95% What If…

95_percent what_if amazon“Ninety-five percent of prisoners are good people who made a mistake.”

This was the response by the Warden and other administrators from Allendale Correctional Institute (ACI), when they were asked about the 1250 inmates in their prison.

Like author Lee Ozley, I had been skeptical of their claim. But I have come around to understanding the principles listed in his book 95% What If…, including:

  • What if less than ten percent of all prison inmates are basically evil or bad and incorrigible people?
  • What if the 90+%  wanted to live a moral life of personal responsibility and leadership among peers?
  • What if prison inmates were treated with respect and as persons of value when their actions and demonstrated behaviors merited such treatment?
  • What if inmates demonstrated their acceptance of personal responsibility and accountability for their actions and behaviors, and acted accordingly?
  • What if everyone involved with the operation of the prison – staff, volunteers, families, etc – did everything they could to help inmates become the best person they can be?

If these principles are true (and I think they are for the men at ACI), then we should be compelled to act accordingly.

What Ozley Did

Lee Ozley spent more than 18 months working with the staff and “residents” at ACI. Although I never met him, I regularly hear appreciative remarks about his service and leadership, from the warden, associate wardens, and the residents.

Ozley learned of the Character-based Housing Unit (CHU) program being launched at ACI by the end of 2011. In chapter 3 of his book, he outlines the mission and principles of the CHU. If you are interested in the full details, I encourage you to buy the book.

But more than just reporting on the good things going on at the CHU, Ozley brought his vast experience from his work as a consultant, to help the CHU coordinators (who are inmates themselves) become the leaders that this program needs.

In chapters 5 (“If I were king, I’d….”), 7 (“Behavior Assessment”), and 9 (“Dealing With Success”), the author explains how he worked with staff and inmates to deal with the stresses that came with the planning, implementation, and growth of the CHU program.

Needy and Appreciative

I have mostly worked and talked with coordinators, mentors, and facilitators in the CHU program. And two words describe their attitudes: needy and appreciative.

No, they are not needy like you are thinking. They do not ask for favors or miracles. They are asking for a helping hand, not a handout. They want to learn, and they want to help other men learn. They want to become better men and leaders, and they want to help other men do the same. They realize that they have to change their lives if they have any chance to make it when (or if) they get back on the streets.

And that brings me to my second description: they appreciate the volunteers and donations that they get. I hear and feel their genuine affection every time I meet with them. If I bring in curriculum from Men’s Roundtable, donated books, snacks for a Super Bowl party, or even just reams of paper, they act like it’s the best present they’ve ever gotten.

And they return the favor as best they can. My heart is warmed every time one of the guys tell me, “We pray for you all the time.”

Learn More

Next time, I will continue discussing this book, and even address a hang-up that you may have. It is, after all, the main objection I had up until just over a year ago, when I began serving in Prison Ministry in Allendale.

So here’s the questions for you to think about: “What if most people in prison want to improve their lives? Would you help them?”

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