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Prison Reform

A dream of mine is finally becoming reality. I have long desired to help rehabilitate people in prison. I don't agree with prison as punishment. I believe prison should be a place of healing, introspection, growth, education, and change. I want to shut the revolving prison door.

There are many ways I've dreamed of doing this. First, and foremost, I want to focus on prevention. A wise man once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And since "hurting people hurt people" we must intercept those who are "at-risk" so they don't continue down the path to incarceration. How can we possibly intervene?

There isn't "one" way to do this. My ideas center around activity. I want to create after-school and summer programs where kids can interact and belong in a safe, stable, loving place. It would look like an open gym. I see myself helping children discover their unique talents, interests, and gifts. I wrap them in love and encourage them to unleash their creative powers for good.

*Time Out*

I just said something redundant. Creative powers are always used for good. I can't think of one creative act that is bad. You cannot use creative powers for evil or bad because that isn't creation that is destruction. So yeah, just wanted to think through that statement out loud because the profundity just dawned on me.

*Time In*

Imagine teaching children mindfulness, compassion, non-violent communication, confidence, how to nurture their minds and bodies through proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep, relationship skills, and more. Do you think we could make a dent in the delinquents? I do.

And what if you did the same thing for those currently incarcerated? What if we got them the proper therapy, medication, education, love, compassion, and training they need to begin their healing and transformation process? Is it ever too late to supply the needed attention and love our brothers and sisters in the hood never received? Have they not been denied these privileges long enough? Who is more deserving of our compassion and care? And yet we turn a blind eye. We allow the government to take our taxes and we wash our hands of the matter. How Pilot-like we are--hoping to rid ourselves of the disturbance. "Lock them up," we say as we turn and walk away. Dammit, that is not the answer! They are our brothers and our sisters. Something different must be done.

And so I decided to stop dreaming about what I'd do and start acting. It began with this email to a former felon who I thought might be able to point me in the right direction of fulfilling my dreams:

Oh and I’ve been meaning to ask you. . . . do you have a contact at the prison or know who I could talk to if I were interested in leading a class or group discussion on various topics. I would love to spend time with women in prison teaching them about entrepreneurship, mindset, mindfulness, education. I speak all over the world and have been a teacher at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college level. I have also written curriculum for the state of Colorado and frequently lecture at WSU. I can prepare the course curriculum in advance. Basically, I have been wanting to do this for a long time, but have no idea how to proceed. Could you point me in the right direction or perchance tell me if this is even something possible? I’m not looking to get paid or anything. Would be all volunteer. Thanks in advance.

Within minutes of sending that inquiry, I received a phone call from an old friend who said he had a volunteer prison pass and we should talk. Somehow, he had been forwarded my email inquiry. I met with him and his partner yesterday, and for two hours I shared my dreams and they shared their struggles. They have been working on a project to collect and share the narratives of prisoners. They are hoping to get the accounts into the hands of at-risk kids so they can learn from the mistakes of others. I liked much of what they were already doing, but it doesn't perfectly align with all I have in mind. While we share many of the same overarching goals, my vision of how to get there is different. I'm trying to decide if I should throw my weight into their initiatives, or stay the course with mine?

The work before me is great, and many hands will make it lighter, but surrendering the lead is not sitting well with me. And while I wondered if it were because I need all the glory, I realized this is not the case. I simply don't want to compromise my vision. If I join someone else's endeavors I don't feel like I can come in and say "this is a better way," or even, "let's do it like this." The history of social reform teaches that we need our Martin Luther King, Jrs., Malcolm Xs, Stokley Carmichaels, and Bobby Kennedys too. Each contributed something unique and needed to the civil rights movement. Each paved a path needed to achieve greater freedom.

And so who knows how this reality will unfold. My email inquiry above generated another call from a man who currently teaches at the state prison. He gave me the contact information of the Lt. Col who runs the penitentiary and who is the only one that can get me in. I sent him an email and I will continue to take things one step at a time and see where it leads. What I do know right now is that it is super-exhilarating to finally be doing not just dreaming. For a wise man once said "let the prisoners go free!"


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