Toastmasters International and prison volunteering
Toastmasters Clubs have existed in prisons in the US since 1940s. Many of the benefits are similar to other prison education programs in terms of improved employability and reduced rates of reoffending, but crucially, as a educational program run by members, prison TM clubs provide prisoners with a number of additional skills and attributes including increased self-confidence, organisational ability and a sense of empowerment. Most importantly, prison TM clubs offer a sustainable long-term development program, as opposed to a time-limited curriculum.
“On the surface we teach people how to speak, but what we teach is much more than that. We teach them how to think critically, organize their thoughts, tap into their passions, and develop teamwork and leadership,” says Susan Tordella-Williams, a writer, speaker and activist in Massachusetts. “Toastmasters offers regular practice to develop new ways of thinking, speaking and working together.”
View this clip on Prison Toastmasters from the TM documentary SpeakEasy to hear about the benefits from prisoners themselves.
UK prison volunteers needed!
Prison TM clubs in the US are supported by TM volunteers. A team of four to six volunteers is needed to launch the club for the first six meetings, and two to three to support it long-term once volunteers are comfortable going in alone. One of the most active US prison volunteering schemes is D31 (eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island), where 25 volunteers support 15 programs in male and female.
How can we bring the benefits of the US prison TM programme to the UK? This is where Ayana Gibbs comes in. Ayana is looking for people who love Toastmasters, understand the current education program and want to share it with people in prison who may have: made bad decisions, experienced significant adversity, had poor educational opportunities and may struggle with mental health problems. If you are looking for a new TM challenge and want to play a key role in setting up a network of prison TM clubs in the UK, contact Dorothea Stuart, Club Growth Director in the first instance. CLICK HERE
What’s the role of volunteers?
• Set up and run an initial demonstration meeting
• Help set up the initial meeting (help with election of officers, charter/gavel club application)
• Support ongoing meetings (ensure meetings are both fun and fruitful, have pocket speeches ready)
• Provide mentorship to established clubs
What’s in it for volunteers?
District 31 Director Rick Winer DTM says, “Mentoring prison clubs has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Toastmasters experience”.
Volunteers have said after just a few meetings, “This is the most powerful thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Any stereotypes of inmates that I had pre-prison Toastmasters are gone. Inmates’ speeches are often touching. If feel my volunteering makes a difference; I am needed. It is a fascinating experience”
“Seeing how much they change and grow in confidence is our reward. Contributing to this effort has been a life-changing experience”
Who is Ayana Gibbs?
Ayana is a Forensic Psychiatrist. She has been a Toastmaster since May 2015. As a result of her experiences working in prisons in and around London, she is passionate about the benefits that the program can bring to prisoners in the UK. Although new to Toastmasters she has quickly embraced the leadership part of the program and serves as VP Education for her club, London Public Speakers.
Ayana says “After attending my first few TM meetings, I was struck by a thought: ‘This would be fantastic in prisons’ and a question: ‘Do we have any Prison TM clubs in the UK and if not, why?’ I discovered two examples of successful clubs at HMP Mountjoy in Ireland but none in the UK. I want to change that.”
Where are we with the UK Prison Volunteering Initiative
Ayana has successfully teamed up with D71 colleagues to present a workshop on Toastmasters at the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA) Conference at Leeds Beckett University on 11 September 2015. The workshop, which was part of the theme of ‘engagement’, took the form of a ‘mini’ demonstration meeting. The purpose was to raise awareness for the TM educational program among prison staff, teachers, education managers and Heads of Learning, pique interest in bringing the program into UK prisons and establish a network of prison education contacts to support the initiative.
Pictured: From left to right Sue McQueen (VPE Strictly Speaking Harrogate TM), Anthony Day (Past Division Governor, Northern England and Scotland), Ayana Gibbs (VPE, London Public Speakers), Jim Gregory (Toastmasters International Education Ambassador), Lynn Gregory (Past President, York EbOrators), Bill McQueen (Strictly Speaking Harrogate TM). Sheilagh Jones (Former Area 15 Governor), not pictured, also participated.
Next steps in the prison volunteering initiative
The next steps will be to follow up with prison contacts (with an initial focus in and around London) to set up pilot programs, starting with one or more Speechcraft sessions. We will need 4-6 volunteers to run the sessions and will be holding a Prison Volunteering Workshop in London with Susan Tordella-Williams on 10 November 2015 (more info to follow). Susan has co-founded several TM programs in Massachusetts prisons and co-written a step-by-step manual on how to create a prison TM club that is available online. The purpose of the workshop will be to introduce interested TMs to the initiative and the challenges and benefits of volunteering in prison.