Education and Emotional Literacy with the Lionheart Foundation

By Christopher Zoukis

As its website attests, the Lionheart Foundation "provides education, rehabilitation and reentry support to incarcerated men and women in prisons and jails throughout the United States.”  Their prison-based initiatives are one of the cornerstones of this foundation, but Lionheart also supports youth-at-risk programming as well as programming for teen parents.  The hub of the program for prisoners is based upon the book The Houses of Healing: A Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom and is the basis for many teaching and mentoring initiatives for in-prison populations.  Image courtesy linkedin.com

Reduce Recidivism and Change Lives for the Better

The Lionheart Foundation is not the only prison education initiative in the country.  However, it is unusual because it is not focused merely on one region as many state-based initiatives are and because it is so closely connected to a book--a manual for a better life as some have dubbed it.  According to the foundation, hundreds of prison teachers, volunteers, and chaplains rely on Houses of Healing to help inmates focus on positive change and to embrace new opportunities like education.  The book is at the heart of the foundation's National Emotional Literacy Project for Prisoners and there are now more than 130,000 copies in circulation.

What Does the Lionheart Foundation Do?

Though the foundation greatly promotes its initiatives designed for "emotional intelligence," it also conducts education workshops for the public to better inform people about the needs of prisoners and the need for communities to help support their reentry and rehabilitation.  All of its programming is designed for at-risk populations like prison populations, juvenile delinquent centers, and teen parents in at-risk neighborhoods.  Along with promoting the values of justice, excellence, competence, and generosity, the Lionheart Foundation is also involved with a major research project supported by The National Institutes for Health.

Multi-Session Course for Prisoners

The Houses of Healing manual for prison educators is designed for thirteen sessions based on personal growth modalities.  Each session builds on earlier sessions.  Participants learn new ways to deal with emotions like anger but there are also other angles of the program that make it unique among prisoner education programming.  Prisoners who take part in this course will learn medication as well as self-regulation.  They will learn to acknowledge childhood trauma and address the issues they believe led them to make the decisions that found them in jail.  They will discuss methods for transforming negative emotions like anger, guilt, and shame into positive actions and new ways of thinking about themselves, their lives, and their communities.  Inmates will also focus on "victim awareness" to fully claim responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions. 

In many ways, the emotional platform of this program enables inmates to come full circle and to create for themselves a new framework for a future life.  The foundation also believes that this program is the support inmates need to tackle subsequent programs for academic or vocational training platforms. 

The program's unique emotional literacy premise makes it unique among prison-based programming.  It's a program that any prison can undertake using its own teachers or volunteers. The foundation can provide supplies as well as instructional material.  Their programming has been featured in major journals like the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and others.  Their website is extensive and details program successes as well as other types of programming the foundation offers to at-risk populations.