Deep in the belly of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) on Dec. 2, a special celebrity guest was entertaining and educating inmates.
Mitch Dorge, drummer for Canadian rock-band the Crash Test Dummies, sat with his drum set at the front of the multi-purpose Gathering Room.
The room was large with high vaulted ceilings and massive windows that flooded the room with daylight. As inmates dressed in red and uniformed correctional officers casually entered the room for the presentation, Dorge hugged and shook hands with each person as he introduced himself.
Over the beeps of access cards being swiped and clanging of heavy metal doors slamming closed and echoing down the narrow hallway, Dorge started his presentation. He began by telling the seven prisoners and staff how happy he is. Not just to be there presenting, but in life in general.
“I’m truly just bloody, annoyingly happy,” said Dorge in an interview after his presentation. “It’s a gift.”
The former rock band drummer doesn’t consider himself a motivational speaker, because he’s not trying to motivate anyone to do anything in particular. He wants people to be able to enjoy life as much as he is, and so he shares the story of his life and lessons he has took from it, which he hopes others can too.
“I’m just a guy trying to make the world a better place with small increments of happiness,” he said.
While his life story may seem great on the surface, Dorge has had some hard times too — growing up with an alcoholic mother, a workaholic father, and a time in his life when he did a lot of drugs.
After talking about his life and his career, Dorge started an exercise to get everybody loosened up. This light-hearted and fun game included WCC’s superintendent Jayme Curtis slapping a rubber lizard while in a squat position, an inmate with a rubber chicken, work crew supervisor John Gullison acting as a samurai warrior, and another inmate in a chair interacting with Gullison.
The game had the whole room erupting in laughter.
Curtis attended the first of the three presentations Dorge gave at the centre that day and said he felt it was important that he participated with the inmates.
“It gives us an opportunity to engage and show that we are all human,” Curtis said.
After the goofing around, Dorge brought up the topic of drinking and driving. He told the story of a girl who was a passenger in a vehicle with a sober driver that was hit by a drunk driver. She was pinned in the vehicle which started on fire and was burned alive. When she was finally pulled out by emergency crews, she had suffered burns to her entire body except her feet.
“I think it’s really important to touch on the fact that everyone comes from different upbringings and have an understanding of the fact that we all come from different places,” said Curtis, “but at the end of the day we have choices to make and some of those choices can have a serious impact on other individuals.”
Inmates weren’t allowed to comment or have their faces photographed for this story, but Curtis was watching the reactions of his clients. “You could really see that it definitely had an impact on them,” he said.
After leaning on his drum kit set up at the front of the room for almost two hours, Dorge finally took a seat behind it for one last lesson. He told his small audience about his best ever drum lesson and how it came from someone who knew absolutely nothing about drums.
Sometimes, he told his listeners, just because you don’t know a lot about something, doesn’t mean you don’t have great ideas.
“I want them to know they are smart,” said Dorge after the presentation. “I want them to know they can problem solve. I want them to know they can make a difference.”
For the self-professed happy guy, speaking to incarcerated adults was a first. Generally he speaks to high schools or corporate professionals, and once at a youth correctional facility.
Of the seven inmate participants in the first session, Dorge said he would be satisfied if one person takes something away from the presentation. And he was able to sneak smiles out of every person during the talk — one of his main goals.
“Rather than focus on what people do wrong, I focus on what people do right,” said Dorge of his presentation. “I’m trying to give them ownership over the problem. I want them to smile, I want them to know they are beautiful human beings and they are smart enough to solve problems.”
Dorge also presented at Sport Yukon, Porter Creek and F.H Collins secondary schools, Teegatha ‘Oh Zheh, Youth of Today Society and will talk today at North of Ordinary.
Contact Crystal Schick at firstname.lastname@example.org