
Handout a sheet of paper to each participant and have them draw their anger as it would
be if it were a volcano.
After they have been able to draw the picture, have each one explain their picture, then
ask each of them who have expressed some difficulty in controlling their anger to explain
to the group what anger previously cost them (relationships, jobs, freedom, or what?).
Those who have lost something due to their anger should be asked to explain what they
have done so far to examine their anger and what they are doing or plan on doing to
better control it.

So the question for each is:

•   What has anger cost you?

•   What have you done to examine your anger?

•   What have you already done to take control of your anger?

•   And/or what do you still need to do to take greater control of your anger?
To better handle anger issues, we may need to look how we see the world and life. If I
poured water into an empty glass half up the side, would you see the glass as half-
empty or half-full? Raise your hands if you say it would be half-full? Who would rather
say the glass is half-empty? I don’t have a glass; however, your answer may reflect
either a negative life view (half-empty) or a more positive view (half-full). It is something
to think about and I ask you to consider your views on life.

Anger is a common human emotion when we feel frustrated, like our life is out of our
control, or when we feel threatened.
Anger is not the problem – violence is the problem.
While feelings of anger are natural, when anger is acted upon in a violent manner then
everyone suffers.
Some people come to jail or prison because of their violent behavior. In some cases
there may have been a sudden “crime of passion” or maybe it was an offense that
wasn’t meant to involve violence; however, the situation turned sour and resulted in a
violent act. This often means the offense will have the term “Aggravated” added to it,
resulting in a longer sentence, in a medium or maximum prison (at least to start), with
more time required to be served before there is any chance of parole. Sometimes,
violence turns into something really bad and someone is terribly harmed or even killed.
It’s not just the person who caused the harm and the injured party who suffer…families
and loved ones on both sides must endure great pain and suffering.
There is the loss of earnings and benefits as the accused sits behind bars, a long &
expense trial, the publicity surrounding the events, the emotional pain of visiting loved
ones in jail or prison (or maybe seeing them put to death). The victim and the victim’s
family suffer even greater loss. It just isn’t worth it! Nothing is worth it!
So, how did we put ourselves in such a situation?
We don’t want to provide an “excuse” if an offender has resorted to violence; however,
we will state that offenders may need help in changing their mind set.
Some researchers believe our society rewards certain violent behavior. They point to
many sports and even some business transactions as violent in nature. These scientists
tell us that physical and emotional violence is an attempt to control others.
They contend that young men are taught to “stuff” their emotions: “real men don’t
cry/don’t back down/can take it”.
Even families may give their children messages that may result in eventual harm to the
young person: “You have to be tough to make it/you have to be a man/don’t ever let
anyone disrespect you”. You may have even seen abuse & violence between your own
family members.
Any of these messages can cloud our thinking and result in actions that are harmful to
us (as well as to others).
If we have learned the wrong message – that violence is acceptable and expected, then
we need to unlearn it. It is not a lesson that is easy to unlearn in prison where many feel
they must act “tough” to keep from being taken advantage of.
Some offenders will say, “In prison, we can’t appear vulnerable or weak, so we must act
tough”. This is an excuse. Saying “I can’t” really means “I won’t”.

Acting tough and feeling that you need to constantly “watch your back” is a hard way to
have to live and it doesn’t help you when you do get out. Living a life full of fear,
paranoia and hatred only contributes to more difficulties both on the “inside” and
certainly when you do get out.
Many offenders think they will be able to “handle” things once they get out, without
making any preparations to do so while they are “in”. This is a case of “Magical
Thinking” (thoughts not grounded in reality).

If they keep doing what they’ve been doing, they’ll keep getting what they’ve been
There are alternative ways of thinking, behaving and living, but they aren’t something
you can just instantly acquire. Doing the necessary work to improve your chances of
staying clean, sober & crime free upon your release is something you need to start long
before your parole or “flat time” release.
Even in a place like this there are “self-help” books to read & peer support groups
available for you to attend. The books often contain life’s lessons learned by others over
many years of hardship and in the peer support groups you may find older and often
wiser men and women who can help you steer a course through life that will keep your
ship off the rocks!

Living the Offender Lifestyle, trying to “get over on the man” while in prison may teach
something; however, it is more likely to reinforce the thinking errors and criminal
behaviors that brought them to prison than anything that will help them stay out.

Having discussed the Addictive/Offender Cycle. We know that doing drugs and being
involved in crimes are likely to result in a return to jail or prison. We have also seen that
thinking errors can result in behaviors that harm others and ourselves. Yet many of us
will return to prison again and again! Why?
Change is not a four-letter word, yet many people are more afraid of change (because
it is the “unknown”) than they are of continuing to live their lives in ways that will
guarantee they are sentenced back to jail or prison (or worse).
Only you can answer the question: “Are you brave enough (and smart enough) to
Lets look at some questions to see how violence is taught as a method to control others:
(Often asked of men, women may find ways to keep such messages from harming their
• Did anyone ever tell you not to cry?
• Did anyone ever hit you to make you stop crying?
• Did anyone ever tell you to “act like a man”?
• Did you ever fight to prove that you were a man?
• Did you ever try to hide feeling of pain because it didn’t seem “manly” to show those
• Did you ever drink beer or other forms of alcohol or take a drug to dull the pain of
    your feelings?
•   Did you ever hurt someone else physically or emotionally in order to gain or maintain
    control over him or her?
These are just a few of the ways that young men learn that violence is acceptable and
expected. It is the wrong message; however, it is one that has been perpetuated
through the ages.
In order to end the violence, we must stop teaching these lessons and replace them with
messages of caring and compassion for others.
Women are given “messages” contributing to violence. They are told to “stand by your
man” (even when he is wrong), that women should be submissive, shouldn’t “nag”,
should be sexy, take care of the kids & many other messages that put limits on women
and their relationships with others.
Men, hearing messages women receive may get the idea, that women are objects to be
controlled…that to be a man, he must be “in charge” and “in control”. Men may believe
they must be the “ruler” of their family, while women may believe they are marrying a
“life partner” to share heartaches as well as the joys of life. With such different core
beliefs, is it any wonder that divorce rates in the U.S. are above 60 percent?
Men who still have a life partner waiting for them in the free world should consider their
partner’s feelings and work on understanding their point of view in a discussion (before it
is an argument). You don’t have to be right or in control of every situation all of the time.
Being able to listen & compromise isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of
intelligence and maturity.
This short message about sharing the power in the family is hardly sufficient for
offenders involved in domestic violence. This is just a first step to get men to
start thinking rather than reacting. Many areas in the state offer “Peer Support
Groups” for men and women involved in domestic violence, on either side of the
As we have discussed, there are many different forms of violence. Violence always has
negative results; we may not recognize it at the time, we may even think it helped us
control someone else when it occurs; however, in the long run, it hurts relationships and
leads to greater conflict in the future.
Sometimes people, talking about a violent event, will say, “It just happened – I don’t
know why”. However, there are often some signals or signs that our body gives us that
we can use to tell when we are getting angry. Lets look at some of these:
• We may have feelings of frustration and annoyance
• We may feel our hearts start to pound
• We may feel our muscles start to tense up
• We may stammer, stutter or have trouble speaking
• We may get red in the face
• We may start to sweat
• We may clinch our jaws
• We may grind our teeth
• We may clinch our fists
Do you have other ways you can feel anger building up?
By recognizing these warning signs, we can then take action to prevent normal anger
turning into abnormal aggression and aggression from turning into violence. There are
situations in jail or prison that try our patience and can contribute to anger.
Try and monitor your physical and emotional reactions to these signs so that you will be
better prepared to intervene.
Our goal is to learn how to live our lives so we can maintain control. When we resort to
violence, then we lose control and may even lose our freedom. Lets review some
possible ways to better control our anger before it escalates into violence:
We know that overall levels of tension and anger often lead to aggressive behavior. It is
important to develop ways to reduce our level of tension.
Our first technique is called “Chilling Out”, which can be combined with “Guided
Imagery” to strengthen it’s value.
If we feel anger coming on, we can try a relaxation exercise:
1) Sit down in a comfortable position
2) Start breathing slowly and deeply
3) Focus on a spot on the floor or wall in front of you
4) Concentrate on your breathing
5) As you breath out say a word or phrase to yourself (like “chair” or “Easy Does It” or
   if you are religious something like “Let Go and Let God”)
6) As you say the word or phrase to yourself, try to picture the item, or a peaceful
   meadow, a gently flowing stream, a mountain or the beach. You can even imagine
   hearing the sounds that go with the picture.
7) If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to the item or to the picture you have
   chosen to visualize.
When you do this, practice it for at least 15 minutes – the whole point is to take a “time
out”, practicing emotional control and strengthening your command over your own lives.
While we don’t have time now to carry this practice for the full time, I would like you to
take a few minutes to give this an initial try (in the classroom, the instructor can repeat
the above instructions).
Did anyone find this short exercise relaxing? Even if they didn’t, ask them to practice
later, on their own, and use it over the next few weeks until it becomes one of their
coping skills.
This exercise helps us put problems, conflicts and worries in perspective. Most things
that “set us off” are minor & don’t deserve ruining our lives and loosing our freedom over.
Another simple and quick technique is called “Progressive Relaxation”. This involves
the tensing and relaxing of different muscles in our body.
1) Start by tensing the muscles in one arm and then relax those muscles.
2) Try that same tensing and relaxing method with other muscles in the body.
Alternating tensing and relaxing helps our awareness of body tension and can help us
relax. You can try this exercise later.
There are other techniques for relaxation that you can learn on your own. In the free
world, some people use jogging or other forms of exercise to reduce stress.
Another thing to consider is how we approach events that challenge us (how we
perceive what goes on around us).
Almost everyone has said something like “He really made me angry.” This may seem
very realistic and straightforward. But what this really says is “He had control over the
way I felt.” In reality, no one but you has control over the way you feel.
“He” may have done something, but it is the meaning that you attached to what he did
that caused your angry reaction. YOU MAKE YOURSELF ANGRY! For sure, if
someone walks up behind you and “frogs” (punches) your arm you will likely get
angry. Anger is a normal reaction to some situations.
However, when you turn to see who did that, what happens if you see it is a “friend” from
the old neighborhood and your normal greeting was to “frog” each other. What will your
likely response be then? Probably not anger or violence (although someone seeing an
exchange of these punches might think it was “aggression” – it may be a poor way to
say “Hello” in prison).
Our reactions to events are sometimes based on faulty perceptions or lack of really valid
information. It is often based on what we “think” is going on, which may be very different
than what really happened.
Not everything is, as it initially seems.
Perhaps, we turn to hear our cellie ask, “Why did you take my Tuna Fish? This may
result in a different (but hopefully non-violent) response than the other example. We
may say, “Hey, I didn’t take it, I have my own, but you put some commissary behind your
radio, did you look there?” He might have missed looking there. We could be a “Good
Samaritan” saying “If you can’t find it, just use one of mine. You can replace it later.”
This is a more mature way of dealing with a situation. Some may say you can’t act this
way in prison? If we were to act like this all the time, we wouldn’t be as fearful of others,
wouldn’t be as likely to lose our “good time” and would be farther along in our growth
and development for when we are released.
Associated with our reactions to what we perceive to be going on around us are the
messages we give ourselves. Called “Self-Talk”, this is an internal conversation with
These internal messages can be either a positive or negative form of “Self-Talk”.
If we give ourselves a negative message like “Fool disrespected me, he don’t know who
he is messing with” violence is almost certain. One may require stitches, but the other
may lose good time.
Is the temporary feeling of power worth the additional time in prison? What happens
when the Parole Board sees the record of this behavior? What started off as a loss of
Line Class and a couple of extra months can turn into a “set-off” or two. If we give
ourselves negative messages, then we are likely to act on those messages with harmful
However, positive Self-Talk can have the opposite effect: “He is trying to get me to ‘twist-
off’; however, I’m not into such childish behavior and it certainly isn’t worth serving more
time over.”
Another example would be if you asked one of the Officers on your wing, who you knew
to be a decent sort and usually helpful, to give you some toilet paper. He responds
angrily, “I’ve got a million other things going on…you’ll just have to wait!” Rather than
using a negative Self-Talk message (“I don’t let nobody talk to me like that, someday
he’ll get his”), you can tell yourself, “He is not like this normally, he must be having a bad
day. I’ll ask later when he isn’t so busy.”
Negative Self-Talk can lead to confrontation and consequences while Positive Self-Talk
improves self-control and happiness.
Here, we can ask participants if anyone can recall a situation they were involved in
where they gave themselves a negative message. We tell them we would appreciate
hearing about it, then ask if they can think of a more positive message you could have
used, that would also be helpful.
The defense mechanism of “seeing ones self as a good person”, may prevent their
giving you a response.
If you get a response, but they can’t think of a “Positive Self-Talk” for that example, ask
others for suggestions. Try to lead the discussion into areas that will result in
someone coming up with a positive message. Give positive feedback to participants.
As previously said, violence often results from a trivial incident with a verbal exchange
that quickly escalate into violence.
Asking offenders who, in the past, had a history of episodes of anger resulting in a
violent confrontation, but who no longer involve themselves in those “activities” reveals
that they have learned to simple avoid situations they feel could escalate.
If someone provides a good example, you might be able to change it up and use it in a
future presentation. Saying, “Another class gave an example that happened at another
unit” may keep it from being attributed back to the source.
Their Positive Self-Talk is something like, “ I’m not a chump for keeping my nose out of
that business, I don’t need the aggravation behind all that infantile behavior!”
They have learned that you can’t be in a Rec. Room brawl if you aren’t there! They
know that once they are involved it is much harder to back out, so they just don’t go! If
they are around an event that starts to go sour, they tell themselves “I’m not a sucker for
leaving – I am being sensible. I’m not going to allow this situation to take control and
ruin my chance for freedom – I’m going to be in control and walk away.”
Getting older involves more than age; it (hopefully) includes a degree of wisdom, often
developed through great hardship. These suggestions on what to do when you see a
situation “brewing” have been provided by others who have learned to avoid conflict:
•   STOP – stop moving around and stop running your mouth.
•   THINK – is this a situation that really calls for anger or am I using anger to
            cover up another feeling. Ask yourself if there is there another way
            to look at the situation. Then ask, “What is the wise thing to do?” We
            often do stupid or rash things if we behave impulsively!
•   ACT WISELY – do the intelligent thing.
Many men have difficulty feeling certain things. Many men don’t deal well with loss or
regret (such as if “his woman” leaves). Rather than stopping to think what he did wrong
or how sad he is he may react in a fit of anger.
Likewise, men don’t handle embarrassment very well. They may be tempted to harm
those they feel embarrassed them.
Another problem for many men is accepting responsibility for what they did. It is easier
for them to get angry and blame others than to accept and admit they made a poor
The bottom line is, anger is often a cover up for feelings a man is unable to deal
with or is afraid to deal with.
One way to learn to deal with anger is to look and see if anger is really the issue or if you
are using anger to cover up your real feelings. Then look at the type of self-talk you are
giving to yourself (this uses the Stop and Think principle developed by mature
classmates). Then use the Act Wisely principle.

A possible way to control anger has been devised from Twelve-Step Self-Help
programs. These Seven-Steps may help you!








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