Several years ago, I had the privilege of taking part in a prison ministry event. A close friend of mine had been conducting seminars for inmates who are getting relatively close to the completion of their sentences.
The seminars are geared to help inmates become acclimated to life on the “outside.” Many who have been incarcerated end up back in jail simply because they either return to the life that got them arrested in the first place, or fail to successfully re-enter society (i.e. find a job, establish a life, etc.).
As someone who hires people on a regular basis, I was asked to speak to the men about job seeking. I had planned to merely speak about basic job seeking strategy — from resumes to interviewing. What took place over the course of the hour was nothing short of remarkable.
As I spoke, I saw many men take out their notebooks, jotting down each point I was making. In a room of approximately 30 inmates, nearly 75 percent were actively listening to what I was saying.
As someone who speaks to groups relatively often, I can tell when someone is interested and when they are merely “putting in time.”
I asked for a show of hands of those who felt they had the skills that would land them a good-paying job. Nearly every hand was raised. From my sampling, it was apparent that these were not unskilled men. They just made mistakes in life that landed them behind bars.
During the question and answer portion of the session, the men really engaged me, asking about education, overcoming the fact they are convicts, etc.
While I was there to teach, I learned a lot as well. It was an experience I will never forget.
I took away some very important lessons from my visit.
1. For the most part, people want to live a productive life. These men, though incarcerated, have a desire to work for a living. They have dreams of providing for their families and being positive examples to their children. Not a single one of them wanted their kids to follow in their footsteps to the jail house.
2. Most people in jail will get out someday. If they don’t rise above their previous circumstances, learn from their mistakes and receive help and guidance from others, there is a strong chance they will return to prison.
3. I only spent 90 minutes inside prison walls. But it made me appreciate the life and opportunities I have. We could all learn a thing or two.
David Specht is editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.