An ex-con shares how he got on a better path
By Christine Fusselman
Media Club Reporter
Let’s bring in the guy who’s spent 25 years in and out of prison to inspire our students!
But that’s just what Business and Communications Program Chair Russell Kulp did recently. He invited Ronald L. James to speak to a group of Central Penn College students from two oral communications classes and a freshman seminar class on Nov. 20.
Since last year, James has done speaking engagements – sharing the message from his book, Choices – Lessons Learned from a Repeat Offender (2013).
“Ron’s book, Choices, is an incredible journey from the depths of despair and hopelessness to exhilarating heights,” Kulp said. “Ron’s message is touching hearts and changing lives.”
Students from one of Prof. Maria Thiaw’s oral communications classes described the presentation:
“Climatic – (James) has great story telling abilities,” says business management student Darrin Zehring, 19.
Neya Beattie, 29, is a health science major. She called the presentation “Powerful. It was a wake-up call.”
James captured the attention of the audience by talking about some of the poor choices he made in his life and asking, “Who’s choice is it?”
He explained that the choices he made in his youth snowballed into increasingly poor choices as he got older, leading to smoking, drugs and alcohol. The choices got worse after that, eventually leading him to spend more than 25 years in and out of varying levels of incarceration.
During the presentation, James asked the audience, “What’s your dream?”
Students replied with mainly career-focused dreams, including being a detective or in another law-enforcement job, or being a forensic scientist or cosmetologist.
Another relayed a dream of being happy.
He then asked, “What can derail you?”
James’ answer: “Some people don’t know they’ve made a bad choice until the consequence comes.”
He then gave examples of the negative results others had when they drove too fast or agreed to that second drink.
James shared about a time in his life when he was fighting an addiction to heroin, and after using up all of his other resources, he went home to his mother, whom he calls “Mi Mi.” She welcomed him home like a “prodigal son,” offering him food, a hot shower, clothes and a place to stay.
He said she used to always say: “Good, better, best. May you never rest – until the good get better, and the better best.”
Even after he stole her wedding rings to sell for drug money, she would welcome him home when he showed up. It wasn’t until years later, and after her death, that he realized his regret.
“I robbed my mom of having a son,” he said.
Criminal Justice major Brett Sherman, 19, said, “His story was shocking. He stole from his mom. When she told him, ‘You needed them more than me’ – that was painful.”
Prof. Thiaw said she knew someone who had dealt with addiction. “I never truly understood how very destructive that is to the family until hearing these stories.”
Prof. Janet Bixler wrote, “Ron James shared his story about choices. His presentation was a wonderful complement to my freshman seminar curriculum, where the students are exploring goal-setting and strategies for overcoming obstacles. Mr. James made it clear that the choices we make have the power to move us forward toward success or to create giant obstacles. His life experiences vividly illustrated our need to examine the intentions and motivations behind our actions, thoughts and desires.”
James’ decision to change came in prison.
“I saw myself for who I was,” he says.
He began to read to improve the reading skills he sorely neglected in school. He also chose to help and guide new inmates, and found that he enjoyed helping others.
Today, James is touring middle and high schools, along with colleges in Pennsylvania and other nearby states. Recent stops include The Ohio State University, and in nearby Shiremanstown, River Rock Academy, where he spoke to adjudicated youth. James says he is looking forward to taking his speaking tour to charter schools in Houston. He also uses his affinity for helping others by being a life coach.
He and his wife, Annie, welcomed a baby girl this month. Her name is Mireya, which means “miracle.”
More information about James and his book can be found at his website. It includes video links, blog entries and contact information.