The title of this post was taken from a powerful 2011 documentary narrated by Forest Whitaker about a group of inmate volunteers who staff their own hospice inside a maximum security prison in Louisiana, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. I became aware of the documentary after spending three days at a residency for prison wardens in Baton Rouge in the Spring of 2016 at the behest of Vistage Worldwide (where I worked at the time), which was exploring the prospect of including prison wardens in Vistage groups.
Here’s how the Warden Exchange eloquently and accurately portrays its mission: The Warden Exchange™ (WE) is a Prison Fellowship program empowering corrections professionals to create a legacy of safer prisons and safer communities. The Warden Exchange convenes thought leaders who exchange innovative ideas and best practices for the moral rehabilitation of inmates. Together, we can create a prison culture conducive to restorative change and successful reentry.
Essentially, wardens from all over the country come together for in-person residencies and online sessions throughout the year to learn from one another. It’s a remarkable collection of leaders who have an unspeakably difficult job. I was privileged to get to know them and blown away by a group visit to Angola – the maximum security prison that was the subject of the documentary. During my three days at the residency, I witnessed the power of peers in its full splendor – wardens learning from one another, the tireless efforts and teamwork of the Angola staff, and prisoners serving life sentences resolved to making their “community” better.
I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the residency last year, but I am grateful for having had the experience and for staying in touch with National Director for the Warden Exchange, Pedro Moreno. As a result, I led a workshop for about 40 wardens in Houston earlier today, and the group was amazing. (I also had the pleasure of talking to Burl Cain, the person who transformed Angola from the bloodiest prison in the U.S. to what it’s become today). I wish everyone could see these incredible leaders, up close and personal, to appreciate the work they do to make our society better. Best of all, they are doing it together, serving life one peer at a time!
(By the way, if you’ve never seen Serving Life, buckle up and check it out!)