One bad decision can change your life and land you behind bars – for life.
Last night I had dinner with Orlando and his parents pictured in the attached. Orlando has recently returned to the workforce having spent a good portion of his adult life in prison -for driving a get away car. He’s a graduate of “ Chance for Life” where inmates (many of whom are serving life sentences) train returning citizens on the life skills needed to survive “ on the outside “. Michigan’s former governor spoke. Police , judges and parole officers were at dinner along with former prisoners. This was not a usual guest list. Connect First was a gift for attendees.
I spent the morning in prison. You can take nothing with you. Our shoes, socks, pockets and mouths were searched. We had to sign an anti- rape agreement before we could enter. Over the course of the morning we met about 130 inmates and attended classes on : how to be a man ( and protect your loved ones without violence ), mediation , communication , ethical decision making and substance abuse. The men weren’t introduced by their crimes or the numbers on their uniforms. They were fathers and husbands and brothers. Many had college degrees. They served in the military. They had to face their demons, forgive themselves and in many cases forgive their abusive families. They had to drop the personal narrative about being a victim and come to terms with the hurt they have caused others. And from that place of self awareness- build hope.
Everyone spoke about the restoration of dignity , the establishment of mutual respect and the resolution of conflict by naming but not being destroyed by emotion. We explored and celebrated our shared humanity. The prisoners will receive copies of Connect First. They’ve never all had the same book to read. Chance for Life classes use photocopied “handouts”. The inmates were so exited to meet an author.
It was clear from their curriculum and the quality of conversation that we had, that Connect First would have resonance and applicability for Chance for Life participants. It would also offer stores from the outside – insights the men truly crave.
I would have included pictures from behind bars but as noted, I could only bring myself!