My Turn: Live and Learn
Angola Prison inmate finds path
to change through Toastmasters.
By Ben Daughtery, CTM
“Do I want to come to a Toastmasters meeting? Are you a nut or something?” I could not believe this neatly dressed guy standing in front of me.
Quietly he replied, “No. It’s just something I think would benefit you.”
I am in Angola, the Louisiana State Prison. A convicted killer. Rejected by my father and mother, rejected by my brothers and sisters, divorced by my wife, hated by my children and no one to blame but myself. It was the path I chose, to become a contract killer. It was a road my feet followed all by themselves. I could place blame nowhere else. I did not have the textbook horrible childhood. No one abused the boy I was long ago, neither physically nor mentally. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.
One day, I found myself at a Forgotten Voices Toastmasters meeting, sitting as far in the back as I could, hoping no one noticed me. I sat there and listened as guys stood up and delivered speeches to a room filled with men. No, hold that. These weren’t speeches. Speeches are what oily politicians give on TV. These were talks, really. Some of them straight from the heart. You could tell. It touched me, how they let their defenses down and opened up. That night, lying in my bunk, I realized I enjoyed myself. But me getting up there like that? Not a chance.
The very next meeting, the Table Topicsmaster asked me to come up to the lectern. I shook my head no. He smiled and said, “Hey, it’s all right. There’s a first time for everyone and this is yours.”
“I am in Angola, the Louisiana State Prison. A convicted killer.
Rejected by my father and mother, rejected by my brothers and
sisters, divorced by my wife, hated by my children and no one
to blame but myself.”
I walked slowly to the front of the room, trying to look cool while fighting an urge to flee. Hand trembling, clammy sweat sprouting under my arms, I hemmed and hawed, stammered and stuttered for almost the two full minutes and then ran back to my seat.
Nothing scared me, or so I thought. But I was scared to death! Twenty men sitting in chairs looking at me, waiting to hear what I had to say, made my blood turn to swamp water. Never again, or so I thought.
The Angola Forgotten Voices Toastmasters club asked me to join. I did. It was the beginning of a journey that started 10 years ago. I went on to earn a CTM and am now working on my ACB. Walking down this path, I learned how to talk in front of a group and how to think on my feet – how to use my mouth instead of a weapon. I learned compassion and caring for others. I learned about teamwork. I learned how to have and keep a friend. I now have a room full of friends. Did Toastmasters rehabilitate me? No. But Toastmasters started me on the path to change.
The other day, I was walking the yard and saw a guy sitting on a bench by himself. I went over and sat down. After a minute, I turned to him with a smile on my face and said, “Do you want to come to a Toastmasters meeting?”
Ben Daughtery, CTM, is a member of Forgotten Voices Toastmasters Club in Louisiana State Prison, Angola, Louisiana.