Thursday, March 1, 2012

Toastmasters In Prison

Leadership skills taught to prison inmates By Laurie Rathbun 2/9/2007 2:40:58 PMBob Freel of Menifee does volunteer work that few others are willing to do. One evening a week, he goes to the California Institute for Women near Corona and teaches leadership and communication skills to inmates who belong to a Toastmasters club in the prison. Freel, 64, is a Distinguished Toastmaster and started volunteering in 2003 when he became an area governor of six clubs in the Inland Empire. “It was a culture shock,” he said remembering his first visit to the prison. “I was one of those people who thought lock them up and throw away the key.” He views the inmates now as human beings that have made mistakes. “I think a lot of them have paid their debt and deserve a second chance,” he said. In fact, he has written to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to help parole some of the inmates. Darrell Zeller, a former Toastmasters’ district governor in the Inland Empire, founded the club in 2002. Freel helps Zeller and another Toastmaster Randy Amelino run it. Freel said he’s known as the “Professor” because he teaches the inmates how to speak and build their confidence. The club meets on Thursday nights in two sessions and has more than 40 members. It costs the inmates about $65 to become members and most are determined to stay in it and complete the Toastmasters’ Competent Communication manual. Freel said that 80 to 90 percent of them complete the manual and advance to another level. This past year, a club member became a Distinguished Toastmaster, which is the highest recognition attainable. She was the first incarcerated prisoner to do so. “We were all very proud of her,” Freel said. Most of the club’s inmates are serving life sentences. “I have worked with some women who have been very prominent in the newspapers in the last 40 years,” Freel said. He can’t disclose their names due to confidentially rules. Freel has never felt that he was in physical danger from the inmates. He had to go through non-custodial training to volunteer and follows the same rules and regulations as the prison guards. He commented that it’s hard to get other Toastmasters to volunteer with the prisoners because they’re afraid, which he understands. “It’s a different environment,” he said. “You get tested. You have to earn their respect.” Freel became involved with Toastmasters about 11 years ago when he took a Dale Carnegie management and leadership training course through his job. “I went through the course and part of every meeting you got up and gave a short talk for one to two minutes,” he said. He did well and wanted to improve his speaking skills so his instructor recommended that he join Toastmasters. He joined it in 1995 in Corona where he was living at the time. Freel moved to Menifee in 2005 with his wife Gloria, 56. She’s the associate director of the Ontario City Library. He’s semi-retired and works one day a week for the United States Postal Service as a rural route carrier in Canyon Lake. Before that he was an operations support manager for 30 years at commercial and aerospace companies. Freel is a member of five Toastmasters clubs. He attends 10 to 12 meetings a month in Escondido, Temecula, Riverside and Woodbridge. There are 10,500 clubs worldwide with 211,000 members. For more information about Toastmasters International, visit its Web site at Comments or Questions about this piece? Photo: Laurie Rathbun photoMenifee resident Bob Freel is a Distinguished Toastmaster and teaches leadership and communication skills to inmates at the California Institute for Women near Corona. All contents copyright The Valley News Inc.Arts · The Valley News Inc. 27464 Commerce Center Drive, Temecula, CA 92590