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The Maze

July 23rd, 2011

It was my third visit to jail and there would be no escort in the catacomb of locked doors and gateways. My background was checked and I was given a ‘no escort needed’ security badge. My program leader had been kind enough to show me twice how to get to the classroom. The problem is that very design of the jail was like a maze. It makes sense that a prison would be hard to navigate.

Every turn was a choice with a buzzer. You push the button and wait for the sound giving permission to pass from one hallway into another. I had made it through four doors and started to doubt if I was on the right path. Do I make a right here or take a left? I decided to go right, pushed the buzzer and then went into the wrong area.

Suddenly I realized that I was in an open area with prisoners. The doors to cells were open and it appeared as if the entire area was being mopped and cleaned. The cells were bigger than I imagined – but everything seemed metal grey. Steel bars, metal bed frames and concrete floors were the décor of wardens, I suppose. Nervously, I simply turned around and hit the button. For a moment, nothing happened and I could imagine the guards getting a chuckle out of this. I figured I was on camera and I tried to smile.

Once I was on the move again, I regained my focus and went right to the classroom. As the students came in, I confessed to them that I had gotten lost. One man asked me ‘how did that make me feel?’

Without a moments delay – I replied ‘I didn’t like it at all. I was slightly claustrophobic; a little disoriented and felt like I had no control over my life.’

My student said ‘don’t feel bad – I feel that way every day inside this place.’ The shared honestly kicked the class off on a note of mutual understanding.

One the whiteboard, there were notes from the previous session. One of the messages said ‘don’t let others control your lives.’ I found it ironic.

The lesson today was interviewing skills. I had prepared some scenarios with role plays. One of the volunteers leaned back and a fellow student shouted ‘don’t lean back – lean up!’ My role play went south and an argument erupted.

Holding up a hand I asked ‘are you letting his criticism control you or can you regain composure?’ Lights went off in their eyes and the lesson hit home. Then, I modeled how to mirror body language. I sat in a chair and when my student leaned up – I leaned up. He sat back and then I sat back. We decided that you could overdo mirroring and the best posture is to simply sit up straight.

At the beginning of class – most students were reluctant to do a role play. At the end of class – all but one of my students had selected the role play for next week.

Journal Entry #1: Jail Re-entry Program

June 28th, 2011

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.

  1. First, we go through a motivational model with breakouts and interactive exercises. My first objective is to encourage and lift spirits.
  2. 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!


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Journal Entries from Pro Bono Sales Coach Charlie Van Hecke.
Charlie volunteers to help Business Owners, Job Seekers, Veterans and 2nd Chance Citizens cope with change using positive sales psychology and skill infusion.


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