A Meeting of Beautiful Souls in an Unexpected Place

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Hustle 2.0 is not for the faint-hearted. You must have courage. I cried every day. I cried because I connected with other humans in deep platonic intimacy--something that our society has greatly lost touch with. We don’t connect with people like this enough, yet our hearts yearn for it.--Simone

Recently, I volunteered in Pelican Bay State Prison, located in Crescent City, California, for the third time with a best-in-class rehabilitation program called Hustle 2.0. The experience profoundly affected all of us--volunteers, incarcerated men, and staff alike. I wrote about my first time volunteering inside this prison here.

Hustle 2.0 recently added a new unit, or “major,” to the curriculum, to help the men prepare for their eventual parole board hearing. I did the training for that unit and acted as “Commish for the day,” otherwise known as alternately interrogating the men as if I were a parole board commissioner and then providing feedback on their responses. That type of coaching is a whole new level of intense, and critically important to these men. It is a vast change for men who were taught all their lives to never admit to anything. They are learning to take responsibility for every part of their lives and submit to interrogation about anything at all in front of a panel of strangers.

I met some amazing men. I saw how much I have grown since the first time I went to Pelican Bay. I saw the transformation of men I met that first time. Here is what some of the other volunteers have said about the three-day function.

Isn’t it weird how life can be at its best in a supermax prison, in the middle of a forest, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, with no heat?--RC

And, with three days in a row of PBJ sandwiches for lunch because some new prison rule doesn’t allow the bringing in of pizza. And yes, life just doesn’t get any better than that. Only the last day was freezing cold. And we didn’t care. There was plenty of love to keep us warm.

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The funny thing is I end up finding out more about myself. I end up digging deep into emotional areas that I find hard to express with others, and the incarcerated guys end up teaching me just as much as I could ever teach them, every time I go.--Michael

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These men. These amazing courageous, vulnerable, endearing, intelligent men absolutely blew me away. Let me be clear--they are no angels. This is a supermax prison. But neither am I [an angel]. And neither are the rest of us. Most of these men will ultimately return to a society that rejects them, sets them up to fail, or continues to punish them. When do we as a society stop punishing and deem someone worthy of redemption?

To witness this transformation and participate in it for another human being is one of the most beautiful experiences any of us get to take part in in our lifetime.--Vik

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The advantages society handed me diminished the consequences of my poor decisions. The incarcerated guys' birth circumstances magnified the consequences of their poor decisions. They have beautiful souls. They are inspirational in their drive and dedication to turning their lives around and bringing good to the world around them.--Ed

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The other volunteers all taught me something I would never have believed if I had not gone to this event: No life is more valuable than the next!--Katrina

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This crew of volunteers are some of the best humans I’ve ever met and get to call my family. I love you all so, so much!--Vik

I’ll be sharing much more about my own experiences volunteering in maximum-security prisons, and showing some of the incredible photos from the events, Thursday evening at 7 pm, February 20, in the Petty Auditorium. Register to attend Changing the Odds. Or just come. Photos by Tom Kubik.

The library will live-tweet this presentation for those unable to attend. Follow #SkokieLibraryChat on Twitter during the event.