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Internal Prisons: The Thief of Productivity and Quality in our Workforce
by Troy Evans

Internal Prison: The Theft Of Productivity

As a professional speaker, one of my biggest challenges is to grab the attention of my audience within the first few minutes of the presentation- grab them by the throat if you will. I do this by coming out in a suite and tie, following an introduction in which I have been described as a recent college graduate who earned both of his degrees with a 4.0 GPA and placement on the Deans and Presidents List. I am portrayed as someone who was once an honors roll student, star athlete, father and family man. Upon entering the stage I ask the audience to take a close look at my face.

"This is the face, as your were just told, of a recent college graduate, a recent college graduate who earned both his degrees with the highest academic honors available. This is the face of a kind man, an honest man, a trustworthy man, and a man of his word. Please take a close look at this face." Now the hook- I then turn around, pull a pantyhose mask over my face and turn back around brandishing a toy pistol. I now ask them to take a look at this face.

"This is the face of a man who on March 20th, 1992 walked in to the First Tier National Bank, pointed a semi-automatic pistol at the tellers face and demanded all of the twenties, fifties and hundreds. This would be the first of five armed bank robberies that I would commit over a six month crime spree when I was twenty-eight years old." I then pull the mask off and explain to them that both these faces are mine. "The transformation between the two, the transformation from a suicidal, drug induced bank robber to what you see standing before you today took place gradually, over 7.5 years within the confines of a federal prison."

Prison Does Not Always Mean Steel Bars And Razor Wire

What does me earning two college degrees while incarcerated have to do with HR Management? It is my belief that we all have internal prisons, "prisons within ourselves" that are just as confining as those walls that held me for 7.5 years. I am talking about being a prisoner to things like fears, addictions, depression, overeating, overworking, bad relationships- the list could go on and on. Only when we ourselves, and those we bring into our companies are "whole" personally can we then become better professionally.

It is also my belief that these "internal prisons" is the number one cause in lost productivity and the largest contributor to declining quality. If your people are worried about their relationships, their fears or their addictions, are they giving you the best eight hours they possibly can? No, they're going to be on the phone mending relationships, feeding addictions and being preoccupied with their fears. If your employees bring to the job with them the burdens of their personal life, you are getting at the very best someone who is distracted and at the very worst someone who is contributing nothing to your bottom-line.

Whether A Prisoner Or On The Payroll

Prison is an institution and an organization. Your company is an institution and an organization. When you stop to think about their structures, they are not that different. Warden/CEO, Caseworker/Manager, Inmate/Employee. The only difference is whether you come to it voluntarily, which for many employees is in question as they feel as though they are prisoners to their profession. How did I metaphorically escape my prison? By being proactive in my work, not reactive. This is what I suggest to HR Managers.

Reactive people let the environment dictate what they do, and to some extent protect them. Proactive people shake things up and experiment with new ideas and procedures. When speaking to HR groups I am often asked what steps can be taken to help employees escape their internal prisons, after all they many times say, "We are not psychologists or psychiatrists." I explain that you do not have to be, but what you do have to do is let your employees know that you care about their personal lives and that the company is committed to their overall well-being.

This can be done in the form of personal days, having counselors available, strict confidentiality policies, and classes that can teach managers what to look for in employees who may be struggling with personal issues. If these things are in place, and if we truly create an environment in which we make our employees feel like family both during work hours and after, can you imagine the effect on tardiness, absenteeism, productivity, turnover and quality?


Turnover. In prison you want them leaving early and never coming back. Within your company you want them staying forever. How can both be accomplished? Prisons need to stop being all about incarceration, and nothing about rehabilitation. Companies need start caring about the personal lives of their people. Since diversity in the workforce is an HR issue, I will conclude with something that is very close to my heart. An ex-con can be your most dedicated, grateful and hardworking employee. If you have one within your company you know what I'm talking about, if you don't, it's time you discovered this truth.

But before this can happen on a large scale, our prison systems across the country need to give offenders a chance to succeed. Because of budget cuts most institutions are forced to spend their precious funds on security related issues, and that leaves almost nothing for vocational and educational programs. Let's do some simple math. It cost $35,000 per year to house one inmate (and this is a conservative figure). It would cost a fraction of that to educate that same inmate. I have seen studies, which show that the re-arrest rate of those who come out of prison with at least two years of prison, an Associates Degree, is 10%. Those who come out with no schooling at all have a re-arrest rate of nearly 60%.

The numbers speak for themselves. Hire an ex-offender and contribute to a human being once again becoming a productive member of our society- you may just find that they prove to be your best employee(s)- especially if you let them know you care about their internal prisons.

© Troy D. Evans, 2004

Troy Evans is a professional speaker and author who resides in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Pam and his dog Archibald. Troy travels the country delivering keynote presentations, and since his release from prison has taken the corporate and association platforms by storm. Overcoming adversity, adapting to change and pushing yourself to realize your full potential. Other speakers talk about these issues, Troy has walked them. The Evans Group 3104 E. Camelback Road, #436 Phoenix, AZ 85016 602-265-6855 Fax: 602-285-1474



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