Went to the maximum security prison last night with my co-volunteer G. Love G. He is so prepared, committed and low key. Four men showed up --Jo who ought to be a college professor, J2 who is 21 and went to prison at age 16, A - a real ladies man according to his reputation, and Muhammad - one of the many Muslims in prison.
J2 reminds me of my own 20-somethings, except he dropped out of high school in 10th grade and went to jail at age 16. He has his first job--in the pot room of the prison. He spoke about how it's giving him some pride.
J2 is taking our class -- speechcraft. He shows up totally unprepared -- no manual, no pencil, no prepared speech. He freestyled his ice breaker last night and talked about growing up amid drugs, alcohol and the despair of the inner city. Despite his lack of preparation, he showed up. Showing up is 90% of life, according to Woody Allen. J2 has never heard of Woodie Allen. I compared him to Spike Lee, and I don't think he knew him, either.
It's hard to have hope in a men's maximum security prison. Our first task is to encourage them to believe in themselves. An inmate summed up their predicament: "Most of the world has given up on us, and most of us have given up on ourselves."
We're competing against good weather outside. Many of the 1000+ inmates would rather watch TV, go outside and play, get high (yes- it's possible in prison) and waste their lives away. We offer hope.