Tuesday’s prison session was good in a way that made it different, left me hopeful. I sat with two young men, Yadiel and Gabriel. Yadiel, un vacilón, an easy going jokester, and Gabriel, smart serious earnest were both happy to get out of their confinement for a time.
"Why did you come down?" I asked.
"To get out of the module."
"Yeah, oh yeah, I mean, we came to hear the Word, but whew, it’s great to get out."
I smiled. I look for small victories. I have already eased their suffering by being a vehicle by which they receive a short respite from being locked up. "Cool," I said.
Gabriel, seemed a little embarrassed, as if he had offended me by his remark. "No, but we came down because we wanted to hear about Jesus."
Such a caring kid. His exuberance had revealed that he just wanted a bit of freedom, but his empathy caused him to rephrase it considering me.
We talked a bit about some of their favorite things, what they wanted out of life. I lead them through the little exercise where I put them in an MTV Cribs home.
"So let’s say tomorrow, you’re out of here. I give you each a million dollars, a home on the beach with a pool too. It’s a big house with a Lexus and a Cadillac Escalade in the garage."
Their eyes got big.
"You’ve got your fridge stocked with refreshments. You’ve got a killer sound system, a DJ mixing table with all the hot tunes. You’ve got all the hot ladies at your party. And they look fine. You have everything you’ve ever wanted." I paused. "Now What?"
"Enjoy it." they both responded.
"So that’s what it’s all about? Get some stuff and enjoy it? You guys know how some of these reggeaton artists lose all their money, right? They spend it and it’s all gone. They think wealth is an end in and of itself, that the goal is wealth. You’ve got to have a plan for your wealth.
Listen," I continued, "Try to think of wealth like a businessmen thinks of wealth, as capital, a resource. Money is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. Most poor folks think of the goal as money, but money is just a means to an end. What do you want do? I’ll tell you, spending money will be over before you know it if you don’t have a plan. So, what do you do?"
They sat there a little confused, searching for the answer to the question.
"You might use that money to start a business?" I offered.
"Yeah," they agreed.
"What business would you start?" I asked. "What are you good at? What do you like to do?"
Gabriel thought for a while, searching for something he was good at. He paused and hesitantly offered, "Selling drugs?"
I smiled. I loved that answer. Gabriel was right where I wanted him. "That’s great, Gabriel, don’t be ashamed of that. It’s a skill you have and you did it well. But let me ask you something. What is the most important part of that skill? Does it matter what you sell as much as your ability to sell?"
"So let’s cross off the ‘drugs’ portion. Let me ask you, Gabriel, what are some of the skills required to sell well?"
"You have to keep the numbers straight."
"Like a CPA, no? And you’re on the street with no computer to keep track of it all."
Gabriel smiled. I am positive that no one had ever congratulated him on his one skill, the one thing in his short life that he had excelled at and been incarcerated for. Instead of simply saying what he did was wrong and throwing it all away – along with him, I turned his talent on its head and gave him a slap on the back. Good job with the selling, but let’s try selling something else, okay?
"You have to create trust with your clients, no?" I asked.
"Yeah," and he smiled. "Trust is important."
"You have to create a trust relationship. They have to trust you and you have to trust them. If there are problems, you have to be able to handle them. That’s customer service. I’ll bet you gave better customer service than a government office, right? Quality product? You have to have a quality product that you believe in, no? If not, you can’t sell it."
Gabriel was nodding vigorously. He seemed to being saying, yeah, man, you got it. You got it. I’d never thought about it like that.
We continued talking and inventing businesses where he could apply his talents, mapping out a plan for his life that rolled in a more positive direction.
When it all finished, I was left, as I always am, with such a hopeful outlook on life. As I complain about sleepy people, entitled people, self-absorbed small petty little people, I come to prison and I am left more hopeful. It’s insane, I know, but sometimes outside, I see the worst of people and within the walls of the prison system, I see such talent, raw un-utilized talent.
Outside, where the sleepy people lie, they have no idea that there is a better way of being, that their lives are anything but perfect, exemplary, normal, tranquil, and pious. On the inside, though, with the sinners, those who have fallen, those who know there is something missing, I see a yearning for a better life. I see people looking to make a change in themselves and who know they are hungry.
Will they make a change? That remains to be seen, but I’d say they are already well beyond those that continue to stuff their fat little faces at the banquet, gluttonous in their excess, and never ever considering that the hunger they feel isn’t in their bellies.