Fox Lake Correctional Institute. Photo courtesy of WI.gov
I had the honor to speak to the inmates of Wisconsin’s medium security prison, Fox Lake Correctional Institute. It was one of my more challenging presentations. I asked the chaplain who was organizing the event, “To be frank, why would the prisoners, who can’t go anywhere, want to hear about traveling the world on a bicycle? That sounds like a recipe for disaster.”
She said, “That is exactly what they need to hear? They need the hope! They need someone like you to show them what is possible.”
And so I spent quite a bit of extra time preparing a presentation that would: “create an atmosphere or climate which restores the dignity of the individual and provides optimum opportunity for positive behavioral changes.” More specifically I hoped to inspire them to with the inner passion to transform themselves right then and there. I may have needed my trip around the world to transform myself, and learn that I held the key to my own happiness, but travel isn’t required to learn these lessons.
Despite my worries, my audience was more polite and attentive than the norm. (I’ve run the gamut of ages from kids so young they can’t sit still because they have to go the bathroom, to elderly care centers where they have the same problem.) At one point, though, the inmates were literally rolling in their seats with laughter when I told them about my experience drinking coca tea in Bolivia, which I said, “Is made from the same plant as cocaine.” As they roared with laughter, I tried to clarify, which didn’t help, “No, it’s more like drinking a cup of coffee. It’s not like doing cocaine. Not that I would know…. Not that I’m judging anyone here if that’s what they choose to do….”
Like all great teaching experiences, I felt as if the students taught me even more. In particular, one man asked me what it was like to return home. He said that he had been incarcerated for 8 years until he had to go to Madison for a medical procedure. He said the lights and billboards, and everyone buzzing around in their cars and on their cellphones frightened him. That’s when I realized that when these men are released they are going to experience the same culture shock that I experienced when I returned home after 4 years. Coming home was like looking into a mirror and realizing that I was a different person, and that my reality was an invention of my own mind. A scary experience! I also sympathized with how lonely and isolated from society these men were. I know these two elements were my hardest obstacles. Reform—or should I say?—transformation is the most difficult journey anyone can take.
I was grateful for the chaplain’s dedication to helping the inmates. She had to go to a lot of extra steps to organize the event, especially since during my first visit the prison was locked-down due to fog and the show was canceled. But she truly values making a difference in their lives; and I think she did, since the inmates were lined up to shake my hand at the end (hugging was not allowed according to my list of rules), and tell me how much they loved the show, and thanked me for volunteering my time. And there is a long waiting list for the book I donated to the prison library.
One more funny side note: Instead of emailing an update to my family, I accidentally emailed my dear friends Dick and Ingrid, who inspired me when I met them a long time ago when they had just retired and were cycling across the USA to celebrate, and told them: “I have to go to prison today.” They, of course, emailed me back right away to say the were sorry to hear that and asked if they could help in any way.
I wasn’t allowed to bring a camera, so to give you a flavor of the experience, here is a great video of Johnny Cash singing a song just for the San Quentin inmates.
Once again I was honored to present at the Growing Power International Urban & Small Farm Conference. Pictured here is Will Allen, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent citizens and the founder of Growing Power, one of the organizations that make Milwaukee one of the top 10 green cities in the nation. My book Ruby the Red Worm’s Dirty Job was inspired several years ago when I met will for the first time and toured Growing Power’s urban farm, which happens to be about a mile from where I lived as a child. I showed the book to Will. He said he “loved it”. He thanked me for the work that I am doing, and I could see that the book tugged his heart strings and helped him see the tangible difference his own passion is making in the world.
Also pictured is Kate Krzysik who helped create the book project and bring Ruby to life at the Waukesha STEM Academy. Stay tuned for our next book “Walter the Water Drop” about water conservation. It will be a really exciting project as Kate’s vision keeps growing, so along with the book, the STEM Academy will be installing an aquaponics system in their school. Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
In my opinion the celebration of the book is the most important step. It helps the students realize their purpose in life, take a step of action with their passion and own their participation. The they are empowered to seed their ideas and passion in their community, and eventually these ideas may become a new reality. Assuming a few bumps in the road turning dreams into reality is my philosophy of falling uphill.
Below is Deputy Ambassador Jefferson Brown distributing books and certificates of recognition to one of many classes in a school in Corrientes, Argentina.
They made this wonderful sign. Notice me riding my bike towards Argentina with the blue and white flag. It reads: "Es necessario hacer de la vida un sueño y del sueño una realidad." Which means: It is necessary to make our lives into a dream and to make our dreams our life.
Before I begin working on a new book with the school kids, I like to introduce myself with a slideshow about my trip around the world on a bicycle. I also bring lots of extras, like: a set of free books, bookmarks, reader-teacher guides, my bicycle, and more. In this case, I pitched my tent in the library for the kids to explore; and I also set up my stove (without the fuel), cookware and water filter.
The Making of “Cayendo Hacia Arriba: El Secreto De La Vida”
Here is the fifth and final and my favorite video from my trip to Argentina as the Cultural Ambassador. Here we have the real Ambassador to Argentina, Vilma Martinez, and the Deputy Ambassador, Jefferson Brown, along with the women who made it all happen, Shannon Farrell, Press Attaché, distributing the books to all the kids in 12 schools. The embassy gave away about 2000 books to kids that have never owned a book.
I love minute 1:44. I would have never imagined that my cultural exchange program would involve cheeseheads. The Argentina children called me: “the man with the head of cheese”. Also notable is minute 0:24 which shows the books coming off the printing press.
The Making of “Cayendo Hacia Arriba: El Secreto De La Vida”
I had the time of my life in Argentina as the Cultural Ambassador with the US Department of State. We worked with 12 schools to create the Spanish edition of “Falling Uphill: The Secret of Life”. I visited some underprivileged schools, an orphanage for HIV+ children, bicycled through Buenos Aires in their city “bicicleteada” with the Secretary of Transportation, and much more. Rather than write 10,000 words to describe this honor, perhaps it is easier to just watch the movies of my trip below.
The first video is about my trip the Chaco and Corrientes, back where I got stuck in the mud so long ago. The second video is about the making of the book at a school for deaf children. The third video was one of my favorite days at an extremely poor community know as “Fort Apache”. The fourth video is about the “bicicleteada”. And the last video is a TV interview partially in English.
Here I am sharing my story with an elementary school in Corrientes, Argentina, the same place I got stuck in the mud for 5 days. This is Escuela Bernardino Rivadavia, just one of 14 schools I visited. Read the before and after story in the Diario Epoca.
Once more, I will be at the Vibrant Life Healthy Living Expo. I recommend you bring your kids along for the Tasting Safari. A great idea and a great way to introduce yourselves to some new foods and learn how to live a healthy, sustainable and FUN life. More info.
April 9th 2011 – 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Washington County Fair Park Pavilion
Last time I presented my famous slideshow: “Scott Stoll – The Man Who Biked Around the World! — Strength, Endurance and Muscle: How and Where to find it! Scott biked for 4 years, 33,000 miles, through 50 countries and 6 continents. He witnessed how cultures across the globe feed their families. Working on his third book, there isn’t a topic he doesn’t enjoy speaking about! Enjoy the adventures with Scott!”
I am excited to participate in the Growing Power Conference this week along with a lot of amazing experts in their field. I am honored to speak about:
As seen by a man who cycled the world
Breakout Session description: I bicycled around the world (4 years, 33,000 miles, 50 countries and 6 continents) searching for the meaning of life. I witnessed how cultures across the globe struggled to feed their families, frequently to the detriment of the environment. One example involves traveling through Zimbabwe during their political upheaval and seeing people literally starving, indeed starving myself, as the agriculture crashed bringing down the rest of their society with it. President Mugabe had stripped the white farmers of their land, giving it back to the black people who, unfortunately, had no knowledge of mass agriculture; in addition, they had also forgotten the traditional farming techniques of planting corn or raising chickens in their backyard in nearby countries like Tanzania. This experience really painted a vivid picture of how our American society is built on precarious, non-sustainable farming techniques that could quite literally crumble overnight if the oil spigot were turned off. I will also present everything you need to know to live a healthy and sustainable life in 4 words.
Below are some thoughts from Will Allen, son of a sharecropper, former professional basketball player, ex-corporate sales leader, and now farmer, has become recognized as among the preeminent thinkers of our time on agriculture and food policy. The founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., a farm and community food center in Milwaukee:
In the fall of 2009, I was thinking about how we will grow Good Food Revolution. I realized that we did not have all the players at the Good Food Table. Over the years, many people have been working hard on getting good food into our communities in many different ways, but all too often they were working only in their own sectors. I feel that for us to fundamentally change the food system, we must work together as a team. I have worked at, spoken at, participated in many gatherings and conferences over the years. At these conferences, it seemed there were never all the players needed, to know each other and eventually work together. This conference is my attempt, and Growing Power’s attempt, to bring to the table folks that have never worked together to build a new food system that works for everyone in every community. Some of these folks are farmers like myself, urban planners, government officials, financiers, corporate companies; teachers and university academics; doctors, dieticians and nutritionists; folks in the fitness field; people in renewable energy; aquaculturists, composters, recyclers and reusers; environmentalists including freshwater, wastewater and stormwater experts; brownfield specialists; and perhaps most importantly, youth, whose world will be shaped by what we do or not do, here and wherever we all return to. Over the next few days, working hard while eating some good local food from our local and regional producers, I hope that all of you will learn more, gain new partners, get inspired to go back to your communities and Grow the Good Food Revolution. Our ultimate goal is to make sure everyone, in all our communities, has access to healthy, safe, affordable and culturally appropriate food. Food is the one thing we all have in common. Building a Good Food system is the No. 1 thing that will lead us in building sustainable communities. This is really what social justice is about. ~ Will Allen