A childhood friend of mine, Clive, is a prison officer in London’s Belmarsh Prison, suggested I run a half day course inside Belmarsh, aimed at helping the prisoners to communicate better with their fellow inmates and their families.
Now, I’ve never been to a prison before, so I had no idea what to expect, and my mind was struggling with ideas on how I would handle coaching a group of hard-core criminals sentenced for crimes such as murder and drug dealing.
As I often explain to people, most of what holds us back in life boils down to fear; and beyond that, are the two primary questions “Will I be enough” or “Will I be loved?”.Was I unsure that I would be effective enough to make a positive impact on these peoples’ lives? You bet. Was I concerned that these people wouldn’t love me, or at the very least, wouldn’t accept me? You bet.
When these fears strike, we have two options; push through the barriers, or back down and stay within our comfort zone, to avoid us the embarrassments of failure; or maybe the fear of being emotionally or physically hurt. Elements of the latter were certainly relevant to me in this case.
An old saying sprung to mind; ‘when you come up against a giant, either your faith will you cause you to soar or your faith will cause you to sink, you will have to conquer your giants’; wise words indeed; and with that in mind I made the decision to play full out, coaching these guys with material from the Raise Your Game Now! in conjunction with the Family Man course.
When I got to the prison all sorts of images came to mind – the usual stereotypes of what murderers, rapist, drug dealers and illegal gun dealers were supposed to be like. My mind went out of control with fear. The fear continued to grow as I passed the endless security checks. Door after door, search after search, airport style metal detectors and X-rays came and went all adding to my nervousness. What had I let myself in for? Should I back out now and let my fear of the unknown get the better of me? Or should I carry on and face up to the unknown?
Finally, Clive and I got through all the checks and he led me into a room. He told me that this section was part of the segregation area for solitary confinement and asked me to look out of the window. So I did. Then I heard the door slam shut and the lock turn. He had locked me in! The sense of fear I felt now was off the scale. It was only when he opened the door and I saw the big grin of his face that I got the joke. Some joke. For only those few seconds I had a sudden flash of the horror of being locked up in this place. Like the endless security checks, this wasn’t adding to my sense of ease.
Having wiped out the feeling of being locked up, we carried on until we reached a small room much like a classroom. I was given a cup of tea and told to wait while Clive went to get the prisoners. I could feel the shadows of fear creeping up on me again. The men I was about to meet had been involved in dirty protests at the prison (living with their own waste on the walls). They were all in for life with one guy just one month into a 27 year sentence. I thought how does someone become like that? What has to have happened to a man for him to commit such hideous crimes? Somewhere in their lives something went very badly wrong. How could I make a difference in such a short amount of time?
My thoughts were interrupted as I was called through to a larger room were all the prisoners were assembled. Talk about intimidating! Some wouldn’t look at me while others had the look of ‘who is this guy?’ all over their faces. The initial few seconds were all about sussing me out. Was I just another do-gooder? Why should they listen to me? The day started with a physical game. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to join in and start building rapport. Through the game I slowly saw them relax a little towards me. Now I’m not going to pretend that they thought I was their best mate just because I joined in a game with them but I did get the sense that they thought ‘this guy’s okay.’ In turn this gave me the encouragement I needed to start my coaching.
Reminding myself that I was ‘conquering giants’, I talked about why I was with them; that I cared about who they were and what had happened in their lives. I told them how I believed that there is good in everyone and how it is never too late to start again and find the true inner-self. We did some of my ‘Raise Your GAME Now!’ workouts and in the short amount of time we had, we all began to communicate and connect in a different way. I felt elated! By having faith in myself and by acting on my faith I had made a difference in them and the prisoners had made a difference in me.
For the first time many of these prisoners had been given the tools to discover aspects of themselves and their lives that were previously hidden to them. Do you have the will to conquer your giants? Faith in yourself and others will place you in the minority. Finding your inner-strength and creating courage from within is a quest well worth the effort. Would Gandhi have won India’s freedom if he had no faith or will? Would Martin Luther King have fought with such conviction for civil rights for members of his race without the faith and will to do it?
So again, ask yourself, ‘how can life’s obstacles seem less of an obstacle and more of an experience to embrace?’ Choosing the easy path is not always the best path for your own human development. Through my coaching I helped these prisoners, fulfilled my contribution need within myself, faced my fear and ultimately came through a stronger and more enriched person. Have faith in yourself and others, and have the will to act on your faith.