From “piece of shit” to somebody

August 6, 2015

The talk given to us by Mr. Willie Stokes was very powerful for me. To hear from a former gang leader about his life transformation was utterly inspiring for me. Often times, as part of the general public, we simply castigate gang members for the violence and destruction that they cause… and with good reason, they cause insecurity, deaths, and lives broken. However, it made me think about whether crime is a product of structural violence.

Hearing Mr. Willie’s story starting from his childhood to now. At a very young age, one can decipher that life wasn’t made for him. He didn’t have a robust support network that an average American family has. I compared his situation from an average American family because I want to take into account the “relative deprivation” that Mr. Willie and young boys like him must consistently battle. When you have default circumstances that are in bad conditions, the natural result is for that young kid to live a challenging life.

Recently, I have been reading about the battle that children from grave circumstances have to fight. These articles that I have attached talk about the small minority of overachieving children from extremely grim backgrounds but manage to “beat the odds” and attain success in their lives. The small minority of “shining stars” is doing well in school. Their mental health is good. They have no trouble with the law, no trouble with substance abuse. However, it doesn’t come without a price. According to recent research, these achievements come at the expense of these children’s health. Measuring DNA methylation, researchers found that in disadvantaged communities, the cells of children who exhibited more self-control (and became more successful) visibly aged faster than the cells of children who maintained the status quo. In short, the most upwardly mobile kids were the most physically unhealthy.

After hearing about Mr. Willie’s life story, society shouldn’t be surprised that he ended up in the path that he was in – “a piece of shit” (from his own words). From the beginning, his life was unfortunately set up to end up that way. Sadly, Our society does not have enough resources and infrastructure to assist the necessary transformation of children from less fortunate circumstances. Hence, I see it as structural violence because some people are “born” to have a crime-ridden life due to their circumstances. Although one can argue that there are some exceptions to this linear process I am talking about, these research suggests that these exceptions, the “shining stars”, are not fully liberated from their less fortunate backgrounds. Their lives might seem to be in “order” but they are paying the price in terms of their health. Essentially, children from less fortunate backgrounds, such as Mr. Willie, have a very difficult choice to make – either they live an orderly life or a healthy life. I don’t think anyone should have to choose.

Mr. Willie inspired me profoundly. He was able to turn his life around and now he works to educate the youth, to steer them away from gang violence, and eventually turn them into “shining stars”. I admire Mr. Willie for his work even if it puts him in a extremely perilous position. He justifies his cause by saying, “if he was willing to die for the gangs, then he is willing to die for this cause.”


Recent articles regarding the choice (success vs. health) that children growing up from less fortunate backgrounds have to make:

Salinas Valley State Prison Visit

August 5, 2015

Last Tuesday, we visited the Salinas Valley State Prison and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not because I felt joyful because there were plenty of people incarcerated there but because I learned so much from the experience. I have never been to a state prison, not even in my country. I only have a vague idea about how prisons should look like from the media that I encountered. Fortunately for us, the officer that showed us around was very amiable. He walked us through the area, explained how the prison functions, and answered some of our questions.

There were two things that I found really striking. The first was the continuation of the drug culture INSIDE the state prison. I may be naïve but it shocked me to a high degree. I imagined American prisons to be one of the most innovative facilities since they spend too much money on it. However, even here, drugs can still pass through. It utterly belittles the purpose of the prison. Prisons were made to serve as punishment for crimes and eventually lead to the personal transformation of inmates. In prison, inmates will hopefully realize their mistakes and recreate themselves and become better human beings. But with drugs running around, can that transformation happen? I don’t think so. Instead, it would lead to more crimes INSIDE the prison. It just blows my mind that even in the “most secure, most monitored” place in the world, a drug market can successfully flourish.

The second striking aspect of the Salinas Valley state prison was the politics of the Charlie (C) – yard. In the A-yard, there were the inmates who were considered in the “special needs” category. A-yard has the inmates who decided to dropout from their former gangs. However, later, we discovered that some of them created new gangs after leaving their old ones. Meanwhile, C-yard was home for the “general population” inmates. The differences were highly noticeable. I was disturbed how the C-yard reminded me of the stereotypical American public high school where everyone is strictly segregated. I can only imagine how limiting their environment is. Their space is already limited but they created these social structures that further compress their already limited space. I cannot imagine how they survive with the constant tension and perpetual paranoia. It is something that I am still thinking about but I am grateful for the experience of knowing.

When we had our debrief, I felt surprised that my peers felt that we were intruding the inmates’ space. For some odd reason, I felt comfortable. I was extraordinarily eager to go in and learn as much as I can from our visit. I know that the things I learn from here will be instrumental in the future. That what I saw in Salinas Valley will forever influence my future decisions as a citizen and as a future public servant. There was something powerful about seeing the inmates, the prison guards, and the physical structure of the prison. Oddly enough, I felt inspired after the visit. I saw a huge window of opportunity there. Prisons can be improved to divert the talents and creativity of the inmates for something good. I can just see it.

non-violence ≠ nonviolence

August 5, 2015

On Monday evening, Mr. Kazu Haga presented about the principles of East point peace academy. He is the founder of the East Point Peace Academy. He shared the principles that East Point promotes. During the session, we learned more about the history of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of “institutionalizing and internationalizing nonviolence”. This was how the Kingian nonviolence was born. It was through the last marching words of Dr. King.

Mr. Haga walked us through the concept of Kingian nonviolence. We did an interactive activity wherein we had to share information about us to our partners and then we had to introduce our partners to the rest of the group. But here’s the twist: when introducing we must use the first person voice “I” and the audience must look at the person being introduced instead of the person talking. If we break the rules, we start from the beginning. Everyone got very excited. Three pairs went in front to do the activity and we did extremely well as a group. Then, we reflected upon the activity. Then, Mr. Haga asked us to define words that are important in peacebuilding. Eventually, he introduced us to the six principles of the Kingian nonviolence.

Here are the following things that I learned from Mr. Haga:

  1. As humans, we tend to overthink things. The meaning of violence are usually defined, and for good reasons, using all-encompassing, highly precise, profound terms. However, sometimes it helps us do our work effectively when we define violence or other complex umbrella terms such as peace in simple yet universal terms. One that says very little but means a whole lot to a lot of people.
  2. Non-violence does not mean nonviolence. The hyphen makes a huge difference.
  3. When we stay quiet after being attacked but never release our anger, that’s still violent… we’re being violent to ourselves.
  4. Vengeance does not mean justice.
  5. Conflict is neutral but the way we respond to it depends on us. It can go both ways, positive or negative. This reminded me of the “Introduction to Peacebuilding” by Professor Iyer on our first day. Professor said that as peacebuilders we must be comfortable with conflict. This way, we can effectively change the status quo.

I really loved this session. Not only because of the upbeat delivery by Mr. Haga but also because it was very inspiring to me on an individual level. Often times as peacebuilders, we are overwhelmed with structures, policies, and sad news that we forget about the inner self. The Kingian nonviolence concept really educated me about the power of nonviolence. It may take a lot of practice but I think it’s going to be worth it. As peacebuilders, we need to have enduring spirits. I think practicing nonviolence will help build that stamina.

Salinas Police Department Visit

August 2, 2015

Last week, we visited the Salinas Police Department. Salinas is approximately 30 minutes away from Monterey and has significant problems regarding gang violence. The city’s overall violent crime is higher than California’s average. Chief of Police, Mr. Kelly McMillin, showed us around the police station, explained police training and operations. He also answered some of our questions regarding legitimacy, community involvement, and the current challenges that police officers face in the 21st century.



I must say that this is one of my favorite sessions in the Summer Peacebuilding Program. Aside from the fact that I felt like a cool law student visiting a police department for the first time,  I learned plenty of information from our visit and obtained a clearer understanding of the complexity of the police’s role in contemporary society. This was my first experience inside a police department. Chief officer McMillin told us about his background and what led him to his career as a police officer. Then, he showed us around the police office and clearly explained the different aspects of police operations. For me, it was such a great experience to see this aspect of the state first-hand. As scholars of political science, we often have a very narrow view of state operations. We are often stuck in the “Ivory tower.” We talk about the importance of policing to project state legitimacy and eventually strengthen the justice system to promote peace and order. Without the aid of the police, the world would be inherently anarchic and anarchy is undesirable. When we talk about these concepts, we simplify them. However, visiting the police department opened my eyes to the complexity of policing.


What I learned from the visit was that being a police officer is extremely demanding. Their job as protectors of society and the law affects their personal lives in many ways. Everyday their lives are in danger and they are always placed in situations of unrelenting pressure. However, they must act upon these societal standards. I was trying to find solutions for the problems of the Salinas police department. However, the problem was utterly complex. Nevertheless, the visit was educational to me. I will keep in mind the Salinas police department throughout this program and maybe at the end, I might have a solution.

The reduction of the public space

August 1, 2015

This week, we talked about neoliberalism in Professor Arocha’s session. I must say I enjoyed that one a lot. He started by asking us to share the two things that immediately come to our minds when we hear the word neoliberalism. We all said different yet very connected things: McDonald’s, free trade, globalization, etc.. What was so fascinating to me was even though the majority of the words were very linked, not all of them linked in a positive relationship. In fact, Professor Arocha highlighted the irony of neoliberalism. He was very good at making us understand this concept.


In addition, he highlighted the dangers of the reduction of the public space. This caught my attention because this is a phenomenon that has been bothering me for quite a while now. Learning from our biggest teacher (the United States), my country the Philippines is also highly privatized. There is an understood convention that everything private is better and public is bad or substandard. This is not a lie at all. Abundant evidence shows that properties and facilities that are managed privately are managed better, staffed better, and almost everything better. Meanwhile, the public system that is relying on corrupt politicians and a poor society for taxes can barely compete. However, this causes multiples problems to our society. It excludes plenty of our low-income people because of the high prices of the goods and services. It removes the focus on improving the quality of public infrastructure because the people who have the power to complain, considering that filing a complaint signifies a long, costly bureaucratic process, would rather just pay to private companies that deal with the public system. Also, it changes the responsibility of the government. The system is now serving the businesses through protecting their private property rights. This is not completely bad. It becomes bad when this is done at the expense of the public. When this happens, how do we respond?


This question of public vs. private is very important to ask and reflect on. Let’s all think about it.

Day 1. Hi, my name is Peace. Nice to meet you SPP participant!

July 27, 2015

My name is Julmar Carcedo from Mindanao, Philippines and I am a Summer Peacebuilding Program participant here at MIIS!  I just need to point out that coming all the way here to MIIS was super worth it. Monterey and MIIS are perfect complements. After meeting my co-participants and the program organizers yesterday at our welcome reception, I declare, with certainty, that this program will be phenomenal and enriching for everyone.


Today was day one for us. The sessions were very interactive and it really allowed us to feel comfortable with each other. The morning session with Dr. Peter Shaw really boosted social cohesion within the group. We come from different parts of the world, attend different universities, and have different interests even within the umbrella term, peace. However, we are all here. Johan Galtung was right. Although the word or the naming of “peace” may offer an unrealistic image of the world. It can also be a tool for a peace-productive atmosphere, allowing diverse people, like us, to come together with a common basis.

In the afternoon, Dr. Pushpa Iyer, the Center for Conflict Studies director, introduced us to peacebuilding. This session was very enlightening to me. With the aid of texts from J. Galtung and R. Paris, we were able to wrap ourselves around some important concepts – violence, conflict, peace, and peacebuilding. We were able to precisely define these concepts that could easily be misunderstood.

Dr. Iyer asked us what our definitions were and then building off our definitions, she presented the definitions that are accepted in the discipline of Conflict studies. What struck me the most was when Dr. Iyer said conflict shouldn’t be seen as negative. Initially, I was confused. However, Dr. Iyer clarified it to us. She said that only when you have conflict you’ll have change in the status quo. So, we need to start seeing conflict as something positive and be comfortable around it. This way, we can be more effective peacebuilders.


Another part of the presentation that struck me was the slide containing these three statements. These statements have been thrown around everywhere when talking about peace. However, these claims are still debatable. It struck me because each statement was only a sentence long but it contained plenty of meaning and promise. These statements essentially lead the peace operations and conceptions of peace today. So, I am going to leave these here. It’s a good set of thought-provoking peacebuilding program statements.