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Teaching Inmates Public Speaking, May Help Keep Them Out of Prison

April 15, 2016

By Andrew Garber

DOC Communications

MONROE - Jack Buce believes one reason some people end up in prison is because they have trouble communicating with others.

So Buce figures a good way to help inmates from returning to prison after release is to teach them public speaking skills.

To that end, he’s been working as a Toastmaster volunteer since 1998 at the Monroe Correctional Complex, (MCC) north of Seattle. He’s one of 700 volunteers who help run 100 programs at the facility, at no cost to the state.

“I found the people out here are human beings like me and have good parts of their personalities,” Buce said. “They have failings just like we all do and I began to see they are worth helping. In the process, I felt like I was making a contribution.”

Buce, a former chief financial officer for a nonprofit group, said the Toastmasters program inside prison is essentially the same as it is on the outside where participants have to prepare and give a set series of speeches. “It helps people become confident in their ability to speak in front of others,” he said.

“We find that the guys who gain confidence in their public speaking are more confident of themselves in being able to interact with other people,” Buce said, adding “I have seen lives change in the two or three years people are in the program before they are released, or transferred to another prison.”

He recalled one inmate serving a life sentence who’d been in prison for 28 years before deciding to give the course a try. “He said he had anger issues but just decided he wanted to see if he could do something constructive with the time he did have. Toastmasters gave him focus and he became a happier person,” Buce said.

Toastmasters has its limits. Not everyone becomes a great speaker, he noted. “It’s very easy to come in as a below average speaker and after great improvement, you become an average speaker,” he said. “That’s ok. It’s the confidence you gain in knowing you can do it.”

Buce said people sometimes ask him about why he volunteers at the prison. “There’s still a little bit of reservation and even revulsion about ‘why are you going out to the prison?’ ” he said.

But volunteers at the prison find incarcerated people interested in turning around their lives, he said, and programs like Toastmasters can help. “It’s become a big part of my life,” Buce said of his volunteer work at the prison, “in the sense that I retired two years ago and this is my main activity.”