December 28, 2018 Nick T

Starting EPP Minnesota

Guided by EPP Core Values

By: Susanne Gawreluk, Britt Ortmann, and
Phil GebbenGreen

One year ago this month EPP Ambassador Alex Senegal and EPP Founder Susan Olesek invited 60 plus guests of the IEA Minnesota Chapter to consider what it would take to start a local EPP Chapter. Over the next twelve months, with EPP Chapter Leader Susanne Gawreluk at the helm, and tirelessly supported by EPP Guides Phil GebbenGreen, Britt Ortman, and the IEA Community, EPP Minnesota is on the map! The work to start a new chapter has been unpredictable and intense, but incredibly rewarding. In all that we do, we seek to be guided by the Core Values of EPP. Here are some stories from our first few months through the lens of those values from those on the front line…


From Phil: Our very first class at Shakopee Prison happened to fall on National Severe Weather Awareness Day. So ten minutes into our 2.5 hour class, the buzzer sounded and we all headed into the hallways. Susanne, Britt, and I sat down against the wall, turned to each other and said, “Flexibility!” and began re-doing our already full Day 1 curriculum. Forty minutes later we returned to our classroom, but no students returned. A passing Corrections Officer let us know that all “offenders” needed to return to their housing units for a “nose count.” How long would that take? Another 30-40 minutes–leaving us plenty of time to figure out how to build a container of trust and introduce the Enneagram in the short time left. Here is the miraculous report: with one hour left and our adrenaline pumping, the women returned to class and immediately jumped into the material, soaking it all in, sharing with depth and vulnerability, and showing overt excitement. What felt like a ruined class turned into an experience of connection and trust.


From Britt: We work in solidarity with the folks “on the inside” to work through the parts of ourselves that prevent us from being present to our lives. We all participate in teaching and learning, in both giving and receiving, and in holding and being held. That we do the work together gives me hope, encourages us all to trust the process, and reminds us that – at our core – we are so deeply connected as human beings. Our experiences are unique, yet the ways we live in the prisons of our personalities manifests similarly. We cannot do it alone; we are doing the work together.


From Susanne: You can trust me when I share that the chaotic unpredictability of teaching in the prison system requires a mighty leap of faith! Maintaining a calm grounded presence and surrendering to the benevolence of the universe is a continuous tango. Trusting that we will get enough class time is futile. There is never enough time. We have learned to trust that bringing our best selves every week is more than enough. Halfway through our first class a woman excitedly raised her hand and boldly announced that she would like to be our first Minnesota EPP Ambassador. She is completing her 15-year sentence next year, and I trust that her wish just may be so!


From Britt: It’s no surprise, as we follow in the spirit of our courageous Type-One founder, that the word integrity is reflected in the core values. This is what makes EPP so special. We carry a deep awareness of the vulnerability we are inviting from our students in order to heal and we hold that space with complete respect, reverence and intention. We are mindful of the deep privilege it is to be invited into our student’s journey of growth and healing. We are committed to doing no harm. Our focus is to reflect what is good and lovable about each one of the EPP students.


From Phil: After just three weeks in a prison classroom, I already felt a change in my heart and my attitude toward life. In most situations in my life, when I am caught in my Type-Eight mindset, I just assume that I am the most powerful (and smartest…and bravest, etc.) person in the room. This mindset has often served me well as a leader and teacher. It’s also a lie I tell myself to protect myself from hurt. When I walk into the classroom at Shakopee, I have a very different feeling. Even though I am the largest human and only male in the room, I feel no need to exert dominance or strength. Instead I feel only love. More than that, I feel like I am a part of a circle of love, that I am as much student as teacher, that I am as willing to both accept the offerings and love of others, as I am willing to share myself with them. Each time I have left these prison classrooms and thought to myself: I want all of my life to be more like this, filled with love, and support, and freedom, and hope.


From Susanne:  I am wholeheartedly grateful for the opportunity to share my attitude of profound gratitude to Britt and Phil. Thank you both for joining me in the dream of pioneering the first chapter of EPP in Minnesota. This journey has included enduring numerous triumphs and disappointments over the past several months. Who knew that ‘getting into prison’ would be so difficult? Thank you for your consistent belief in the work and your dedication to see this through. I am grateful for you, Phil and Britt! And I am grateful to how lives are being changed in Minnesota due to the power and love of the Enneagram Prison Project.

EPP-Minnesota will finish up its third 10-week program at Shakopee in January. We have hopes to expand to Lino Lakes Men’s Prison in the near future.

“One year after being introduced to EPP, being an EPP Guide has changed and deepened almost every aspect of my life. Both going through EPP training and showing up each week at Shakopee Prison have made me a calmer, more open and accepting, wiser, more loving, more emotionally expressive, more inclusive and more forgiving human being. I am very grateful. I am more unconditionally positive and trusting, which might be easy for a Seven, but is a stretch for this Eight. I have cried more in church and in front of my family over the past year than in the past twenty years combined. Crazy. And it’s partly because when I said SCARED for my one word in our closing circle in MN last November, and Susan whipped her head around and just looked at me.”
Phil GebbenGreen
EPP Guide
Minnesota“I’ve learned things I’ve waited my entire LIFE to learn about myself in just 12- weeks.”
Type 7 Graduate
Elmwood Correctional Facility, CA“This class made me realize that I never truly understood myself. I learned it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s safe to allow people to get to know me, to let them in.”
Type 8 Graduate
Elmwood Correctional Facility, CA

“Thank you for offering such a class at a place like this. It helped me get through week after week…”
Type 3 Graduate
Elmwood Correctional Facility, CA

“Understanding my type has brought so much compassion for myself… Today I’m still that loving caring person, but I’m more mindful of my needs and more open to help… I understand that [love] includes us taking care of one another and not just me taking care of the world alone.”
Type 2 Graduate
San Quentin State Prison, CA

The thing that was most surprising was how this pattern was traceable all through my life. I learned that I have good intentions and a good heart, but I am too critical most of the time. I do have value, people do like me. Thank you for helping me to understand myself better. You’re just like a doctor, you helped me heal me.
Type 1 Graduate
Elmwood Correctional Facility, CA

“I was always learning something about myself every single class. I learned why I am always trying to help people and that I need to love myself more, just be me. It was insightful to learn that it’s okay to let pride go. If I need help [I can] just ask for it. This has no doubt been the most beneficial class I have ever taken in my life. I recommend it for everyone and anyone.”
Type 2 Graduate
Elmwood Correctional Facility, CA