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Female inmates ‘drastically improve’ through speech program

Pocatello

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POCATELLO — Female inmates at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center are ready to take an active stance on improving their lives.

Since April, some 18 inmates have voluntarily joined the Strong Women’s Legacy, the first ever Toastmasters program to be offered at the prison.

“(This) is huge because it gives us a less likely chance not to come back when we have more support,” inmate and club President, Alawna Smiddy said.

Toastmasters is recognized on an international level as a non-profit educational organization where members learn public speaking and leadership skills. The Strong Women’s Legacy gives inmates a positive platform to learn from others. Even after prison the members can join local, established Toastmasters groups and receive extended support. During the meetings inmates are joined by local Toastmasters officers who facilitate the meetings. Each week the women give prepared and impromptu speeches.

“These girls in here, for the ones that don’t have as much confidence, they need confidence to (grow),” Smiddy said. “They need to see people who care who want to come in every week.”

Local Toastmasters officers were inspired to start the club for female prisoners after traveling to Hawaii. There they saw the positive influence of speech craft courses for inmates on the islands. Officers thought a similar program could thrive in eastern Idaho, and in April they began courses at the women’s correctional facility.

“When we first met with the ladies they were very cautious, and not overly receptive. They weren’t sure what we were there to do,” Toastmasters officer, Mike Nelson said.

After the first few meetings the inmates began to loosen up and become more engaged in the program.

“We’ve taught them and given them educational topics, where we presented, ‘This is how you organized your speech, this is how you plan your speech, this is how you pull your speech together,” we’ve also talked to them on parliamentary procedure,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the women have given powerful speeches and have shared deep personal experiences. Many also share about the love for their families and the people they want to become.

“They may have some errors with not wanting to look up, they look at the ground or things like that, but they’ve been very open and honest,” Nelson said.

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He said the program also teaches resume building and job interview skills. He said giving them the tools for success will help these women stay far away from a life of crime.

“Part of the way we (encouraged them) was telling them we were going to teach them speaking skills to help them get better at doing job interviews. That is one of the concerns when they get out. They do not want to go back to the life they had before, they want to get a better job and keep going forward,” Nelson said.

Overall organizers say the program has strengthened the unity of the women for the better, and has transformed their self-confidence.

“We need to be reminded that just because we’ve made a mistake that it’s not going to haunt us for the rest of our life. There are people out there that want to see us succeed,” Smiddy said. “When these people come in here it’s always a huge reminder people out there want to see us succeed. They don’t want to see us stay in here for the rest of our lives. People aren’t scared of us.”

Nelson said he and other leaders have been strengthened by the women’s personal experiences and through the growth they’ve seen in the women.

“To see them progress, see them feel that it has value, and making them feel good about themselves, and giving them opportunities to where they don’t have the tendency to go back into the kind of things that got them in trouble and landed them in prison in the first place, You feel like you’re making a difference to the community and a difference to the individuals,” Nelson said.

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