Book Clubs for Inmates: Partners in Healing reads Daring Greatly

the-daring-way“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

– Brené Brown


“Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.” – Goodreads

The content of the book is raw and honest, taking the reader on a journey to learn what it means to Dare Greatly. Her work uses eloquent metaphors to explain tough and complicated components of vulnerability, including shame, fear, and disconnection, giving the reader a tangible way to explore what vulnerability looks like. From the gremlins to the armory, Dr. Brown anchors conversation using real world examples of how we come to understand and practice shame resilience, engage actively with our lives, and embrace vulnerability. As challenging as some of her revelations may be to digest, Daring Greatly is an opportunity for growth and universal connection.


At some point or another, most inmates will re-entre society. It is important that they return to the community with a greater skillset than that with which they entered the institutions. Book clubs are a great way to combine practical skills such as literacy and expression with life skills such as empathy and self-compassion. Book Clubs for Inmates writes, “book clubs help inmates develop pro-social skills, such as respectful listening and speaking. And as inmates read and discuss literature, they develop stronger reading and communication skills. All these together help them make meaningful life changes, and upon release reintegrate more successfully back into the community.”

At Dorchester Minimum, our conversations are mediated by both facilitators and community volunteers, following a similar format to JHSSENB’s current Partners in Healing (PIH) program. PIH is founded on principles of restorative justice, with the goal of creating safer communities by bringing greater awareness to the impacts of crime and inviting community engagement in restorative justice opportunities in prisons and in the community. Following a 12-week Victim Impact group, PIH was looking for a way to continue the conversations on empathy, growth, compassion, and impact. Dr. Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead seemed like the perfect fit to building on those themes.


daring-greatly-imageIn the book, Dr. Brown writes, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” As we start the discussion of the 4 th chapter in the book, having elected to discuss one chapter at each of our bi-weekly meetings, I am constantly humbled and amazed by the willingness of each person to show up and be seen. We have a small group made of up 8 inmates, 2 volunteers, and 1 facilitator, and despite some fluctuation in the group, we’ve seen the connectedness strengthen over the last few weeks. The conversations we have each week are as enlightening as they are courageous. There has been laughter and tears, quiet contemplation and loud declarations. We use Dr. Brown’s metaphors to ground stories of our past. For instance, this past week’s conversation focused on gremlins, or the “shame tapes” that we all have, to discuss both societal and personal expectations and pressures in attempt to figure out where our deepest held beliefs are coming from. We used the gremlin analogy to discuss coping skills and brainstorm rebuttals to the destructive voices. A few weeks ago, we discussed Dr. Brown’s marble jar theory to discuss relationships that were impacted by their crime. According to Dr. Brown, relationships can be viewed as a marble jar; “whenever someone supports you, is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honours what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, the marbles come out.” Who you would consider as you marble jar friends, or how to gain marbles once lost, is a relatable, albeit challenging, conversation to have.


The feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. The inmates are acknowledging that they have found connections within this book that they had not anticipated. Some have felt like the book was written for and speaking directly to them. Others have noted how many times they have read and reread passages that revealed something they had never before considered. Some have discussed the book with loved ones outside, and others have used the insight they’ve gained from the book and the conversations to verbalize learned skills to their parole officers. Countless times we’ve all acknowledged the need to take breaks to reflect on various passages of the book, some that scrape the surface and others that cut through “the bullsh*t.”

Click here to hear from one of our book club participants on his thoughts about the group so far.

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