The students are inmates and are preparing to come back into society. An innovative program leader has sought facilitators and I volunteered. We have been warned what to do in hostage situations and put through an orientation advising us not to divulge personal information. We have also been told that some inmates will try to get you to smuggle items in and out of the prison.
The program leader asked for a syllabus and my first class for job seekers is about motivating yourself and others.
- First, we go through a motivational model with breakouts and interactive exercises. My first objective is to encourage and lift spirits.
- My second objective is to get the job seekers thinking about what might be appealing to employers.
When I asked if any of the inmates had a job waiting, I was pleasantly surprised to find that three out of the thirteen had a job already arranged. Each person had career direction – mostly vocational. We have an electrician, a carpenter, a truck driver, a plumber and a heating / air conditioning man. Yes, my class is all male and most of the students range in age from 21-45.
In a discussion of intrinsic motivation, the truck driver spoke up about travel, meeting new people and the beauty of America. Other topics included communication, logic and problem solving. We ended with a Personal Qualities survey designed to help the students pick out positive elements of their personality to emphasize with employers.
At the end of the session, I asked ‘what section did you like most?’ and the electrician said ‘problem solving.’ Several students nodded and agreed. Later I realized that they were asking me to make these topics useful and for me to show them how it will address issues in their world. As the students were leaving, one person lingered. A young African American – the heating and air conditioning guy! He said ‘It’s hard to have a positive attitude.’ A few years ago I would have come back with a cliché or some idea related to attitude. Now, I simply replied ‘I know.’
As the Program Leader and I were leaving the jail, we went through seven sets of locked doors – all watched by video surveillance. I had to take my white board marker because inmates steal them and sell the ink for tattoos. This is going to be different!