Prison Motivational Talk; Captive audience and tough love

Two years later, prisoners are on new paths because something happened that day.

The room is empty and the prison guards prepare to bring in about fifty young men, average age, low twenties. These young men are in the prime of life and stuck behind walls paying back to society their time in exchange for their wrongs.

What am I going to do and say that will challenge them to get out of their rut and choose a better way of thinking and living?

The prison director along with prison officers join the small gathering and get ready for the talk. I brought along with me an indigenous leader who is keen to see more young indigenous men lead lives free of prison walls. I also invited three leading foremen from the construction industry in the hope of inspiring them to engage these young prisoners and look for ways to integrate them back into society.

What goes on in my mind at this point just before I speak?

  1. I hope I don’t freeze during the talk
  2. I hope what I have to say totally disrupts even the most hardened heart, this includes everyone in the room not just the prisoners
  3. I hope a fire sparks and ignites a new breed of leader somewhere in the room
  4. What’s my strategy to unlock them from the checkmate they think they’re in?

They start bringing in the boys and I greet every single one of them with a smile, shaking their hands and look at each one in the eyes acknowledging them one by one. They in return acknowledge me with all sorts of looks as they try to keep up the composure that they create as part of their culture and reputation. My heart went out each one of them no matter what wrong they’ve done.

Finally everyone is seated and the prison guard who opened the doorway for me to speak in the prison introduces me as a motivational speaker and lets me be.

With my heart racing and my thoughts still not sure which story I should start my talk with, second by second I gaze into the group. You’d think I’d be more prepared, but I was not interested in entertaining these young men with a well rehearsed script nor was I wanting to patronise them like I had all the answers. To me, this was an opportunity to really free some of their minds.  

I look around the room and I start, I go on for about thirty minutes and I know within the first five minutes that I had them. Some of them folded their arms, good, some of them looked down, good, some looked like they just wanted to mock me, good… best of all, by the end, not one of them were disrespectful. When you’ve done public speaking for as long as I have, you begin to see indicators that you are connecting and the room is being divided, their thoughts and hearts are racing .

Questions and comments at the end of my talk

The comments and questions were more about my passion rather than my topic. What they wanted to know had to do with my motive. I didn’t have a program, I didn’t have a background in prison life and yet here I was believing I could make a difference in their lives. Even prison officers were asking the same types of questions, why was I there and why am I bothered?

When the meeting finished, I approached each of the young men again shaking their hand and looking them in the eyes, thanking them for being open to new ideas. Many of them expressed an appreciation for the talk and they hoped I’d be able to come back and do more talks. Some appreciated that I wasn’t offering another get well scheme. Some said that they related so much to me even though our worlds were different.

I heard some time later that the young men talked about the event among themselves and with the prison officers still trying to work out what it was all about.

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As more me, I knew exactly what was going on that day. I knew that I was meant to be there and my gift for speaking into the hearts of those young men worked. Life breeds life and for some of them that day, life was injected into them, they caught it. My confidence is that the work that started that day is still continuing to ripple in the hearts of those that attended.

If you want to make a difference, you must go outside of your comfort zone. Your heart will race, your thoughts will become more creative. You’ll know that you are as alive as I felt that incredible day when I spoke to a few young men that were exchanging their time for the wrongs that they did to society.

Two years later, prisoners are walking on new paths because something happened that day. Hanssen Construction and a few good mentors within the company are willing to work with any person that comes out of the prison system looking to create a new life for themselves.

It all starts with an idea that germinates into action through tough love.

There is always a better way to reform, renew and reintegrate the prodigal.

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