PEER REVIEW: Or “No pressure, I’ll just quietly vomit in the corner over here….”

Tonight we hosted our department Manager for Library services, and a newly-hired Librarian from the Treatment Center. Our manager has attended my ABLE MINDS classes, but wanted to have the new hire sit in on a class as he will be required to teach them at his facility once he’s settled in.

Everyone except Julio was in excellent form (during the break, he told me he was fighting a cold).

Students submitted their ‘Achilles’ Heel’ assignments, then were given an ‘Achilles’ Heel: Release Day’ assignment which is due next week.

Tonight I stuck with the PowerPoint, and managed to cover 10 slides. This is the penultimate class, and we still have 28 slides to cover. But the point of the course is not to complete the presentation but to use it to generate discussion and insight. This group has taken to that concept since the first night.

During class discussion:
Sly talked about leaving his old neighborhood and starting afresh.
David said his transfer from NYC was necessary to break awat from peer pressure.
Luke said that when he’s released soon, he must apply this advice, otherwise he’ll fall into the same criminal habits “and all this ABLE MINDS sh*t’ll fly out the window.” I asked him his age; he told us 39 (surprising, as I thought he was 10 years younger based on the attitude about life that he has demonstrated).
Guy mentioned his first-degree life sentence, and how it is possible to face the fact of not going home but still be determined to become a better person.

Discussion ensued about what, exactly, to do AFTER you’ve decided to change your ways. Some said it was at this time that you learned who your true friends are. Ian said he needed to have ‘insight’ into himself first, to realize that it was his behavior and not those around him that was the source of his trouble.

Talk then turned to the concept of shame and its uses as a positive motivator. Some admitted that they felt shame over leaving their children and families in the lurch. Others feel shame when thinking of their crime. Still others voiced shame over getting released and not being able to use their freedom to stay free.

Ian mentioned how even though he was an insignificant creature, Bilbo managed to find reasonable, peaceful, and clever solutions to predicaments he faced on his journey, and how those solutions ultimately framed and defined his new character. Bill then invoked the “I must be patient with me” handout which was distributed a few weeks back. The text of the handout I obtained from the emotions Anonymous web site. I re-read this handout to the class from my lesson plan.

The question was posed: “Have you ever felt like the effort to try to turn your life around has been a waste of your time?” Alec answered Yes, but then explained that he counters those negative feelings with his hourly focus, which are family, freedom, and a changed nature.

One PPT slide asked: “Was the decision to change a frightening one for you?” The library services manager shared that she recalls the day she decided to change herself, and feeling confused about “what happens now? What am I supposed to do?” Most men felt that the word ‘frightening’ was too strong; they substituted ‘challenged.’

At the end of class, after the guests had gone, one student said to me: “We sounded like a well-rounded and wise group of men tonight! I think we all displayed the value of ABLE MINDS to your visitors.”

I think they did, too.