The format that provides the foundation in learning good communication and leadership skills is that of Toastmasters International. Skills For Life held its first meeting at Central prison in Sugar Land, Texas, in August, 2000. Ten Toastmasters went in on a Sunday afternoon to put on a demonstration meeting for the inmates. The club filled immediately with 20 inmates. The following Sunday, they had a list of 35 more inmates that wanted to come into the program. A second club was started in November, 2001. A club was started for women at Plane State Jail in Dayton, Texas, in October, 2002. The fourth club (for juvenile offenders) was also started in October, 2002, at the Clemens unit in Brazoria, Texas. Articles concerning Skills For Life were featured in Restorative Justice News (fall, 2002, a newspaper for prison ministry with a nationwide circulation of 50,000), and in United Methodist Mens’ magazine in the summer, 2003 edition (a national publication with 20,000 subscribers). Skills For Life was also presented to Houstonians via PBS radio in Houston in the summer of 2002.
The members at Central unit have taken ownership of their clubs. Central prison is a minimum security prison with (counting the trustee camp) approximately 1,000. On any given Sunday morning, over 200 inmates are in the chapel getting churched. In June of 2002 they approached the chaplain with an idea for a program. The chaplain told them to lay it out for him. They did, and he didn’t change a thing. In July they put on a three day, morning to night revival for over 200 inmates! In 2002, the inmates also developed two, five week workshops for inmates who want to come into Toastmasters. They have criteria and goals which potential members must meet before they are allowed in. Further, upon entering, a new member is assigned a club member as a mentor to help him stay on track. In August, 2003, the two clubs combined to put on a two and one half hour church service for 150 free world people.