As many of you know, I returned to EOCI (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) on Thursday. It went extremely well and afterwards, the Assistant Superintendent and I even talked about a return visit (maybe even annually) as well as the possibility of a book signing where my books will be made available for pre-order, sent in, (inspected for possible contraband) and then given to the inmates who attend to have their copies signed.
I am a firm believer that people inside can change. I also believe that they have to work for it. My main message was that they are going to have to earn back the trust of society; that, no matter what, some people will never accept them and that they would simply have to come to terms with that, also that hard work can pay off, but nobody will do it for them.
|The reverse of the view I had for over 11 years.|
There was some real anxiety for me at first. It actually started when I crested the hill and the facility came in to view. I honestly had to pull over and just take a minute. Seeing it from this vantage was new. (Seriously, the day I got out, I could not put it in my rear view mirror fast enough as Denise drove us home.)
When I arrived, I was greeted by several of the staff who had known me. There were a lot of handshakes and congrats on sticking with my program. Many of them had watched me sit in the day room and write every single day. And I am sure that more than a few did not believe that I would do or amount to anything.
One of the messages that I received a lot of positive feedback on was about giving people a chance. Institutions are very clique-ish (think high school to the millionth power). I asked the guys if they wanted to be judged outside by the same metric that they judge inside. I told them how society as a whole will see them, and that if they want to overcome that prejudice, they will have to work harder and do things better than everybody else. No excuses. I told them to be ready for rejection...even from those they love. Basically, I went in to wipe away the illusions and myths that I know exist inside. I held up a big mirror and told them that they needed to look into it every single day...starting now. They can't wait until they hit the gate to make positive change, otherwise, they will get left behind or beaten down by a society that wants them to fail so it can point and say, "See! Told ya!"
The reality for me has been that I knew the deck was stacked against me. I knew that I would not be able to count on anybody to lend a hand. For the most part, that has been correct. A few have reached out, but they are the minority. What the public refuses to realize is that these men and women WILL be back on the street in over 92% of all cases. Just like anything else, people can choose to be the problem, or the solution.
Here is what my talking points looked like (on a piece of paper that I kept handy while speaking).
The following is an outline for the presentation: Make your time work for you.
b. My name, time spent at EOCI (5/99-6/11)
2) How I spent my time
b) Keeping the circle small
c) Find the guys who are doing it right and learn
d) Decide what you REALLY want to do once you get out
(i) Start of list of activities you want to try
(ii) Pick some things you always wanted to do, but never found time
e) List your goals and don’t leave out your dreams
(i) I needed to change me first
(ii) Writing was my dream, why not get started
1. The day my first book arrived at EOCI
2. Be a beacon, not a spotlight
(iii) Make your goals part of your daily routine
f) Don’t wait until you leave
i) Time is your ally here
ii) If not now…when?
iii) Some of the most common excuses
3) Program, program, program
a) Believe it or not, they do work if YOU want it
b) Take the time to come to grips with what was not working BEFORE prison
c) Besides the cognitive, find activities that are pro-social
4) Those first hours after release
a) Find someplace quiet and just catch your breath.
b) Resist the urge to contact “all the old friends”…this is YOUR time.
c) Report in.
5) The first year out is crucial
a) Get over the prison mentality
b) Don’t try to jam it all in at once
c) Be patient
6) Open Q & A
And then I was done. It went better than I could have hoped. And even more gratifying was when one of the staff who was present pulled me aside and said that my words about taking the chance to follow your dream really resonated with him was just a bonus. The drive home was done with a smile on my face. It helped that I got to listen to the Seattle Seahawks demolish the Arizona Cardinals.