October 19, 2015
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Published October 17, 2015
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The men of the Dream Chasers Gavel Club are all convicted felons serving time for their crimes at the Marion Correctional Institution.
“They are always prepared. They read their manuals literally. They know the material well. They are all engaged and thoughtful,” said Manal Fakhoury, who helped start the club at MCI.
Gavel Clubs are part of Toastmasters International and while participants are not regular members, the clubs provide the Toastmasters experience.
The meetings are highly regimented, with strict time limits for speeches, writing critiques and exercises. Positivity and friendliness exude from the men, some of whom have done very antisocial things in the past.
“It gives them a chance to express themselves. Some of them have very good verbal skills. They can be serious, humorous and heartfelt as they share moments of the struggle and the dark moments that they have gone through,” Fakhoury said.
In July, the first meeting was held and the group has since grown to capacity.
At Tuesday's meeting, it was the volunteers who gave speeches to be evaluated by the inmates. Other weeks, the reverse happens, with the inmates making the presentations.
Jeff Howell, assistant warden at MCI, attended the meeting.
“I think it's a great thing. It gives inmates another tool. It makes them better men,” Howell said.
Rera, now 30, has about seven years left on his sentence. He expressed the same thoughts.
“This will help me in my life. It can help me in an interview,” he said.
And, he added, “I feel it has made me a better person.”
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 23,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 140,000 offenders in the community.