Toastmasters, which give inmates at Sampson Correctional a chance to enjoy a meal and a moment of reflection, is teaching these men to think on their feet in a way that many have likely never experienced before.
Monday night, the inmates took a moment to reflect on what their plans were for the New Year, and under the guidance of Chick Gancer and Milley Brewington, along with others, they shared their hearts and warmed souls a mere 60 seconds at a time.
Christmas for the Toastmasters at Sampson Correctional is an event that the inmates say they look forward to during the holidays. For some it may be the food, others the camaraderie and fellowship, and yet for others it is a beacon of hope during a time when they miss their families the most.
Monday night, volunteers gathered together to give the inmates a dinner of fried chicken, baked beans, and other treats that normally would be everyday food for some, but when incarcerated, the inmates say it is a delightful moment that brightens their week. The fellowship of being together, as a makeshift family of sorts, unites these brothers during a time that would be hard on anyone, yet it gives these men a chance to break out of their old molds and create a new vision for themselves.
Overall, inmates universally expressed a desire to improve themselves and better their lives to be a benefit to their families and loved ones. One inmate said that he wants to start his own business when he gets out, and Toastmasters has taught him to not use slang. He said that it would keep him focused on his goals. Just recently he lost his 93-year-old grandmother, and he was just shy of four months from his release. For him, it was clear that the impact of his prior choices has caused him to think closely about where things are going, and his grief was clearly evident.
Often the inmates described Toastmasters as being a key to better communication, and the inmates realized that communication is what makes the world move. They said that they desire to bring something to the world, to give back, to make things so people can understand.
Eric Brown, one of the inmates, expressed his thanks for the food and all that was done to make it possible.
“Sometimes I get nervous,” said Brown. Murmurs across the room confirmed that he was not alone, and that others also felt that twinge of anxiousness when they were up near the podium or standing around talking to the group around the dinner table. Dion Baldwin said that he felt nervous as well, and he has been learning how to articulate his thoughts to a group, learning how communication is important. Taking the steps to overcome being nervous has led to tremendous growth for some of the individuals, and they have grown from the experience. Baldwin said that he wants everyone to continue keeping the faith and he has the best hopes for all of them there.
“I want to thank the staff,” said John Morris. “I have learned to not take things for granted. To stop putting things off. I didn’t get to do things with my kids, my mom. I want to go to school and take advantage of the programs offered.”
James Bryant expressed that he wants to be a better, successful person. Others say they want to become a people person and continue improving their vocabulary. They want to continue getting to know people better and teach others speaking skills.
“Toastmasters has taught me how to be a more successful person. I want to give back to my community,” said Bryant. “I want to help kids be successful, too.”
One member said that his New Year’s resolution is to be more receptive to what others have to say to him and to be more receptive to other people, and another member said his goal was to be a better father to his kids.
Speaking from the heart and often getting emotional, the Toastmasters expressed a desire for betterment all around, not just themselves. Those with children are realizing the need to be a better role model, realizing that their children are looking up to them.
Some of the inmates know they have a few more years ahead of them, and often they are focused still on goals for the moment, goals that will enrich themselves over time and keep them focused. For those that are not going to be released for a few years, the goal is often to continue working on self improvement through Toastmasters, thereby learning skills to enhance their lives and the lives of those they are apart from now.
Timothy Cannon stated that he realized how this will be implemented in his life.
“We never know when we might need these speaking skills,” said Cannon. “We might be at a PTA meeting for our kids or speaking in the community. I want to give back to the community.” He said that he appreciates the spiritual inspiration and wisdom of those that have helped with Toastmasters and contributed to make it as good as it is.
Members said they appreciate being better communicators, and that even in hard times or bad times, communication is key to understanding. They want to elevate themselves and be able to express their concerns and issues by doing better than they have in the past. The inmates will have something they can put on their resumes to gear them up for the future.
Cleve Ransom, an inmate who has been a member of Toastmasters for over 11 years on and off, says that he is amazed at how his speaking has improved. He says that he is thankful for Toastmasters and the constructive criticism that he has received. Ransom says that he is especially thankful for the volunteers that make this program available to the to those at the Sampson Correctional facility.
“This is a program I believe in,” said Ransom. “People in today’s society sometimes murder the English language, and Toastmasters teaches us to think before we speak.” He believes that as a better communicator this is one of the best self improvement programs out there.
They describe their teachers as awesome, beneficial, inspirational and giving. The inmates said that they appreciate all that are here and that even though it is hard to get up in front of people and talk, that they are happy to incorporate a new self and that they are more committed now than they were before Toastmasters.
Some in the group liken the team to a fraternity, a brother hood born out of circumstances, and that they are blessed to speak together and learn together. They say that through Toastmasters their goals are being met and that they appreciate the help that they are receiving and that they appreciate those that find it in their heart to do what they do for them, what a member described as an “undeserved kindness”.
Milley Brewington closed with a reminder for the members to speak boldly and have confidence, and that they can’t do right with a do wrong mind. She said that she hopes that they will continue to encourage and lift each other up. Brewington said that her mom has told her to live her life so others can see Jesus in here, and that is what she hopes they will all do, and come forth with a repentive heart which will with time transform their minds and their thinking.
“You never know what God has planned for you,” said Brewington to the group.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org