Director Kris Steele: "I'm Here Now!"

Anyone who has ever been delayed in achieving a goal or reaching their destination can relate to this life lesson.                                                                            
On Friday, May 2nd, I was scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. to 80 offenders receiving their GED through the education program at Bill Johnson Correctional Center (BJCC) in Alva, OK. BJCC is a substance abuse/cognitive behavior program facility operated by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that seeks to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment, educational courses, meaningful work opportunities and effective aftercare to approximately 630 male offenders. Like other correctional facilities in our state, the staff does a remarkable job with limited resources.


Knowing it would be a long journey from my hometown of Shawnee (roughly a 3hr 30 min drive), I left my house in plenty of time to stop for gas, grab a bite to eat and visit with Warden Janice Melton prior to the start of ceremony. Before pulling out of the driveway, I programmed the destination into the convenient GPS app on my smart phone and headed out excited to share in the success of new friends. Soon after merging onto I-40, my phone began to ring signaling a cry for communication from colleagues and friends. After 1 hour 15 minutes of productive and meaningful discussion, I realized the trusted Google Maps had led me down the wrong road and in the opposite direction of my destination. Still needing to stop at a gas station, I was faced with the dilemma of forfeiting lunch, missing meeting with the Warden and foregoing any chance of making it to the graduation on time. With the correct location entered in my phone, the voice barking directions clearly stated I was officially 45 min behind schedule. In a panic, I called BJCC to announce the error of my ways. After two additional wrong turns, I eventually pulled into the parking lot of Bill Johnson at 2:15pm. Fifteen minutes later, the graduates walked down the aisle in a room full of family and friends who had patiently waited for a full hour.

My opening comments included a truthful declaration for my tardiness. I explained along the way I took the wrong road, and was lost and, no doubt, my delay, caused frustration, inconvenience and perhaps even anger to family members and staff. Then, trying to the tension and find the positive, I squared my shoulders and courageously stated (with a quivering voice), “But, I’m here now!”

At the conclusion of my speech, Pam Humphrey, Superintendent of Schools for ODOC, stood and articulated a valuable life lesson. She reminded each graduate they had taken a wrong road in life that delayed their arrival to the graduation i.e. graduating with their GED.  Yet, at some point, the decision was made to turn around and get on the right road, the path that led their graduation. “The journey may have taken longer than expected,” she explained, “but the important thing is you are here now!”   


Addiction, lack of support, misguided information, low self-esteem, apathy and poor decisions are significant barriers to overcome to achieve healthy, productive goals. Unaddressed, these issues cause significant damage and result in major delays. Yet, when a person determines to change course, get on the right path and take steps necessary to reach their destination there is reason to celebrate. After all, everyone is a work in progress and it may take some of us a little longer to realize our potential.