JODIE RANDISI: Speaking the truth

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LOCAL AUTHOR, PUBLIC SPEAKER AND LIFE COACH DOES HARD TIME WELL

On Jodie Randisi’s Facebook page recently was a quote that said, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.”

For the Hilton Head Island author, public speaker and life coach, this motto applies to everyone — including those who many believe are beyond hope. Randisi is a prison volunteer who spends every Wednesday leading a coloring club, a book club and a Toastmasters group for inmates at the medium security Ridgeland Correctional Institution for men.

She recently was named South Carolina’s Outstanding Toastmaster of the Year for her work as the state’s Toastmaster prison club coordinator. As a mentor for prison clubs at Allendale, Ridgeland and Trenton correctional institutes, she believes the Toastmasters program is helping inmates transform their lives through effective communication.

“They’re going to go before a parole board and have to speak,” she said. “When they get out, they’ll need to get a job.”

In addition to discovering their voices, the Toastmasters club members are learning leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth, Randisi said. Even those serving long sentences without the possibility of parole say they find the meetings valuable.

“Toastmasters has helped me solve problems among people in the yard and avoid violence,” one club member said.

At a recent Wednesday meeting in Ridgeland, a club member spoke with passion and polish about how positive intentions and thoughts have helped him reshape his life. He finished his speech by shaking hands with everyone in the room — including fellow members, the facility’s associate warden, Randisi and invited guests — and received thunderous applause. Other inmates — including the club’s president — introduced the topic and speakers, kept the time while members spoke, and gave constructive feedback.

Randisi believes that the Toastmasters program will help inmates who want to change their lives and overcome the culture of poverty and criminality that many grew up with. Studies, including a recent one in Louisiana, show that offenders tend not to re-offend after completing the Toastmasters educational program, which contributes to a drastically lower recidivism rate.

Toastmasters is not the only way Randisi tries to reach inmates. She’s the creator of several coloring books for adults, and her coloring club Colour Therapy for the Soul helps soothe the stresses of life behind bars. She teaches blending, shading and a little bit of art history, and she assigns a club member the duty of making sure all art supplies are returned at the end of each meeting. Randisi also is the co-author of “Total Pardon,” a love story about an alcoholic Native American ex-con and the evangelical Christian woman from Ohio who corresponded with him when he was in prison. They fell in love and later married. 

In her book club in the Ridgeland prison, inmates read inspirational non-fiction, mostly historical accounts. Club members have varied reading abilities, and often there aren’t enough copies of the books for each person to have one, so members volunteer to take turns reading aloud at meetings.

“We only read books that are about forgiveness, resilience, perseverance, friendship or the power of love to transform lives,” she said. 

Randisi, who is originally from New Jersey, has a frank, energetic personality and isn’t shy to ask an inmate to go get his required name tag or rephrase a sentence to eliminate “street talk.” She is grateful for the support she has received from her husband, her Toastmasters Club on Hilton Head Island, and individuals who have donated money to pay for the inmates’ Toastmasters club dues, as well as to buy books and coloring supplies for her other clubs. She hopes more people will donate or become prison volunteers.

“When the guys ask me why I come, I tell them, ‘Incarceration doesn’t diminish a person’s value. I’m here because you have worth,’” she said.