Working in the world of employment services is much different than working in the counseling field. Do not get me wrong, there is still a lot of counseling happening, but ex-offenders are a completely different breed. My experience has been working in strictly substance abuse counseling, but now I work with ex-offenders who also have a myriad of other needs and issues. I have found that there is a higher rate of denial about how they ended up where they are, demands that they do not need counseling they just need a job, and the knowledge that their social, interpersonal and soft skills are nearly non-existent.
Social skills, according to many, are the skills that you develop and learn from birth and continue to work through for the entirety of life. We are all social animals, who enjoy being with like minded individuals, those that motivate us, teach us and support us. Sometimes these skills take a turn, and decisions are made that are not the best for us. Working with ex-offenders has taught me that first one needs to break through the denial that their thinking/feeling process is skewed and bring the reality that if “you do what you do, you get what you got”. The one most important aspect I have learned from working with ex-offenders is that accountability is the most needed ingredient to be able to help. Manipulation is the main mindset of an ex-offender, the more they can get away with something, the more they continue to try.
I always ask the participants to tell me about themselves and I get responses ranging from what they did to end up in jail, or what society has told them that they are. When I am working with the individuals to learn to identify their interpersonal skills, how to develop them, and how to take those skills to a job, it is sometimes difficult to help them learn they are more than that. I explain to them that we all have interpersonal skills that we all learned and developed over our lives and that these might be overlooked in our skill sets.
The last thing I had to learn how to help them with was Soft/Hard skills. Both are necessary in employment and often times employers hear the same soft skills in interviews. I teach them to be proud of the skills they developed, even the ones gained while being incarcerated. The one thing that seems to blow their minds is when I tell them “I do not care what you did, that does not tell me who you are”