By Buisch, Michele D.; St. Gerard, Vanessa
Corrections Today , Vol. 66, No. 6
If it were not for the people who added value and real wealth to his life along the way, college football star and former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts Jr. said during the Opening Session that he could have graduated from a correctional facility rather than the University of Oklahoma in 1981.
Today, society expects corrections professionals to "perform miracles," explained Watts, because they are in the trenches daily dealing with the growing population of those under correctional supervision. Corrections professionals are, in most cases, he said, the last, best hope these offenders have to be able to successfully return to society. But the reality is that these people are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, who could have been positively impacted by those around them before they reached the prison system. So if his child were to end up in the correctional system, Watts said, he would have to ask himself what he had done as a father to keep her out of prison. He continued that everyone in the audience should, as he often does himself, look into the mirror and ask themselves whether they are the solution or the problem.
In many ways, Watts continued, we have all contributed to the workload of the members of the American Correctional Association in some small way. In today's society, he said, "we have become so jaded and we've become so hard-hearted and a society that says, 'Don't turn the other cheek, don't say you're sorry because it makes you look weak ... do it to them, before they do it to you.' And it is the ideology we have advocated as a nation for so long ... if we continue to advocate that ideology somewhere along the way we all will pay a price."
To illustrate his point, Watts told attendees that if they find that their house is flooded when they return from the conference, using a mop will not do much good. Instead, finding the source of the problem ensures a much better chance of fixing it. The same is true with what is going on in society.
While conference attendees discussed policies and procedures during the Congress, as well as best practices and "what works," Watts said he wanted to provide some common sense solutions to the larger problem of increasing prison populations. "It will be a glorious day, one day, if we can put every one of you out of work," said Watts, who served four terms as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives before retiring.
Watts said the solution is to accumulate real wealth in life. True wealth, he explained cannot be bought or sold, or deposited in a bank. It does not come easily, it is difficult to apply and will not accumulate overnight. In fact, true wealth may not be realized during one's lifetime.
It is important for people to challenge themselves, Watts continued, to add real value to their work and relationships so that people do not end up in correctional facilities. It is especially important for corrections professionals because their work with offenders may be the last opportunity to make a positive impact.
Watts said he does not get up in the morning and just punch a clock and play a role, such as the role of congressman or the role of youth pastor. Instead, he said, he challenges himself, as we all should, to add value to his work and relationships.
Watts listed seven ways to acquire real and lasting wealth. First, he said, be a friend to yourself. Second, understand that to have friends you must be a friend. Third, speak encouraging words. Just think, he said, how differently it might have turned out for any one offender had he or she heard encouraging words. "The biggest lie to ever come down the pike: 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.' Words do hurt," Watts said. Fourth, become a good listener because often we listen to respond rather than listen to hear. Fifth, do not hold anger because that will become bitterness, which will then become hatred "and hatred will imprison you. …