“On with the show, this is it!” Or: ENABLING THE DISABLED MIND

[In which your Beleaguered Instructor says his prayers, lights himself on fire, and walks out on the rehabilitation wire once again….]

From my program notebook, some random thoughts on the Opening Night for ABLE MINDS I. This is our consequential thinking seminar in which we introduce the THINK FIRST mechanism.  For the next 10 Tuesday nights, we’ll be using Dickens’ A Christmas Carol….

Well, that’s out of the way. Ten of the 16 invited inmates attended. On Opening Night, everyone listens quietly and patiently, unless there’s a disruptive personality in the room. In this group there’re no behavior issues, although there’s a guy with a limp who likes to get the last word in. But I suspect anger issues because, well, he’s an incarcerated man with a limp. Knowing him as I do, the phrase “Chip on the shoulder” comes quickest to mind.

In a little under two hours, we:

  • Introduced the 10-step THINK FIRST consequential thinking mechanism
  • Collected character profiles (character analyses of six creatures in the story)
  • Distributed Pocket Saviors (the THINK FIRST mechanism on a small laminated card)
  • Introduced the Conflict Resolution concept
  • Presented 32 slides of our A Christmas Carol PowerPoint

One of the students, an Hispanic who’s self-conscious about his spotty, accented English, already had the THINK FIRST mechanism memorized, and rattled it off to my amazement and delight. He tells us that a friend told him that I would require that he memorize it, so for the past few weeks he kept the steps taped to the wall opposite his bunk so he could lie in bed and study them. I told the group that this is the first time in six years that this had happened. We gave him a round of well-deserved applause.

They have two assignments: The first is to memorize all 10 steps of the THINK FIRST mechanism. For their second assignment, they must review the THINK FIRST steps and select the one that they feel has given them the most trouble. They’re required to write it down, and then give a few anecdotes from their lives demonstrating when and how they had a problem with that step.

Good first class, even with the oppressive steam heat in the room. (For some exceedingly annoying reason, the State really cranks up the heat in their prisons during the fall/winter months). We had to keep the windows closed because they’re been re-tarring the roof of the adjacent Industries Building, and the only way to marginally escape its acrid odor is by punishing ourselves with closed library windows.


Even after completing 36 cycles of this course since 2005, it still takes about an hour to get all the Opening Night preparation out of the way (enrolling names, printing the roster, copying handouts, making manila folders for each student). Then, the physical class room has to be set up (luckily, we can teach in the Lending Library). We don’t have a laptop for our PowerPoint presentation, which means that our circulation desk top machine has to be untethered from its base, wheeled out on a cart, and hooked up in the library; then, the projector’s hooked up to that. We bring out the projector screen and install it in front of the hard cover Biography wall. Then everything gets plugged in and tested. The last thing is opening the PPT file from a CD to make sure it runs.

All this is done 2.5 hours before the first student arrives at 6PM, which is when the Lending Library re-opens.

Most Opening Nights go off without a hitch. There have been some, though, that made me wish I’d stayed in bed all day. These are the times when, after all your preparation, you’re told that the Lending Library must close because Security needs the room to interview inmates who were involved in some kind of incident (stabbing, fight, etc.) and you’ve got five minutes (or less) to put everything away before they get there.

Rehabilitation can be a pain in the ass.