When we moved to my favorite husband's home town it never occured to me that the "center" of our social life would revolve around the State Correctional Institution. But it seems it has. We were invited to attend a Symposium there for the 7th Step Program.
We had no idea what 7th Step is or what it accomplishes. We were in for such a treat!
No doubt you have your concept of how it is to enter a prison. I can assure you this facility is not as frightening as you might imagine. We began our evening at the Gate House, where officers were congenial and we exchanged friendly conversation. We were searched for contraband- like chewing gum and other things inmates ought not to have. Then we were escorted to the gym for the event. There were any number of incarcerated men who greeted us en route. When we arrived at our destination I was astonished to see every member of the group lined up like soldiers, waiting to welcome and thank us for coming. They squeezed and pumped our hands in warm, firm handshakes; most were up for a quick hug and everyone was smiling! The tables and chairs were lined up - just so - and on each table we found a program for the evening's event and their Newsletter. The art work for these had been done by talented artists of the group.
Some of the guys had familiar faces because they are also Toastmasters and we had met some when we attended Indian Symposiums at the facility. Others were not so familiar but they were gracious and generous hosts.
There were two other guests besides Norm and myself. Both men spoke eloquently and directly about the men's accomplishments. One is a professor of law at Peru State College. The other is a State Senator from Omaha. Both are good and faithful friends of their hosts, having addressed them on many, many occasions in the year of the club's existence.
It took a long time to give out all the awards because every man in the room received recognition and two generous rounds of very loud applause. These are men who probably have not received much in the way of recognition in their past and were happy to be honored for becoming better people. One man, a Sr., received a certificate that had his name written as a 'Jr. ' His face lit up and he announced, "I am doing this program for my family. I will make sure that my son, Michael, Jr. gets this award. It is his." The crowd roared their approval by giving him thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
The purpose of the 7th Step organization is to make a difference and reduce recidivism. The seven steps help the men to "get real" and "man up" in order to give quality to their lives inside the walls and make productive lives on the outside when they are released. The goal is FREEDOM in the best sense of the word. I asked several of the fellows about their plans upon their release and they were eager to tell about what they have in mind. What impressed me about that was everyone's sense of wanting to give back to society in positive ways. They are ready to be accountable, to serve by teaching others, to work hard to make society a better place to be.
I have to mention about our meal. It was listed prominently on the program and I wondered how on earth they would manage that with skimpy finances and all. Well, I needn't have given it a thought. When it was time to eat, we were invited to the buffet table, where there was a selection of cheeses, sausage and chips and cookies. Of course, there was never a moment during the entire evening when any guest had an empty cup. We were offered kool aid, soda pop, coffee, water and these were bottomless cups!
As the speakers shared with us and as the certificates were awarded, my mind wandered to the lessons of The Healing Codes . I understand that the reason our jails and prisons are so full is that so many hearts have been wounded. I can't help wondering how much better this whole world would be if only our hearts could be healed.
I can't speak for Norm, but for my part, my heart was deeply touched last night.
The Healing Codes