I was privileged to speak to about fifty young men aged between eighteen and thirty in a Perth prison along with prison officers and the prison director.
I also had a couple of construction site managers. an x-police officer and an indigenous leader come along for the ride.
These young prisoners are incredibly intuitive and they’re expecting yet another Do-Gooder program. Never underestimate Street-Smarts.
Why would I even be so optimistic or arrogant believing a thirty minute talk can make all the difference?
It all starts before the thirty minute talk. These young men have no idea who I am, many assuming I’m going to tell them what a gangster I was and now I’m here to rescue them from a cycle of crime.
Nothing could be further from the truth, I still don’t know the difference between a pot plant and a tomato plant nor do I have an interest.
What I did have in common with these young men was the feeling of being trapped, the feeling of being systemised and the lack of freedom.
The above smiling pic was taken in 2009, 1700 km away from my home in my mid forties in desperate search of escaping me. It’s the picture of a man that achieved all he dreamed of achieving. Married, father of three, owned a home, successful career and suicidal.
My life was completely disrupted on New Year’s Day 2010 at Trigg Beach, Perth Western Australia and the very concept of freedom alluded me until that very day.
Let’s go back to that prison talk.
One by one these young men walk into the small prison hall surrounded by guards. I greet each one of them at the door, shaking their hands and making eye contact with each one. It was important to me that I acknowledged each of them before my talk.
Every one of them broke my heart, every one of them grasping to have their own identity. Every one showed me the respect that I gave them, shaking my hand like a brother or a son.
I started my talk and as usual I divided the room, some felt they would try and disrupt me by laughing at the most inappropriate time. I welcome their mockery and then add heat to my message. The dissenters no longer mock and they looked curious.
I offered them no answers but promised them that the answer they are looking for is within them. The challenge was given to each one of them to rise up as leaders of the community, leaders of their family.
Connection was made, their attention was grabbed, no program was offered and I left them hanging.
When I opened it up for Q&A, I marvelled at the courage a handful showed by asking personal questions, even a couple of the prison officers lifted their hands in curiosity.
We ended the meeting and I stood near the door to say goodbye the same way I greeted them, reminding them of their individuality.
One by one the quietly whispered “When are you coming back, this is not what we expected?”
Later I found out that many of these young men talked about the atmosphere and content of the meeting, asking for our return.
Some minds experienced freedom if only just for a moment even behind prison walls.
I see the same look of those young men every day in the lives of young Proffessionals, students and the most successful business people in our city.
Freedom starts in the heart and no amount of outward success can help escape an entrapped mind.