How it all began

In 2018, Grammy Award-winning film producer Fritzi Horstman read the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk and her life was changed forever.  She had been unaware that her beliefs and behaviors were the result of trauma she had endured as a child… “After reading that book, I realized that my erratic, curt behavior was due to my traumatic childhood and had nothing to do with who I truly am.”  From this moment forward Fritzi has been on a healing journey.  

One month after this realization, Fritzi joined Hustle 2.0 as a volunteer at Kern Valley State prison (KVSP) in California. The moment she stepped into the maximum-security prison in Central California she had the realization: “This isn’t a prison, this is a trauma center.”  Hustle 2.0 was scheduled to return to the prison several months later but Fritzi felt it was her duty and responsibility to do more, sooner.


Over the course of several months, Fritzi and a dedicated team of facilitators and volunteers partnered with incarcerated men at Kern Valley and together they created powerful tools to address and heal from childhood trauma.


Utilizing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and the power of intention together they explored childhood trauma and the impact it had on their lives. Together they experimented and ultimately created the Compassion Trauma Circle which gave the men a physical way to see and understand their childhood trauma. By understanding the shame and dehumanization that results from both child abuse and incarceration, these men found ways to make amends to themselves, to the people they’d harmed and to their communities. They learned what it means to have deeper compassion for themselves and others, and what it means to have a sense of belonging by recognizing our shared humanity. Through this process they began honoring and uplifting one another while joining together as a community.

In 2019, the 501(c)(3) non-profit Compassion Prison Project was born.

Group photo of Compassion Prison Project staff and volunteers standing outside

In February of 2020, Fritzi, 23 Crew Members, including Academy-Award nominated Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto, Producer Monica Chiapa, producers Vivianne Nacif and Ted Kamp entered California State Prison – Los Angeles County in Lancaster (CSP-LAC). There, they filmed 235 men participating in a powerful Compassion Trauma Circle, where men stepped inside the circle for each traumatic event they experienced in their childhood.

This exercise highlighted the pervasiveness of childhood trauma living within the prison system. The immense importance of that day was captured in two short films, Step Inside the Circle and Honor Yard, which highlight the significant correlation between ACEs and high levels of incarceration.

In response, CPP developed a 12-part video series with accompanying workbook titled Trauma Talks, because the real story is how lives can be transformed through awareness and education.


With nine permanent staff members and hundreds of active volunteers, Compassion Prison Project has performed programs in several prisons across the U.S. as well as four prisons in the U.K.


Our podcast Compassion in Action includes interviews with some of the top trauma experts in the world and this information is also being shared with the men and women living in prison.


What naturally follows is a worldwide change in the way we treat and care for individuals who’ve been traumatized, especially the incarcerated population. 95% of those incarcerated will become our neighbors and community members again. Let’s help them now so we can support their reintegration back into society with acceptance, understanding and compassion.

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Fritzi Horstman

Founder and Executive Director


Fritzi Horstman is the Founder and Executive Director of Compassion Prison Project. She is a Grammy-award winning producer for her work on “The Defiant Ones”, has been a producer and post-producer on dozens of television projects and documentaries and has directed several films. She believes it is urgent to bring humanity and compassion to those living behind bars and these acts will help transform our society. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Vassar College.

How it all began