On January 18, 2011, twelve men inside Georgia’s most violent and dangerous maximum security prison signed a peace pledge. They signed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of MLK Day. They signed because they were challenged, and even dared, to see if it was possible to live peacefully for forty days in a prison that had over half of the general population active and affiliated in dangerous gangs. They signed because they desired a better quality of life and they wanted to do easier time. These twelve original members were white, black, and Latino; Christian and Muslim; old and young. But they had one very important thing in common: they all desperately desired peace. Quickly the word began to spread and soon gang leaders were getting involved in what was being called “Peace at Hays.” Fights were broken up, hits were called off, and major escalating situations were put down. Peace came to that institution for a miraculous season and this violent prison won Institution of the Year in the State of Georgia in 2011. However, the peace wouldn’t last as a gang war tore through several state prisons the following year and four killings in six weeks locked that prison down. But an idea had been born and taken root, and hope and light had come to a dark and desperate place. If given the chance, would convicts in other prisons and other states choose peace over violence? If given the inspiration and motivation, could hated, feared, and forgotten men truly change? This book tells the story of how those twelve men started a peace movement that is now spreading to prisons and schools across the country. Dr. King’s dream of “restoring our beloved community” is happening in the most unexpected places. This is an idea whose time has come: a nonviolent resolution.
This was an idea, which led to an experiment that became a program that evolved into a movement. This is a true story and the young history of an organization that is called the Power of Peace Project (POPP). This series of forty day projects is bringing peace and resolution to dysfunctional institutions, whether it be prisons, schools, churches, or wounded communities. POPP intends to institutionalize nonviolence. I will begin each of the next twenty-two chapters with a story that highlights a significant point in the journey or a turning point for the movement. Then I will go on to chronicle the Power of Peace history and also explain the simple but powerful steps that make up the POPP process. This is going to be a roller coaster ride: vivid accounts of transformation and redemption, heartache and pain, danger and fear, breakthroughs and freedom. You will see that this project is working and the news is spreading quickly. We’ll be coming to your town soon, because everybody wants peace, and our world is hungry for it like never before.