For Melanie DewBerry-Jones, hunches are to be followed?even the dangerous ones. She was leading a workshop at San Quentin prison that brought the ideas of personal coaching?a form of professional help that assists people in living according to their values?inside the walls. She noticed that one inmate, an ex-airman, was obsessively tidy, with cropped hair and an ironed shirt. ?My teaching was about being honest about where you are right now,? she recalls, so she pulled his shirttail out, unbuttoned a few buttons. ?I told him, ?They kicked you out of the Air Force. You?re in prison and you?ve got to deal with that.? He looked like he wanted to kill me.?
DewBerry-Jones, a personal coach who lives near San Francisco, says ?Many of us tell ourselves lies based on our fears. I try to coach past the lies, to intuit the real issues.?
She develops her intuition by immersing herself in Native American spirituality. It?s a family heritage; her father was part Choctaw. He was also one of the legendary Tuskeegee Airmen, the pioneer African American pilots whose World War II exploits paved the way for the desegregation of the Armed Forces. He became a senior officer in the Air Force, and she grew up in Washington, D.C.
Run-ins with harsh racism as a young woman left her determined to reach out to people who were different from herself. She studied Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish. She planned to be an Episcopal priest. ?I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage people to act from love,? she says. Today she fuels that desire with an active coaching schedule, and has even founded a magazine for personal coaches and clients (Choice, debuting this fall).
And the too-tidy San Quentin inmate? ?He took it hard,? says DewBerry-Jones. ?I really wondered if I?d done the right thing. Then at the end of the sessions, he came up to me and said, ?Thank you. I don?t like you. But I love you.??
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