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I like to go to the extremes to understand some of the lessons we need to learn. For example, I turn to the military so that I could better understand trust and I look to Bruce Diehl so I can better understand compassion. The work that he is doing at his organization, City of Refuge, is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, I was so inspired by him, I had the opportunity to publish his book Trust First, which I highly recommend.
The experiences that Bruce has had can teach us how to be better versions of ourselves. This is a bit of optimism. Bruce, so good to see you. Thanks so much for sitting down to do this with me. It's always a pleasure to see you. Great to see you. Thanks for the opportunity to spend time together.
I wanted to talk to you about this idea of giving people a second chance.
You work with prostitutes and drug addicts and people who've often been marginalized and forgotten in society. What I think is so profound about you and your organization is how sometimes the idea of giving people a second chance can actually be a daily occurrence.
That sometimes you believe in someone and they let you down and you have to give them a second chance again and again and again.
So for many of the people that we deal with, they were born into poverty, lack of quality education. They didn't have safe and affordable housing. They were born without forward momentum. And so even though they made a lot of bad decisions in life or a lot of bad things have happened to the outsider, we're giving them a second chance. And a lot of times I feel like we're giving them their first real chance. And of course, if you've only been given one first chance and you've got all this history with bad things in your past, you're probably going to fail at the first chance.
And so we enter into that relationship with an expectation, frankly, that they're probably not going to quite get it right the first time. So we need to already be prepared on the front end for what the second and third chance looks like.
It's very much like a parent, isn't it? Which is when a child is young, which is ostensibly their first chance at doing most things, that they're going to do everything, those things, everything.
They're not going to ride a bicycle for the first time properly. They're not going to use their knife and fork properly. It's all going to be a mess. It's not so much that we put a date on. It takes this amount of time to ride a bicycle. If you don't ride a bicycle by this date, we're going to put you up for adoption, but rather, it's a process. You hold the seat, you put the training wheels one, you take one wheel and you fumble through it and they fall and they get back on and you believe in the process.
And eventually every kid can ride a bicycle.
Is that more of what it's like? Yeah, I think so.
I'm big on trust the process and trust the people. So you have to have the process first. If you just start extended second chances without a process as to how that should look, that's going to fail. Always trust the process, trust the people. I'm a father of five daughters. I'm now the grandfather of five grandkids, two more being born in the next couple of months. And what I found in my process, I'm much more tolerant of the second generation's failures than I was the first generation stars.
So it's also a process for us. For some of us, it's really hard to give second or third or fifteenth chances. But the longer we do that, the more adept we become at that. And then we start to understand that it is a longer journey than we want it to be intuitively want them to hurry up and grab it and get it.
But it is a long, slow process. And unless we're willing to walk with people that have had difficulty in life, they're probably going to crash and burn at some point because nobody was there to prop them up for that next chance.
Tell me a story of someone who has gone through your process so quickly.
Ryan was born in Cleveland, Ohio, abusive stepfather, ran away at 13, was recruited into a gang, was in a gang for 14 years, robbery crew all over the United States in and out of jail, drug addiction, all kinds of issues moved to Atlanta because there was a contract on his life in Cleveland, ran into us the day after we met and we moved him into our facility, gave him keys to a room. And at least seven times in the next five years, he bailed on us.
What, back to the streets? What back to the same life. And all seven times we went looking for him. We didn't just wait for him to come back to us. We often predicate our second chances on whether or not that individual's willing to return to us and apologize for their failure, when sometimes they're willing to take the chance and embrace what we give. But we got to go tell them that we're willing to do that for at least seven times.
We're going after him. We're now. Fourteen years into that journey, his record has been expunged. Seven felonies erased from his record, got certified as a licensed security guard in Atlanta, owns his own security company, now has thirty five employees serving multiple organizations in the city. And all of those that he's employing are those that were given second and third or fourth chances to as well. How many years have you been doing this? Twenty three years, so twenty three years, if you look back at yourself in your own relationships with your wife or your children or your friends, how has your process in working it's changed you.
So I grew up in a conservative, real tight kind of environment. My father was a minister and it was great. It was a great environment. But I found myself with a lot of preconceived notions and judgments about others based on their behavior, not based on who they are. And twenty three years later, I just have almost zero judgment on the front end. So I meet somebody and I hear their story and where I used to judge whether or not they're a good person or make good decisions.
Now I just see them as an opportunity for us to walk with and see what the future can be rather than judging them on what the past has been. I think that's the biggest thing that's happened to me, is I've just chosen to lay down this attitude and mentality I'm on with judge people based on their vocabulary or their lifestyle or color of their skin.
I've just decided those things are inappropriate and I have to believe in them, even if I can't see what I believe is their. We should all carry that advice with us. I had a conversation with Dickon recently, India is a documentary and she's a Muslim woman who spent time with white supremacists and engaged in what I labeled extreme listening. She took these people who hate her. And gave them a safe space to say what they think, she gave him a space to feel heard and she didn't fight with them.
And I asked her, how do you listen without judgment?
She says, oh, no, no, I judge I do listen to judgment, but I sit in that discomfort.
What you're talking about is something entirely different. And I think it's so interesting that in both cases, the objective is to allow the other person to feel heard, to feel like they matter in the world. Exactly, and when I say I don't judge wrong is wrong and right is right, so there's some behavior that obviously judges itself. What I'm talking about is I don't judge the individual for the behavior. The behavior is wrong. We deal with that here.
Now, let's deal with who you are as an individual. What led you to this place or experiences in your life have happened that I'm unaware of that causes your behavior to be something that I don't agree with.
This is such a great sophisticated thought for us to be able to disconnect the behavior from the person. One of the things I know when we lob insults at people, very often we mean to attack the behavior, but we end up doing is attacking the person you're a liar versus you lied, right? When you say you lied. You can have a breakthrough there. But if I say to you, you're a liar, I'm now attacking who you are and you're going to dig in and maybe even attack me back.
This is something very similar to be able to separate the behavior from the person, to criticize the behavior, perhaps, but to allow the person to be that clean slate, that tabula rasa.
Yeah, it's my opinion that so many people live in a false identity because of exactly what you're talking about. They have been labeled by others. You're a liar. You're a thief. You're an addict. You're this you're that. We actually try not to term the folks that we serve by the labels everybody else gets. So we don't necessarily talk about the homeless. We talk about those who are in transition right now. It's amazing what the difference makes to that individual when you don't say, hey, I know you're homeless, I want to help you.
If you say, hey, I understand you're in transition right now, here are a couple of resources that we have for you. And so sometimes it's literally just a choice of vocabulary that helps individuals feel like you're not judging them. You're actually giving them a chance to be what you believe they can be.
I love this. It's not that you're a thief. It's that you have stolen things right. It's not that you're a prostitute, but you have prostituted yourself. Right.
It's a very finite and infinite concept. I'm just realizing, as you're talking about it, because to label someone is very complete, absolute and worse is if they start to believe that label, they see no hope for their future. They become their label.
Yeah, it goes to your point, the infinite game with the folks that we serve at City of Refuge, it's never about today. This is always about our future, that we may never see the end. And so we've served twenty three thousand people in the last twenty three years. I say we serve about a thousand unique individuals a year. I have no idea what they are. Why is there? But I do know that ten, fifteen years later I still get messages from folks that go, hey, what you guys shared with me ten, twelve years ago is working now.
So it's not just about the results I can see today or tomorrow. It's about an investment in somebody's future. It is the infinite game. I might never see the end of that, but it's still the right work.
People are so uncomfortable with that, that to invest so much time and energy and not necessarily know if that is going to be a result any time soon.
Well, especially in the nonprofit space where I spend most of my time, we like to call it the full impact space for impact, etc.. In the four impact space, so much is based on outcome based measurements. Funding is often dependent upon outcome based measurement. Getting the next contract for the government to support you on your next program is dependent on your graduation rates and your success rates. So the world of which we live is programmed in such a way that you have to have success scenarios.
We've actually flipped that and my team, I just tell them all the time, this is not about success. This is about obedience. This is what we feel like. We're covid. We feel like this is our assignment. We felt like this our life's work. So as long as we do that with passion, excellence, dignity and integrity, then we are successful. But if we're driven just by the numbers, I think we get lost in production versus productivity, which to me are two different things.
I love this and it really is two things. Vision, cause you have to have cause that's the calling and the process. Again, I go back to that original analogy. If you're teaching a kid how to ride a bicycle, there is a process to learn how to ride a bicycle. It starts with training wheels. And if you follow the process, it 100 percent works, but you just have to believe in the process. So I guess that if you have a process that has some positive outcomes and you see that over the course of time this does work, you tweak and tweak and tweak, it becomes the process that you're obsessed with.
In other words, you allow for the process to evolve. You have to the fundamentals of learning how to ride a bike haven't changed.
But what you're doing is constantly, constantly, constantly tweaking the process to make it work better and in this case, prepare people for the fall.
Right. Here's the real truth. We've had far more failures than successes. When you deal with people that are coming out of incarceration, they're coming out of addiction. They're veterans of PTSD. They've been sexually abused, traumatized. They've had. Zero support system in their life, the percentages of success are always going to be less than the percentages of failure. So again, it goes back to not measuring this by some position that we place that they have to be in life.
It is this is the right thing to do. We've discovered the right way to do it. Now you do the right thing, the right way, over and over and over. Yeah. And what we do is we celebrate all of the victories and we try to learn from the failures so we don't get dismayed by the failures, although at times that's a challenge. We try to learn from the failures and celebrate all the victories. How do we apply what you've learned to our own lives, like how do I become a better version of me by learning the lessons that you've learned?
Because most of us aren't doing the kind of work you're doing, but we can apply what you're learning that?
Well, I think in every environment, this attitude of trying to see the best in everybody every day. So in the business place, in corporations, in our family and our friendships, we all have failures. We all have faults. Everybody that I work with is going to disappoint me at some point in time. Can I look beyond that and see the good that they are bringing to me, to our organization or to the people we serve. So seeing the best in people I think is really critical, Simon.
And that's a large scale, by the way. The second thing is to speak that truth to them and about them out loud. So saying to people what you believe about them, that they might not even believe about themselves. We say it to them, but we also say about them in front of others, it's an incredible, incredible dignity giver and it's also this belief system process that they begin to develop in themselves. When I talk positively about somebody in front of their peers or in front of those that are on the journey with them to help them get better, and how do we learn that skill?
Is it just practice?
There's not a whole lot I pride myself on. I think I'm a good student of observation. So what I try to do is just see what's something this person's doing saying or I can see in them that is not visible without studying them. So just observing is really critical. And the more I practice that over the years, the more I begin to recognize these good places in people's lives that are covered up by all the external things.
It's sort of a mindset, isn't it? Absolute complete Monsef.
It's kind of a choice how to approach the day in the morning. Well, yeah.
I mean, it's an embracing the day and focusing all the positives that might be there with an understanding that the other stuff's always going to be there. So it's not negating the negative. It's just saying, I know that's there, we'll deal with it. But here's what we have to celebrate.
Yeah. Do you have a favorite story of someone who's come through City of Refuge? Yeah, I met Jake when he was fifty seven years old. Jake was an African-American that grew up on a plantation in South Georgia as part of a sharecropper family. So he experienced racism at the highest level. His father was an alcoholic and abusive. He tells the story of hiding in the closet at 11 years old, why his father fired a gun trying to kill him and his mother ran away from home at 11 and started crashing.
A little utility shed at a nearby golf course met a couple of the guys. I started teaching some things. He started Cadie and turned out to be a great golfer, was one of the first African-American teen pros in golf, but fell subject to crack cocaine and alcohol addiction. We met him in the streets living under a bridge, and Jacobovitz became great friends. For the next thirteen years, Jake lived with us on an off times. He would sit at our table.
He loved my wife and love my daughters. I loved him. I would employ Jake and Jake would fall back into his addiction. He would go back to jail. So this 13 year journey, we lost Jake for about eight months, about four years ago, and he came back and had been in jail again.
He got arrested for some crazy stuff. And Jake always said, either you'll do the time or the time will do. You just have the time and done, Jake. So his mental health was a little off and it was just a struggle. I said, you want to move back in? It goes, I can't this can't be confined. Can I just sleep in the backseat of your truck? So I had to have two fifty four pick up crew cab.
And I said, well sure is parked on the parking lot so Jake could get some meals and shower and clothes and he would sleep in my truck. We were there together and I would see him and we would talk and I'd give him some work but he just struggle to overcome life. And so on Monday morning, one of the guys that worked for me, Steve, walks out and he says, hey, somebody is asleep in the back of your truck.
But it's not, Jake, this a great big guy. And so I walk out and I look in the window and I go, it's Jake and he's dead. And Jake died in the back seat of my truck a couple nights before and his body had bloated. We had to call the coroner. They broke the window. The smell of death rolls out. They drag him out in a parking lot just so unceremoniously. I really got hacked off some and I we invested 13 years of believing and identity and all these kind of things, and at the end of the day, Jake died, still not overcoming all of his demons, but it took me a couple of months to really process.
And I still come to tears about Jake's golf clubs issue, sitting outside my door as a reminder of who we are and what we do.
But the thought struck me. A couple of months after Jake's death, Jake came home to the Jake could have died under a bridge. He could have dived in the graveyard. He used to sleep. He could have died in prison. We would have never known. We wouldn't have been able to have a funeral for Jake to recognize Jake, to talk about his legacy with us. This was a place he felt loved and cared for, a place where he had been given chance after chance after chance.
And there was something inside of him, I believe, that new life was coming to an end. And he wanted to be home when he died. And for us, that success, it didn't end like I wanted it, but he knew he was cared for and loved at the end and he knew that the back seat of my truck was here. And so that's why we do what we do. It's still a place that infinite game, you know, that success isn't.
We got you off drugs and you're now gainfully employed and can take care of yourself and your family. It's progress towards an ideal. And as long as there's movement forwards and Jake went on a lot of twists and turns and a lot of speed bumps, but at the end of the day, he was further down the path when he died than he was when he started on the path.
And Jake would have died 10 years earlier if he hadn't met us. Yeah, if he'd have stayed in his four crack addiction the whole time, full alcoholism before sleeping out in the cold weather. Jake would have been dead 10 years before. And so for us, it's not about whether he ever got to this place that we dreamed he would get to. It's that at least he had the opportunity to get to that place and he was closer to it at the end than it was at the beginning.
You know so much about human behavior. You've seen people at their best, in their worst, and you interact with people obviously outside of City of Refuge. And I assume some people are telling you how to do your job. Sometimes there have to be little voices that go on in your head instead of rolling your eyes that you see so much opportunity. In society, to learn some of the lessons that you look like you look out the window and be like, oh my God, this country, this world would be a better place if.
What if if we did, what if we learned what such a big question, number one, if we would stop being so selfish, it's always about us. That's what probably frustrates me more than anything else. I travel and speak in churches and businesses and for impact summits, all kinds of things. And it always feels like everybody's there for them. Even if they're doing good work, they're there for them to be better, to be more well thought of, to gain some level of popularity of prestige.
And so if we could just be more about others and less about us, I think that's one of the biggest things that I would love to see as a people try to do. The second thing is to your position in life to be optimistic, to see the glass half full with all of the crazy stuff going on in our world today. I mean, frankly, I don't watch the news because I can't listen to those who are talking about how much Bayada there is and how much struggle we're having.
I want to see the best in people and the best in our society. And so being less about ourselves, more about others, and being more positive about what the future can be, a less negative about what the present might be are two key things for me.
So how do we learn then? How do we learn to be less selfish? I mean, you can't just go up to somebody, say, hey, be less selfish.
Well, no, again, it's a process. It's a journey. Sometimes I ask people to ask himself two or three questions when they see somebody in crisis. What are your first two or three thoughts? And then why are those your first two or three thoughts? And what are two or three thought you could replace those two or three to just practical questions. And can I now flip a switch and make myself think something else the next time I see somebody in that same situation?
Yeah. How have you taught these lessons to your daughters? Well, practical expressions. The biggest. What? They just seen me live it out. People will be all the time to come in and teach them how to do what we do. And I say, well, better ways for you to come hang out with us for a week because I can do a seminar. But this is really something you have to see and feel as though my girls grew up with homeless folks sitting at our dinner table with girls I picked up from jail that morning that he got arrested for prostitution that night.
They're telling us their story. And I have to dismiss the girls from the breakfast table because the graphic nature of the conversation, they've seen me out in the middle of the street in the night rescuing somebody who's obese. So I think it's critical that leaders of corporations and businesses expose their people to the world outside the walls of that corporation intentionally, not just because they're going run into it, but what's our international effort. So just practical expression of it and the living out of those things daily by girls, they just naturally gravitate to it after they have seen the expression of it and seen the positive things that can come out of it.
When you think back about your life before City of Refuge, who is your mentor?
It is my dad primarily. I mean, he was a pastor. He was a missionary. He would go and speak places and come home and mom would say, what was your honourary and how she managed to be? That goes, I don't know. There was somebody there that needed more than us. So I gave it to the old. We always had people living in our homes growing up. So we got a call one night about bedtime. We get a call from this lady.
She says how her husband's name was Roger. He's drunk and he's beat me and the kids again. Can you come get us? He's in the basement right now. That immediately gets in the car, goes up, picks them up, brings them over there in the house. Let's leave it at twelve o'clock at night. We're all in the bed. Roger calls and says, Cecil, I'm coming to get my wife and kids. And he says, we can't have them.
And he goes, well, I'll kill you. And and so they literally woke us up in the middle of the night, told us my two brothers, some cousins were with us. We're all under the bed in the back bedroom, scared day out the ten, eleven, twelve years old.
The guy shows up on the front porch of that or in a heated and all of a sudden he just starts firing a gun twenty one times through our house and dad's wrestling with the guy and he's threatening to kill us all. And at the end of the day, the wife and children stayed with us. Roger went to jail. And so sort of what I was exposed to early on in life.
And we've had our own experiences that here in twenty three years and someone is looking down and looking after your family because I mean.
Oh, well, yeah. I mean, we're we're not shy about fact. We're faith based organization. I believe Providential Care was all over that and still over me today. Absolutely.
What makes you scared. My answer is probably strange. What makes me scared is not doing what I'm supposed to do. We've been here twenty three years. We've broken into thirty four times. We've had vehicles stolen. I've been in superior court with guys that wanted to kill me. Probably to my detriment, I'm not much afraid in the streets, I am afraid of not fulfilling what I believe is my God given purpose and I'm afraid of not inspiring others to do that as well.
So I always want to make sure when I share that I present this in such a way that is invitational and not condemnation. I'm not saying to people you're bad because you're not doing what we do or what other people in the world. I'm inviting people to see if they can step out of their comfort zone and see if life can't have a little more color and flavor to it.
Well, you are living your purpose today, my friend. I am so inspired. Unfortunately, you're one of a kind. I wish there were many of you. The lessons that you have learned from the work that you do, I think have application to all of us in our lives. And I know just from the time I get to talk to you, even just now, I'm going through my head of things I can do better. Well, thank you.
Thank you for all the good you do to make people feel better about you every day and going to work and coming home happy and fulfilled.
You are magic, my friend. Thank you so much. Thank you. So. If you enjoyed this podcast and if you'd like to hear more, please subscribe wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Until then, take care of yourself. Take care of each other.