Advocating for reforms becomes easier when leaders are willing to listen! On Friday, August 11, 2023, I attended a conference for the American Correctional Association in Philadelphia. Attending these conferences helps me to spread ideas on the importance of incentivizing excellence. It opened opportunities for me to speak with leaders like Regional Director Andy Matevousian, who introduced me to Director Colette Peters and Deputy Director William Lathrop.
Why are those people important to advocacy?
They have the power to influence changes in both policies and laws. Their willingness to listen to someone who served 26 years in federal prison says a great deal. We’re expanding our coursework, Preparing for Success after Prison, because it’s essential to help people build hope. When individuals see that they can earn incremental levels of liberty through hard work, we improve outcomes for all.
In the afternoon, I attended the keynote speech to listen as legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard spoke about what it takes to be a champion.
He was gracious, funny, and inspiring as he wove videos into his keynote, telling us what it takes to be a champion. He used an acronym as follows:
Justice-impacted people can learn by listening to leaders and champions. As Sugar Ray told the audience, our past doesn’t have to define our future—unless we want it to. If we put in the roadwork and work harder than anyone else, we can always get back up and win. With video footage from some of his most memorable fights, he showed us how he used the strategy of outworking his opponents to prepare.
My favorite part of his speech was when Sugar Ray showed clips from his fights. In his match with Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns, he explained how he had to dig deep and finish strong. In preparing to fight against Marvelous Marvin Hagler, he described how he trained for months. With Roberto Duran, he tells how the fighter took him off his game, which led to Sugar Ray’s loss in the first fight and his victory in the second fight.
Sugar Ray told us that we could all be winners if we put in the road work. We’ve got to work harder than anyone around us and grow stronger even while working in the fire of adversity. Our resilience is what makes us champions. And we choose every day whether we want to get up and win another round or allow external circumstances to define us.
In the evening, my wife and I had dinner with the Regional Director, and we spoke about lessons we learned from listening to Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the greatest champions of all time. I wish everyone in our community could have heard those inspiring words and the leadership from Regional Director Matevousian. Change doesn’t always come quickly, but if we keep putting in the work, living by the POWER acronym, I’m confident that all of us will see positive changes that allow more people to work toward earning freedom.
I hope more people will get that message by participating in our First-Step Act-approved course, Preparing for Success after Prison.