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Teaching etiquette in prison: 'It scared me to death'

Teaching Etiquette in Prison: 'I Have to Admit.... It Scared Me to Death'

Like it or not, it's a human trait to sum up people by looks and demeanor. Most of those opinions are based on our first impressions. Colleen Rickenbacher knows this all too well. She teaches etiquette, protocols and communication skills to various groups of people. She saw a need for this in today's society, where technology has made us less personable.

Colleen has read various books and studied the fine art of civility, but nothing prepared her for what was to be asked of her. She was asked to teach etiquette at prison in Texas. Colleen smiled as she thought back to her first class there: "I have to admit when I was asked to go to the prison it scared me to death."

In no time, Colleen felt at ease as she saw that the prisoners were eager to learn and get a second chance. Colleen's etiquette class is a part of the PEP: The Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

With many prisoners having challenges getting jobs and assimilating back into society after their sentences, the PEP program helps a selected few of the population create a future roadmap for success; thousands apply to get into the program, but only a couple hundred get in -- and even less graduate.

One of those graduates is Clarence Campbell. He's been on Steve Harvey and has created his own shoe shining service, "The Shine King." When you first meet him he stands out as courteous, well dressed and confident. Campbell told us the importance of learning etiquette, "The importance of how to dress, how to carry yourself." And he's taken that knowledge into his business which he started just three days after leaving prison.

Colleen keeps all the thank-you notes and pictures she's received from her graduates. She is so proud, and she wishes she could hire them all.

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foghornpwf June 08 2014 at 9:27 AM

This is the kind of thing that should be happening in prisons--all of them! How on earth does someone get rehabilitated if they're just sitting in a cell? I hope someone comes up with a way to train others to do what Colleen is doing.

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4 replies
loamylam June 08 2014 at 10:12 AM

We learned proper ettiquette and social graces from our parents. This was very important to them and of course ourselves. My father more or less took over the boys and taught them to stand up when ladies or an elder entered the room and wait for them to be seated before re-seating themselves. To open doors for ladies/elders...remove hats indoors, no cursing around ladies, girls or young ones. To say 'yes sir/yes ma'am' and look a person in the eye while conversing . Mama taught us so much to be used into adulthood and the rest of our lives. Proper table manners, proper conduct socially, at school and even at play, the difference between fashion and fad and how to separate the two, household duties and the differene beetween being ladylike and a female. We treasured these instructions and it is so sad today's world has lost the art of parenting and common graces. Most mothers and fathers are completely ignorant so far as ettiquette and social graces can enhance their children.

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3 replies
BRUCE June 08 2014 at 8:33 AM

It's great that there is someone showing some form of actual rehabilitating in our prison system. However, I think this should start at the Juvinile Detention centers first BEFORE they enter into the prison system. And quite actually, it should start in the elementry school systems before anywhere. You can read any post on any thread and see that our youth is far lacking any sense of etiquette. Etiquette has been replaced by rudeness that comes with not being seen and having to own up to consequences offered by the internet.

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2 replies
Martha BRUCE June 08 2014 at 11:53 AM

Bruce, you are dead on. Etiquette is sorely needed .In a growing technologically savvy society, the dressings that made us function better together,like common courtesy , recognition of others by speaking or greeting, wearing decent clothing ,grooming reserved for privacy among many other things has fallen to the way-side. I actually was sitting in a doctors waiting room, when a person began actively flossing their teeth with a three foot long piece of floss. Not just one or two teeth(which though gross I might still withstand if it was to clear a painful seed or something)...this was a person grooming in public to use the time efficiently .Grinding the floss and flicking the plaque. I had to ge up and step out of the waiting room.

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jmccomb38 BRUCE June 08 2014 at 2:10 PM

why don't they teach this in the schools, maybe then we would not have near as many in prisons

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2 replies
meepstein jmccomb38 June 08 2014 at 3:07 PM

Actually it should be taught in the home.

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Hello Diane jmccomb38 June 08 2014 at 6:33 PM

teach it in homes because when teachers try to do it they are accused of getting into things that are none of their business

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David S. June 08 2014 at 7:52 AM

Well, sounds like teaching "etiquette" is a bit misleading. I was picturing a Miss Manners type. If her job is to help prisoners assimilate and become productive members of society, I have no issue with it.

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1 reply
Lloyd David S. June 08 2014 at 10:45 AM

Good analysis! For some unknown reason, AOL won't allow me to "thumbs up" anything so i have to do it this way.

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1 reply
kayciaccio Lloyd June 08 2014 at 10:10 PM

I wish too, AOL would go back to when you could do "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

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John June 08 2014 at 9:33 AM

People have lost the meaning of society. When folks are convicted it is to pay a debt to society. We as a group appear to demand that their debt is on going when in fact when their debt is paid the slate should be wiped cleaned. We have developed into society that demands that people never get their "bill paid'. Sad note on us as human beings. Whether we like it or not the bill is supposed to be stamped paid in full. Just because we are unhappy with our fate as individuals does that mean we harbor a deep seated distrust of mankind ?

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2 replies
mijsenrab John June 08 2014 at 10:56 AM

Well put but for one thing. Between plea bargaining, bleeding heart judges, parole boards, over-crowding releases and a host of other technicalities it is a very rare prisoner that serves a just and full sentence for the crime committed.

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2 replies
steverotert mijsenrab June 08 2014 at 12:20 PM

Were do you get this nonsense, from Nancy Grace and John Walsh? The U.S. hands out much harsher sentences for trivial offenses than just about any other country. We have the largest prison population by sheer numbers and the largest per-capita in the world to prove it.

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jwemrw mijsenrab June 08 2014 at 11:16 PM

Wake up and put the cork back in the bottle. The US has the highest incarceration rates in the World. We use prisons and jails to solve all of our problems. We incarcerate the mentally ill
instead of getting them treatment. You are catastrophically misinformed; or, totally uninformed.

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bodum40 John June 08 2014 at 11:51 AM

I have a friend with two felony convictions. Both are non-violent crimes. He paid his debt and is very intelligent. He cannot get a job anywhere. It's not right for a person really trying to do better to keep on and on paying for two stupid mistakes he made early in life. He does very well in job interviews until the felony issues come up. Then --- it's don't call us --- we'll call you. NOT right.

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5 replies
janieturnage June 08 2014 at 9:22 AM

Well, my comment somehow disappeared, so here goes again.

Etiquette is so much more than pinky fingers and manners. Proper etiquette is a form of behavior that is acceptable in any society. What could be wrong with a gentleman opening a door for a lady or helping her be seated at a table? How pleasant it is to be with someone who does not feel that he is the only person in the world that matters. If you were going for an interview with a company manager, who would he pick to work for him and with him, the slovenly looking and acting one or the well-dressed and well-mannered one? The answer is obvious. Also obvious is the fact that if they are prisoners, their behavior needs to be seriously refined.

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mjames8258 June 08 2014 at 11:52 AM

I think this is a wonderful program. Absolutely, this should have started at an earlier time. In all likelyhood if these offenders had been taught what was acceptable behavior much earlier in life they may very well have not offended in the first place. Our moral fabric has become so weakened until it is about to "dry rot". I believe we should be nothing less than equal IF you are capable of being civilized! Even if not, surely exposure couldnt hurt. If they opt to not be civilized, they have the right to remain in jail.

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rvheaney June 08 2014 at 2:28 PM

I hope the Tax Payers are not being charged for this DUMB idear !

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1 reply
meepstein rvheaney June 08 2014 at 3:11 PM

You are the dumb idea. If it helps one person from returning to prison and becoming a productive member of society it's a great idea.

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1 reply
Pat meepstein June 08 2014 at 10:10 PM

Thank you meepstein!

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Gloria June 08 2014 at 9:24 AM

I'm confused. Many of us, (Americans) have spent over the last decade becoming "one class", granted I feel it is "low class", however. Now, in a day and age when my grandson will not be taught how to sign his name in cursive writing,, we are offering etiquette classes in prisons? In an age when "ain't nobody got time fo dat". And every other word out of the mouths of youths starts with an F? What am I missing here?

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2 replies
janieturnage Gloria June 08 2014 at 9:35 AM

Actually, the basic training for a child begins at home. Teaching children to share with others and not to hit them are some of the first things I taught my children, long before they began school. It actually works if you stick with it.

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2 replies
Lloyd janieturnage June 08 2014 at 10:43 AM

Perhaps if more of this "basic training" were done earlier, many of these people would not be in prison.

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Martha janieturnage June 08 2014 at 12:08 PM

School is a place where this can be reiterated and reinforced if it was ever taught at home.It also enables children to show they can perform it an a competitve forum,and if it adds to self esteem it is a tool against bullying.It much more difficult to bully someone while focusing on your appearance and demeanor and learning about common courtesy.And for those recipients of the bullying, it can be a great boost to their self esteem as well. It was taught where I went to school, and in early grades, grooming, clean hands and your demeanor in class was graded.You also learned the basics of good eating habits, where to groom and where not to, how to strike up a conversation, how you should answer the phone . For grooming,the teacher simply did a check of the students hands and fingernails, and marked the log in the morning just after the national anthem .It only took a few minutes.With concern about "super bugs" it would also reduce infection transmission in schools.

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Tim Gloria June 08 2014 at 11:06 AM

Someone has to teach these people to eat with utensils and stop using their fingers.

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1 reply
babsart Tim June 08 2014 at 1:57 PM

These people?

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Haifa June 08 2014 at 11:41 AM

these classes should be in all schools these days ....

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