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The Unboxed Brain is a monthly ezine bringing you innovation, spirit and creativity.  We feature articles by coaching professionals and others working on the creative frontier.

Time to Change

 by Kim Gaudin de Gonzalez         


Time to Change (first called The Bigger Game) was founded in the belief that coaching training is one of the best methods for developing emotional intelligence, maturity, and the ability to focus on healthy life choices; and as survival issues get handled, to be of service to others.

It is hoped that when trained coach-inmates are released, they will be less likely to return to prison and that they can move on to pursue meaningful lives.
Time to Change wants more than to just train coaches within prison – it seeks to lay the groundwork for a “coach approach” to solving conflicts among differing cultures and populations. Inmates are trained to be co-active coaches. The project hopes to expand the training to prison staff as well. The long-term program goals include increased family unity, reduced recidivism, and increased public safety.

The overarching rationale for this program came from the inmates; namely we learned that they did NOT KNOW HOW! Prior to this training, the men did not really know how to think about what another person might want. It didn't occur to them to think about things from another’s point of view, to be curious instead of resentful, to empower rather than ignore, to be of service instead of self-obsessed. When these inmates discovered Personal Values and Life Purpose work it changed their lives, and, the way they view themselves in relationship with their families, their communities, the world. “The first class allowed me to see people as people, not as objects,” says “C”

C" is a federal inmate who was bound and determined to be known as a tough guy in the prison yard. Eventually his rough rider persona took both physical and emotional tolls. He quickly lost all contact with his wife and children. He ended up hospitalized for a collapsed lung, grazed spleen and internal bleeding. When he wasn’t in the hospital, he spent a lot of time in isolation for nonsocial behavior.

C is one of about 100 current and former inmates of the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood Colorado who have gone through the program. Another identical program began in October 2002 at San Quentin Prison in California. Time to Change delivered a sequential series of four Co-Active Coaching workshops in San Quentin with a total of 30 inmates participating in some portion of the training. Currently, volunteers at San Quentin are exploring the possibility of starting a program on weeknights that would allow the inmate coaches to practice their skills in between workshops. Since October 2000, 100 FCI inmates have received training as co-active coaches. In addition to conducting workshops volunteers enter the prison once a week to work with the coaches-in-training. San Quentin soon will follow suit by offering similar support to its coaches-in-training.

“Through coaching I was able to discover the real me. Not the person I tried to portray to my fellow convicts,” C said. When I first started, I could hardly speak my name in the class, my self-esteem was so low. As it turns out, it was a class that helped me find out who the real me is. Never have I had a learning and growth experience like I had in the coaching class.”

“Coaching training helps them to think and feel in new ways, instead of simply putting them in a box called a prison and expecting them to come out changed in every way,” said Whitworth. “We are not teaching personal growth as the main course. The inmates are getting coaching training. They get the personal growth part while they’re not looking.”
About 614,000 people will be released from state and federal prisons this year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the Justice Department. Within three years, 62 percent of them will be arrested again, and 41 percent will be sent back to prison.

The first year out of prison seems to be the most critical, a time when nearly two-thirds of inmates who return to jail are rearrested, according to a study released in June by the Justice Department. Since only about 15 percent of prison inmates are enrolled in academic or rehabilitation programs, most inmates are released having received little or no job training, drug treatment or education in how to be a better parent.

Ariane Cherbuliez, one of the Time To Change project leaders, challenges some commonly held beliefs. “Some people think that bringing this kind of course to prisoners is coddling them, spoiling them, giving them a free reward for their crimes. Actually, it’s the opposite. Men who have never in their lives really listened to another human being except to figure out how to scam them, men who didn’t realize that they could choose to act differently, men who have not taken responsibility for themselves because they didn’t know how are now in a position where they can do those things.”

Michael, who describes himself as a man “with tattoos and a hard-ass convict attitude,” was an inmate at the Englewood prison where Time to Change kicked off its training program under The Bigger Game moniker. He is a coaching trainee. Shortly before he was released, he had this to say about how The Bigger Game had changed his life:
“I think I would have left this place with a completely different attitude--hard and hateful. This program has helped me to be in touch with myself and helped me realize that I might be able to help others do the same. It is just so easy to forget about values and that people care and are willing to make changes in their life. This program is definitely the best thing that could happen for prisoners across the country. I never realized I was such a compassionate thug.”


Does the vision of this project inspire you?  Do you want to contribute energetically or financially?  Do you want to help raise funds?  "Time-to-Change" needs your help to continue the programs at San Quentin and the FCI Englewood program. Please send tax-free contributions to Centerforce, 2955 Kerner Blvd., 2nd Floor, San Rafael, CA 94901 or at ( so this important work can continue. Please be sure all donations are marked, “Time to Change.”

They're also looking for corporate and grant funding. If, as a coach you have any executive clients within an organization that offers grants and donations, you can contact Kathryn Kemp at

 © 2003. Kim Gaudin de Gonzalez , all rights reserved




Laura Whitworth, one of the founders of Coaches Training Institute in California, said that because coaching requires a lot of listening, responsibility, vulnerability, and curiosity, inmates training to be coaches develop social and sensitivity skills they never had before. Her vision is that coaching will change the prison culture.

Read more on the website at


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