The toastmaster killed. Ditto for two of the three featured speakers. The grammarian merely robbed. So the Miami Herald describes the Voices of Time Gavel Club. Its purpose is to develop public speaking and leadership skills, but meetings are held under guard in the family visiting room at Everglades Correctional Institution; all 85 members are serving life sentences for violent crimes. Many committed their crimes as teenagers; most are in their 50s now. One is 81. Eligible for parole, they are part of a transition program to prepare them for life on the outside.
”Whether it’s interviewing with a potential employer or the parole board or talking with a group of at-risk students, this program not only improves their communication skills, it improves their self-esteem,” said Chris Wolfe, a public speaking coach from the outside who started the club last year. Meetings follow a strict protocol: The toastmaster opens and closes with brief remarks and introduces the speakers in between. Almost everybody begins with a lengthy formal welcome. Of the 125 inmates paroled from the transitions program, 10 have returned to prison for reasons like drinking or missing an appointment with a parole officer. Only one has returned for a criminal offense.