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Entry date: 12-6-2022 - Working in Prison revisited - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,


It’s dawning on me that the year is coming to a close. I have decisions to make about whether to keep going here or not. I think it is probably a no brainer. I haven’t come close to being finished with the stories I have to tell.


It’s been a lot of work. Today marks 339 days of writing 1000 words per day. That’s a lot of words. Three books worth, give or take, and those would be long books by today’s standards. I’m tired but energized. Happy but unfulfilled.


Almost two months ago, I was talking about working in the prison. When I left that story, I was finishing up the interview process and as it turned out, I got the job. Haha. Of course, I got the job. As if there was some mystery or cliff hanger there.


What came from that moment, in June of 2008, I had no idea how much my life was going to change. I had been at Casa for 11 years and only left because the money had just run out there. Rhondi and I had Liam and Teresa at home, and I couldn’t just “hope” that there would be money to pay me at Casa.


The prison job, which was at a company called Televerde, was going to be able to guarantee more money than I had ever made up to that point. I was going to be a Training Specialist and my role would be to run new hire classes. I had never trained adults to do anything, up to this point, except for a few people that I showed how to do things at Easy Street here and there.


I was one of six training specialists on the staff there and I would spend about 90% of my time working at the women’s prison at Perryville, which was just outside of Goodyear, Arizona. If you ever noticed the prison while driving west on I-10 on your way to Buckeye, or if you were really lucky, Quartzite, then you saw the buildings out there.


The day I started, my new boss started, too. I’ll keep her name, which started with E, to myself, but I liked her immediately. She was a very cool and sharp African American lady, and I knew I was going to learn a lot from her. I was also going to learn to manage her almost as much as she managed me.


E was the type of boss that would think out loud a lot. She would talk about what she wanted me (or anyone on the team to do) and being the new guy, I would get started on it and work on figuring out how to do it. Over the first few months of working for her, I realized that she was not always sure what she wanted, so I learned to ask more questions or enact what I called the “three request” rule for her.


I realized that if she didn’t ask for something three times, she didn’t want it. The first time she asked me to do something, I would start thinking about the request and maybe even start working on it a little. The second time I would start asking detailed questions to determine what type of priority she was placing on this idea, and the third time, I would fire up the engines and get to work.


This worked really well.


One of the first tasks I had was to write a training for the new ERP that had been created for the call center. An ERP is an Enterprise Resource Planning system and Televerde has wanted to do their own thing for quite a while before I got there. The call centers generated a ton of data and the goal was to make this data as actionable as possible.


Being a new guy and very new to this line of work, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Many of the gals that were incarcerated who worked for the company had been beta testing this thing and already understood how it worked. They could have written the training material much more easily than I could and several of them let me know this along the way.


Working in the prison was strange, but I got used to the rules and regulations quickly. I was the only male on my team, so they cut me a little bit of slack at first. It was tougher being a guy in there, I think. Not because anyone who was incarcerated was ever weird to me or anything, but because there was just a different feeling.


I had to remind myself that while this was a workplace, it was also where these ladies lived because they had done something pretty bad. A lot of the women I worked with had stolen things from people. Lots of identity theft, for example, which was weird to me because these women were getting a lot of information from the people they would speak to on the phones.


I listened to a ton of calls in the beginning to get used to how and what they did for Televerde’s clients and quickly realized that personal information was never exchanged. It was all about the work and how the clients could make their lives easier at work. Personal stuff did not really come up and the gals on the phones knew better than to ever make it personal. That was a good way to get fired.


It was the same for me. They knew not to ask me personal questions and, at first, I kept myself pretty guarded. We could say, for example, that we were married or had children, but not give away any names. We could say that we lived in Central Phoenix, but not talk about cross streets. Nobody ever really did anything that made uncomfortable…at least not among the inmates and it became clear pretty quickly that many of my co-workers would not have let anyone get out of line.


They looked out for me a bit.


See you tomorrow.



Art from Rockford, Illinois that seems strangely fitting for today.

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