So I ask, "What do you teach?"
They have a seven-step program, they say, which they consider a trade secret for business reasons. But, in summary, it's something like this. In prison you constantly face inescapable situations, serious or trivial, that other inmates force upon you. For instance, someone might steal your shoes and you end up walking around barefoot all the time. "You can't call the cops," says Miller, "and you can't leave." Isolating can work for a while in some situations. "But other prisoners will not permit loners for long and will force confrontations in the yard, where everybody eventually has to go. They want to see how you'll act."
Scholl tells me that in their first consultations with clients, he and Miller try to discover "emotional vulnerabilities." "When you first walk into the yard," he says, "the other prisoners will be looking for them. Are you a hothead? A controller? A pleaser?"
So DrPrison tries to alert clients to the emotional signals they are likely to give off. "We find them by pushing their buttons in the consultation. Then suddenly, when we've hit the right one, they will react strongly." And the idea is not to stop reacting in that way entirely, but to control your style, use other styles, and vary them according to the situation. "Even the strongest and most controlling prisoner," observes Miller, "cannot get away with threatening behavior all the time. Five other prisoners will easily take him down."
The three main coping styles in prison, according to Miller, are the Controller, the Pleaser, and the Loner. Each is effective for protecting yourself sometimes, but never as an exclusive strategy. Doing something for somebody, such as acquiring money or stores from home, will become expected, and you may have to say no in a forceful way. It's the varying of styles that will save you.
"Sometimes you may have to fight," says Scholl, "but winning the fight is not crucial. Even if you get beat up, you are likely to land a few good blows. And the willingness to stand up is what gains respect."
The work with prisoners' families is likely to take up a big percentage of DrPrison's time in the future. That's because one of the greatest fears many people have who go to prison concerns what will happen to their relationships while they're gone.
Miller tells me of a woman who wrote a first letter to her son in jail. "It read, 'How dare you disappoint the family?' It berated him something terrible. I told her, 'Not good. All this is going to do is bring about resistance. You're not an agent of change here by doing this.' She had no idea. She thought she was going to make him feel bad so he'd have a change of heart. That's not what was happening. I told her he's only going to say something to please you because he needs you. So she finally called me last week to read me a new letter. She wrote, 'I know when you get out there will be a lot of blocks to your getting ahead in society. But you told me once you have an interest in photography.' And she sent him a magazine on photography."