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Devon Gaster and MCP featured in the East Bay Express

East Bay Express

Devon Gaster of MCP
Devon Gaster started Men Creating Peace in order to help men avoid the “fatal peril.”

On a rainy November evening, a dozen men sat in a semi-circle in a Laney College classroom. They were working toward graduating, but not from any academic program. The whiteboard was peppered with terms such as “Hit Man,” “accountability,” “male belief system,” “fatal peril,” and a clever acronym for denial: “Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.”

Scott Schell, the facilitator, was animated and upbeat as he asked the men a basic question: “Why do we get angry?”

The room was tense but quiet.

“We get angry when we don’t feel safe,” Schell proffered. “We’re scared. As men, we can’t show hurt or pain or cry. As men, we show anger. We get aggressive, violent. We’re taught this is OK male behavior.”

Just how to stop this behavior is the goal of the nonprofit program, called Men Creating Peace, which works with domestic violence offenders, as well as men struggling with anger issues. They’re referred by the courts, the Alameda County District Attorney, Child Protective Services, therapists, and by word of mouth.

“We work with men to educate them about the root causes of men’s violence and male entitlement,” said Executive Director Devon Gaster, who founded the program in 2007. “We also work to help men understand that anger is an emotion everyone experiences, but not everyone expresses anger in abusive or harmful ways.”

With allegations of sexual harassment and assault making daily headlines, the subject of how to stop men from being violent has perhaps never demanded more urgent attention. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women in the United States are raped at some point during their lifetime. Furthermore, more than one in three women and more than one in four men experience sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Gaster said he has his own history of abuse, both as a victim and a perpetrator. He was referred by authorities to the Manalive program at San Francisco County Jail. “I made a big mistake in my life and want to pass on what I learned to those other men,” Gaster said.

He decided to start Men Creating Peace because he realized that men who become violent in relationships need tools to change their thinking and to avoid the “fatal peril” — when they feel compelled to lash out in rage. Gaster modeled his program on the principles he learned at Manalive. His 52-week program includes three phases: the first is focused on recognizing different forms of violence, the second works on reconnecting men with themselves and deepening their intimacy and communication skills, and the third stage addresses co-dependency, unhealthy relationships, and developing strategies for the future.

In addition to holding weekly classes at Laney College, Men Creating Peace also holds sessions at Options Recovery Services in Berkeley. The first session is free, but after that, fees are on a sliding scale based on income, with a range of $20 to $100 per session. There are also twice-monthly classes at San Quentin State Prison for men nearing their release date.

All the men must also agree with two statements: “I have been abusive to myself and others” and “I am willing to stop my abuse to myself and others.”

Yet recognizing abusive ways can be difficult. In the Laney classroom, one man described a painful revelation during a family movie night: The film’s authority figure barked out orders, treating others with belligerence. “My kid says, ‘That’s dad.’ That night I looked in the mirror. He was right.”

“Power over your behavior” is a recurrent theme in sessions. When one man says he left his home rather than let his anger escalate into a violent situation with his two daughters, Gaster said the man did the right thing but added, “Removing yourself from the scene is not always the best solution.”

Some of the most powerful sessions are those that feature survivors of various forms of abuse and violence, Gaster said. “These men and women tell their stories and the men listen and ask questions. It’s a chance for them to build empathy.” After the survivor — never “victim” — leaves, the men process what they’ve heard. “Men talk about the impact of violence,” Gaster said. “Men who’ve committed these very acts talk about them in light of what they’ve just heard.” Gaster also invites relatives of survivors of violence, which recently included a mother whose son was killed by a gang.

A lot of men in the program grew up in abusive households. (The Express agreed to change the men’s names at their request.) One recent graduate of the program, whom we’ll call “Steve,” said his parents fought constantly and his father was abusive toward him. As an adult, Steve was verbally abusive of his partner and his behavior escalated “to a point where I slapped her.” He called a domestic abuse hotline, which referred him to Men Creating Peace.

Steve said the program taught him “the tools for de-escalating a situation when violence seems the only choice,” he said. “I learned how to be intimate, how to be a genuine person.”

Stephen Murphy, associate director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, said Gaster is “doing a phenomenal job.”

“We need to be very open about what constitutes healing for survivors and victims,” he said. “Those who do research must inform us on how to heal these families. Devon was one of the innovators and is part of the conversation on healing abusers. I have a ton of respect for him.”

Jeffrey Edleson, dean of the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley and a leading expert on domestic violence, said he wasn’t familiar with Gaster’s work, but research shows that approximately two-thirds of men who complete batterer-intervention programs end their violence against their intimate partners. However, many men drop out of such programs before completing them.

“In my own study, we found that about half the men contacting the agency did not enter treatment and another quarter did not complete the program they started,” said Edleson, whose research includes decades of running groups for men who perpetrate violence. “Studies show that delays in entering treatment groups lead to higher program dropouts. Criminal justice systems that mandate and monitor men’s participation and then bring consequences if men do drop out show better completion rates than those that don’t.”

According to Gaster, over the last 10 years, more than 250 men have gone through the Men Creating Peace program, but only about 3 in 10 graduate. Only two men have returned to the program for another offense.

Based on decades of research, Edleson traces men’s violence to childhood. “It’s the socialization of boys,” he said. “We’re raised to be in control. When men in my groups are asked to talk about feelings, they experience fear and insecurity as anger. Boys are trained not to express fear.”

He recalled a quote: “Boys are warriors; girls are worriers.”

Edleson also offered a soberer reason for men’s violence: “Men are violent because it pays,” he said. “There’s a reward for being violent. Violence is part of a larger coercive endeavor. It’s coercion for control and it pays off because the perpetrator gets their way.”

Edleson said there are recurring themes in men’s excuses for violence, such as alcohol, drugs, or the contention that “if she had only done things differently, I wouldn’t have had to beat her.” His main message to perpetrators of domestic violence is unambiguous: “You may have been provoked but you have a choice as to how you respond to provocation.”

A recent experience in Edleson’s group challenged the notion of “the irrational” man being abusive. “This happened on a Monday afternoon,” Edleson explained. “The man destroyed every piece of furniture in the living room, except for the TV.” It turned out the man had plans to watch Monday Night Football.

Still, Edleson remains optimistic. “The murder rates have gone down over the centuries,” he said. “We’re doing better at managing to control our desire to use violence.” Edleson also cites the #MeToo movement and the national exposure of men who abuse women as positive steps in lessening the incidence of domestic violence.

Gaster is also hopeful, but he’s intent on expanding Men Creating Peace. “I’d like to do more classes on college campuses,” he said. “Classes to increase awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, and abusive relationships.”

Gaster finds it invigorating to educate men who want to change — and he’s encouraged by the results of his work. “Hearing from men whose lives have changed in a year is why I continue to do this work,” he said.

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MCP in the News

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Each week, a large group of men meet Wednesdays and Saturdays at Berkeley’s Veterans Building and Oakland’s Laney College to discuss gender roles, anger management and domestic violence prevention.

Men Creating Peace (MCP) is one of the few domestic violence organizations in Alameda County specifically geared towards men. Founded in 2009, the organization aims to help men who’ve been involved in violent acts adopt coping mechanisms so that they can develop healthier relationships with partners, family and their community.

“We’re not a parenting class, we’re not an AA class. We’re a violence prevention class, and the men that we’re working with have agreed that they’re violent, and they want to stop,” said founder Devon Gaster.

Prior to launching MCP, Gaster worked in jails teaching the same methods in Sacramento, San Francisco and Marin County. Through years of experience practicing the 30-year-old Manalive Violence Prevention Program, founded by interventionist Hamish Sinclair, Gaster established the curriculum for Men Creating Peace.

“Every class starts with accountability,” said Gaster. “In the beginning of the first class, we ask the men to tell us why they’re here, and we ask them to be as specific as they can about what happened. How did they start their violence? How did their violence escalate? And how did they end their violence? ”

The program is made up of three stages that altogether last 52 weeks. Men who are 16 years or older and have issues with anger are referred to Men Creating Peace by the courts, agencies, clergies, therapists and even school counselors.

Gaster says he based the organization in Alameda County due to the economic downturn. Men who lived in the East Bay, couldn’t afford to travel to domestic violence classes in San Francisco or Marin County. “People were moving to Alameda County where it was less expensive to live, but they didn’t want to lose credits for the classes they had already gone to in San Francisco, so they just transferred into our program,” he said.

The organization differs from other programs due its focus on teaching men how not to fall victim to their egos or what they call the “male-role belief system,” which is the idea that men are superior to women and other men.

“There is always this competitiveness around men, and when that belief system gets challenged, when you get disrespected, when someone outdoes you, makes fun of you, or cuts you off on the freeway, it’s a challenge to the belief system. What are you going to do as a man? Are you going to stand up for yourself or are you going to let someone disrespect you? That’s a big challenge,” says Gaster.

When asked what is the most significant challenge men face upon entering the program, Gaster said “accountability.” It’s difficult for his students to accept responsibility for their actions without blaming their victim, he said. Once men accept accountability and graduate to later stages in the program, victims of domestic violence are brought to speak to the class. “We have stories of rape, we have stories of kidnapping … stories that victims tell when they come talk to the class,” said Gaster.

“Once students graduate to that second and third stage of the program, the resistance level has gone down. Their buy-in to the work has gone up. The awareness of their violence has gone up. The awareness of the impact of their violence has gone up and they’re more receptive to that kind of a story,” added Gaster.

Though Gaster said the program’s success rate is lower than he’d like, the men who do graduate often end up returning to teach or sit in on classes. Gaster hopes to expand his business even further, one day establishing a headquarters and even creating classes for couples and women.

Recent News

Devon at Day of Rememberance
13th Annual Day of Remembrance in Oakland, October 30, 2015

February 19, 2016 – Devon attended the February meeting of the Alameda County Father’s Corps and joined the organization. The event was held at the First Five of Alameda office in Alameda.
This was a lunch meeting of the Father’s Corps followed by a presentation by Vina Runnels from the Alameda County Department of Child Support Services about Father’s Rights and Responsibilities Child Support and Custody. There was also a presentation by Robert Ayasse LCSW PPSC from the School of Social Welfare at University of California Berkeley regarding the need for more men of color to pursue masters or doctoral degrees in Social Work. Both presentations were informative and helpful and it was a great networking opportunity. 

February 5, 2016  – Devon was on a panel of presenters at the First 5 of Alameda conference on The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children. Devon was joined by Susan Murray from Oakland Children’s Hospital and Will Yancy from Triumph Educational Center.

October 30, 2015 – Devon Gaster tabled and attended the 13th Annual Day of Remembrance Oakland CA. The event was presented by the Alameda County Family Justice Center and District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

October 29, 2015 – Devon Gaster attended a conference on The Health and Social Service Needs of Older Adult Population in the Criminal Justice System. The event was hosted by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, University of California Division of Geriatrics and the Bayview Hunter’s Point Multipurpose Senior Services in San Francisco, CA.

October 23, 2015 – Devon Gaster attended the National Conference on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health in Oakland, CA. This event was organized by A Safe Place and included presenters and experts from throughout the United States.

October 6, 2015 Devon Gaster from Men Creating Peace and Cherri Allison from the Family Justice Center co-presented on Intimate Partner Violence to the Oakland Raiders Rookies for the National Football League’s Rookie Success Program.

October 3, 2015 – Devon Gaster attended an 8 hour Batterer’s Intervention Training at the Alameda Family Justice Center. The training was put on by Will Yancy and the staff at Triumph Educational Center.

September 25, 2015 – Presentation on Batterer’s Intervention Treatment for Building Futures 40 hour core training.

September 22, 2015 – MCP Fundraiser Tailgate BBQ at the Oakland A’s Game

August 24, 2015 – Devon Gaster from Men Creating Peace and Dr. Lisa Firestone from The Glendon Association, co-presented at the Institute on Violence Abuse and Trauma (IVAT), conference in San Diego, CA

August 15, 2015 – Devon Gaster tabled an event at the second annual Breaking the Cycle of Violence day at the El Shaddai Ministries located in San Lorenzo, CA.

2015 Fundraising Event at Oakland A’s Stadium

Men Creating Peace kicked off their 2015 fundraiser with a tailgate bbq and baseball party at the A’s stadium in Oakland on September 22nd! Here are some pictures from the event.

There is still time to donate!
Please support our work by donating by check, credit or paypal during our fundraising season, through December 2015 and help us reach our goal so that we may continue to provide meaningful services and education in our community. Your generous support is greatly appreciated and you will receive a thank you letter which can be used for your tax deductible donation. After clicking the link below, you can enter any amount you choose. Checks can be mailed to MCP at 360 Grand Avenue, Suite 76, Oakland, CA 94610.

Men Creating Peace (MCP) is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

MCP’s 2015 Fundraising Season Begins

Dearest Family, Friends and Colleagues,

It is that time of year again, when Men Creating Peace reaches out for support in our 2015 Fundraising Campaign that runs through December 31st. We will kick off the fundraiser with an exciting event at the A’s stadium in Oakland on September 22nd! Join us for a tailgate party at 5 pm with delicious barbecue prepared by a professional chef and box seats in our own suite to watch the A’s take on the Texas Rangers at 7 pm. There are only 15 seats available for this event, so get yours now!

Tailgate party begins at 5pm. You can pay with credit/debit card or via PayPal by using the link below. Cost is $80 and you will receive a thank you letter with tax deductible statement for your records.




Please support our work by donating by check, credit or paypal during our fundraising season, through December 2015 and help us reach our goal so that we may continue to provide meaningful services and education in our community. Your generous support is greatly appreciated and you will receive a thank you letter which can be used for your tax deductible donation. After clicking the link below, you can enter any amount you choose. Checks can be mailed to MCP at 360 Grand Avenue, Suite 76, Oakland, CA 94610.

Men Creating Peace (MCP) is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to cultivate the transformation in society from a culture of domination and violence to one of collaboration and equality. For over 8 years, Men Creating Peace has worked to achieve its mission by assisting teens and men, ages 16 and older, to restore peaceful connections with themselves, their intimate partners, their families and their communities. Through accountability, advocacy, development of healthy communication and active listening skills, we empower men to stop their violent and aggressive behaviors.

Transforming Chaos to Peace

Devon made a presentation on 2/21/15 at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church  entitled “Transforming Chaos to Peace – Domestic Violence is Real”.
This presentation was conducted in partnership with Progressive Transitions.

MCP Welcomes New Board Member

MCP is very pleased to announce that Ms. Courtney Gray has joined Men Creating Peace as a Board Member.
Courtney Gray

Ms.Gray graduated from San Jose State University with a BS in Justice Studies. While pursuing her degree, she worked as a Navigator Intern for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office at their Family Justice Center serving victims of domestic violence. During this time she also volunteered as part of San Jose State’s CommUniverCity Project that focused on working with local neighborhoods in addressing their community violence. Upon graduating, she was hired with the Alameda County Family Justice Center to help build and coordinate a new program that would empower survivors of domestic violence to pursue greater independence. This program focused on offering classes and workshops that promote financial, personal and professional skill development. She is also currently pursuing her other passions in becoming a certified wedding planner, competing in a fitness competition and being admitted to law school.


Thank you to Board Member Mick Gardner!

mick gardenerWe would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mick Gardner for his exceptional service and dedication in helping to advance our organization for the past 4 years as Board Member and Chair of Men Creating Peace. He will be greatly missed as he moves on to other important work in our communities and we wish him well.

Recent Events

January 16, 2015 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster presented to the Alameda County Area Agency on Aging at the Department of Social Services Office in Oakland.

January 23, 2015 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster gave a presentation on Batterer’s Treatment for Ruby’s Place for their 40 hour Domestic Violence Training.

December 17, 2014 MCP hosted it’s Third annual Holiday dinner for all current participants and alumni at Laney College in Oakland.

November 8, 2014 MCP hosted it’s second annual fundraiser at the Transmission Gallery in Oakland. We enjoyed special performances by Batala SF and Tyson Amir. Key note speakers were Rev. K. J. Williams and Judge Tara Flanagan.
It was a wonderful evening of fun, music, food, and prizes enjoyed by all, and we would like to thank everyone for their generous participation.

October 31, 2014 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster attended an all day workshop entitled “Faith Community Response to Domestic Violence”. The event was hosted by A Safe Place Inc. and sponsored by The African American Domestic Peace Project and The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community. The workshop took place at Jack London Square in Oakland.

October 24, 2014 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster participated in the Alameda County District Attorney’s 12th Annual Day of Remembrance event in downtown Oakland. This event honors victims who have lost their lives to Domestic Violence in Alameda County.

October 24,2014 Men Creating Peace staff, clients and their families attend The Golden State Warrior’s Basketball Community Night.

October 10, 2014 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster gave a presentation on Batterer’s Treatment for Building Futures for their 40 hour Domestic Violence Training.

October 10, 2014 MCP Executive Director Devon Gaster gave a presentation to Kaiser Redwood City Medical Staff on Domestic Violence Awareness.