4 Lessons You Learn From Volunteering At A Jail  

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Recently I spoke to youth offenders (18-21) at the local detention center. My experience was not a typical “speaking gig” where you are hyped up to an overzealous crowd who is looking for you to share a piece of genius with them. No, this was a unique experience to say the least, something my past 6 months of Toastmasters could not prepare me for.

They asked me to dress in business attire and leave everything of value in the car except my ID. As I walked into the facility I did not realize that I wouldn’t be speaking in an auditorium or even a classroom.

I made my way through three double-sided lock gates and finally into the common area where 50 cells surrounded me with young men who were incarcerated for 9-18 months, most awaiting trial. The only officer with me, looks over to me and says, “You ready?” I say “Let’s go”! He buzzes 50 young men out of their cells and instructs them to sit in the chairs in the center of the common area.

As I made my way to the front of the group there was no one in the front row, and I was met with faces that told stories of dejection, let down, and hopelessness. I said to myself “Here we go…”

The 4 Lessons I learned from volunteering:

1) Being different is good!

I started out by explaining that in life we are all labeled with statistics. For example, I mentioned that being a short white guy, the probability that I get picked up on a team when I go to play pick-up is very low. They all laughed at this, agreeing that there was “zero chance” – though I was a little upset, I knew this judgment was coming.

I explained to them that within statistics there are probabilities and there are outliers. Whatever statistics society had labeled on us (like me being a 5’6” white guy) can be broken by being an outlier. These young men challenge the rules and norms that society set because they believe there is a different outcome – I believe that with direction and guidance, they can challenge rules and norms that will benefit them in the long run.

2) Education is everything.

One young man had read Rich Dad Poor Dad and he was eager to learn more. When I shared with the rest of the group, Robert Kiyosaki’s signature difference between the poor and middle class and the rich, I had their attention. They asked me what other books they could read and how they could better understand what they were reading. (I am thinking about starting a book club with them.)

We discussed ways to make money through businesses, through the creation of a YouTube channel, and even through real estate. They shared with me how different their lives would be had they been introduced to real life education (money, goal setting, budgeting, etc) earlier. This encouraged me to keep pushing with the blog and seeking more speaking opportunities.

3) Never a mistake, always a lesson.

Yeah, they did something illegal and now have to spend some time in jail. But, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed the opportunity to put that in the past and make a fresh start. They’ve realized that they could take their mistake and learn from it, and help other people get ahead.

One young man asked me if I could invest money for him. I shared the great quote, “If you give a man a fish he eats today, if you teach a man to fish he eats forever.” And a group of about 15 guys said, “Ah so I can teach my family”, and I replied, “Yes, that way the whole squad eats.” When you can take a mistake and turn it into an opportunity, you change your whole life mentality around to be positive and productive.

Start with this 5 Step Guide

4) Give with an open hand so you can receive.

After my talk, we had question and answer time and a young man approached me about needing help with his rap career. He told me how he has 20k followers on Instagram, 20k on Twitter, and even has over 1 million views on YouTube. This guy knows social media marketing!!!

I used this opportunity to learn as much as I could because I use social media to get the word out about this blog. Through my conversation with him, I uncovered that he has a sustainable business model, all he really needs is a little direction. I picked his brain on different strategies he has used thus far, and I shared strategies I knew about marketing to help him grow.

I challenge you today.

How can you take these 4 life lessons and apply them to your daily life?

When is the last time you did something different? Or are you scared what people will think?

When is the last time you did something to further your education?

Did you make a mistake, and now you wont let yourself get passed it?