How Theater & Philosophy Rehabilitate Prisoners Better Than Harsh Sentences

Here's what Israel Guillen learned about life by studying 8 hours a day during his 22-year prison sentence.

Israel Guillen: Good afternoon. Like Wendy, I grew up in a very abusive environment, it taught me to think that violence was a way of dealing with problems, getting your respect. It became normal to me so, with the cultural influences, I got into gangs and that created a bad way of destructive behavior that led me to get into a fight and another person got hurt from another person, which was a self-defense situation, but because I didn't testify they ended up giving me 16 years to life in prison.

So my mentality, even then, was that I had to own up to it and as much as I could understand it I thought fighting was normal and I thought it was just going to be a normal fight. In California it's the felony murder rule and you can be sentenced to life in prison under the aiding and abetting. And so I had this pessimistic view, living in prison thinking that I'll never get out. And I ended up getting a life sentence on top of another life sentence in maximum-security housing, which allowed me to sit in my cell for eight hours a day or sometimes even 12 hours a day just studying philosophy, psychology, history, languages and I came across this passage from Nietzsche that said, "For thou has had a bad day but still see that a worse evening does not overtake thee." And why he wrote that was when he entered into the German prisons he saw all his fellow Germans just sitting around not really trying to do anything with their lives and so he talked about the Ubermensch which, under my interpretation, was to try to be the best person that you could be. Even during that time I was studying the Bible and when I came across the subject today where we are to speak of hope and optimism—I mean hope to me, in my opinion, is one of the main components to a successful prayer. And because I had hope, I became optimistic, believed that I would get out, I ended up getting out. I visualized a lot of things and everything I visualized, everything I hoped for has come. I was sitting in the audience and having the philosopher stand here and talk about deep hope, I mean to be in there telling 50 other lifers I'm not going to be dying in prison I'm going to end up getting out, that's deep hope, especially when it comes out of your mouth. But I'm a strong believer of curses and blessings, rather than curse my life I'd rather bless my life.

And I believe if you think it, you're going to behave it and if you behave it it's going to become an attitude. And because of that attitude it allowed me not to think that I know it all, but even though when I was young I knew I didn't know nothing at all, I was uneducated, I wanted to live my life that I don't know it at all and I want to learn. And so when I came across to The Actors' Gang I took it, I went with it, they even asked me to put makeup on—the men call it "man cake". It's a humbling experience. We live by a motto in The Actor's Gang, which is: we're a master of our thoughts, not a victim of our minds. And I talk with my girlfriend about that all the time when we're in discussions, I mean—it took a long time to become that person that I was. It took around a good ten years to become the person I was, but it took 22 years of my incarceration to make me the person that I am today. So transformation of this magnitude isn't a revolution but an evolution and so with of The Actors' Gang allowing me to witness anger, allowing me to witness fear, sadness and happiness, and as you saw in the video, happiness and anger is easy to accept in prison, but when it comes to fear, when it comes to sadness we live this machismo thing in prison, [emotion] is looked down upon amongst men, but actually in some cultures too the real machismo accepts those emotions, they will change the kid's diapers, they will cook.

And so when it came to The Actors' Gang allowing me to face fear, acknowledge fear, acknowledge sadness, it made me more humane, it made me more human, so when I have to cry I'd cry, and that's processing those emotions, it's not allowing me to be numb with things that are going on because suffering, it's inevitable. You're going to witness broken relationships, you're going to witness death, you're going to witness losing a job, but now when I deal with these things, I mean there's a lot of things—not just dealing with your emotions, but like Chris Bingley was saying, it's understanding how to work as a team too that helped me to survive out here in society for the last two years and helped me to be successful because in The Actor's Gang you better just be ready to pick up the slack. You better be ready to pick up the slack and because I was able to pick up the slack it allowed me to get into a union in construction, it allowed me to be successful in the construction field and made me humble to accept the teachings of other people. And I'm very grateful for The Actors' Gang for allowing me to be a student and I look forward to having some more engagements like this. Thank you. 
Sabra Williams: These are the people we're incarcerating for ridiculous amounts of time. Why? We have to stop. And let's not allow what's happening in DC to let us go back to "tough on crime". It never worked and it will never work. This is what works. 

Being "tough on crime" doesn't work. Former inmate Israel Guillen is proof that what does work is nurturing people's sense of humanity through philosophy, theatre, and teamwork. Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actors' Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and offer them training to understand and manager their emotions. With an incredibly low recidivism rate of just 10% among her students, Williams' experimental idea has proven its worth and now operates in ten prisons across California, which is where Sabra Williams met former inmate and Actors' Gang student Israel Guillen. Israel recently shared his personal story of what he learned throughout his 22-year prison sentence at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. The Actors’ Gang conducts weekly and seven-day intensive programs inside the California prison system, a weekly re-entry program in the community, as well as a program in juvenile facilities, and soon to be a program designed for correctional officers. Head here for more information on The Actors' Gang Prison Project.

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
  • The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
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