I have been to prison so many times, I have lost count.
In fact, just yesterday, I was behind the walls of the “gated community” with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). And there was nowhere else I would have rather been.
As often happens, my drive home is filled with thoughtful reflection and renewed hope for the world. But this time, I kept thinking of the capabilities hidden behind the razor wire. Why do we undervalue (or altogether, ignore) the potential of this population? How can we take their flat lined post-release trajectory and bend it upwards and to the right?
It all starts with perception.
Ask any young child “Who is in prison?” and they are likely to answer with some version of ‘bad people’. That is a learned response. Perhaps it is a consequence of scared-straight parenting, or maybe, it is just that the child models the behavior of the parent.
I think we can all do better.
And it is not really that hard to do so. Here; I’ll even get things started: to paraphrase Catherine Hoke, founder of PEP, Defy Ventures and author of A Second Chance, “What if you were known for the worst thing you have ever done?”
Let that sink in.
Reflect for a moment and think of your worst thing. That one moment when your judgment was on a coffee break. When you drifted from black-and-white into the grey. That time you drove home from a night out after a few too many.
You could be the one behind bars.
See, the line that separates “us” and “them” is not a thick, nor as bright, as you might think. Not everyone in prison scrubs is a bad seed, a thug or a criminal mastermind. It might be someone who made a mistake, a bad choice, or unlike you, just got caught.
As William Shakespeare wrote at a critical juncture in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” What has happened before this moment does not define us, but is only part of our backstory.
It is up to you what happens next.
We need to move beyond the perception. To take that extra moment – that extra beat – to better understand and consider the reality. You can help control when the prologue is complete and that final period is placed.
Let the story begin. It will be a fascinating read.
Jail La La by Dum Dum Girls
This is a great song with a retro, 1960s vibe. But behind the catchy tune is an unfolding story of someone that has found themself in an unpleasant situation: arrested. Without her phone - and an inability to remember any phone numbers. The repeated lyric, “Someone tell my baby, or else he won’t know I need saving”, is a highly relatable cry for help. Beyond that of my wife, I don’t think I could come up with anyone’s digits, either.