One of the most rewarding activities that I am involved in right now is a weekly men’s circle that I co-facilitate in Maui Community Correctional Center. We call the group Men’s Mentoring and its aim is to offer inmates of the jail a place to share in confidence, with no judgment, issues in their life that they are struggling with, and to grow through that sharing.

We look at these issues under the umbrella of teaching the inmates emotional literacy, to help ourselves develop the ability to recognize and act appropriately on the emotions that arise within us. If I do not explore an issue that it is present in my life, or maybe worse deny it, that issue will pop up somewhere else most probably in unhelpful ways. Much better to spend the time and energy that I expend trying to quieten the emotion, looking at it even if initially that is not a very pleasant experience. Once the emotion is acknowledged, known and understood, I can choose to act appropriately. My denial of the issue is normally the reason for me acting inappropriately and getting myself into trouble.

In moving into a jail we, as mentors are moving into a place where trust, or lack of is a big issue in itself. Because of this it is not unusual for men to be quiet, or at least be cautious in their sharing during the first couple of sessions. Seeing men who have been sitting in the group for longer being more open with their sharing can help increase the new men’s trust of the group environment. Alternatively a new man might talk a lot as opposed to being quiet. This in itself can be an avoidance tactic, even if the man is unaware that avoidance is rearing its head, helping a man feel in control of a situation in which he is really uncomfortable.

To enable the process of trust we have the ground rule of confidentiality - everything said in the group, stays in the group, and we as facilitators model that as well and share alongside the men about our lives and experiences.

At the risk of dropping into a clichéd analogy, as I watch the men in the mentoring circle open up and share more, trusting the group as a place to go to get things off their chest and to explore their own emotions, I look back at myself and the people who I interact with in my life with a few questions….

  • ”Where am I in a prison in my life?”
  • ”What or who do I not trust?”
  • ”What do I need for trust to be present in my life where it is lacking?”

The men who I sit with in the mentoring circle have made a mistake in their lives and are paying a price for it, but I see those inmates who sit in and complete the program that the group offers wanting to make changes and move ahead in their lives.

In our own lives I believe that it is easy to be complacent or in denial about where we are stuck, where we have a block that is holding us back in an emotionally literate way. At such times a mirror held up to us through a life situation and noticed can be a true blessing and the start of positive change.