Archive for the ‘Reconstruction Program’ Category

Reframing is a powerful tool that can be used by anyone at anytime when they find themselves in one of life’s many cruxes. It is a coaching tool that I use all the time when I find myself, either in a negative place or dealing with someone who is in a negative place.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to use this tool with a young guy here in the prison. I want to give a little background on this guy to give you a clearer picture.

When I first met this kid he was new to the system and in a very depressed state. He was on psychotropic drugs, very heavy kind to be exact, that literally had him mummified. He would lay in bed all day, picked up a lot of weight and was just dead to the world going on around him.

This kid is not the “typical” criminal. Meaning it is clear that he did something stupid and was sent to prison for it. He is one of those “I learned my lesson the first time” guys.

I used to ask him, occasionally, why did he take medicine. His reply was that he was depressed. Fair enough. I understand that mental illness is real. I do believe that sometimes people are prescribed drugs for the sake of it and not because they necessarily need it. But, that is not the point here. He was someone who thought that he needed it and I respected that need.

Over a few months I start to notice a change in his behavior, an improvement. He started to hang out more with some of the guys his age. Started going to church and the fellowship group. Overall he seemed to be adjusting well.

There were some allegations made about him and his sexuality, along with some allegations that he cooperated with the law on his case. As this stuff was going on I noticed him fall back into the same slump that he was in months ago. These two allegations are serious and can cause one to be an outcast, open to be preyed upon. They are seen as weak and open for anyone to use and abuse.

When I heard of the stuff that was going on I pulled him to the side to talk to him. Now when I go out of my way to talk to someone about serious issues there cannot be any bs or lies. If I take interest in someone else’s life I need to know that I am not being fooled. Especially, with something of this nature. I express this to him and asked if what was being said was the truth. He confirmed that it was and that he confided in someone else, who maliciously passed on that information prior to going home. Now, the first thing that jumps up in my mind is, “you have to be one of the stupidest people in the world to confide in someone who you don’t know. Especially with information that can harm you.”

I pride myself on being a man of integrity and of my word. I told him that I would not speak of this again, but I just wanted to offer some advice. That was a moment where he needed advice and someone to trust. Not that any of the stuff that was being said matter, even though it did, I believe that everyone deserve a fair shake. After he explained to me the elements of his case I knew that it was a case of some childish stuff that went wrong. In fact all of the people involved were scared into cooperation against one another. His drug use and the community that he came from facilitated in his other behavior. As I said this guy is not “typical”.

Well working together we were able to help him move on from that incident. We were able deal with those issues with some of the other guys, so that he could at least live without fear. Fair enough.

Well, yesterday I am on my way to the cell. Now this above mentioned events occurred during the summer of this year. I moved on from it, as well as he. We live in the same unit but I am almost never here so when I see him it is in passing, and no more than a, “hey. what’s up? are you cool?” etc. real general stuff. Well yesterday he was sitting out in front of my cell on the stairs. I was on my way to my cell to make me a cup of my morning Joe. My cell is at the end of the range/tier so there is a set of stairs next to my cell. I see him there with his head down. I felt the vibe was way off. I stopped and asked him what was up? He looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ” I am at my breaking point.” I immediately stopped and inquired as to what was up.

Since my cell was right there I took him in the cell to talk to him. He begins to tell me of a situation that took place that involved, of all things, peanut butter. I am looking at this kid and say to myself, “You got to be kidding me. This is about some peanut butter?!” I knew that there was something else going on and that this was a good time to get into coaching mode, and use some good listening skill. It was obvious that this was something serious to him, serious enough to bring him to tears. Come to find out, without going into the story, it was not about peanut butter but about feeling “used”.

After listening to him tell his story I began to think that this is the cry and complaint of 99% of the world. We just don’t want to be used and felt that others are taking advantage of us, our kindness, money and time. So, after listening to him I asked if I could ask a couple of simple questions. He agreed. I asked him what it was that he “did not” want? He replied, “I don’t want to feel that I am being used.” I asked him, “what does feeling used feel like?” He replied that “it didn’t feel good.” So, I ask, “what would it take, or make you feel good in this situation?” He said,” to know that I am not being used and to have others in my life that I can trust.” So, I asked him to lets start there, from the place that you want to be at. To get out of this negative place filled with things, people and feelings that you don’t want.

I asked him if he was willing to reframe his thoughts and feelings. He agreed. I asked him to first try to tell me what he wanted from the people in his life. It boiled down to honest, trusting and genuine people. I asked if he could find that here. He said yes that he has that now with the members of his church group. I say to him that if that is the case he has right now what he needs to be happy. He began to light up as a light went off in his head. He said, “you know what you are right I do.” I replied, “No. I am not right you are right. You were the one that is able to realize that you had what you wanted to be cool in this situation.”

I challenged him with this. From now on when you find yourself thinking about what you don’t want, reframe that to what you “do” want. What you focus on will expand and grow. The good and the bad. If you don’t want to be “used” think I want supportive, loving and trustworthy people in my life, and go out and look for those people. It is better to spend your energy looking for what you want than to spend it running and ducking from what you don’t want.

Well it is safe to say that he gained something from that 15 minute conversation. That is the power of coaching in this place. If a man like this is left on the edge of his breaking point how many lives are at risk, including his own? You can never underestimate a person in their time of desperation. This is one example how coaching has bought good to this place. The more people that have this skill and are true to the art of coaching the healthier these places can become. More people can actually leave and never return. More people can actually leave here and be productive.


Today September 25 2013 marks a day of many firsts. A day where someone dreams came true a day where a miracle was performed. It is also the day that marks the graduation of eight men, incarcerated men, who graduated from a Life Coaching Program inside a prison facility. This was a landmark event here for men who have been on a journey to not only change their lives but the lives of those around them.

It was a day where others were about to see the rewards of their investment of time, money and energy. It was a day where some of these men completed something that will lead to a life of fulfillment and success.

I had the honor of being one of those men. I had the honor of living part of a bigger dream. I had the chance to meet my mentor, coach and friends from the outside world, as they shared this day with me. It may not seem like a big deal when you think small. But, if you think that any time that you can effect change in the world today was a very big deal.

These are the men that are going to go back to someone’s neighborhood and either build it up or tear it down. These are men that are going home at some point and either going to influence others in a healthy and positive way or corrupt them. I am sure that these men are going to be productive in their future endeavors.

One of the things that I shared with those that were present is something that I want to share here. It is a small piece on how fleas are trained.

The way that fleas are trained is that you put them in a cardboard box with a lid on it. The fleas will jump and hit the top of the cardboard box over and over again. After a while you will notice that the fleas will continue to jump but not high enough to hit the lid.

When you take the lid off the fleas will continue to jump, but they will not jump out the box. They will not jump out because they cannot jump out the box. Why? They have conditioned themselves to jump just so high, that is all they can do.

How many people do the same thing? They restrict themselves and never reach their full potential. Just like the fleas, they fail to jump higher, thinking that they are doing all that they can do.

When I am asked about Life Coaching and what it is that we do here this is a good way to sum it up. I try to help others who have been conditioned and programmed to think that there is nothing else to life other than what they have experienced.
Most men, the vast majority, have been conditioned to think that there is nothing else to life other than the neighborhood in which they were raised. You see this often with the guys that get the names of their streets and neighborhoods tattooed on their bodies, even their faces for some. What does this say about ones conditioning?

Would it not be better to have a program that is designed to help these men and women recondition themselves? To be able to experience life for another aspect. I think that it is something that can be done and will be beneficial to the lives off all of those involved.

The program the has been created here is a program that will propel the men here that are involved to the next level in their lives. The inaugural graduation marks another phase of the process. Another tool to use to help others reconnect with themselves and others.

One of the things that I do here inside is coach guys. I know that it sounds like a strange concept but I can say that it is one that is working, at least for the time being. If one understands the concept of life coaching I am sure that they can see how a concept such as this can work on the inside. What I want to do is kind of layout some of what I do and how it works.

One of the most important concepts of coaching involves listening. I think that this is something that is often lacking in the lives of most of us. How many times have you ever felt that you were being listened to and not merely heard? To have someone really listen to you, with intentions to hear and understand what you are saying, is priceless. Most of the time during any given conversation we are listening for what ” we agree with” or what “we disagree with” and often that is all that we hear. We sometimes miss the subtle body movements that scream sadness, loneliness, or fear. That is often due to not being able to understand how to identify emotions correctly or not being to ask the right questions to see what are the emotions that are often hidden beneath the tone of anger and frustration.

It is like the kid who comes home and didn’t make the team. He says to his pops. “hey dad I didn’t make the team.” and he has tears in his eyes and his father says, “its okay! you will get’ em next time.” Did dad really hear his son? There is so much to ask the son that the father never asked. How has he validated his son? Has he taken this  moment to teach his son a life lesson that he will always remember? Has he empowered his son to take this incident and become better at this or maybe something else? Who knows for all we know making the team may have been dads idea and not the son. So maybe he is saying, ” Dad this game is not for me.” yet he doesn’t know.

Well this could be anyone, even an offender. True there are some guys that don’t get it and will never get it but there are guys that do and will get it. I think that it is the best interest that guys come home from prison having dealt with some of the issues that may have aided them in making poor decision. It is in the best interest of the greater society that guys come home feeling empowered and not stuck in the stories of the “past” and know how to move forward in life. That is how life coaching benefits those on the inside.

What is sad is that all of the things that I have acquired over the years have been things that I have gotten on my own. There was no help nor support system from the inside that gave me an idea as to what I was supposed to do with this time. I know that many people would like to believe that there is this strict regime of therapy and programming that deals with the issues and reasons why most of us ended up here. The truth is that nothing of that sort exists! There is nothing but a bunch of rules and regulations that guys despise. This often adds to the frustration of the guys that want to do something different but some of the things that they need are not at their disposal. What coaching does is provides a time and space where guys can be heard, vent some of these frustrations and find the solution within themselves to move past this experience, or any other, and become successful out in society.

So that it be known what I do is not some self made practice. Something that I picked up reading a book and decided to play Dr. I am currently going through the training process to become a certified Life Coach through the Institute for Life Coach Training, founded by Dr. Patrick Williams, who is my mentor as well. So when I have the sessions that I have I come from a professional place where ethics are observed and evidence based concepts are applied. By no means am I the final authority on the subject but I can say that maybe my 2 cents may have some validity.

I can say that the guys that have been coached here are in a different place, in terms of the way that they do their time and what they focus on, than the guys that just wander around aimlessly. One of the questions that I ask guys who show an interest in Life Coaching is ” if you had one wish and you woke up tomorrow and it was granted what would you wish for?” Most guys say the obvious, ” i would wish to be home.” The next question that I ask is, ” what does it look like?” You would be surprised at how many guys want to go home but don’t have a clue as to what going home looks like. Sometimes I have to ask guys, “what do you see yourself doing out there?” This is when the lights really start to click. If they can “see” themselves being fathers through coaching it is reaffirmed that they can “be” fathers. If they can “see” themselves working it is affirmed that there is nothing stopping you from working. There are a host of other questions that eventually get them to take the steps now to be the person that they want to be later. That is how Life Coaching works on the inside.

Recently Talib shared his Reconstruct Program with a group of inmates located at another prison.  This is his reponse to the question asked, “Does one need to use tactics to survive in prison?

Do you want to know a sad reality? Most of us behind bars don’t even trust ourselves. That is why “doing the right thing” so scary. There is this hidden sense of fear that we don’t like to confront. The mere thought of failure after having been told that we are failures is scary. For most people there is no fear of doing the right thing. When one is guided by fears when it comes to being accountable there is a defense mechanism that we use and it is called ‘tactics’. That being something that we use to craftily avoid accountability. Those tactics are there to protect what is called ‘thinking barriers’. Thinking barriers are, as I define them, the personalities and egos that drive a lot of people. I believe that we are made up of a personalities. Over time we begin to think that we are our personalities and we use the many different personalities as survival tools.

We also have a (for lack of better words) a spiritual essence which ties us in to humankind. It is a essence where we use our feelings and intuitions to influence to guide us. This is not a religious belief but one that we as people inherit from birth. When a child is born and needs to feed, for instance, how does it know what hungry is? The child doesn’t but what is unique is that when the child cries out “we” as adults assume that the child is hungry. So on a deeper level the child begins to exhibit certain behaviors to get a certain response, this is where, in my belief, that we begin to develop our personalities. The child is acting out, and here hunger is not the main issue here, but there is an innate instinct of ‘trust’ that someone/thing is going to cater to his/her need. As we get older we forget to use that instinctual feeling of trust and start using our personalities and likes and dislikes to establish trust with others.

Personalities can change from day to day. In fact we are always changing them in search for something else. Something to replace what ever is not working in our lives. This what I call lifestyle changes. As one changes personalities they have to change lifestyles. There is nothing wrong with that as there is no right or wrong personality except when it comes to a criminal personality.

What is the criminal personality? It is a personality that drives criminal behavior and lifestyle. How is this personality developed? It is a personality that is driven by fear, anger, lust, greed, paranoia, shame, guilt, selfishness, self-pity, excuses and there are a host of other character traits. There is the inability to establish and maintain strong and healthy relationships as one of the traits to this personality is the inability to “trust”.

The question was asked does one need tactic to survive in prison. One has to be tactical in life period but the type of tactics that I am discuss is the tactics that we use to guard our irresponsible thinking and behavior. Tactics are the foot soldiers that guard the head of it all, the general/the one that controls it all, our thoughts.

So how does this work as it concern change? Well the tactics are the food for the personality and the ego, the criminal personality and ego that is. An example of this would be lets say you are holding me accountable for coming to work late. I tell you, “hey what is the big deal everyone comes to work late. In fact you were late the other day.” This is a classical example of me 1. minimizing my behavior and 2. pointing out what you have done, when the issue is me. What happens when I become a master of this behavior and find that I can get away with it? I become a master of manipulation and deceit. I am not learning how to be responsible and I don’t see the reason to do something that “everyone” does. Does that sound familiar? That I did what “everyone else in my life or neighborhood has done.”

What would a person that wants to be responsible do? They may 1. realize that they may be late and try to call and let someone know, or 2. admit that they were late and ask is there anything that they can do to offset that, maybe work a little longer if necessary. There are many variables but I just wanted to make the point that the responsible person that doesn’t use tactics can see how their behavior affects others. The irresponsible person only sees themselves. That is the difference between the two. I don’t need tactic to survive in prison if I have the true desire to be productive and responsible and that does not mean putting my life in jeopardy and causing other problems for myself. No, it means that I am going to be responsible and open to accountability. It is not always easy for me, or anyone else for that matter as we have been conditioned, but it is the focus..

When one begins to understand that this is an individual journey life changes colors. I say changes colors because we all are wearing lenses called our perceptions. Some of us are wearing the right prescriptions others aren’t. Once one finds the right prescriptions life becomes clearer and things that we never saw before become apparent to us. That is the hope in what I do and why I do it.

Talib has partnered with Dr. Patrick Williams, MCC, BCC, the founder of the Institute for Life Coaching and Coaching the Global Village, to further develop his Reconstruct Program curriculum into a life coaching model for inmates and ex-offenders.  Please visit the Coaching the Global Village website to read more about this project and offer your support.

The Reconstruct Program

Project: Coaching the Global Village is forming a new partnership with Talib Mustafa Shakir’s Reconstruct Program. It is a program designed to introduce productive principles and provide realistic solutions to aid in the successful re-entry of current offenders back into society and provide coaching/mentoring for at-risk young adults. Read more about the life coaching vision for the Reconstruct Program

A life coaching program for ex-offenders

by Talib Mustafa Shakir

It all started with a vision.

reconstruct2Yes, just like most things in life it is usually a vision that sparks some of the most life changing moments in our lives. What was my vision?. It sounded outrageous until I explained the plan of execution. The vision was to develop a life coaching program for ex-offenders. To help them make better choices in designing their future.

Yes that got a few laughs. I mean we are talking about a profession that typically caters to executive and business leaders, so what and how is a person who has been engaging in anti-social behavior for so long going to benefit from coaching? “A lot!” was my response. Let me explain.

I can say this with confidence because I am an example of how Life Coaching has truly helped me change! I came to prison at a fairly young age, seventeen, and have spent 20 years (straight) behind prison walls. During this time I participated in many programs and none of them had been that effective, in the sense that they did not do anything to empower me to be successful out in society. It had been about recognizing the wrongs that I had done, and due to that focus it set barriers on life’s possibilities…. read more

” Each of us has our own point of view about things that happen in our lives. We call these explanations stories to emphasize the fact that our points of view are not The Truth. Facts are different from stories. Facts are things we can all agree upon, what we can all verify with our senses. Stories involve opinions, interpretations, theories and explanations. Facts are the “What” and Stories are the “Why.” Most of us are caught up in the stories we believe about ourselves, other people our relationships; we have forgotten that these stories are stories and that we made them up. We are convinced that our stories contain The Truth.” (Bill O’Hanlon)

This is a quote that i used today with my extended coaching class to get the guys to open up to the idea that our stories may not always be the truth. the thing about this quote is that it can challenge the values of a person and that can be frightening, to say the least. Is that dangerous? to not be able to alter your values when you are confronted with a view that maybe different from yours? this is the challenge of many of the men in prison, they are afraid to alter their values as for the longest they have been caught up in their stories, which for the most part are stories that they have created for themselves.

as we look for ways to change it is important that you learn, know, understand and accept your story. not the one that you may have created for yourself, what i like to call your myth, but the one that makes you who you are at your core being. it is important that you wake up everyday and look for a chance to be inspired or to inspire someone else. it may be through a smile, kind word or merely by saying excuse me or i am sorry. you would be surprised how this can inspire others to be, do and act the same. in a place where this is hard to come by i find that if i wake up to this at some point i am inspired and i have inspired. it is amazing how effective this can be. in a world and environment where it is easy to hate, be miserable, depressed, angry, resentful, and bitter you would be surprised how a simple “hey how are you today” can change the mood of a person, it is meeting the needs of being validated. this is inspiring. so i challenge you to inspire someone today. and look for at least one way to be inspired.


Vanderbilt University is hosting a Rethinking Prisons 2013 Conference this coming May, and Talib has been invited to present his work on the Reconstruction Program!!!  This conference is part of A Year of Rethinking Prisons program coordinated by Lisa Guenther in the Department of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

A Year of Rethinking Prisons is a series of events to stimulate a public discussion of issues raised by prisons and the death penalty. We have invited scholars, activists, artists, and community members – both in prison and in the outside world – to reflect on how the criminal justice system shapes our lives, and how we can work together to find better responses to crime. The series culminates in a national conference at Vanderbilt University on May 2-4, 2012, with invited speakers Joy James, Susan Rosenberg, and Mark L. Taylor.

To learn more about Talib’s Reconstruction Program please visit our newly created page dedicated to this project!