Last night I spoke to 125 incarcerated women at Perryville Prison in Goodyear, AZ.   I was asked to do so by Sue Ellen Allen with the organization, Gina’s Team.  Sue Ellen, a convicted felon who spent time at Perryville herself, has made it her life’s work to help these women.  Six times a year she brings speakers into the prison to speak to the women who work hard to earn a spot at one of these special events.  The events are special because it’s a break from the monotonous routine of prison life: the same ol’, same ol’, day in and day out sameness.

My wife, Rose Mary, accompanied me to the prison along with 4 people from Gina’s Team who set up the event.  Some rules: can’t wear orange or khaki.  Rose Mary had on orange shoes and had to exchange them to wear flip flops borrowed from one of the team in order to get into the prison!  As we were walking from the parking lot to the big metal building that serves as a cafeteria as well as the space I was to speak, the first thing I noticed were the buses full of women in orange.  They got out of the buses along with their guards, and waited patiently in line while preparing to pass through a metal detector and to be patted down before they could enter the building.  Our group walked in past the inmates with them all smiling and saying hi to us.  We also had to go  through the metal detector, with me taking off all of my jewelry, my belt,  and my boots.  I was allowed to carry in a book and some postcards with my “Rules of Success” to use as handouts.  Once inside, an inmate named Laurie greeted us and said she would be warming up the crowd and introducing me.  Turns out that she is President of the prison Toastmasters Club and has some real skills.

As the room filled there was an aura of excitement and anticipation from the sea of orange.  Some were in very bright orange t-shirts and drawstring pants and some had on more faded versions.  The bright orange is their visitation wardrobe that is worn when they get visitors so they can look nice.  Most had on makeup.  This was a big deal in their lives and they had dressed up for it.

Nearly every woman raised her hand when I asked how many were parents.  I was there to talk to them about the trials of being a responsible parent – a challenge for all of us but especially when you rarely see your kids or talk to them. And a real problem when you get out eventually and have no money and no job and have missed so much of your kids’ lives.  But make no mistake:  these were concerned parents who wanted a different life for their kids than the one they were living.  I started off by talking about how we don’t raise kids; we create adults.  I talked about how we need to determine what an adult needs to know in order to be successful in the world.  I asked them to tell me what they thought an adult needs to know and they started shouting things out to me.  (They were very participatory and enthused to be asked questions.)  What I found interesting was the answers they offered me to this very important question.  The first thing yelled out in response to my question about what an adult needs to know was “how to pay your bills.”  WHAT?  I was surprised by that response but had to agree completely.  So we talked about the importance of having knowledge of how to earn money, save, invest and be responsible.  The next response to the question was “work ethic.”  Again . .  . WHAT?  Great answer.  The next, “TRUST.”  Then “how to take responsibility.” BINGO: these were great answers.  I did thirty minutes with them shouting out things they believed an adult needed to know to be successful, though many of them obviously didn’t know these things themselves, but desperately wanted to teach their kids these things.  By the way, I have asked that question of many crowds and the responses are usually more along the lines of “what it means to be happy” “how to find my purpose” or other airy-fairy intangibles.

I went on to talk about the importance of taking responsibility and gave them my number one belief and foundation of all I talk about: Your life is your own fault.  I explained, as I always do, that the most important thing you can do is go the mirror, look yourself in the eye, and tell yourself, “I made this mess, it’s my fault.”  I wondered how that would go over as the words were falling out of my mouth.  Would they hate what I had said, as it’s so easy to blame others for our problems and this is especially the case when you are in jail I might imagine.  However, when I said it, these women applauded.  One more time . . . WHAT?  I told them how in my own life I worked to become very successful, and then lost it all.  And how I learned to turn my worst thing into my best thing.  I talked about how we all make mistakes but the most important thing is to own the mistake, take responsibility for it, apologize for it and learn from it so you don’t do it again.  I said, “Your past is your fault, but so is your future.”  Again, they applauded.

I told them about my kids and said that one of my sons was a Phoenix cop.  There was an “Ooooooh” from the crowd.  I responded with, “Looks like some of you may know him.”  And they laughed and laughed.   They all had a great sense of humor.

Then, it was time for questions from the crowd.  They asked all kinds of things: about investments when you don’t have much money, about how to make it work financially when you are working several jobs and there still isn’t enough money; about communicating with their kids, about time management and how to set priorities, about what is important when you have a job and questions about my favorite books.  I took probably 30 questions.  Smart questions.  Well- articulated questions.  Thoughtful questions.  My favorite:  “Do you believe everything happens for a reason?”  Oops, a set up.  If I say, “Yes, everything happens for a reason” that’s a cop out because you don’t have to take responsibility for what happens because obviously there was a reason.  It’s a popular belief that allows folks a “way out.”  Not my style, as you know.  So I told her, “I believe that everything that happens has a lesson in it for us and it is our responsibility to learn the lesson so we don’t have to repeat it.”  They all agreed.  Many wrote that down.

I could go on and on about this experience but it would take too long.  So let me summarize:

  1. Prison is a place you do not want to be.
  2. Don’t believe that the people in prison don’t care about their kids.  They do.  They care deeply.
  3. Inmates are still people.  I think we have a tendency to forget that.  I know that has always been the case for me.  They have a great sense of humor.  They have made mistakes and they know it.  Most seemed to sincerely want to learn and change and do better.  They were hungry for knowledge.  They read.
  4. This speech may be the most important speech I have ever done.  I was honored to have been asked.  It was important, for me and hopefully for them.

Some of you may read this and believe I have gone soft or have forgotten that these women are criminals.  I haven’t.  I am a strong believer in jail and prison and punishment.  I believe that all actions have consequences and that jail is the correct consequence for many bad behaviors.  None of these women get a pass from me.  However, I know that we must work to help these women (and men) to re-enter society upon release with the life skills to be able to make it in the world.  To help them with the skills to get a job and keep a job so they don’t have to go back to drugs, or to their pimp or to stealing or to whatever their life was that got them there in the first place.  Prison is expensive for all of us.  But our society and our economy can’t afford to incarcerate people over and over again.  In the long run, it’s cheaper to give them some support so their bad behavior won’t be repeated.

I encourage everyone to find out how they can help in some small way.  If you want to find out more about Gina’s Team, please go to:  http://www.ginasteam.org.

56 thoughts on “My two hours inside Perryville Prison

  1. Larry, I so appreciate that you brought your point of view and teachings to the wormen within the walls of Perryville Prision. Thank you for sharing – not only the lessons you taught – but also the interactions and eagerness of the women to learn and grow. It’s an eagerness many on the outside are missing.

    I can only imagine how much it meant to the women to have someone tell them the truth and to share it with the conviction that you always bring. What an amazing opportunity and experience for everyone.

    During my years of owning a construction company we built some of the buildings within the prision facilities. The job of getting trucks full of tools and supplies in and back out of the prisions was quite a task. More importantly was when we hired some of the former inmates to work on our field crews.

    One man in particular stands out in my memory. He was an “enforcer” within the walls. Tear drop tatoo under one eye and all. Yet he always treated me with great respect. He was a hard worker and did whatever was asked of him. He expessed his appreciation, because he knew what it was like to be without so many of his freedoms.

    He and others we hired had to take mandatory drug tests and they met with their parole officers consistenly. I didn’t have to worry if they were drug free and would be safe to have on a construction site. They showed up every day ready to go to work.

    Several were young. They had gotten caught up with and ran with the wrong gang. They wanted to fit. NOT an excuse in any way at all. But when given a chance, they were eager to make the most of the opportunity.

    Thanks again Larry, for sharing your experience and opening up the possibilities for the rest of us to help in some way.

  2. Larry, I’m in tears as I read this heart-warming and important message you are sharing. I get it. In my past as an HR specialist, I was a member if the Mentoring Committee for the Edmonton Prison for Women. Your experience struck a chord for me. These women are people first – we all make mistakes – I believe everyone deserves a second chance. We have all compromised our values, our beliefs, our expectations, our happiness at some point in our life. We are all more alike than different and need to help each other out. The time you spent, the information you shared, the validation you gave – all so very precious. Well done, Larry Winget. I’m honored to know you.

    Pat Mussieux

  3. Lisa

    Larry, thank you. First, thank you for this valuable outreach to a valuable group of people. Second, thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us, because anyone can screw up, and most of us do at some point–whether it lands us in jail or not! Finally, thank you for giving us information on how we may help with this outreach, or even begin one in our own hometown. We aren’t all Larry Winget, but we can all reach out a hand to help others who are in need!

  4. Great post Larry! A few years ago I had a contract to provide marketing services to an in-prison art cooperative (the first of its kind in North America). The men I worked with were medium security prisoners – all male – most in for violent/sexual crimes. I didn’t ask what they were in for. I found a group of smart and articulate people with well formed opinions and ideas.

    The money that was earned from selling their art through the events we hosted outside the prison (that none of the prisoners would ever see) and from the website we developed (on an internet none of them ever saw) went into savings accounts. They could only withdraw it to send to a relative in need (usually a parent or their kids) or to pay for things like the vet bill for their cat (many of them had adopted strays that showed up and paid for all the animals care). It also serves as a small fund to start over with if they get out of prison.

    What I also found out what over 90% of them had been sexually assaulted prior to the age of 10 (this from one of the other agencies who was working with them). It made me think “what if ONE person had stepped into their lives BEFORE they were 10 and made a difference”:

    While I never forgot these men had committed horrible crimes I kept thinking about what a nun had said when asked why she attended the funeral of a homeless man in her community. She said “i know that on the day this man was born his mother looked into his innocent eyes and wanted only the best for him. I am here to honor that.” I hope my time with the inmates did honor that innocent child they once were and maybe gave them hope for something better. Most of the men I worked with will never be out of prison so hope is hard to find.

    Today I volunteer my time with single mothers and refugee claimants fleeing under threat of death or their beliefs.

    We can all find a way to help someone who needs us. Look around – the opportunities are everywhere. What you may consider a small gesture may mean a big difference in someone else’s life.

  5. Beautiful. This made me tear up. To call it out so honestly, as you do, and to receive such honesty in reply, just amazingly beautiful. My BEST employees are the ones who have, prior to their employment, admitted their past mistakes before I could ask, accepted responsibility for their choices, and carried on. Thank you for this reminder of humanity, and responsibility. I am humbled.

  6. Larry,
    Thank you for sharing this for so many reasons. Let me address the women first. Your compassion shines through and is reinforced in your willing to be honest. Coddling and glossing over the facts never helps anyone. And it sounds like these women were asking for some truth–lucky they got you.
    That you shared about their lives and how it touched you and them warmed my heart. It’s good when something this poignant works for both parties.
    That you stood firmly in your POV and delivered it with compassion, and engaged them in a conversation vs just lecturing is a big take away for me. It would be easy to feel it was time to teach people a few things in this setting for me. Not so and never is the best approach is it? And I know you entertained them because that’s who you are. What a great treat for those women and for us to be able to read about it in such great detail.

  7. Jeff Scanlan

    Larry, As much as you probably enjoyed giving your talk to those women and helping them out. I’m SURE they are just as appreciative to have someone like you care enough to go in give them help, advice, etc. Good for you!!

  8. John

    Thanks Larry,

    My 37 yr old daughter is about to visit me for the first time in 7 yrs since she has been incarcerated. I visited her a few times and went thru that experience you so well described. One of the times i visited it was for an Open House where virtually all of the inmates were released to the Yard to spend the day with family. An outdoor festival of sorts which did everyone’s spirit well. I learned that day that prisons are full of people who made terrible choices and mistakes and many of them just need the basics of life to get out and get on.

    For now, i plan help my daughter to get on with it and get over it.

  9. Larry, this was awesome. What a great experience for these women to be able to hear you speak. I can’t imagine the lives they lead, and certainly hope they are working towards making good choices when they regain their freedom. Being able to hear people like you must invigorate them to change their lives. Well done.

    • Pamela Leach

      the system made sure they took my daughters kids from her and put them up to be adopted she has spent almost 7 months in Florence adult detention center was sentenced to 6 ms.so now they are sending her to Perryville prison. while at Florence a driver taking her to court in apache junction screwed up my daughter was thrown from her seat and busted her hand up she has had 3 surgeries not done yet but things aren’t getting any better just worse. they don’t follow laws just make them up as they go.

  10. Kim Wanamaker

    Wow! This is so powerful. I tend to make assumptions about that population. Thanks for helping to see them through different eyes. I am certain that it was as beneficial to them as it was to you.

  11. This is why you are Larry Winget and I am not. What a grand thing to do and report on. I got a little misty eyed myself.

  12. When Larry spoke at our AZ National Speaker’s Association several months ago and I heard about his book, Your Kids Are Your Own Fault, I knew this was the perfect message for the women at Perryville, the women I left behind upon my release four years ago, the women I never forget, the women who are desperate for information like Larry’s. So I gulped hard and stood in line to approach him. “Hi, Larry. Would you like to go to prison?” And Larry very carefully and deliberately said, “I would be interested in that.”

    The rest is history. Because of who and how he is, he was the perfect messenger. They will be talking about him for a very long time and eagerly waiting in line to read his book because, Yes, he donated enough books for every one of the seven libraries on Perryville to have several copies. He is a lovely, generous man who cares about our world and how we all impact it. (Ooops, Larry, I hope that doesn’t hurt your image.)

    From all the women at Perryville and from all of us at Gina’s Team, Thank You.

  13. Ann Tatum

    Larry – I used to be one of those women that would have been apart of that sea of orange. I used every opportunity to better myself and prepare for life as a productive and successful citizen. I am apart of Gina’s Alumini Team and treasure every lesson I learned while at Perryville. I want to say thank you on behalf of the women at Perryville. I know what those guest speeches mean to those ladies. I treasured everyone I attended!!!

    • maria

      This story also brought tears to my eyes. You are a great guy Larry for doing this. And it prob was so overwhelming for them. This is true ,they are humans and made mistakes but now must get prepared to face and do well in society when getting out.and I don’t feel that happens while they are in there…they want to do well. My son is incarcerated as well because of mistakes.. he has 4 yrs.. this is very hard for me . But reading your story gave me some hope and when I talk to him I’m gonna use some of your ideas to say to him….I miss him ..I know he wants to be home and have another chance , and someday soon he will and I want him to succeed.

  14. Larry, I wore orange for thirteen years, so I can truly relate to your prison impressions.

    You gave the women a gift that they will never forget…not ever. You asked questions and you encouraged them to speak out with their questions, too. You listened, you heard, and you responded with practical, caring advice, advice that can only come from years of many raw life experiences. What extraordinary moments those exchanges must have been! And what a precious gift you gave to them.

    Thank you, Larry, for giving so much of yourself. You made a lasting impression that will make a huge difference in many lives.

  15. Gretchen

    Larry, your post gave me chills and put tears in my eyes. How incredibly amazing and fortunate that group of women is to be blessed with the opportunity to hear real life, straight forward information from you. Such a powerful experience for you and thank you so much for sharing with all of us 🙂

  16. Jerry Patterson

    Thanks Larry, I teach in a prison and use “Broke Because You Want to Be” for part of my money management curriculum. My students like your straight forward no crap way of doing things. At this point in their lives they have finally figured out that life is not warm and fuzzy.

    Also thanks for the books. If you ever want to come to Iowa we would love to have you here.

    Thanks again

  17. MaryGail Nelson

    Good job Larry. I’m proud of what you did. You helped those people and you not only learned something yourself you taught us too. My daughter teaches at the college level and one of her first jobs was to teach the women at Eddy Warrior Correction Facility an English Comp. class. She said she learned more from the essays those women wrote than she ever thought she would. They were human and honest in their writing. Sound familiar?

  18. Larry, you keep the focus on what is important. It was great to hear that you connected with Sue Ellen Allen (then Gina’s Team) when you were with us at NSA-Arizona. Thank you for making this a teaching moment for all of us.

  19. Nancee

    I enjoyed reading your blog. You brought out some very important aspects, ones that I also became aware of as a volunteer at Perryville. For me, the most striking comment you made is the importance of helping them when they are released –such as hiring them, making housing available to them. Some of the ways we legally treat former prisoners need to be looked at in order to lower the percentage who return to prison. Some basic changes would make a win-win situation for both the former prisoners and the taxpayers. Thank you for going to Perryville and for your blog.

  20. Megan

    Larry, thank you for reaching out to a population of ‘forgotten ones.’ You’re right, society tends to forget that incarcerated individuals are human and being inside a prison

    I teach graphic design in a prison. It is the last thing I ever thought I would be doing and has proved to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

    I like to tell people that my students are eager to learn, highly creative and smart before sharing that they also are are incarcerated. It’s beautiful to work with my guys as they gain knowledge, skills and confidence – it is the most incredible transformation to witness.

    I guarantee the speech you gave was important to them and I would wager that it’s still a topic of conversation. Education is the number one way we can reduce recidivism. Thank you for sharing that experience with them and with us!

  21. Daniel

    Bravo Larry! You’re not going soft – you’re taking the gift you have and sharing it with some women who clearly need (and wanted) to hear what you had to offer. Please make this an annual event so that these women have something to look forward to next year.
    df

  22. Hi Larry. I know the feeling of giving back. I developed a golf program through the Girl Scout prison program where we taught the girls golf , but a by product was huge lessons in anger management at Black Canyon Detention Center for girls. It was a 2hour a day for 5 days. We did it for 4 years. I cried at the end of every camp. It was a moving and huge learning experience to witness the power of golf helping young girls.
    Peace, Pen

  23. I am so impressed with these women and thankful that you took the time to share your — and their — story here Larry.

    I think I was most struck by the concrete responses these women offered like trust and paying the bills compared to other crowds who, as you respond, “… usually more along the lines of “what it means to be happy” “how to find my purpose” or other airy-fairy intangibles.”

    Larry you might appreciate this story I saw tonight re: country jail warden’s efforts to engage father’s in their daughter’s life as a deterrent to recidivism

    http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/father-daughter-prison-dance-preparations-19515604

    Your story is one that will stick with me for a long time. I look forward to sharing it with as many people as I can.

    Valerie

    • Valerie, thanks for such a thoughtful reply. Our organization, Gina’s Team, teaches the ATHENA Leadership course at the women’s prison. Our graduates are eligible to then join our GAT (Gina’s ATHENA Team) book clubs (very rare in prison). They are also eligible for our Welcome Back program upon release. We work to build safer communities through education, not incarceration.

      I served seven years at Perryville and found my purpose and passion there behind the wires. Now when I teach or speak I share what I know is the secret of life, service to others. One of the eight principles of ATHENA Leadership we teach (from ATHENA International) is Give Back. It is one of the most popular sessions. They are grateful to find ways to live a purposeful life and be able to give back.

      As they are released, find employment and become grounded, our dream is for them, as graduates of our program, to help others released from prison, thus coming full circle. One of our mottos is “Been there. Done that. Now how can I help?”

      Larry’s willingness to go to prison and share his vast knowledge is the perfect example of Giving Back. It’s also about the first principle, Live Authentically. And the second, Learn Constantly. Larry shared his wisdom in an often hopeless place and gave them what is priceless, HOPE. Larry is big in many places and now he is really big to the women of Perryville prison.

  24. I told you I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about this post!

    Specifically thinking about your comment that some might think you’d gone “soft.” Surely some will. But it will be primarily those who don’t believe that just about everyone deserves the right to earn a second or even when warranted, a third chance. It sounds like these women are working hard to turn their lives around.

    The rest will be those who perhaps had a far better run of luck in their life than did many of these women. For some that success is well earned. All too often those who are the quickest to judge are the people whom the former head football coach at the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys captured in this memorable quote: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

    There’s nothing soft about compassionate accountability.

  25. tim

    Thanks for this post, yes we all tend to forget they are still people in there. They made mistakes and are paying for them. We all make mistakes in life its the learning we all need to remember.

    They are on the inside and finding ways to learn still, so many of us on the outside need to do the same.

    Rock on

  26. Kudos to Sue Ellen for bringing Larry into our Gina’s Team circle! As an ex-inmate myself I know how the right word from the right person, can be a life changing event. Gina’s Team gave me permission to dream, and with thier help I am now living that dream! After twenty-two years of self destruction and three times in Prison, society had given up on me. I was a throw-away. One of the thousands thrown in the landfill of the hopelessly lost. But Sue Ellen and the volunteers of Gina’s Team found me there. What they taught me, changed my life. I am FREE now. As a graduate of GINAS ATHENA TEAM I volunteer to spread the word about this incredible program. I spoke at the G.T. Event at the AZ Historical Museum on June 21st and yesterday I got to tell my story at the Mingus Mountain girls facility in Prescott. Those precious children, ages 12 to 17 touched my heart. My message: Forgivness. For there is no place in the world that people need to be forgiven, as much as those of us who are or have been, in prison.

    • maria

      Diane, I’m glad you are doing so well and have succeeded in this program and in this life. You deserve mad kudos..yeahhhh.I’m so proud of you.. Maria

  27. Larry
    I think it highly commendable that you are helping out people less off than most , people in need of good advice , in life we all need a helping hand sometimes , and a kick up the arse sometimes too, we all make mistakes in life , but equally we can all take action to change our situations around.

    It sounds as though you had a great experience, a great day, keep up the good work, I’m a bi fan of yours I’ve read nearly all of your books and am trying to get most of my friends in England to read them as well. I’ve read loads of sales and motivational books but I love your in our face style of writing, THANKS

  28. I have always wondered by we believe people will be better when they are released if we give them no training and no reason to be better.

    Maya Angelou says, “When you know better you do better”

    Very cool- but you are always very cool. And wise.

  29. A wonderful article with accurate insights. I’ve spoken twice to inmates at a men’s prison. I have a brother who has spent time in prison. And have a cousin who is just starting a nine-year sentence. They both grew up as kids in Leave-It-To-Beaver homes. Prison could happen to anyone. It could be me. The most painful part of prison life is the separation and missing special events, especially milestones. When your kids graduate or get married and you can’t go, it really hurts. Your article reminds us that the people serving time are real people, good people, who have made mistakes. They deserve our respect and and a second chance. Thanks for sharing your valuable experience.

  30. Larry, what an experience for you and the team!
    I would have loved to be there as well! I do understand so well what prison “means”.
    I felt similar with my personal story in the hospital(s), locked to a bed for weeks and months, with “same” people around, not allowed to walk (after surgery) and get out.
    Plus, we all got a kind of treatment at some point as well. We were mainly physically repaired to make it back out, and to “be” better afterwards. I missed getting back into society afterwards, as a teenager after 14 years of hospital experience although I left with a big success.
    Will say: I know how it feels to be in prison and what challenge it is to be out and try to make it without tools or special knowledge – for me: back then (70´s).
    We all can do more for them and support the way you did!
    I very much loved to read your article.
    rita

  31. Great article, Larry. Thanks. I had the opportunity to do a strategic planning session for a prison ministry in Columbus, OH last year. We held our planning session in the Warden’s conference room at a state prison in Lima, OH. I had a similar experience of touring the prison, meeting some of the inmates, and getting to know a tiny bit about their life and their issues.

    Blessings to you for sharing your wisdom with them, and now with us.

    Best regards,
    Stephen

  32. Larry,
    Not Perryville, but Eyman-Cook Unit, was our destination on Wednesday, as my husband and I presented our play, Control.Assault.Delete to approx 80 male inmates. We have been to Perryville about 4 times for our presentation and have always come away feeling that we had made a difference, but the true difference was the change in us because of our time there with these women.
    Cook Unit was not that different. These men were engaged, attentive and consumed with what we were conveying to them about domestic violence through the avenue of performing arts. Their responses were heart-felt, tearful and sincere. We will be at Perryville on July 10 and then on to Lewis Prison the next day. It is our privilege to present our message to those who are now taking responsibility for their action and many of whom want to find a way to become strong enough to never re-enter the system.
    Thank you!
    Linda

    • Linda and John King have partnered with Gina’s Team to go to Perryville 4 times and to Mingus Mountain Academy twice, sharing their story to impact the lives of the women and girls. Now they are bringing their very important play to the men’s prisons. This couple are among the bravest and most dedicated I know. If you have an interest in the arena of domestic violence, I urge you to visit their website, http://www.helpfixthehurt.org Their story is stunning and they do incredible work.

  33. Larry Mate, this is an outstanding post…
    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I too believe that we must all live with the consequences of our choices. However, even when we make the worst possible choices we do not cease to be human.
    Thank you for reminding us that those serving time are human beings with families, feelings and the desire to do better even though they are living with the consequences of their actions.

    With gratitude and respect, Dov…

  34. Larry, thank you for bringing the humanity of the prison to us your readers. I appreciate your honesty with your listeners. I have worked with people convicted of crimes over the years in my internship in grad school and now as a career coach. Sometimes we forget that under a sea of orange uniforms are the hearts and souls of individuals. In college I worked with a literacy program for probationers and was struck by one clients goals for reading and writing. Along, with being able to fill out a job application, and read a grocery list, he wanted to be able to leave his teenage daughter a simple note that said “I love you, Daddy”…Something, he was unable to do when he started the program. By the end of the program he brought me a note that he had written to her, and was even more proud that he could read what she had written back. It was an awesome day! I can still see his smile 20 years later and the poem he wrote about his second chance addressed to me that he read for everyone on the last day of the program. He inspires me today, and now you have too! Thanks, DeAnne Pearson M.Ed.

  35. Crystal Blue Samson

    Larry, I personally wanted to thank you for the support you give all the woman in prison. I personally have been there and am part of the Gina’s Team and am a Gina’s Athena Team Graduate. I cant express my gratitude more! sometimes I wonder how my life now would be If I hadn’t been a part of this program. I learned so much being included. The speakers that go to the prison are so motivated to help the woman and it really works. Every time a new speaker came out I always brought a tissue because the waterworks would fall. Every story was always so uplifting and made me want to be a better person not just for myself but for my son too!
    My son is now 5 years old and he had just turned 1 when I got locked up. I served 4.3 years and never really knew what my purpose was to learn being incarcerated until I hit Santa Maria and started going to ALL the events I possibly could get my hands on. Seeing Sue Ellen and the others and how happy they were even knowing that she had once been in my shoes was a site to see. Knowing that if she could do it than I could do it!
    I have been BACK going on 2 months and loving every moment I have with the love of my life, my son, and couldn’t be happier! I set a goal that after two weeks being out I would enroll and get back into beauty school, which I did, and just completed my first week in beauty college! I have applied for a couple jobs but that’s not going so well. Still holding on to the power the man upstairs has. We all know that saying “things happen for a reason”…well the real answer to that is God has a plan and that’s why things happen for a reason…my reason is He wanted to save my life. He gave me many chances and I made the wrong choices and He has given me a new life and a fresh start. This time I’m not messing this one up.
    Again thank you so much for being a speaker at the woman’s prison in Perryville. Thank you for not giving up on the woman who do want to make a difference in their lives as well as in others.
    Recently departed and newly discovered,
    Crystal Blue

  36. Draxton Spranger

    Just read this article and found it to be amazing. My own mother, actually, is incarcerated in Perryville now and she called me earlier today to tell me that she had been mentioned in your article and that you said she had some real skills.I read it and almost laughed. Her name is Lori, not Laurie, but I’m not mad or anything- I’m sure you heard the name spoken and wrote down what you thought. Overall a great article and I’m glad my mom got some spotlight!

    • Lori is a graduate of Gina’s ATHENA Team and the president of the prison Gavel Club, a division of Toastmasters International, that I started in 2004 when I was incarcerated at Perryville. Gavel Club goes a long way to helping women gain confidence and leadership skills needed upon their release. Lori does indeed have outstanding speaking skills and you should be very proud of your mom.

      • Draxton Spranger

        I told her what you said while talking on the phone with her today and she was very touched. Thank you for the kind words -they mean a lot- and I am proud of her!

  37. Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    This is the best story I’ve heard in a long time. i have a pen pal serving LWOPP, in the California prison system. He was elected by his fellow prisoners to run a program, to try to educate young offenders, before they received LWOPP. For some strange reason, the program was eliminated. California spends more on prisons than education. This should change.

  38. Thank you for taking us on the journey with you. I appreciated how you unfolded the truth of these woman with each answer they presented you with. It does not surprise me that the things that would have the greatest value to them were the basics of how to live their lives more successfully. (and I don’t mean the airy fairy success…I mean the tangible step by step, day by day how do I make my life work, success.)

    Your straight talk will no doubt continue to unfold in their lives as they look to learn all they can before re-entering society again.

    Thank you for sharing your inspiration not only with them but with us as well.

  39. Curtis

    I have read many times you put up with what you do to be able to do what you want to do. I am glad this outreach is something you want to do. I get to work on occasion with released inmates. When you get a former convicted felon to really change is when they realize the consequences of their life can only be changed when they accept the fact, the person responsible for their life looks at them every morning in the mirror.
    Of course this does not only apply only to convicted felons, it applies to ALL of us.

  40. maria

    This story also brought tears to my eyes. You are a great guy Larry for doing this. And it prob was so overwhelming for them. This is true ,they are humans and made mistakes but now must get prepared to face and do well in society when getting out.and I don’t feel that happens while they are in there…they want to do well. My son is incarcerated as well because of mistakes.. he has 4 yrs.. this is very hard for me . But reading your story gave me some hope and when I talk to him I’m gonna use some of your ideas to say to him….I miss him ..I know he wants to be home and have another chance , and someday soon he will and I want him to succeed.

  41. Hi Larry,

    Great post! Thank you for sharing.

    Your words speak volumes about the the good inside people.

    I wonder who learned more, you or them. 🙂

  42. Laura Probst

    What an amazing experience for both you and these women whose lives you touched in a meaningful way. Thanks for sharing about it Larry! I really enjoyed reading your blog. ~Laura (Jennie’s friend)

  43. Lisa Keele

    God Bless you for coming to Perryville to help our inmates.

  44. Diana Silva

    Thank u so much for posting this. For once somebody goes public about how were not just criminals caged inside the perryville walls…. We’re human beings who made mistakes and are paying our consequences. I recently was released from perryville after serving seven and a half years… I am grateful to have done the time I Did and blessed that I Was one of the chosen ones to walk through that experience, otherwise I couldn’t give you the guarantee that id be the person I am today

  45. Diana Silva

    Thank u so much for posting this. For once somebody goes public about how were not just criminals caged inside the perryville walls…. We’re human beings who made mistakes and are paying our consequences. I recently was released from perryville after serving seven and a half years… I am grateful to have done the time I Did and blessed that I Was one of the chosen ones to walk through that experience, otherwise I couldn’t give you the guarantee that id be the person I am today

  46. Diana Silva

    I learned so much about myself while doing my time. At first i was getting into trouble and walking the wrong way. Something finally slapped me in the face and made me realize that if i want to change, the change had too begin in there. I suddenly felt the strength to WANT to change. I got my G.E.D. and began applying myself to any and all programs that would benefit me in the long run. Despite my past history, I was determined to make the best out of this situation and come out a better person than I was when I walked in. I learned that I possess more strengths than I do weaknesses. By the beginning of my last year in perryville, i had already completed just about every program the prison has to offer…mandatory and voluntary ones. I walked out with 79college credits that i earned only during my incarceration that i will use to pursue my new career. Before my incarceration i always dreamed of being a doctor, delivering babies, its been a dream i had since i was a little girl. I was already attending college out here in the medical field, sadly i never got to finish it. God had other plans for me. I have a passion in wanting to help people change their live around for the better. Because of the experience that i went through, i now dream to someday become a substance abuse counselor and mentor those teens who are lost as i once was. I feel i got my life back and even though I’ve only been out those walls a few weeks now, I’m strongly motivated to do the right thing. I want a better future for my children and don’t want society to label my children as kids who will end up in the system too just because they have a convict as a mother. It isn’t their fault, they are innocent and my goal is to be there for them,and give them advice based on my experience and pray and see to it that they make better choices than i did. I am truly blessed today for the amazing children and family that i have. Many of their stories literally broke my heart. We always believe we had it bad, until we hear someone elses story. I believe we all had something in common in there… were all broken in search of fixing ourselves. Many women in there had alot of influence in why i desperately wanted to change my ways. Inside perryville there’s a bright light that us broken women see yet it’s our choice whether we WANT to follow it or not. I’m ready to share my story in hopes I can reach out and help another human being….convict or not. diana06.silva19@gmail.com

  47. lfoucher

    You must talk to the prisioners who are in jail for drug or other charges that the inmates will get out and have a second chance which I think is great. but when someone takes anothers persons life for other than self defense than they deserve to be locked up and forgotten about. I am so tired about the victum becoming responsible for the other persons actions. I just hope you take that into consideration when helping these women. I know someone who worked at that prison and its not all peaches and cream with those inmates as you describe. they are worse than the men–watch lockup and you will know what I mean. noone gets into prision for singing to loud in church.

    • Diana Silva

      I understand why you feel that way, however, only God can judge us! Nobody will ever understand that experience until they personally have lived it themselves! Yes i agree many women in prison don’t care to change their life around, and that’s okay, it’s their choice! Another thing I’d like to say, yes there are many women who are serving time on murder charges, and some even admit to their faults, but what about those who are doing time for being innocent, those who had no clue what was gonna go down during that time! We cant judge everyone by their charges, and that is why i said i would love people to want to start some type of program to go into the prison to help these women open up, be some type of encouraging motivators for them! Maybe having more of these programs in there, more women will WANT a change so that when they get released they can be more productive members to society!

  48. John

    Im a firm believer in people paying for their crimes. But when does punishment turn into torture and and Im talking about the lack of a decent cooling system those girls are in constant extreme heat and that can not be to healthy.

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