Are we doing any good in Level 4?

This is something we talk about often. Our goal has always been to get to every prison that asks us to come--but--it's often an expensive proposition, in funds, time and energy. Many of the Level IV prisons are 'outlyers'..pretty far away from anywhere. Think Pelican Bay, think High Desert, PVSP, SVSP....And most of these prisons have several yards, all of which we try to reach in one trip (to maximize our resources).

And the audiences in the Level IVs are different--usually younger inmates, also earlier in their life term, maybe not yet ready to embrace the change they need to make. Sometimes guys are skeptical; sometimes we get nervous giggles in the back row when we talk about being honest with the board, taking responsibility, self-evaluating. The inmates on Level IIs? They're all ears, eager for hints on how to help get over that final hurdle, to fully understand how to articulate who they are now to the parole panel.

So...should we concentrate on Level IIs, where the prisoners are 'all in'? Or should we go the extra mile and try to plant those seeds of change and self-introspection in the Level IVs?

Because we have limits on our resources, not of the least of which is our own time and energy. What to do, what to do.

We got an answer to that question this weekend--we're at SVSP in Soledad for part 2 of Connecting the Dots. SVSP is one of the higher level prisons and when we were here several weeks ago for the first part of "Dots" we got when we expected insofar as reception--some guys came out of curiosity, some came out of interest, some came just to come to something new. On two of the yards, after our last trip, Dave and I talked about those gigglers in the back row, the ones that said 'you can't pay me enough to write my life story' (that's their homework for Dots) on one yard and another who said he was destined to be a lifer on another yard.

So now we're back, for the second part. And to our (somewhat) surprise guess who shows up, no longer in the back row, now in the middle row, paying attention, interacting and asking questions, nodding in understanding as we go through the second part of Dots? Mr. "you can't pay me enough" and Mr. Destined to be a Life. Clearly, those seeds we planted even a few weeks ago are starting to sprout--and what they're growing is hope, participation and interest. Those qualities weren't there a month ago, two months ago. And

Salinas Valley State Prison

now they're growing.

So will we continue to go to those Level IV prisons and talk to those 'knuckleheads' who seem impervious to our message? Yes. Certainly. For sure.

Because that seed of hope has to be planted. The ground for that seed is fertile, the need for the crop is real and we seem to be the farmers planting and tending that crop. When will we see the harvest? Don't know. Not as soon as we'll see that harvest in the Level II prisons, but it will come, it will grow and these men also will succeed. Because those knuckleheads in Level IV will become the programmers in Level II and then they'll be come the lifers being paroled home. It has to start somewhere and if it starts with us, we'll take that assignment.


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