By Jim Whitt
Years ago Sondra and I launched our first class to help individuals discover their purpose in life and start them on the path of its fulfillment. It was in the inaugural class that we were approached by a participant, Rita, who asked if we had a few minutes to spare. Rita told us she and her husband had started a nonprofit organization called Our Family Matters to offer support to families of prison inmates. What made her story particularly interesting was that her husband, Gerald, was himself in prison. Rita asked if we would be interested in conducting our class at the prison where Gerald was incarcerated. That’s how we met Gerald.
I’d be lying if I said I felt no apprehension the first time I set foot inside a prison. But as we met the inmates who were participating in our class I quickly forgot that they were prisoners — they were just people. In fact, a conversation with one inmate revealed an unusual understanding of our fundamental principle of human behavior: “Without a purpose our only motivation is reward and punishment.” I’ll never forget what he told me, “That’s why we’re in here. We had no purpose. Our only motivation was reward and punishment.”
Even though he had spent 15 years behind bars Gerald seemed like a really normal person. In fact, he grew up in what he described as a normal family. But drugs started him down a path that eventually led to prison. We learned that drugs were a common dominator for the inmates we met as is the case for a high percentage of criminals. But Gerald overcame his addiction and started making the right decisions even while incarcerated. He completed every course available that was offered to inmates to help them on the path of reintegration and even earned a college degree. And, as a result of participating in our class, Gerald discovered his purpose in life — to help people make sense of the difficult issues in life. Five years later Gerald was miraculously paroled. But even before he was released Gerald was fulfilling his purpose. Other inmates and even members of the prison staff would seek Gerald’s help in dealing with difficult issues they faced in their lives.
Gerald went from being a model inmate to becoming a model citizen by helping people outside prison walls make sense of the difficult issues in life. He has played a key role in building a successful landscaping business as a member of the company’s management team. The owner of the company did have one problem with Gerald, however — people kept trying to hire Gerald away from him. They wanted to know where he found him because they would like to hire people like Gerald. Well, I’ve got good news for them. I’m proud to say that Gerald is now a member of our Purpose Unlimited team and is working with us to go into the nation’s correctional systems to help transform the lives of more inmates through the power of purpose.
We also wanted to make Gerald available to our clients so they could benefit from his powerful message. Everyone struggles with difficult issues and who better to help make sense of them than Gerald? He is a dynamic and entertaining speaker who challenges people to adopt the lessons he’s learned to correct nonproductive behaviors and attitudes to make positive and permanent changes in their lives. And when he talks to young people about the dangers of drugs and making the right choices they listen because Gerald knows what he’s talking about — he’s been there and done that. He is a living testament to the fact that regardless of their situation and circumstances people’s lives can be transformed through the power of purpose. As Gerald says, it’s your choice.