How It All Began...

For the better part of the last eight years, Susan Olesek and her small-but-devoted team have had the distinct privilege of teaching hundreds of incarcerated men and women the Enneagram. Over Susan's 18+ years of studying this system, she certified with two prestigious schools of Enneagram teaching and continually applied her findings to the personal, professional, and spiritual aspects of her own life. In the wake of her own deep dive into the many fascinating facets of this “road map” to human nature, working with the incarcerated — more than any other training to which she has applied herself — has helped Susan come to one very clear, life-altering conclusion: The Enneagram System, when properly understood, is a profound tool for human transformation.

Over time, in her role as an Enneagram Facilitator on "the inside," Susan received the humble trust of many people who — against all odds — still somehow hoped for the possibility of making real and lasting changes in themselves. Most of us, if we knew their shocking life-stories, would consider the tenacity with which the incarcerated hold out for their own personal promise, nothing short of miraculous. These are people who know suffering. Many were discarded as children — written off — long before they became part of a criminal “justice” system that did so with authority.

The only thing that eased the distressing observation of this collective pattern of violence, addiction, and crime was the diligent way in which Susan saw the incarcerated take to the Enneagram system, time and time again. For a self-selecting subset of the incarcerated population — those totally sick of their past and present patterns — “finding themselves” on the Enneagram diagram came with an audible sigh of relief. Because, “We are all in prisons of our own making in the ways we suffer our personalities.” In the same way that business folks, at-home-moms, teachers and politicians stumble as they try to get out from underneath the insanity of un-checked egos, the physically incarcerated desperately seek a way out of the prisons of their sabotaging behaviors – of the prisons of their own minds.

As Susan continued her work with individuals doing time, she and her fellow teachers witnessed the alacrity with which all people — murderers, drug dealers, robbers and addicts of all varieties — are able to recognize their own habitual tendencies in an Enneagram type. As they did, countless women and men, some with barely a high school diploma, understood — instantly — what it means to be absolutely run by ego. We cannot tell you how many inmates have felt compelled to tell us, “Yes, I committed that crime, but that is not who I really am.” Our enthusiastic response to such a statement is always: "Of course not!" We are more than the habitual and oftentimes painful habits of our personalities, thank goodness, and who among us would like to be permanently associated with the worst things we have ever done?

For over a decade before “going to prison,” Susan used the Enneagram system to identify and come to terms with so many ways in which she had hurt herself and those dear to her by carrying around unconscious, self-sabotaging beliefs. She began to see that the women and men in her path, who happened to be behind bars, were unequivocally able and — what is more — willing to do the same. Somewhere deeply embedded in the heart of hearts of even very hardened “criminals,” Susan saw that what she had only dared hoped to be true in the beginning, was actually the case. While acting out the “fixated” version of their personality types, an astonishing majority had somehow retained the tiniest belief that they, too, were more than the behaviors that had gotten them locked up. Clinging to this belief, they took the wisdom of the Enneagram to heart.

"In bearing witness to the courageous inner-work taking place in the unlikely place that prison is, I became downright convinced that the benefit of self-understanding through the lens of the Enneagram is a critical missing piece for real criminal reform."
— Susan Olesek

It was in this posture that Susan began to seriously contemplate, "What would it be like to offer the incarcerated, all over the world, a chance at freedom of another kind?" A vision for making a radical shift in the paradigm of “criminal reform” seriously took root. As it did, Susan considered the potential divine reciprocity that could manifest should other like-minded Enneagram enthusiasts be invited to co-create in this hopeful vision. Susan says, that she now knows that validating the inherent worth of a person as absolutely true is nothing short of a transformative conversation — no matter on which side of the prison wall you happen to stand. Such realizations reflect universal truths about human worth, about love-ability, and about True Nature.

It's from this somewhat utopian, yes no doubt, albeit fiercely determined place that Enneagram Prison Project was born.


Working together we can make a much-needed difference.