Mondays at Taft Camp

By · Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Mondays bring a busy schedule for me here at Taft Camp. I participate in two groups; one consumes my mornings, and another takes up my afternoons.

Each Monday morning, at 8:30, I join between 25 and 35 other men for our chapter meetings of the Taft Camp Toastmasters Club. I have participated in Toastmasters for many years. The group exists to help its members develop strong public speaking skills. Participation is voluntary, and I am glad for the opportunity.

Last week I delivered a 30-minute speech that described the strategies I employed to advance through my first 20 years of prison. No other prisoner at Taft Camp has endured so much time in confinement, so my audience was interested. Rather than speak about the ways that incarceration extinguishes hope, through my speech I explained how various mentors influenced me to work toward a brighter future.

The mentors whom I spoke about were not people that I had actually met. Instead, I spoke about Socrates, Aristotle, and Sun Tzu. I discovered those teachers through an anthology called A Treasury of Philosophy that I read in 1987, while I was awaiting trial at the Pierce County Jail. By reading the works of those ancient philosophers, I discovered the strength I would need to carry me through the many years that I expected to serve in confinement. Besides the ancient philosophers, I also spoke about others who convinced me that I could find meaning in my life and contribute to the world, even if I had to begin my work from inside prison boundaries.

Speaking in front of groups is a wonderful learning experience. I enjoy the challenge of writing a speech, and then spending many hours rehearsing. It is a thrill to speak without notes, and I feel a sense of energy come through me as I capture the audience’s attention. It’s important for me to deliver a message of lasting value, which is why I spend so much time preparing for every speech I deliver.

During today’s meeting, I was an observant rather than a participant. The featured speaker was a man who is serving a relatively short sentence for tax evasion. Prior to his confinement, this man led a career as the CEO of a publicly traded company. He spoke to our group about his experiences with international business. I appreciated the opportunity to listen to such a distinguished speaker.

As crazy as it may sound, living in a minimum-security prison camp offers many opportunities to grow. Our population is a microcosm of society at large. We have groups of highly educated, white collar offenders, and perhaps an equal segment of the population who struggled to adapt to the customs of legitimate society. As a long-term offender, I look for opportunities to learn from everyone I can, and contribute to the lives of those with an interest in what I have to say.

Following the morning’s Taft Toastmasters Club meeting, I attended an afternoon meeting with the Taft Camp TOAD group. TOAD is an acronym for Those Outspoken Against Drugs. The group meets in a classroom under the direction of a staff sponsor, and we discuss ideas on steps TOAD members can take to help at-risk adolescents make better decisions with their lives. Once each month, a few members of the TOAD group attend a field trip to a local school or juvenile detention facility to speak with troubled adolescents. I was recently inducted into the program so a few months may pass before I become eligible to leave the prison to speak with at-risk adolescents, but I am looking forward to that opportunity.

This evening I have more work to complete, but the work I have falls more in line with my independent projects. I am editing previous articles that I have written so that my wife, Carole, can post them on In the weeks to come, I’ll write more new content. I hope to continue providing information to help readers develop a better understanding America’s prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement.

I welcome readers’ questions or comments through e-mail at, or by writing me directly here at Taft Camp.

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