“Wow, who can follow THOSE writing skills!” OR: MY CON’S BETTER THAN YOUR CON

Tonight in ABLE MINDS, I read a random written homework submitted for the Conflict Resolution: Past Choices” assignment. After finishing the two pages, one of the students said “Wow! How can any of us follow THAT!” referring to the eloquence of the writing. My assistant pounced on that one, reminding the class that socialization is not a competition but a chance to be honest with themselves and with the THINK FIRST method. The students were kind of relieved to hear this.

One student spoke of a past violent situation involving an officer and the rough treatment of some of his personal photographs. I related a situation that happened to me a few years ago when the inner security team searched my office for contraband and left the room in a less-than-tidy state. We all agreed that prison is not our homes, it’s property of the State. Some inmates were surprised to discover that staff have similar kinds of privacy issues as do inmates. I told them that nothing in my office is mine, in fact. ‘my office’ isn’t even mine. It belongs to Massachusetts.

Tonight started off slowly, but after a few more Conflict Resolutions were read, men became more comfortable and relaxed, as they usually do.

The prison concept of ‘disrespect’ was addressed and defined, and we decided that this is an emotional trigger that is harmful to the inmate case when trying to deal assertively respectfully with an officer or another inmate. The responsibility of choosing neutral words and phrases was discussed, and the principle that “Words are actions” was reiterated by one man. Another student talked of using a tool called a “value meter,’ which allows him to prioritize. It is also an alternative way of using the first step of THINK FIRST, which is “Take stock of the situation.”

One man shared one free-world experience of completing an earlier sentence. Hours after release, he and a cousin went to a shoe store. The ex-inmate asked the salesman to help him, but the salesman was busy with another customer and said, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” The ex-inmate thought that this comment was ‘disrespect,’ because he was accustomed to being waited on immediately which was his experience with prison staff. He confronted the salesman, but luckily his cousin pulled him away and explained that this wasn’t how things were done in the free world. The ex-inmate ended up apologizing to the salesman for his actions. The salesman ended up giving him a discount because he was just recently released, and gave him a few coupons to use for the next time.

At the end of the night the concept of love conquers all was raised. A man told of his gang life in LA, and said that h was taught that to get respect you had to be ruthless. He said what he learned from that is that you couldn’t earn anothers’ respect, only their fear. He concluded by saying “The Dali Lama says ‘Love and only love can conquer hate.'” I mentioned the scene in the book The Exorcistwhere the older priest Merrin tells the younger priest Damien that it is possible to do unto others without feeling love for them. It is a human impossibility to feel love for those who oppress you. But is it psychologically possible to help someone who is unworthy of you help.

Honest responses, thoughtful written assignments, a relaxed atmosphere. Good class.