By · Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Last week I spoke with Bam, a prisoner and former gang member serving time at Taft Camp. Bam’s been incarcerated for six years, though his initial prison adjustment led to problems with prison officials and transfers to higher security prisons.

Bam has listened to a number of my presentations at Taft Camp–I often speak to groups of at-risk youth, and I teach a class on setting goals and success strategies. He recently approached me expressing an interest in reforming, in changing his ways to become a responsible member of society. I spent several hours with Bam, mentoring him on steps he can take now that would prepare him to overcome the challenges that await his release.

It’s not easy to convey the message of responsibility to former gang members. People who made allegiances to crime have a hard time connecting the relationship between their criminal decisions and the type of people they’ve become. To help Bam, I suggested that he read a booklet I wrote that describes the stories of other prisoners who reformed their lives—some of whom are also former gang members I mentored. Once he finished reading the booklet, I asked him to write a biography.

Bam surprised me by writing more than 20 pages describing his background prior to prison, the decisions that brought him to prison, and the motivations that influenced his early adjustment to prison. I appreciated his honesty, and we spent three hours talking about the connection between his decisions and the struggles he’s faced in his life. 

Part of the mentoring process is to help Bam envision the many ways his life would improve if he acted more responsibly. He needs a reason to make the personal investment, and visualizing how much better his life could become is the first step toward that investment in introspection. After we talked about his past, I suggested concrete steps he could begin taking to extricate himself from the cycle of failure that holds so many prisoners.  

Like many prisoners, Bam needs hope. Without hope, he won’t see the reason to change. Mentoring prisoners like Bam is part of my personal commitment, and I take the responsibility seriously. I hope that Bam will commit to changing his life.

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