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Immigrants From Our Own Country – Future Returning Citizens and Re-entry Survivors - My Prison Ministry

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AMERICA’S OWN VERSION OF INTERNMENT CAMPS – BEHIND THE RAZOR WIRE

 

Politically, the left and the right has woken up to the fact that we have an internal immigration challenge involving our own citizens, the need to focus our financial resources on the training of our prison inmate population for reintegration into society rather than warehousing them. Still to be recognized is that to be truly effective, the retraining efforts on the inside have to be matched with the community support and re-entry resources provided on the outside. The analogy is going to all the trouble of starting a business and then expecting it to run by itself. There has to be continuity extending through re-entry training on the inside and continuing support and reinforcement from both community and “appointed" support groups and mentors after release. If the federal government, states and departments of correction expect to be successful in their reintegration efforts, then they must be financially invested in what happens after release. Otherwise, it’s like creating a business and neglecting to run it. It will fail. You have to protect your investment. You can’t wash your hands after release. You have to accept responsibility and be invested in the long term.

Immigrants From Our Own Country

I just finished my fifteenth volunteer 8-session workshop “Life Change Discussion Group” motivational prison program. Up to this point, all my programs have been for inmates in medium security facilities. This time, I conducted my program for inmates in a small minimum-security facility. These men are normally close to release, probation or transfer to a halfway house or facilities that offer specific advanced rehabilitation programs for drug and alcohol addiction, etc. Incarceration rates in the U.S. are an order of magnitude higher than other civilized countries (like those in Europe) particularly because of the failed war on drugs in the U.S. Addiction is a treatable, not a punishable disease. This mass incarceration has been disproportionally unfair to minorities and devastating to inmates’ families and urban neighborhoods. One of my students once made the prophetic statement, “I am considered a POW of the war on drugs!”

Fortunately, there is a growing enlightened view of the need for rehabilitation over punishment. Emulating the European system, the principle focus of incarceration should be on preparing these individuals for reintegration back into society. I am happy that my program over the last six years has always focused on preparing inmates for re-entry. By analogy, I was mentally incarcerated by my depression. I am a depression survivor. Most of these individuals are motivated to survive their confinement and successfully re-enter society. The goal of my program is to develop life coping strategies and improve verbal communication skills. These individuals have a story to tell, need to be able to express their needs, and effectively tell others (like future employers) how they can help them. With training on the inside and continued help and support on the outside, they can become successful re-entry survivors.

Last year after my fourteenth program, I wrote the essay below. Its called “Old Dog, New Dog”. It recognizes the need for the continuity of re-entry training and support both pre and post release. Consider that my students have effectively been locked up in an internment camp, locked up behind razor wire, locked up and frozen in a time machine, awaiting a new life and a new freedom. They seek re-entry back into their native country. They have gone through much scrutiny and vetting throughout the process of their incarceration. They are immigrants from the prisons we have created and want amnesty from their past mistakes. They want to be taken back and given the opportunity to work, study, play and raise their families. Are we going to deny our own immigrants, our fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, even our children the chance of achieving the American dream? They need community support and a welcome home. Like any immigrant, they need our acceptance and help, particularly after immigration into our country. The tide is turning. Both conservatives and liberals agree on this one. It also makes good economic sense. Rehabilitation costs less than incarceration. Beyond that, we are creating human potential, capital and resources, future contributors to society and even future taxpayers.

Old Dog, New Dog – Reflections on My Volunteer Prison Ministry

New people in your life can make a real difference in your attitude. Whether it’s reentering society after prison or surviving depression, we can all use a tour guide when we are negotiating new and difficult terrains in our lives.

Old Dog, New Dog

I just finished my fourteenth volunteer “Life Change Discussion Group” prison program. About 200 inmates have passed through my eight-session program over the last five years. With each new class of 15 to 18 individuals, it takes a few sessions for me to get their names straight. Physical features like freckles, big, small, wild hair, or behavioral traits like passive, outgoing, fidgety, etc. all help. All my participants are well behaved. I shouldn’t complain that a few talk too much. The talkers actually act as a catalyst and get the rest of the group going.

Typically, people who sign up have gone through a pre-selection process just by volunteering for my program. Even so, I see a wide range of personality and attitude types. If you were to draw a bell shaped attitude distribution curve, you would find a small number of individuals at one end who are not ready for change. They feel like victims of the criminal justice system. On the other end, there are a small number of (maybe over confident) individuals who see incarceration as a small blip in their lives. They have a fully rehearsed plan of what they will do upon release. The bulk of my students reside in the middle of this bell shaped curve. Although they all desire change and are appreciative of any help hey can get, their attitude and confidence levels range all over the map. Some feel lost, vulnerable, and greatly fear the future. Others express humility, are reflective, are hopeful, but still unsure of the future. Still others are proactive and determined to change. They have been through the swinging door of release and re-incarceration (recidivism) too many times. This may be their last chance.

Toward the end of their incarceration, inmates are offered reentry training classes, preparing them for immersion in the outside world and the resources available to them. These individuals have been locked up in a time machine, the world passing them by during their incarceration. It strikes me that their ability to absorb and utilize this information varies greatly with the individual and their motivation. One size of training will not fit all. The highly motivated are capable of retaining this information and also remain proactive and not discouraged during the reentry process. Some are very fragile and vulnerable. Many need extra help and guidance during reentry training, but even more after release in an unstructured social environment.

Many of those released are under supervision (parole). Somebody is monitoring them and hopefully helping them access the resources available to them on the outside. Many others have completed their sentence (end of sentence) and are not supervised. Unless highly motivated, they may not access those resources available to them. There has to be a safety net (like a tour guide) after release for “end of sentence” individuals to help them safely and successfully negotiate the reentry process.

I’m the oldest guy in the room. By the time I make it to 300 inmates passing through my program, I will be 80 years old. In the eighth and final session of my program we talk about “Rules for Survival” on strategies we will use to get through the rest of our lives. I wrote my original “rules” on behavior modification strategies for surviving depression. In one of my final sessions on the “rules”, a participant asked me if I had one magic secret for improving the rest of his life. I felt a little on the spot. I’m a discussion facilitator but not a therapist or minister. I joke that I have a PhD in depression. My ministry is secular. The participant had no real job skills other than the street, no high school diploma, and was very fearful of the future. Fumbling, I talked about him getting his GED high school equivalent. He said he wasn’t ready, maybe later. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I thought about me in a room full of guys whose average age is in the mid 30’s. What could this old guy say that would make a difference?

Then it struck me, a rule I’ve been following all my life, “Old Dog, New Dog”. You have an old dog. It’s arthritic and can hardly get to the dog dish. You buy a puppy to keep the old dog company. The puppy harasses the old dog, biting its tail, driving the old dog crazy. Next thing you know, the old dog has come to life, forgotten its arthritis and is chasing the puppy. The lesson, I tell my friend, is continue to make new and younger friends to keep you young. Your old friends will die off as you age. You don’t want to be left alone. You want to have new and stimulating conversations, learn new things, have children around to challenge your old arthritic bones, find new challenges in life, someone new to listen to your old stories.

My new friend’s eyes lit up. He said that was a fantastic idea. It was like I had given him a Christmas present, a shot of vitamin B-12. His shoulders, which had been sagging up to now, lifted up. He said the GED sounded like a good idea. My new friend had moved over a notch in confidence level on my bell curve. I, this old guy, had made a new younger friend. I know why I go to prison. It makes me young again.

If you spent as many hours behind bars as I have as a volunteer motivational speaker for the Department of Correction, you would recognize that these are real people inside these walls just like you and me. They deserve a chance to prove themselves. In my advocacy, I have met many from the inside who have proven themselves on the outside and who thank those on the outside who had confidence in them.

 

Old Dog, New Dog – Reflections on My Volunteer Prison Ministry

New people in your life can make a real difference in your attitude. Whether it’s reentering society after prison or surviving depression, we can all use a tour guide when we are negotiating new and difficult terrains in our lives.

 

Old Dog, New Dog

I just finished my fourteenth volunteer “Life Change Discussion Group” prison program. About 200 inmates have passed through my eight-session program over the last five years. With each new class of 15 to 18 individuals, it takes a few sessions for me to get their names straight. Physical features like freckles, big, small, wild hair, or behavioral traits like passive, outgoing, fidgety, etc. all help. All my participants are well behaved. I shouldn’t complain that a few talk too much. The talkers actually act as a catalyst and get the rest of the group going.

Typically, people who sign up have gone through a pre-selection process just by volunteering for my program. Even so, I see a wide range of personality and attitude types. If you were to draw a bell shaped attitude distribution curve, you would find a small number of individuals at one end who are not ready for change. They feel like victims of the criminal justice system. On the other end, there are a small number of (maybe over confident) individuals who see incarceration as a small blip in their lives. They have a fully rehearsed plan of what they will do upon release. The bulk of my students reside in the middle of this bell shaped curve. Although they all desire change and are appreciative of any help hey can get, their attitude and confidence levels range all over the map. Some feel lost, vulnerable, and greatly fear the future. Others express humility, are reflective, are hopeful, but still unsure of the future. Still others are proactive and determined to change. They have been through the swinging door of release and re-incarceration (recidivism) too many times. This may be their last chance.

Toward the end of their incarceration, inmates are offered reentry training classes, preparing them for immersion in the outside world and the resources available to them. These individuals have been locked up in a time machine, the world passing them by during their incarceration. It strikes me that their ability to absorb and utilize this information varies greatly with the individual and their motivation. One size of training will not fit all. The highly motivated are capable of retaining this information and also remain proactive and not discouraged during the reentry process. Some are very fragile and vulnerable. Many need extra help and guidance during reentry training, but even more after release in an unstructured social environment.

Many of those released are under supervision (parole). Somebody is monitoring them and hopefully helping them access the resources available to them on the outside. Many others have completed their sentence (end of sentence) and are not supervised. Unless highly motivated, they may not access those resources available to them. There has to be a safety net (like a tour guide) after release for “end of sentence” individuals to help them safely and successfully negotiate the reentry process.

I’m the oldest guy in the room. By the time I make it to 300 inmates passing through my program, I will be 80 years old. In the eighth and final session of my program we talk about “Rules for Survival” on strategies we will use to get through the rest of our lives. I wrote my original “rules” on behavior modification strategies for surviving depression. In one of my final sessions on the “rules”, a participant asked me if I had one magic secret for improving the rest of his life. I felt a little on the spot. I’m a discussion facilitator but not a therapist or minister. I joke that I have a PhD in depression. My ministry is secular. The participant had no real job skills other than the street, no high school diploma, and was very fearful of the future. Fumbling, I talked about him getting his GED high school equivalent. He said he wasn’t ready, maybe later. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I thought about me in a room full of guys whose average age is in the mid 30’s. What could this old guy say that would make a difference?

Then it struck me, a rule I’ve been following all my life, “Old Dog, New Dog”. You have an old dog. It’s arthritic and can hardly get to the dog dish. You buy a puppy to keep the old dog company. The puppy harasses the old dog, biting its tail, driving the old dog crazy. Next thing you know, the old dog has come to life, forgotten its arthritis and is chasing the puppy. The lesson, I tell my friend, is continue to make new and younger friends to keep you young. Your old friends will die off as you age. You don’t want to be left alone. You want to have new and stimulating conversations, learn new things, have children around to challenge your old arthritic bones, find new challenges in life, someone new to listen to your old stories.

My new friend’s eyes lit up. He said that was a fantastic idea. It was like I had given him a Christmas present, a shot of vitamin B-12. His shoulders, which had been sagging up to now, lifted up. He said the GED sounded like a good idea. My new friend had moved over a notch in confidence level on my bell curve. I, this old guy, had made a new younger friend. I know why I go to prison. It makes me young again.

From Inside to Outside – Reentry Survivors Success Story – My Prison Ministry

It struck me that, like surviving depression, a powerful message of hope could be provided by those who have successfully negotiated the reentry process and have become contributing members of society. In my volunteer prison ministry, I tell my new friends that I am rooting for them to change their lives. Someday, I hope to read their success stories

Reentry Survivors Success Story

My second memoir, Inside and Outside: Messages of Hope from a Lifelong Hiker and Depression Survivor, was inspired by my experience as a depression survivor and by my volunteer secular prison ministry in two Connecticut medium security prisons. These are the words on the back cover:

Outside is the world we live in,

Free to seek our dreams.

Inside our world are prisons,

Both real and of the mind.

A lifelong hiker and depression survivor,

The author takes the reader to many places,

Some of the magic,

Stories you will never forget.

I have described depression as a form of incarceration, like a box without visible means of escape. There is no razor wire. Rather the box is lined with mirrors that reflect your pain and suffering. Surviving depression, the transition from hopelessness to hopefulness, getting out of that box, might be compared with the reentry process from incarceration to freedom. A failed reentry results in recidivism and a return to prison. Similarly, the process of surviving depression is typically marked with relapses. That is not an excuse for throwing away the key. When I stumbled, people had patience and did not give up on me. It struck me that, like surviving depression, a powerful message of hope could be provided by those who have successfully negotiated the reentry process and have become contributing members of society. As you know, I have also been working at eliminating the negative term “ex-offender” and promoting a positive title for these successful individuals. I call them “reentry survivors”.

Second, I am promoting an initiative to recognize and promote “reentry survivors” success stories. The reentry process will work better with more job opportunities and more reentry success stories. There are employers who look for and want to hire motivated individuals. Successful reentry, and the advocacy it creates, will stimulate more success stories, leading to a major change in attitudes on the inside and the outside, on both sides of the razor wire.

I welcome comments and invite individuals who have successfully negotiated the reentry process and gained personal satisfaction in this achievement to share their stories. I am collaborating with a reentry survivor who has created a web site www.reentrysurvivors.com and email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to accept reentry survivor success stories. The web site contains guidelines for submissions. These stories will be made available to all those in Connecticut working in and supporting the reentry process including a statewide reentry newsletter, non-profits, faith based organizations, businesses, legislators, educators, inmates aspiring to begin the reentry process and the general public. These are stories you will never forget. Tell your success story now. Go to www.reentrysurvivors.com  

Next Blog:

My Big Day at the Beach – Reflections and Stories Along the Way – Surviving Depression

How far back can you remember? This is my earliest memory.

 

The Directed Life – Finding Your Niche – More Wisdom from Inside the Razor Wire

Who or what is in charge here? It’s probably not important who is directing as long as your life takes on a positive direction.

Some people are self-directed. I am when it comes to hiking, having climbed everything in sight in New England and New York State. Otherwise, the direction of my life seems to flow more like osmosis. I secretly envy my good friend, Ed. When he makes up his mind to do something, he throws his heart and soul into the task. When he decided he wanted to be a Ham Radio operator, he did it, the same with running an independent camping and outdoor store. Rather than retirement, he decided to change careers and became a respected town manager for a small town in Maine for four years. Add that to his list of personally rewarding achievements. Lucky for me, he decided long ago to be my friend. I’m forever grateful for 55 years of loyal friendship.

Not all of us are so self-directed. In my second memoir I call myself the “accidental author”. I had no intention of writing two books. Luck and the encouragement of others directed my forward progress. At a public library presentation and book signing for my first memoir, an invitation from one of the library patrons (who himself was the librarian at a local medium security prison) ended up with me running a volunteer motivational program for inmates in two Connecticut prisons. I look at all this as going with the flow rather than self-direction, although one has to take advantage of every opportunity.

 I asked my inmate friends in my volunteer prison class if they felt self-directed. It seems like circumstances and misfortune have been governing their lives. What I learned is that many crave to be self-directed and take control of their lives. Recognizing their situation, stuck inside of the razor wire, they have to be content with their present physical situation, but mentally it’s a different story. They are learning everything they can and working on self-improvement to be ready for their release to the outside world. If you want to contribute, you have to have the right attitude and temperament to be a contributor, from being a good father to holding down a job. The analogy is staying in shape so you can run the race, preparing yourself, taking care of personal business first so you will be ready for the challenge later.

 At my last class, I discovered that one of students had written and self published a book on his transformative prison experience. He was incarcerated as a teen and spent much of his energy plotting how he would get even with his accuser. He was consumed by anger, hate and blame. In a chance meeting with his nemesis in prison, he was struck that he could no longer summon his ill will. His vengeful feelings had melted away, leaving only compassion and forgiveness. Time had eroded and healed the chip on his shoulder. Out of that epiphany came a book and new direction to his life.

An emotional breakdown marked my epiphany, the turning point and new direction to my life. Incarceration is the low point for my students. From that bottom, my new friend and fellow author wrote his first book, hopefully one of many.

How are you structured? To follow or lead, to take life’s cues and make the most of them or listen to and follow your own drummer. I don’t think it makes any difference and is certainly not a measure of success. Rather, persistence, also defined as “sticktoitiveness”, is probably more important. I’m wishing you and all my new friends success in their endeavors. Whoever is in charge here, we should be grateful for their help in changing lives. If you, based on your life experiences, can help others, then raise your hand and volunteer. They will appreciate it. It will change your life as well.

Get Rid of the “EX” Word as in “Ex-offender” - New Definition "Reentry Survivor"

This is a crusade on my part. I’m on a mission. I wrote the following Tweet after knowing and working with individuals who have successfully re-entered and are contributing to society after completing their prison sentences. They deserve a level playing field, not be stigmatized by an ugly word, nor be defined or judged differently from the society that they serve. 

I tweeted:

Get rid of the EX word as in "ex-offender" and substitute a new definition “reentry survivor” connoting success not failure.

I, and many of my friends working in the reentry field, think (to be politically correct) we should get rid of the “EX” word. The name "ex-offender" is demeaning, connoting failure, a criminal, and a loser. The name “ex-offender” has become ingrained in our lexicon to the point of its rote (unthinking) use by both well meaning professionals and even the victims of this derogatory definition. We don’t call people, nor do they call themselves, “retarded". We say they are “challenged" or have "special needs” Our successful reentry friends are survivors, having paid their debt, survived and graduated from our criminal justice system. They are "reentry survivors”. It’s positive for the individual, representing an accomplishment, courage and successfully going forward with one's life. The use of the term "ex-offender” is inappropriate and should end. Call them “reentry survivors”. They are back among us to live their lives and to serve you. 

Imagine starting out behind the proverbial eight ball. You served your time but society won’t let you put that sentence behind you. Even you, when introducing yourself, identify yourself an “ex-offender” because the PhD’s in criminal justice and have guardedly coined that nicer word for you. They have elevated you from felon to something less onerous but still someone who can’t be trusted, living in limbo. You believe that “ex-offender” is a step up from where you are. You accept the candy, the “ex-word”, because that is all that is offered. That has got to change. There is a better definition.

What do you call yourself? I ask my inmate friends in my volunteer program “Independent of your record or what others say about you or what you have been told, how do judge yourself as a person. How do you measure yourself?” The answer is overwhelmingly positive. They feel like they are good people who have made bad choices and mistakes, in many cases have been living their lives with incomplete and poor information. You can’t make good choices if your environment denies you the values, training and experience you need to make good choices. As a result of their incarceration, many have come to feel humility and compassion for their fellow human beings. I hear often “I am a human being” sounding almost like a plea for that recognition.

 You can’t visit this place and not come away unchanged. The teachers in the classrooms where I run my program feel the same way. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe in their mission. They say to their students “You are a human being. You have great potential. You can succeed. I believe in you.” My students tell me about those great teachers and how they made them feel good about themselves. It pains these teachers to see their students return from a failed reentry.

 I’m hopeful that the criminal justice system is slowly changing and is starting to see their mission differently. The focus of incarceration should be how do we groom and train these individuals for reentering and being productive members of society, even future taxpayers. Incarceration has typically created needy and fragile people. It doesn’t have to be that way. Often, there is a disparity between how people feel about themselves and how they should be treated and the reality of their confinement, the antithesis of enlightenment and respect for the individual. Individuals are afraid to speak out and complain about inequities for fear of being singled out and suffering retribution, preferring to bottle up their frustrations to avoid confrontation, starting out the reentry process unprepared and with a poor attitude.

 The process of changing the system is by starting to give these individuals respect, new goals and a new identification for reentering society. Stop with the “ex-offender” ID! Stop with their thinking like a victim and start with their thinking and acting like a survivor. Ultimately, that is how I climbed out of my own worst depression. Reentry is their hope for the future. I tell my friends “I’m rooting for you.” Given the tools and the right support, both while incarcerated and throughout the reentry process, they can become “reentry survivors”. Say it enough times “reentry survivor, reentry survivor” and it take on a nice ring.

 There are a lot of good people doing good work on reentry programs. They earnestly want to see the system change its focus from mass incarceration and building more prisons to rehabilitation. If enough people drop the word "ex-offender" (and its negative stigma) and start using the positive phrase "reentry survivor" that would represent a sea change, a profound transformation in public attitude toward changing the principle focus of incarceration from punishment and warehousing to preparing, training and compassionately supporting individuals throughout the reentry process back into society.

 We all know that the system will work better with more job opportunities. There are employers who look for and want to hire these motivated individuals. A change in the system could make this all the easier and create more survivors. Success, and the advocacy it creates, will stimulate more success stories. Knowing and working with individuals who have successfully re-entered and are contributing to society will change a lot of attitudes on the inside and the outside, on both sides of the razor wire. If you believe in what is said here, then help end the use of the EX-word.

 (Memoir e-book and paperback book sale continues at www.dicksederquist.com)

Our Overloaded Prisons – Dealing with the Problem – It’s all about Attitude –It’s all about Finding Hope

If I were to choose between locking and opening the door, I would open the door. If I were to choose between hate and love, I would stand on the side of love. This is a general, perhaps idealistic, proposal to reduce re-incarceration (recidivism) by improving the inmate re-entry process back into society. This will require a positive attitude adjustment and trust on both sides of the fence, by both inmates and the state. Of course, the devil is in the details. That’s why we have experts to make the innovative plans and necessary mid-course corrections.

“It’s Not the Problem - It’s How You Deal with It” 

Life throws us curves and problems. I can’t take credit for the quote. The last time I heard it was from my friend, Pete. He said his oncologist told him “It’s not the problem. It’s how you deal with it. It’s all about a positive attitude.” I don’t see my friends both outside and inside prison running around like “Chicken Little” declaring the sky is falling. There are problems that sneak up on us, often a long time gestating and hatching before we know it, like cancer, depression, addiction, incarceration, even leaky plumbing.

When we become aware of a problem, it comes down to dealing with it, doing what has to be done, doing the hard work. Yesterday, my wife said from the dining room “ We have a problem you don’t want to hear about. There is a water stain on the ceiling underneath the upstairs bath.”  There is a “for sale” sign on my front lawn and new buyers could show up at any moment. Call the plumber. God knows what he is going to find. Deal with it. Do whatever has to be done. 

Before publishing my recent blog “from Dread to Hope”, I read it to my friends in my volunteer “Life Change Discussion Group” prison class. My blog shared my personal feelings, failings and success in dealing with depression, my pro-active self-help and activism in helping myself by helping others in dealing with life and communication issues. In this group, we’re honest with each other when it comes to emotions. They gave me an ovation, which I considered a very nice compliment coming from this non-judgmental group. They understood my message. They are looking to get past their dread and find hope. They are dealing with even bigger problems of how to change their lives, get past their old associations, life styles and addictions. They’ve had the time to think long and hard on these issues.  

The problem of incarceration and repeated incarcerations (recidivism) is obvious and irrefutable. Given this daunting problem, how do you deal with it? Adding to this problem, the state disproportionally incarcerates minorities for non-violent drug related offenses and technical parole violations. The war on drugs is an abysmal failure, dehumanizing its victims. Addiction is a disease that should not be criminalized and punished by incarceration and re-incarceration but rather by treatment, rehabilitation, access to housing and jobs 

Both sides have to work together, requiring a positive attitude by all. Like the pro-active depression sufferer, the problem can be part of the solution. We also need experts in channeling the state’s financial, social and public resources from imprisonment to rehabilitation. Could this be a new initiative, people on different sides of the fence working together? I’m not suggesting these individuals, my friends, should get a free ticket. Like depression or any disease, the individual has a responsibility to be pro-active on their own behalf, in seeking treatment and pursuing available help resources. Department of correction parole services and the courts should actively, and patiently help guide those re-entering society to those needed resources. Like patient and doctor, there must be a partnership in curing the problem. Successful re-entry is a win-win for the individual and society, with reduced crime, safer streets, and reduced cost to the state for running the criminal justice system. The individual becomes a living example of a successful re-entry and a potential activist in this partnership. 

Let’s review this proposal. Whether imprisoned by depression or for real, if you need help, there are others, including experts, who can help. You have to be an active participant (pro-active) in the help process, lobbying for help and cooperating with the helper. Helpers are motivated knowing that you are on board and appreciate their efforts. Don’t expect miracles. But, do expect a continuing commitment from all sides in the process. The problem and the problem solvers can work together. The experts can keep a nervous public well advised and comfortable in the process. Seeing the wisdom of my friends inside the razor wire and witnessing the pro-activeness and activism of many ex-offenders in helping others, I see a potential that can be tapped. Low risk, highly motivated candidates who genuinely want to change their lives could thrive in this positive environment of trust and cooperation. It would help if they were introduced to and enlisted (recruited) in this motivational initiative in their re-entry programs prior to release. Given the initiative and opportunity to participate in a solution, there are good reasons to be hopeful.

So what about that stain on the ceiling? The plumber came. At first it looked like we would be cutting a hole in the ceiling. Heavens! If a drain below the tub is leaking, that’s inaccessible except by major surgery. Then, after much analysis and thought, he discovered a small leak in the mini-valve (a valve within a valve) that selects between flow to the tub and shower, the source of the stain on the ceiling below. What impressed me was the man’s commitment to dealing with the problem. He takes infinite pride in his trade. He methodically analyzed the problem and dealt with it, keeping this nervous homeowner well advised and comfortable during the project. We are all, or like to think, good at something. Most of the time, we are willing participants, and have to call in an expert to deal with the problem. Armed with this experience, we’re motivated and ready to face the next challenge. 

Maybe this essay is too idealistic, requiring too big an attitude adjustment to think that inmates preparing for re-entry could be motivated by this approach. What would the experts say about that? Have they given up hope and locked the door, or see the same potential I see?

Dick Sederquist’s Volunteer Prison Ministry – Feature Article from HIBU Community Magazines

Check out the new “In The News” section of my web site. It contains a magazine feature article on my prison ministry. This is the prologue to this article published November 2013.

Dick Sederquist is dedicated to the goal of reducing mass incarceration and recidivism in our prisons. Toward that goal, Dick created and conducts an eight-session workshop motivational program called “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in a Connecticut medium security prison. His program has affected the lives of over 120 inmates over the last four years. The objective of this program is to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies. Dick’s volunteerism was recognized in an article that appeared in the November issue of Inside Middletown. This article is being posted with permission of hibu community magazines.

Dick sees two avenues to changing the present state focus of funding prisons and imprisonment to investing in programs that will ensure successful inmate reentry into our communities. This concept of change in focus is popularly called “Justice Reinvestment”. First, as a concerned citizen, is his commitment to volunteering his talents to serve and show his moral support for those individuals presently in prison. Somebody on the outside truly cares about these individuals. Second, is his advocacy of focusing state and community activities to invest in offender counseling, rehabilitation and support systems including affordable housing and access to education and jobs to ensure success in community reentry.

This is a pitch for citizen involvement both inside our prisons as volunteers and on the outside to support programs providing meaningful encouragement and employment to those reentering society. Successful reentry means returning an individual as an active citizen, spouse and parent and to the rolls of employed taxpayers, a win-win for these individuals and their communities.

Video Interview with Dick Sederquist Author – Dick Talks about His Writing, Blogs, Memoirs, Experience Surviving Depression, and Volunteer Prison Ministry

Now featured on my web site is a 24-minute lively video interview with me talking about life, my

writing passion, two memoirs, and volunteer motivational program in a medium security prison in

Connecticut. There’s a short bio, how I was motivated to write my memoirs, how hiking with

family and friends helped save me from depression, my legacy of helping others through my

writing and prison program, and a select readings from my memoirs. If you like my “message of

hope” blog of informational and motivational short stories and essays, you will enjoy my memoirs.

When I autograph my books, I write, “Hope you enjoy this hike through life.” Here’s hoping you

enjoy this video interview and share my message with your friends.

 

Dick Sederquist

October 12, 2013

A New Life and New Bosses after Retirement – Read “My New Job”

I’m humorously reminded of the “refrigerator rules” posted by my daughter.

1. “The woman makes the rules.”

2. “The rules are subject to change without notice.”

3.  “Etc. Etc. more rules from the boss for the husband to follow.”

How do you like your boss? What if you had 120 of them, and I don’t mean wives.

 

My New Job

 

Fortuity (a friend of mine used to call it “fortuosity”), meaning good things happen, or unexpected adversity, meaning bad things happen, often controls our decisions in life. Meeting the right person usually happens by chance. Therefore, marriage is often not anticipated, and the decision just seems to happen, certainly not according to some grand plan. That one wiggly little sperm is first to find the objective. Maybe a child was in the plan, but certainly not the sex of this addition to the family. Somehow, life goes on with only semi decisions and half plans, or the roll of the dice. When was the last time when you were truly in control of the future? What controls what we will do for the rest of our lives? Maybe it is just “fortuosity”. Maybe it’s all about feelings, the truly unique thing in our private lives.

 

I was talking to a friend about being in control of your life and the first time I really felt that way. Meeting friends, going to school and college, picking a job out of several offers just seemed to happen, the same with marriage, children and buying a house. Then, sixteen years ago, I found myself the master of my universe. I have to qualify the word “myself”. That includes both my physical and emotional being. Feelings played a large part in my decision.

 

I had begun contemplating retirement after 38 years of service as an engineer with the same corporation. There was no lucrative package enticing me to go. Although my boss was a bore, my associates were a joy to work with and the source of enough gratitude and praise to make anyone happy. My work was intellectually stimulating and rewarding. My daughter was having a problem pregnancy, and with her husband starting a new job in another state, she was required to live at our house virtually full time on the couch. I had become a weekday daddy to my grandson between weekend visits back home by his real daddy. Life was good with family around me, so good that as far as work was concerned, I could take it or leave it. If I did retire, it would be completely my decision. Departing became a delicious thought, almost an obsession. I felt like purring. No one was forcing me to make this decision. It would come as a surprise to everyone, except my wife, when I announced it.  So, “Guess what everybody? I’ve decided to retire!”

 

Some of my analytical friends asked me what my plans for retirement were. “You can’t retire without a plan! You’ll go crazy!” Our lives at the big corporation were all about planning, milestones and meeting objectives. I must admit that at first I was flatfooted for an answer. Then I grinned. “My plan for retirement” I said “is to plan what I am going to do in my retirement” thinking that was a pretty cute answer. Momentarily on their faces appeared a wistful, almost jealous look. He is really going to do it, and without a care in the world. I have lots of cares and hang-ups, but today was my day and not a time for discussing nitty gritty doubts or details. So to speak, the die was cast, and I retired, big party and all. True to form, my boss looked bored through the whole thing.

 

Without a plan, my days filled up with things to do. Family and hiking were my top priorities. After a few months, a previous CEO of my company, who had moved on to greener pastures, remembered and contacted me to do a technical due diligence study for his new company. Was that “fortuosity” or the result of the last discussion I had with him when he left, thanking him for what he did for our company and the way he treated all his staff with dignity, respect, and enthusiasm? That was the beginning of my half time engineering consulting career. This wasn’t even in the “plan”.

 

Now I had many bosses, each one of my customers. They all had nice words. Saying something nice didn’t mean “I owe you a raise” (If I admitted you were doing a good job, you would blackmail me back, hanging me with my own words). It just meant “I appreciate your help”. I remember an old boss once telling me, although somewhat hesitatingly, that I did a good job. I said in return, “Thank you very much.” I think he expected me to say, “Oh! It was nothing. Anybody could have done it.” He looked at me kind of befuddled and turned away. I never let a compliment pass. You said it, and I’m going to say “Thank you very much”!

 

Then came prostate cancer, definitely not in the “plan”. Thinking about my own mortality, I considered my own life and the things that I had learned, non work related. I started to write. I could do more than pass down a few patents and technical ideas. I could write about my feelings, create a legacy of good thoughts, even inspire someone. One of my readers told me she was greatly encouraged after reading one of my stories. She felt energized and a new confidence from my words. I found a new boss, a reader! I did a good job! She didn’t owe me a thing, but I owed her and my other readers more good thoughts, committed to print. I had a new job! I wrote my first memoir, a self published one, which was then picked up by a real publisher.

 

Promoting my new commercial version of my memoir at a public library, one of the library patrons, who was also a librarian at a medium security prison in the same town asked me if I would like to come and talk about writing and my experiences to the inmates. Here comes “fortuosity” again. It’s a long vetting process, but after 10 months, and soul searching on my part (did I really want to do this?), I received a badge proclaiming me as an approved Motivational Speaker for the Volunteer Services Unit of the Connecticut Department of Correction. After almost a year of making presentations on writing, life and my experiences with depression, I came to understand the true emotional and communication needs of my audience. As a depression survivor having lost hope in my life I can appreciate the plight of those who have lost theirs. As a result, I created a totally new program for the inmates called “Life Change Discussion Group” an

eight session workshop designed to improve verbal communication skills and develop life coping strategies.

 

Not only was I a volunteer, but I was also willingly volunteering to deliver the goods and satisfy up to eighteen bosses at a time. Bosses are good. They keep you on track and on your toes. Some would challenge me as I’ve never been challenged before, but in a very good way. Some of their suggestions have greatly improved my program along the way. I’m a glutton for punishment and haven’t looked back. I’ve completed 11 programs over the last three years and will start another this October.

 

My engineering consulting career after 16 years has pretty much ended, although you never know. It’s been replaced by my volunteer prison program, a new job and more bosses to please. I’ve influenced the lives of over 120 inmates (120 new bosses and 120 new friends) over the last three years. I peddle hope and inspiration. They keep me very productive and full of new ideas. Now, I get paid in handshakes and smiles and a good feeling every week. Life is all about feelings, the truly durable and unique thing about life. I’ll never give up this job, keeping my new bosses happy. They ask me if I’ll ever quit. I tell them not until I drop. How’s that for company loyalty?

 

 

Next time, more insight into surviving depression:

Dilution, Bad or Good? - What’s Bad for the Environment Might be Good for our Souls – 12th Article in the Continuing Series,  Surviving Depression

Why I Do It – What Drives Me – My Prison Ministry

I never gave a second thought or concern about those behind bars until, after a public library presentation on my first memoir, I was invited to speak to the inmates in a medium security prison. It changed my life. I hope it is changing the lives of over 120 inmates I’ve served for more than three years.

 

Why I do It

I was asked recently why I conduct my secular prison ministry “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates who have wronged others and people like me without any feelings of remorse. The actual question was a little tougher “Without reading too much into what you post about your background and interests I wonder what transpired in you to partake in assisting others who have taken what they wanted from folks like you without remorse?” In my dictionary, remorse is defined as a deep sense of guilt over past wrongs that the individual has done.

Why do I show compassion for these individuals instead of walking away, giving up on them, literally throwing away the key to their cells? The following are the reasons I’ve been doing what I do for more than three years. I should mention my number one ground rule which I follow to eliminate any potential bias. I never ask why they have been incarcerated, how long they have been incarcerated or the number of times they have been repeat offenders (recidivism). If they volunteer that information, then that is part of the relationship of trust we develop between us and with their fellow inmates. In general, based on their own voluntary admissions, I observe that their wisdom (even eloquence) and compassion for each other increases with time served. I would assume that on the outside as free men that they could be good spokesmen for convincing younger men to stay out of a life of crime. The ex-offenders I have met on the outside who work in inmate re-entry and troubled youth programs seem to verify that assumption.

My Reasons:

1.  Most of the men in my program have are full of and tortured by remorse. It’s part of the healing process. It may take time to reach this stage of realization that the wrongs that they perpetrated were wrong for themselves and society. At first, they were angry and blamed others for accusing and fingering them and society for incarcerating them. Eventually, they came to blaming themselves for their behavior which led to their incarceration. With this, they came to realize that they must change themselves to be accepted back into society. Many say that incarceration was a wake up call, even a gift, to save them from themselves and the influences and associations which led to their downfall. Lastly to achieve peace, they have to stop torturing, beating up on, and then eventually forgiving themselves. They have to put aside the negative and focus on positive changes in their lives. One of the first steps in gaining respect for themselves and from others is getting their GED in prison. This is a major step toward making informed rather than the poor choices they have been making throughout their lives. My half poem-half prose soliloquy below pretty much sums up what I’ve heard these men say about their life choices, consequences, their plight, and dreams for the future.

 

Do You Remember Me?

(Have You Forgotten Me?)

 

Do you remember me? We were the same person until we split apart. You took a different road. I went to the left when you went to the right. You took the high road, I the low. I’m your left handed twin so to speak. We’re two different outcomes of the choices in life. You were the cautious one, I the impulsive one.

 

Maybe, it was a point of desperation in our life. There were two choices. Desperation is like that. It’s an intersection, a split in the road. You made the right decision, I the wrong. Our lives separated at that point. Where we once were one, we became two possibilities. You kept to the straight and narrow. I gambled and lost. You are happy, you are free, I am not.

This is a sobering place. I’ve had to learn patience and humility. Life is controlled day by day, hour by hour, by the rules. The rules are fixed and inflexible. The food is ok, but boring like my days. I’m tired of counting boring days.

 

Someday, I know not when, I will walk free. I’m not sure what I am going to do. You have many choices every day. I’m wondering what my choices are. I’m waiting for a sign, a second chance. I’m hoping for an intersection in the road where I can turn right. I’d like to try that way for a while. I would like to become one again.

 

 

2.  As a past sufferer of severe depression, I can fully appreciate the plight of those who have lost their hope. Depression is a form of incarceration, preventing the achievement of happiness and a productive life. In my program, I encounter individuals who are at the lowest point in their lives. Prison may be their last chance in this world to see the light and recover their lives and self esteem. If there was ever a place for me to be effective and use what ever motivational skills I possess, this is the place. I feel I have no choice but to give it the college try. I feel compelled to volunteer and help motivate these men to improve their communication skills, tell their stories, explain their needs, be able to sell themselves, be able to help others, and develop the life coping strategies which will help them survive in a law abiding society. The last session of my eight session workshop is dedicated to “Rules for Survival”, what have we have already leaned in life and in this course to make it in the real world. As an example, they refer to the last chapter in my first memoir “Hiking Out” of how I managed to survive depression. My prison program was the motivation for writing my second memoir “Inside and Outside”.

 

3. On my recent trip to Iceland, I was impressed with the low incarceration rates. With a population of just less than 400,000 people in Iceland, there are only 200 prison beds. Yes, many are awaiting trial or sentencing and are free (unless they are a danger to themselves or society) until they are incarcerated (or deported if they are foreign drug traffickers), but that is still an incarceration rate (based on number per 100,000 of population) of only about 0.05%, about 15 times lower than the rate in the United States. Average incarceration rates in Europe are about 7.5 times lower than the US. In Connecticut, the rate is higher than the national average, and the racial disparity in rates between African Americans and Latinos compared to whites is about 10 to 1. Non violent drug and parole offenses are a major cause of incarceration and recidivism in the US. It doesn’t make economic sense, and it is inhumane to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate for these offenses. Quoting from the article “The Fight for Black Men” by Joshua Dubois in the June 19, 2013, electronic version of Newsweek Magazine “There are more African-Americans on probation, parole, or in prison today than were slaves in 1850. It is not a crisis of crime. It is a crisis of people being left behind.” With the education and knowledge I am gaining through my program I would love to become an educated contributor to the public dialogue on criminal justice reform and reducing recidivism

 

4. For the last 15 years I’ve been a member of a Unitarian/Universalist congregation. The Universalist tradition born during the Reformation basically proclaimed that all are worth saving and not condemned to hell and damnation. When I think of all the times I felt hopeless and been given hope, screwed up and been forgiven, fallen and been picked up, felt guilt and remorse for my actions and utterances, I am, for the grace of God (and a privileged life free from the environment which brought these gentlemen down), no better than these men in the eyes of my or their maker whoever he, she or it is. Bottom line, it makes me feel good to help others. If that makes me a do-gooder then so be it. I’d rather be remembered for volunteering and helping these people through my prison program than throwing away the key. I get paid in handshakes and smiles. There is wisdom and goodness behind the razor wire. It just needs a chance to blossom.

 

5. I believe that the greatest gift in life is helping others. In my program, we help each other. We start as a group of individuals and end as a team of communicators, offering candid, honest and unselfish advice and wisdom to one another. I am setting a good example by volunteering, reaching out and helping them, even if in the beginning I may have been out of my comfort zone. They recognize that not everyone would feel comfortable in this environment. I get profuse thanks for me caring about them. I repeatedly remind them that the key to their recovery, a proven fact for reducing recidivism, is grasping all opportunities for furthering their education and continued involvement in their community. It’s been shown that volunteering and helping others who have suffered hardship is beneficial and healing for people returning from war zones or suffering from emotional trauma or post traumatic stress. Loss of personal freedom and incarceration is certainly stressful. Feeling useful and productive again has to be good medicine for body and soul. At our eighth and last session, the course may have been completed, but that doesn’t stop them from practicing what we have learned or perfecting what they’ve learned by “teaching the course” to others. On “graduation day” they receive certificates of attendance and achievement (good for their files and parole boards) and a set of my condensed notes for their personal use for refreshing their memories summarizing what we learned together in each session.

 

Maybe, I have convinced a few people that volunteering in our prisons, working with troubled youth or giving an ex-offender a job or opportunity to volunteer helping in his community is a worthwhile undertaking. It’s people on the outside who can make a convincing difference to those on the inside. Life is the greatest gift mankind has received. Helping others is the greatest gift we can share in this life.

 

Next week, another story from Iceland about accepting the “Good with the Bad” about leading your life to the fullest, no matter what it throws at you even some hot lava.

No! You Don’t Want to Live Here! – More Wisdom from Inside the Razor Wire

 

I’m taking a couple weeks off from writing my blog. There are now 48 stories and essays archived under several topics including Contemporary, My Prison Ministry, My World, Strictly Humor and Surviving Depression. Have you read them all? There will be a quiz when I return. The following essay is from My Prison Ministry. Here is the answer to the first question, “Would you like to live in this place for the rest of your life?”

 


 

No! You Don’t Want to Live Here!


 

 

At one of the sessions of my prison ministry program “Life Change Discussion Group” one of my older participants, who was serving a very long sentence, said to one of the young men who had already been in and out of prison a few times, “You don’t want to live here! You’re still a young man with your life ahead of you. You have to straighten yourself out. Take it from someone who made a terrible mistake early in life and is growing old in here. This is no place to waste a lifetime.”

 


 

All the years visiting this place to conduct my volunteer program, I had never seen the real inside except the main buildings surrounded by fencing and razor wire, the entrance and inner lobbies, a series of controlled double gates, cinderblock corridors, school classrooms and yes, the men who walk the line in these corridors, attend school, some who sit in my classroom. Yesterday, I got the royal guided tour, including cafeterias, workshops and manufacturing areas (with wages starting at 35 cents an hour), laundry, hospital, drug rehab classroom, chapel, inside and outside recreation areas and weight room. Lastly, I visited the inmate living quarters all inside of heavy locked doors consisting of individual and double cells, large dormitory rooms like army barracks and lastly, punitive segregation cells. Some of these areas are miserably hot in the summertime and uncomfortably cold in the wintertime. I got to see where my new friends live. The most visceral thing I experienced was the background noise and lack of privacy, something all who live here have to get used to. The other thing I felt was that this place is a time machine. Enter and the rest of the world moves on without you. Inside, you are out of sight, out of mind, slowly becoming obsolete and irrelevant to those on the outside unless you make a concentrated effort to keep current, educated and connected to others by phone, visitations and letters.

 


 

What really impresses me, and now even more than before my visit, is the resilience of my new friends, mostly for the better. That could mean two things. You can steadfastly refuse to be changed by the system and are destined to be a repeat offender, or you can see the light and make it a personal goal to better yourself. Most of my friends in my program profess this commitment to changing their lives. The challenges are changing angry and asocial behavior, old associations (the people, the enablers, and environment that got you in trouble) and alcohol and drug habits. Added to this are the social acceptance and financial hardships faced on the outside as ex offenders.


 

 

Now lets consider the question and answer posed in this essay. I’ll start with an example. If somebody asked you, “Does it bother you that every day you are growing older and will face new health challenges?” The logical answer is “No, considering the alternatives, I’d rather grow older as gracefully as I can.” Now let’s consider the main question and logical answer, “Would you like to live in this place for the rest of your life?” Considering the alternatives, the wisdom given to my young friend from my older friend is an emphatic NO! Even though you will face continued life challenges on the outside, you don’t want to spend your life inside this place!” I wish all my new friends success. I’m rooting for you.

 

A Loss for Words – A Sad Week for All

My regular volunteer discussion class at prison was cancelled this week due to a lock down for facility repairs. The general topic of this fourth session of my “Life Change Discussion Group” workshop was to be “Take a Walk” an exercise in recalling good things from the past, flashbacks like familiar pictures falling out of an overstuffed photo album, creating hope in the form of images you remember or would like to have in the future. I am sure the mood would have been very somber in the wake of the tragedy in Boston. My friends inside the razor wire are patriotic and very protective of children. They feel very strongly about the perpetrators of crimes against country and humanity. They feel grief as much as anybody. It is especially difficult not being able to share it personally with family or the families they have lost. This week we are all at a loss for words.

“Daddy, Sing the Pancake Song” – Wisdom Inside the Razor Wire

Dear Reader, if you are moved by my messages of hope and inspiration, you can share this insight with others by spreading the word about my weekly blog and two memoirs “Hiking Out and “Inside and Outside. There are now 41 archived true short stories and essays on my blog. Major Topics include Contemporary, My Prison Ministry, My World, Strictly Humor and Surviving Depression. Have you read them all?

 

 

Daddy, Sing the Pancake Song

 

This is too good to pass up. I don’t think my friend will mind me sharing his little secret with you. Every Wednesday my life is enriched by my volunteer prison program. I just started my eleventh 8 session Life Change Discussion Group workshop designed to help inmates improve verbal communication skills and develop life coping strategies. Wisdom exists inside the razor wire. These are real people with real answers to life’s riddles. What ever they did is not my concern. I never ask. I believe from this day forward in the truth that a man says if he really means it.

 

One of the participants in my program expressed his concern of how to be a good parent. He was not married nor had children, but the prospects seemed daunting to him. Where do you start? Another participant, who had several children, smiled and looked at the man in the eye. He said it starts with love, simple things. Children do not have high expectations or the need for expensive things. He then told his story of cooking breakfast for his kids. He invented a routine which did not come off the TV or from a movie he saw. It came from the heart and, being silly, let them know that they could be silly too and join in the fun. This was a supreme moment of trust and giving back.

 

“Daddy! Sing the pancake song” they chanted. He had done this before, and they loved it and him for being totally there for them. I could put his words and choreography to music, but you can make up your own silly pancake dance, lyrics and melody. Foolish as it would sound to a grownup, it was sweet music to a child. When we let our hair down in front of a child, we are connecting on their level. They feel trust. They feel love.

 

When my daughter was small, lying next to her before tucking her in, I would tell a silly little story about her and her favorite hand puppet and an adventure they had in some magic land located on the other side of a mirror inside her closet. This I did with appropriate gestures and sound effects. I did the same, but a different theme for her children when they had a sleepover at Nana’s and Grandpa’s. This time it was about a magic transporter box (properly ventilated to federal OSHA standards of course). The inside cover of the box would glow with stars when it was closed before taking off on an exciting adventure.

 

After my inmate friend told his pancake story, a host of other stories and discussion broke out about entertaining kids and showing them love. I think the man who had expressed his fear of how to raise a child if he was ever to marry felt a lot better about the challenges of fatherhood. Our storyteller also knew that he had made a point with his audience. At our next workshop session, all his friends asked him to “Sing the pancake song again”.

Overview of "My Prison Ministry" - "Life Change Discussion Group"

This is my wrap up presentation on my prison ministry “Life Change Discussion Group”. This along with Discussion Topics 1 – 8 from my previous blog posts provides the basis for my program. I welcome inquiries from those who are interested in establishing their own volunteer programs and workshops for prison inmates or troubled youth and adults. Inside our outside world are prisons, both real and of the mind. A curriculum including an overview of the workshops, discussion topics, readings and typical session notes are available to help you formulate a program. If you have a story to tell and can facilitate a discussion, you may qualify to lead a program like this. It will change your life. My eleventh eight session “Life Change” workshop starts this March.

 

Next week my blog will begin our exploration of our “inside and outside” worlds, some of them magic, stories like “The Tiger and the Lamb”, stories I hope you will never forget.

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies.

Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Overview of “Life Change Discussion Group”

A Certificate Program

Eight Session Workshop in Communication and Developing Life Coping Strategies

 

Program Goal - Participants in the Life Change Discussion Group will strive to achieve personal insight, enlightenment and enrichment through a series of group exercises and activities, writing or note taking assignments and round table discussions. A variety of topics (including those suggested by the participants) will be covered including life issues, depression and coping strategies, forgiveness, compassion, humor, and most important, improving and sharing verbal and written communication skills. Effective communication starts with compassionate listening and conversation, which is at the heart of this program. The most important thing a participant can learn from this program is better communication skills. We define, explain and sell ourselves by our ability to listen, communicate and help others.

Your Leader - Dick Sederquist is a volunteer, retired engineer, consultant, writer, author, motivational speaker, a cancer, spinal stenosis and depression survivor. He originated his “Life Change Discussion Group” workshop three years ago and has completed ten complete programs as of December 2012. As a resource, Dick’s book, “Hiking Out: Surviving Depression with Humor and Insight Along the Way”, will be available to all who participate in this program.

General Session Format

·         Check in and attendance, review of previous session (15 minutes).

·         General round table group discussion on the subject of the day (30 minutes).

·         Individual participant presentations and discussions (30 minutes).

·         Assignment of general discussion topic for next session. Participants selected to lead discussion topics of their choice for the next session (15 minutes).

Discussion Topics (past sessions)

1.        Aspirations and expectations for the course, our worst fears, any difficulties in expressing oneself and sharing feelings, difficulty in listening and communicating with others.

2.        Coping with things beyond our control, what is within your control, discuss anger, hate and blame as it applies to others and oneself, the “stop technique”, stopping repetitive wasteful scary thoughts in their tracks. Enlisting your own “mental policeman” who can save your life.

3.        Strategies for staying out of prison or avoiding recidivism, your support systems after release, what changes you expect to make now and after release, ending the cycle of addiction and recidivism.

4.        “Take a walk”, a personal exercise in remembering good things from your youth, promoting positive and spontaneous flashbacks.

5.        Sharing our intellectual hobbies, skills and enjoyable pursuits.

6.        Sharing a period of desperation and despair in your life, a crossroad, a decision point, good or bad, what you learned. Also, have you helped others in the past and how will you in the future?

7.        Depression, have you experienced it, recognized it, admitted it, coped with it, and dealt with it in yourself and others. Also, self image, how will you measure your life as you see it, not by others? What is the meaning of your life?

8.        Sharing your personal “Rules for Survival”. What have we learned in this program? How will you apply it in the future?

 

Individual presenters have presented and led discussions on a wide variety of subjects of interest to them and to the group. The course material contains over 50 suggestions for discussion topics, life and coping strategies, and individual and group exercises and activities from which to choose.

 

Session Schedule – Classes consist of eight one and a half hour weekly sessions. Participants who attend at least seven of the eight sessions will receive an Outstanding Attendance Certificate and an Outstanding Achievement Certificate. Participants who attend most of the sessions will receive the Outstanding Achievement Certificate. In the last session, participants will also receive a condensed set of session notes for their personal use covering all eight sessions of the workshop. If for some reason, a participant misses a session, do not be discouraged. Hang in there. The group needs you. This program is open to, and welcomes all who want to participate. Many find inspiration in the wisdom of their friends.

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 8 of 8

In this our last session together we share what will be our “personal rules for survival", how to lead a better life as ex-offenders re-entering society. This is my eighth in my blog series “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in two medium security prisons in Connecticut. I will summarize my volunteer prison program (an overview of my workshop) in a later blog after my update next week on my spinal stenosis and laminectomy surgery two weeks ago.

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies.

Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 8 – Rules for Survival

 

In our last session we review and reinforce what we have already learned in my workshop. If you have been following the last seven sessions on my blog you will find many positive rules spelled out by the participants. This final session is devoted to reiterating and sharing personal rules for survival for the future learned from life and discussed during the workshop. The most important rules shared by all is to re-connect with family and true friends (not enablers), show that you have truly changed and, by example, are ready to re-gain their love and respect, be a better father, a better grandfather, a better role model. The willingness to continue listening to each other with compassion, sharing stories and helping one another will ease the path through the many more changes during life. These discussions have improved listening and communication skills. We continue to hear the refrain, “I want to change my life.” As they say, “This is the first day in the rest of your life.” This is a beginning. We are not alone. We are all together. We are connected; we help others; we define, explain and sell ourselves by our ability to listen and communicate with others. That is what we have been doing for the last eight sessions. During this last session the participants receive their achievement and attendance awards and a complete set of my session notes for their personal use reviewing what we discussed and learned together.

 

I’ll add one humorous, and serious, rule that I heard three years ago. It’s about respect for the law. “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.” We shake hands. There are a lot of smiles. I tell them I’m rooting for them. I tell them to go hiking some day. It’s free.

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 7 of 8

Have you ever been depressed or know somebody who is depressed. In prison, it’s pretty common. This is my seventh in my series “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in two medium security prisons in Connecticut. We share experiences and help each other.

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies.

Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 7 – Depression

 

In our seventh session we talk about depression. Have you experienced it, denied it, recognized it, admitted it, coped with it and dealt with it in yourself or others? Also, we talk about self image. How will you measure your life as you see it, not by others? What is the meaning of your life? My role is facilitator of these discussions. I am neither a therapist nor a minister. My prison ministry is secular, although I talk, write about and share my spiritual experiences. As a depression survivor, I understand what it means to lose hope. I can empathize with those in prison who have lost their hope. That’s why I am here, to talk and help them share their experiences with each other.

 

I took a show of hands in my class once about how many in the audience knew of friends or relatives who had or were in trouble with the law. You can imagine the response. If I take a poll of how many in my audience had experienced depression in their lives, the response is higher than you would find in the general population. Of course, the name of my program “Life Change Discussion Group” has already clued them in that there will be some tough questions and discussions. This has already pre-selected the type of individuals volunteering for my program. They want to change their lives, and depression is a major factor in many of their lives. Typically, my new friends are proactive (and somewhat biased) on the subject of depression. Like their problems with alcohol and drug addiction, they want to face it head on and deal with it. At least they want to talk openly about it. They have this sense of “pride” that they are candid about their problems rather than keeping them to themselves or only discussing it among fellow sufferers. That sense of pride carries over toward their attitude about prescription medications available in prison for depression. Many say they would rather face and deal with their problems on a day to day basis rather than be “numbed” by medication.

 

I sense a resilience, determination, maturity and courage in their “pride” developed during their incarceration. I’ve never heard a “woe is me” complaining and whining attitude out my friends. They recognize that depression has impacted their behavior. They’ve witnessed the devastation caused by depression in themselves, parents, siblings and friends. They understand that giving support, listening and helping others is a universal medicine for depression. They hunker down when they are blue, but always try to be positive and to be around positive people. I wrote my nine rules for surviving depression in my book Hiking Out. My rules are no better than theirs.

 

When I started writing this post, I had two handwritten pages of notes on inmate discussions on depression from the last three years of my program. I just tossed it in the wastebasket. It seems right to just concentrate on the positive message. There is one cultural observation that I’ve heard many times from my friends. In societies where there is a lot of family and community involvement, there is less depression. Where they came from, many from South America, Latin America and the Caribbean, everybody knew everybody. There was more family and community support. Although poor, there were more intact families, friends, and close relatives including grandparents available to help children.

 

When I was down, everything looked black like today’s “fiscal cliff”. Then I would make a U-turn, before the next episode, leaving my wife thinking “I thought this man was at the end of his rope and now he’s turned positive again leaving me in his dust”. I am humbled by my friends’ attitude and resolve. They’ve seen and lived the blackness, but today, in my class, they’re looking toward the light.

 

The second question we talk about in this session is how you see yourself independent of what others say, or your record; what is your self image in your understanding of your life? The answer I found is universal, but wasn’t obvious when I first asked it. They see themselves as basically good persons who were blinded by their addictions, selfishness, self pity, anger and yes, depression. They truly want to put that behind them and make that U-turn. As the voice says on your GPS system when you’ve gone the wrong way “At your earliest convenience, please make a “legal” U-turn.” “Oh yes!” they tell me “Life is a gift. Make the best of it!”

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 6 of 8

Have you ever felt a period of desperation and despair in your life? This is the sixth in my series on my volunteer prison ministry “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in two medium security prisons in Connecticut. Desperation may lead to negative or positive changes in one’s life. What decisions or choices would you make?

 

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies. Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 6 – Desperation and Despair

In our sixth session we share a point of desperation and despair in our lives, a crossroad or decision point, what you learned, your decisions and choices, good or bad. We also talk about how you have helped others in the past and how you can help in the future.

 

I wrote the following short piece based on a prompt “Do you remember me, or have you forgotten me?” given in a creative writing class. It’s based on the plea and message “I want to change my life” I’ve heard countless times in my volunteer prison program. It’s about the choices we make in life and the outcome of those choices. Sometimes our choices compound our problems and the direction we take. I share this with my class at this session.

 

 

Do You Remember Me?

Do you remember me? We were the same person until we split apart. You took a different road. I went to the left when you went to the right. You took the high road, I the low. I’m your left handed twin so to speak. We’re two different outcomes of the choices in life. You were the cautious one, I the impulsive one.

Maybe, it was a point of desperation in our life. There were two choices. Desperation is like that. It’s an intersection, a split in the road. You made the right decision, I the wrong. Our lives separated at that point. Where we once were one, we became two possibilities. You kept to the straight and narrow. I gambled and lost. You are happy, you are free, I am not.

This is a sobering place. I’ve had to learn patience and humility. Life is controlled day by day, hour by hour, by the rules. The rules are fixed and inflexible. The food is ok, but boring like my days. I’m tired of counting boring days.

Someday, I know not when, I will walk free. I’m not sure what I am going to do. You have many choices every day. I’m wondering what my choices are. I’m waiting for a sign, a second chance. I’m hoping for an intersection in the road where I can turn right. I’d like to try that way for a while. I would like to become one again.

 

The most common point of desperation and despair is incarceration for the first time in their life. The individual experiences an incredible “wake up call”. Their personal lives have been going down hill for a long time. They finally reach what is called a “slippery slope” with no hand or foothold, no purchase possible. They are sliding toward free fall into the inevitable prison sentence. Beyond the first feeling of complete shock, some have expressed a sensation of complete surrender to their tears, feelings of quiet acceptance and eventual resolve to survive. If anything, prison is a forced vacation from the life, habits, associations and environment that is killing them.

 

Others describe their despair and the pain of rejection by parents and relatives as children, finding themselves on the streets, fending for oneself; rejection by lovers; an infant’s death; devastating medical news about one’s own health; overwhelming fatigue and tiredness of past behavior, addiction, selling drugs and hurting people, old habits and associations, selfishness, wrong decisions and choices, loneliness and boredom leading to antisocial, risk taking and criminal behavior, repeated convictions and incarcerations; irrational and violent behavior related to severe depression and post traumatic stress; financial failure, joblessness, the desperate need for quick money; the realization that freedom had been lost when a cell phone was confiscated, symbolic of the ultimate separation from loved ones; a selfish “spoiled brat” awaking to a new life behind bars; a man so disgusted and worn out from a life on the run that in desperation he turned himself into the authorities.

 

Many describe how the desperation of incarceration has led to positive change in their life. Having reached lowest point there is no other way to look but up. They realized that in order to have a positive effect and help others that they had to first help themselves and their self image by becoming a better and respected person, that is, you have to truly change and love yourself to give love. A physical, mental or asocial wreck doesn’t have the conviction, strength and stamina to effectively help others. They’ve always prided themselves on helping others, but had lost their moral and social compass. They had to re-earn their right to be a selfless friend, Good Samaritan and role model. Often the movie Pay It Forward comes up in our discussions. Helping others is the greatest mission in life. Acts of kindness are rewarded and perpetuated by more acts of kindness. They aspire to “paying it forward” again in their lives, to become a valued and trusted members of society. I was struck by a revelation in my class. Paraphrasing, “Money earned by legitimate means is sacred and will be spent wisely. Money derived from criminal activity has no value and will be wasted.”

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 5 of 8

What’s your intellectual passion in life? This is the fifth in my series on my volunteer prison ministry “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in two medium security prisons in Connecticut. We all share common interests and dreams.

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies.

Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 5 – Sharing Intellectual Interests, Hobbies, Skills, Talents and Passions

 

During the Life Change Discussion Group program we take a break from serious and soulful discussions, with individual presenters talking about their intellectual passions, interests, hobbies, etc. These are an important part of self image and worth. To some, continuing education and understanding our world is their driving passion. They have become experts on a host of topics. By sharing, they are helping others to see the world and show them what is possible if you apply yourself. Their interests could inspire and rub off on another person. I keep talking about hiking and how inexpensive it is. Maybe a few more of my alumnae will hit the trail someday. Here are some of the pursuits enjoyed by my friends. Often, I feel like I’m attending a college lecture series. Sometimes, I exchange seats with the speaker, with him at my desk and me in the surrounding semicircle of chairs. We have poets, writers, philosophers and motivational speakers. Some of these men are highly talented, born teachers even good natured task masters. One of my presenters told his audience “Don’t slouch, listen up, we are doing important work here!”

 

What topics interest you? Here are a few in no particular order: writing computer codes and games; cooking and the culinary arts; men’s and women’s fashions; ancient history and the conquests of leaders like Hannibal, Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn; playing chess and learning that sometimes you have to sacrifice to win; reading self help literature; memoir writing, writing poetry and prose, one read to the class in Spanish with the English translation (a few in my class are more comfortable making presentations in Spanish with a fellow participant providing the translation, a win–win for both gentlemen); the natural world including entomology, the study of birds of prey, reptiles and amphibians; keeping up with world affairs; sketch artist of portraits, flowers and abstract surreal images; developing life “winning” strategies; the study of mathematics, statistics, probabilities, logic, logistics; mentoring and helping others; hospice volunteering; hunting; music, both listening and playing; auto and auto body repair and restoration; motorcycles; animal husbandry; farming; landscaping; bonsai cultivation and pruning of dwarf trees and shrubs; woodworking and furniture making; starting and nurturing a new business; flea market artifact collecting; downhill skiing; the fine art of wooing the ladies (there is still hope); entertaining and teaching young children, making up fun games and songs (“Daddy, sing the pancake song again!”); exercising to keep your mind sharp; and the one I like the best, hiking.

 

I’ve heard erudite presentations on subjects that are on everybody’s, including the public’s, mind: the criminal justice system, the good, the bad and helpful recommendations; depression, it’s causes, the damage created and medical treatments, arguments for the use or non use of antidepressants and medications; addiction, its stages starting with legal prescriptions and then the slippery slope of casual and recreational use to self medication and abuse, the influence and damage done to children who witness addictive behavior, arguments for decriminalization of certain drugs, incarceration or rehabilitation for non violent alcohol, drug and parole violations; recidivism and its relationship to family support, peer groups, education, mass media, social and economic factors; dreams of being a future volunteer humanitarian, activist and role model to guide and counsel troubled youth and young people. Here’s hoping these dreams come true.

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 4 of 8

 

My fourth session is meant to be happy, but to many of my friends, senseless gun violence has defined their environment since they were children. This is the fourth in my series on my volunteer prison ministry “Life Change Discussion Group” for inmates in two medium security prisons in Connecticut. But, for the grace of God, you could be sitting in my class today. We are all vulnerable persons. We all need help at some point, or many points, in our lives. Our past does not define our futures, unless you have given up on us. Today, we “Take a Walk”.

 

 

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies. Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

 

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 4 “Take a Walk”

 

 

 

“Take a Walk” is a positive mental exercise in remembering good things from your childhood or youth. It can start by mentally walking out the door of your home or apartment where you lived. Turn right or left and walk down the street and around the block, visualizing the places and people you saw long ago, things that gave you pleasure. Concentrate on the good; try not to focus on the bad, although sometimes it defines your life, your fears and your dreams. You may remember things you have totally forgotten or haven’t thought about in years. You may experience flashbacks, like pictures suddenly falling out of an overstuffed photo album. You pick it up and say “OMG! I remember that.” We’re trying to create a process or habit of creating spontaneous flashbacks that just pop into your head. The flashback could be the past, or a memory you would like to have in the future. We’re looking for simple, pleasant memories or images, like the smile of a child, not something as improbable as winning the lottery. We want to fill up this album to overflowing so these images will appear spontaneously. This is an exercise in creating hope for the future, images and experiences you would like to have, things and events you can plan for, experience and cherish. Now, share these memories and hopes with the group.

 

 

 

The outpouring I’ve heard over the last three years is often ambivalent, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes painful. Native American folklore says if you take someone’s picture without their permission you could steal their soul. In these pictures and images painted with words I hope to bring lost souls back into focus. Collectively, these men represent a forgotten segment of our society. But, for the grace of God, chance, and circumstances, you could be sitting there with them. Do you see your face there? In no particular order, I share these images with you:

 

 

 

·        The thrill, independence and freedom of riding your bicycle all over town.

 

·        An early morning excursion with family to a city park.

 

·        Hunting for edible mushrooms and morels in the quiet forest with an uncle.

 

·        Catching bugs and critters dwelling under old boards, planks and tires in abandoned city fields.

 

·        Bravery and camaraderie with friends.

 

·        Getting all dressed up for church.

 

·        Celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with family.

 

·        Great conversations with friends.

 

·        I used to be very happy, but now I’m very sad in prison.

 

·        Learning all about the opposite sex.

 

·        Community meals with friends, relatives and neighbors, the importance of community in one’s early life.

 

·        Getting a photograph in the mail which brings back a host of memories, some bitter, and some sweet.

 

·        Exploring the countryside on foot and by motorcycle, youth doesn’t stop when you are young.

 

·        The incredible feeling of peace of mind, feeling good about yourself.

 

·        Private time and sharing thoughts while fishing with dads.

 

·        Imagining how it will feel to be with family and children again, enjoying simple, inexpensive things and activities, the most important things in life.

 

·        The really crazy stuff kids get into, endless laughter, could this continue forever?

 

·        Life on the farm, chores, family, friends, community spirit.

 

·        A sky and sun, a day so beautiful it overwhelmed every other detail. We have poets here.

 

·        Running downhill, laughing, falling, getting up, running and jumping in the river.

 

·        A morality story about telling the truth and forgiveness told by a father to his son.

 

·        Collecting more bugs, communing with nature, understanding one’s environment, how small we are in this Universe.

 

·        Buying bathroom cleaner for his first apartment.

 

·        Boxing in a youth program.

 

·        Favorite pets, true loyal friends.

 

·        Catching an alligator by the tail, a pure adrenaline rush.

 

·        And some bitter with the sweet, dealing with childhood depression, dysfunctional families, families that did their best under incredible odds, absent fathers, being overmedicated as a child, getting moved around from place to place with no place to call home, fear of failure, coping with the loss of loved family members and friends to senseless gun violence, random shootings, a very real fear experienced in their world almost every day, no way to share anger and grief over one’s losses. When will the violence end?

 

 

 

My Prison Ministry - "Life Change Discussion Group" Session No. 3 of 8

This is my third weekly blog of my eight part series on my volunteer prison program. This week I'm completing my tenth (eight session) program. I'll take the winter off (to avoid the winter driving conditions) and start my eleventh program in April of 2013. In my next weekly blog, we'll cover session no. 4 called "Take a Walk".

 

I have been volunteering in two Connecticut medium security prisons over the last three years, affecting the lives of over 100 inmates. My secular program is an eight session workshop designed to improve communication skills and develop life coping strategies. I created this volunteer program with the encouragement of two inmates who really understood the emotional and intellectual needs of the prison population. I’m forever grateful for their wise and compassionate input. I get paid in handshakes and smiles. Participants strive to achieve personal insight, enlightenment and enrichment through a series of group exercises and activities, writing or note taking assignments and round table discussions. A variety of general topics are covered including life issues, depression and coping strategies, forgiveness, compassion, humor, and most important, improving communication skills. Participants also get a chance to make individual presentations and lead discussions on a subject of their choosing. Effective communication starts with compassionate listening and conversation, which is at the heart of this program. The most important thing a participant can learn from this program is better verbal communication skills. We define, explain and sell ourselves by our ability to listen, communicate and help others.

 

Welcome! Imagine yourself as sitting in my class. Through circumstances beyond your control and your own mistakes and choices, you have signed up for this course to change your life.

 

Discussion Topics Session No. 3

In the third workshop the emphasis is on strategies of staying out of prison or avoiding recidivism. Two broad questions are discussed. First, what will be your support systems after release? Second, what changes must you make now and expect to make after release?

 

As an inmate, the first step before returning to society is usually a month long re-entry program to prepare inmates for their transition from prison to freedom. This includes learning a host of skills and receiving encouragement in developing an individual transition plan. A large packet of material is covered including important contacts, addresses and phone numbers, re-acquiring personal identification, social security, resume writing, interview and documenting employment skills, finding jobs, educational opportunities, re-acquiring driver’s license, community family support and addiction services, housing, clothing, food sources, Info-Line resources and encouragement to take responsibility and prepare and create educational and career goal plans.

 

The efficacy of this program depends highly on the motivation of the individual. To many inmates it must be very difficult to assimilate all this information and motivation in such a short time compared to the length of their incarceration. They entered a time machine when they were incarcerated. During that time, the world has changed at an accelerating pace leaving them behind. The environment they left, some of it poisonous, is not what they want to re-enter. They are time travelers in a brand new world. If they get discouraged and screw up, they will be back here again. Wouldn’t you feel challenged? Re-entry is a daunting challenge. Parole and probation officers are overwhelmed with high case loads, which means less attention, reinforcement and continuity with their inmate re-entry programs. I know my inmate friends (based on their own experience) are fearful of the availability and effectiveness of future support services after they re-enter society. All fear that in this new world, they will experience discrimination and intolerance, which makes this transition all the more daunting.

 

Many realize that their own motivation, latent strengths and determination are needed to seize opportunities offered to them and stick the process out. They look to the support of true friends (not enablers), mentors and family, employment, job training, school, addiction services, help from volunteer organizations, exercise (staying fit), self help sources, churches, religion, spirituality and faith in a higher power. Intellectually, they would like to see themselves as leading exemplary lives, setting good examples and being good role models to neighborhoods and children. All wish for more rehabilitation resources and support to help them out. Their passionate pleas make them sound like future advocates and activists for an improved rehabilitation system. As a workshop facilitator, one hears a lot. The fears, hopes and dreams of these men, are totally genuine, convincing and believable. We all need to listen.

 

When it comes to changes to be made by the individual, a common assessment is that you better start practicing and make those changes now. It will be too late if you expect to change your behavior and life after release. Changes I hear often include (in no particular order):

  • I’m so tired of this old life. It’s time to get on with my new life.
  • End angry and belligerent behavior.
  • Be more humble.
  • Walk away from confrontations.
  • Avoid influences and associations that got you in trouble.
  • Be positive, reject negativity.
  • Be not a slave to pleasing others, supporting a material life, maintaining a false identity.
  • Re-earn your family’s trust.
  • Listen better. Improve communications skills to better express yourself and make your needs known.
  • Do not indulge in risky behavior. Stop being an adrenaline junky.
  • The small things in life are more important.
  • Have faith in yourself.
  • Unanimously, all believe that change must come from within.
  • The “correction” in “correctional institution” are the changes you make in yourself.
  • Belief in oneself is the pillar of a lasting support system.

 

One can’t consider the complex problems of addiction and recidivism without realizing that the involvement and activism of ex offenders who have seen and lived the dark side must be part of the solution.