Serving Productive Time: Stories, Poems, and Tips to Inspire Positive Change from Inmates, Prison Staff, and Volunteers

Serving Productive Time: Stories, Poems, and Tips to Inspire Positive Change from Inmates, Prison Staff, and Volunteers

by Tom Lagana, Laura Lagana

View All Available Formats & Editions

Are you or have you ever been incarcerated? Do you have a loved one in jail or prison? Do you work or volunteer at a correctional facility? Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Do you understand that we all share the responsibility of helping others—no matter who they are, where they live, or what they have done? If so, you understand that incarceration

See more details below


Are you or have you ever been incarcerated? Do you have a loved one in jail or prison? Do you work or volunteer at a correctional facility? Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Do you understand that we all share the responsibility of helping others—no matter who they are, where they live, or what they have done? If so, you understand that incarceration affects everyone and that only through positive change can people begin to heal and grow.

In Serving Productive Time, you'll read about extraordinary people who are taking tangible steps to make positive changes in their own lives and who are reaching out to help others do the same. Some stories will help you gain a new perspective on those who are incarcerated. Some will help you understand the need to prepare inmates for release and to support them afterward. Others will help you appreciate your freedom and remind you that we all make mistakes. And still others will reaffirm the fact that, although many of us might be imprisoned in some way (either by a limiting belief, illness, or other situation), we all need a helping hand at some point in our lives to lift us up and show us the path to a new life.

Serving Productive Time will leave you with a renewed appreciation of the need for all of us to use our time wisely to make ongoing, positive changes in our lives and to bring others along with us in the process—whether we live or work inside or outside the razor wire.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Book Review: Serving Productive Time

Incarceration affects everyone.

It directly affects every one in 33 residents of the U.S. who has been or is currently incarcerated. It affects the estimated 6 percent of those sent to prison who are actually innocent. It affects the families—parents, children, spouses—of those incarcerated. And it also creates jobs at correctional facilities and a need for volunteers in prison ministry.

But there is one more group of people that incarceration affects—a group that, often times, isn't aware it is involved in the process at all. That group is made up of every person in society not mentioned above.

Together, that means all of us.

Tom and Laura Lagana had all of us in mind when they compiled short stories, poems, cartoons, and quotes for their book Serving Productive Time. As volunteers in prisons, the Laganas share a passion and a vision for reaching out to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families to effect positive change. Their work as professional speakers and authors gives them the opportunity to inspire others in society to latch onto that vision as well. Hidden inside the inspirational stories of their book is a hope that America will come to see prisoners as people who—if given the proper support—have the ability to become contributing members of society upon their release.

Often the first step toward bringing about positive change is forming an accurate perspective of the incarcerated and their families. In the first chapter of the book, screenwriter and songwriter Bob Pauly challenges readers to realize that people who have been in prison are all around us—including those we might least expect:

'I'm the man who bags your groceries, the waitress who brings you coffee, and the kid on the bike down the street. I've been to your house before: as a plumber, an electrician, even the installer of your security system.' Pauly invites the reader to ponder further, 'Do you know me? You may not realize it, but . . . yes, you do!'

The Laganas effectively select a number of specific, real-life stories—some more convincing and concise than others—to prove to readers that positive change can take place for those who filter through the prison system. These accounts show the necessity of prison staff and volunteers who are dedicated to helping inmates spend their sentences in programs and classes that will benefit them when they return to their communities.

More Like Us Than One Might Think

Contributing author and corrections employee Laurie E. Stolen recollects the start of her career in the jail system in 1998. She describes the chasm separating the perceptions that people have about prisoners, and the reality of who they are.

'The movies I'd seen confirmed my belief that this place was filled with nothing but bad people who had done horrid things; it was jail, the clink, the big house, the slammer, with a bunch of hardened, tattooed, violent criminals locked up for their assorted crimes.'

But after Laurie worked at the jail for a few weeks, she began to see things differently. 'The majority of people who fill the space between these walls . . . are fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters. They are neighbors, coworkers, or even our relatives. Often they are people who get caught up with the wrong crowd, succumb to addictive behaviors, or have mental health issues for which they can't afford to seek treatment. They laugh and cry just like you and me.'

A quote by Dave E. Ritzenthaler, managing editor of Prison Living Magazine, highlights Laurie's point that society shouldn't make assumptions about prisoners, but should instead consider giving them a second chance: 'Having hired many ex-felons, I have found them to be some of the most outstanding citizens, competent workers, and excellent employees. So, we need to be careful about making judgments of people until we get to know who they really are.'

Serving Productive Time also includes stories from inmates, such as 16-year-old Courtney, who warns others not to make the same mistakes she did. She describes the loneliness and the daily struggle to keep a positive attitude while incarcerated, and advises her peers 'that life is too precious and rewarding to spend it in jail.'

Stories like Courtney's caution people to avoid actions that lead to incarceration in the first place, but Serving Productive Time also focuses on encouraging inmates to make choices that will keep them from returning to prison. The accounts of ex-prisoners who spent their sentences furthering their education, growing in their relationship with God, and working to make themselves more successful when released serve as constructive examples for current inmates.

Using Prison Time for Good

One of these examples is Bill Riggs, who writes about how God transformed his life while he was in prison. After running away from an abusive home, sleeping on the streets, enlisting in the Marines, divorcing twice, and landing himself a spot in prison, Bill came to know Christ through a prison ministry volunteer who showed him what unconditional love was. This volunteer inspired Bill to earn his associate's degree while serving his sentence. Because of the effort he put into changing his life while incarcerated, Bill was able to obtain his electrician's license after his release. He has been married for 17 years, has bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology, as well as a doctorate in education. He now serves as president of Free and Forgiven Ministries—a faith-based education program for ex-offenders.

At the end of Bill's account, the Laganas list the contact information for Free and Forgiven Ministries, just as they do for other organizations mentioned in stories throughout the book. The availability of this contact information increases the book's potential to bring about positive change. When readers identify with a particular story, they then have a way to get involved with related organizations. In addition, there are descriptions and contact information for each contributing author listed in the back of the book, making it more interactive than many books. Readers can e-mail the authors to get advice or give encouragement.

The Laganas include short exercises at the end of each chapter, specifically to benefit prisoners. These exercises range from questions about the importance of forgiveness to advice on creating an action plan for success. Not only are the stories inside Serving Productive Time inspirational models of success, but they are also ways to discover assistance that will lead to the same success in the reader's life.

The Influence of Those Working Inside

As Bill Riggs's story emphasizes, volunteers and staff who interact with inmates can make a great impact on them. Serving Productive Time provides tips for prison staff to help them do just this.

Carla Wilson writes, 'As a correctional officer at roll call, I frequently attempt to tell each inmate who they are, before they show me their wristbands. When they know that I have taken a personal interest to learn who they are, it adds to an overall sense of community.' Small things like this create a more constructive atmosphere in which inmates are more likely to thrive.

Laura Lagana takes the role of narrator as she tells a story that she heard years ago—one that demonstrates how volunteers can help inmates as they search for forgiveness. Kelly's 17-year-old daughter was stabbed to death in a fight over drugs. As a Christian, Kelly knew that God would use the tragedy for a greater purpose, and she was right.

Kelly felt called to become a volunteer in the prison system, and while conducting a Prison Fellowship Bible study she met an inmate named Jay, serving a life sentence for murder. Kelly shared with him how she had forgiven the man who killed her daughter. Touched by Kelly's story, Jay decided to ask the forgiveness of his victim's family at his pardon hearing. Kelly, who also attended the hearing, told the family, 'If my daughter's murderer could turn his life around someday, the way Jay has, I would want him to be released.'

Although Jay was not forgiven or pardoned that day, Laura writes that 'he is hopeful that one day someone will recognize that today he is not the same young man who devastated so many lives . . . Jay knows that God has forgiven him, and if someday his victim's family chooses to forgive him, that forgiveness will be the greatest gift he will ever receive.' Kelly's difficult choice to forgive her daughter's murderer and help people in his situation provided Jay with an example of God's forgiveness toward him.

When selecting contributing authors for Serving Productive Time, the Laganas also included family members of inmates. As they share their often tragic experiences, they remind others with an incarcerated family member that they are not alone in their fear, hurt, and disappointment. But most importantly, sharing these experiences reminds families that they have the ability to encourage positive change in their incarcerated family member.

Grace Clark remembers the disappointment she felt in 1979 when her oldest son was taken to jail. Newspaper headlines read, 'Methodist Minister's Son Arrested.' Grace and her husband felt so alone and embarrassed. They didn't know what to do in this situation. 'Do we take out a loan for our son who was arrested when we didn't take out loans to help our other children who needed tuition?' Grace asked the family's bishop. After gleaning advice from him, Grace and her husband were able to turn their decisions over to God. 'Through it all, we finally stopped acting like a minister's family and became what he needed the most: his parents.' Now Grace works with Kairos Outside, a support group for the families of prisoners and ex-prisoners just like her.

When Serving Productive Time is read from cover to cover, the stories inside piece together the big picture of constructive change that all the groups of people affected by incarceration can bring to society. While most of the stories touch on one or two specific groups of these people, there are a few stories that have a little something for everyone in them.

All of Us Can Make a Difference

'Tough Questions, Honest Answers' written by SuEllen Fried—a devoted prison volunteer for the past 35 years—is perhaps the most potentially influential story in Serving Productive Time because it demonstrates the teamwork of different types of people in creating a productive result.

Twenty-five years ago, SuEllen started a self-help program for Kansas inmates and introduced the program to the community through an essay contest on violence. She asked several inmates to judge the essays. Eventually, the inmates became interested in the source of violence in their lives and its effect on their families, so they looked to professionals who could aid them in learning more. From this group of prisoners sprouted the Inmate Speakers Panel—a group of inmates that travels to high schools and juvenile detention centers to speak about violence prevention and the prison experience.

'They address the loss of choices about food, clothing, phone calls, and the shame they have inflicted on their families,' writes SuEllen. She witnessed the healing that took place in the inmates as they shared their life stories repeatedly and used them as tools to deter the next generation from participating in activities that can lead to incarceration.

The inmates on this panel are prime examples of what it means to serve productive time. With the help of their families, prison staff, and volunteers, the inmates warn the kids in Kansas communities to avoid violence and the consequences that come with it. SuEllen writes, 'Year after year, incarcerated men and women in Kansas lay their vulnerabilities on the line in hopes they will touch one soul and keep one youth from hearing the sound of the unyielding Iron Gate as it slams shut on the outside world.'

To show the statistical productivity of the Inmate Speakers Panel, SuEllen notes that the inmates who participate in the program have an 11 percent recidivism rate, compared with the usual state and federal rate of upwards to 60 percent. What started as an essay contest turned into more than SuEllen could have ever imagined.

The Laganas collect a strong variety of stories that represents the firsthand experiences and the unique perspective of every group of people affected by incarceration. Therefore, all readers will be able to find a few quick-to-read stories that they can easily identify with—whether they are reading to learn new things about the impact of incarceration or to be encouraged during a difficult time in their own lives.

Read More

Product Details

Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

First Impressions

Gary K. Farlow

Like most people, I had a Hollywood image of prison: smoke-filled dormitories inhabited by tattooed bodybuilders carrying hate and homemade weapons. I arrived at North Carolina's Central Prison on a Friday evening. I wore my fear and trepidation like an aura as I, a pallid 128-pound weakling, stepped into my worst nightmare. It was like the old television commercial for E. F. Hutton. All conversation and card games came to an immediate halt when I walked into the dorm. All heads swiveled in my direction to size me up. My first thought was, I'm going to die tonight. I was about to learn just how misleading first impressions can be.

I never knew his real name. 'Preacher' was probably in his late fifties and, despite imprisonment, carried the demeanor of one who hadn't a worry in the world. As fate would have it, I was assigned to the bunk immediately over him. After a couple of days of observing me in my self-imposed isolation, Preacher approached me carrying a soda and a Bible.

Now I always considered myself to be a Christian. I mean, I was brought up in the church, baptized, and 'saved,' so I must be a Christian, right? Yet, like so many, I tended to view God as some sort of 'celestial Santa Claus' I called on only when I wanted something.

'You look like you could use a friend,' were Preacher's first words as he handed me a Bible and a soda. My suspicions must have been obvious. Preacher tilted his head back and laughed. 'Don't worry yourself. I ain't gonna hurt you, and I want nothing from you. My friendship and the Bible are free. You can repay the soda when you're able to.'

My relief, as well as all of the anxiety and apprehension I'd kept bottled up inside, suddenly burst forth. Tears flowed, and my body slumped like a deflated balloon.

'You can live in prison one of two ways,' Preacher explained. 'You can serve time, or it can serve you.'
Somewhat puzzled, I asked, 'What do you mean?'

'Well, it's obvious. God intends for you to learn something. You have a choice now, just like you did when you committed your crime. It's called free will. You can spend your years consumed in anger, bitterness, and blaming everyone and everything else, or you can accept responsibility for your actions and make this time work for you and count for ­something.'

'You mean, sort of like when life gives you lemons and you make lemonade?'
'Kinda,' Preacher responded. 'You have the opportunity, albeit forced upon you, to better yourself—get a handle on your problems, pursue an education, and develop a talent. It's all up to you.'

I stared dumbfounded. I thought, Is this guy trying to tell me to be grateful for prison? 'It sounds as if you think I should be thankful to be here, Preacher.'

Shaking his head, Preacher replied, 'No, Gary, not at all. What I'm trying to tell you is that you should make the conscious choice to not waste this time. Have something to show for it when the time comes.'

Preacher left Central Prison just a few days later. As is the case, inmates are a transient population. When I think of him, I'm reminded of seventh-grade literature class and a book entitled Brief Encounters. It focused on the fact that we often meet people in our lives who we may know only for a short time but who have a lasting and profound impact on us.

©2009. Gary K. Farlow. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Serving Productive Time by Tom Lagana, Laura Lagana. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.

Read More

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

'. . . inspiring stories and thought-provoking insight by a cross-section of people touched by incarceration, enriching our world on both sides of the razor wire.'

—Jack Canfield, Cocreator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul® series

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >