Breakthrough Program at Colorado's State Penitentiary in Cañon City

Why These Guys In Green Made Me Cry and Helped Me Think Twice!

Yet, I’m laughing!

This was, by far, one of the most profound days of my life!

And the memories continue to revisit my thoughts and heart.

On October 31st I was invited to be a part of the phenemonal Breakthrough Program at Colorado’s State Penitentiary in Cañon City – a Level V maximum security prison and the site of Colorado’s death row.

These guys are held in solitary confinement (or administrative segregation) for 23 hours a day for their entire sentence.

So, for me, it was an honour.

I remember when I was 18 and a few leaders from our Youth Club formed a cohort that ventured into the foreboding prison corridors of Auckland’s penitentiary, hearing the clanging of multiple doors being locked after us, and for the purpose of speaking with the prisoners.

My husband spent time as a Youth Worker at one of Melbourne’s Juvenile Justice Centres and I was once able to visit my late brother once who was incarcerated in NZ’s prison system.

Clearly, walking these corridors sits comfortably with me.

And being part of the 2023 Breakthrough Entrepreneurial Program’s Pitch Competition and Graduation was something that I also didn’t take for granted.

And at this point I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the team at Breakthrough and quote some key words from their latest newsletter:

Every participant at Breakthrough is connected to people beyond themselves. We show them that they don’t have to be defined by their past, and that they have the power and ability to change not only their world but others around them as well. This not only breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty and incarceration but can also shift the culture inside prison facilities to be one of acceptance and change.

And doesn’t that apply to all of us?

Whilst I might have been prepared for a pitch competition, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions this experience would conjure up for me, as well as the guys in green.

💚 Meeting their families, that some that had not seen in over 16 years, was a privilege.

💚 Dancing up to the front of the room was unexpected if not hilarious (c’mon I look like a rag doll in a washing machine, don’t I?)

Bernadette Dancing

💚 Networking over morning tea and lunch and getting to know the guys and their back stories and their hopes for the future was fascinating.

💚 Supporting them in their pitch competition, even though some might never be released to realise those dreams, was inspiring.

💚 Empathising with those who are incarcerated pending Innocence Project outcomes, because they are innocent, is heartbreaking.

💚 Knowing that someone hasn’t eaten a mushroom or a strawberry in 11 years is unforgiveable.

💚 Seeing them graduate and hear their speeches highlighting how this program has changed their lives was phenomenal.

💚 Realising that we are all the same, just different, was humbling!

And then these guys in green changed colour.

They donned their blue caps and gowns and for a moment we were all one.

Bernadette and Blue Caps

💙 There was pride.

💙 There was joy.

💙 There was success.

💙 There was love.

We signed each other’s year books and we high-fived, fist-bumped and hand hugged.

Bernadette Year Book

And for a couple of us, there might have even been a slight sneaky embrace.

But like all things, it was time for goodbyes – the same way we were greeted – music pumping and an avenue of honour formed by the participants – with them changing from blue back to green!

Us into our cars and them back to their cells….

Yet there was one BIG realisation that struck me …

The guys in green may not have freedom outside their four walls, but many are freer than those who have no walls.

Bernadette High Five

With one turn of a dice, one flip of a coin, one sliding door versus another, our lives could change in a heartbeat.

So who are we to judge!

2023 has been a phenomenal year.

And I intend 2024 to be equally, if not even more phenomenal by embracing uncertainty and deliberately disrupting the way I think, act and lead.

Want to join me?

Be Bold and Brilliant

Bernadette McClelland

I bring an extremely powerful and relevant message to the front of the room or to the wider market with my keynotes – ‘The Courage of Conviction and Deliberate Disruption’.

Because if you are not disrupting yourself in the way you think, feel and act – then something or someone else will!

My message is designed for business owners, leaders and salespeople to embrace the courage of their convictions so they can step out, with deliberation, and lead with impact, overcome uncertainty, align brand messages and win more business in a volatile and uncertain economy.

Message me to speak at your next sales meeting or Association meeting.

Visit my speaker site

Bernadette and Blue Caps

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