Bob Goff refers to him- self as a “recovering lawyer” after practicing law for 25 years. In May, he returned to San Quentin, along with some friends, to speak with the inmates who assist the many guests who tour the prison.
Goff met these inmates when he toured San Quentin, and he wanted to speak directly to them. He first engaged them in the Protestant Chapel with dialog that involved comedy. Then he asked about their ambitions.
“When people know what you want they want to help you,” Goff said. He said people who know what they want will do what it takes to achieve their goal, and he warned that, “Hoping is not a strategy.”
One inmate named Jerry said he wants to be a sound engineer. “Jerry wants to be a sound engineer,” Goff repeated. “Tell everyone what you want,” said Goff.
Inmate Brian Asey said he wants to change the perception of how people view the incarcerated. Goff responded by acknowledging how the rehabilitative programs at San Quentin allow men to “get to know the man under the hat.”
“You’ll never honor God if you don’t honor each other,” said Goff. He advised the men to surround themselves with people who have good character because it’s a reflection of who they are. “I’m big on the idea of love thy neighbor.”
“You’ll start seeing the opportunity when you know what you want,” said Goff. “When you have an opportunity, take the next step.” He said there are also people outside who don’t know what they want.
That’s the same kind of advice and motivation Goff delivered in the form of comedy to a larger audience at the prison in February. His message both times was “Love Does.” It’s also the title of a book he wrote that’s a best- seller. He uses the money from the millions of books sold to build schools around the world.
“God doesn’t pass us messages, he gives us people,” said Goff. On this evening, without sounding preachy, he told the men “You were for- given before you were even born.”
Like his last visit, Goff told jokes to keep the audience engaged. But the laughter didn’t dilute his positive message. “It starts by knowing what you want,” he repeated. “Know yourself.”
Goff’s friend and fellow comedian who goes by Michael Jr. took the stage after he spoke. “He knows how to be a friend,” said Michael Jr. about Goff. “I read people for a living.” He explained, to do comedy he has to pay attention to people.
Making the men laugh was only a small part of Michael Jr.’s act. He also discussed the art of telling jokes. He said a good story and joke comes from the setup, using resources. He explained that hardship, tragedy, skill, talent, and other abilities are what everyone receives, but the punch line is what’s delivered from all of it.
“Setbacks,” Michael Jr. said, are also the key to the setup for a good story or joke. He said bouncing back from adversity and setbacks is like being placed in a sling shot: The further you’re pulled back, the further you’ll reach. “Where will you aim?” he asked, and said, “Where ever that is, focus.”
Later, Lauren Daigle, a mentor and voice coach for contestants on American Idol took the stage.
“There are people who are not looking at you as your crime,” she said, explaining some people’s point of view about the incarcerated.
In her clear strong voice, Daigle sang her song “You Say” to the men over a prerecorded CD that played the music on the chapel’s PA system.
The final performance came when a local father and daughter duo, Pastor Zach and Abby, sang together. Zach finger-picked arpeggios on his acoustic guitar as Abby sang Reck- less Love and other songs. Zach joined in later vocals.
Abby ended the evening with a prayer on the stage as those in the audience bowed their heads. Before the crowd dispersed the men mingled and got auto- graphs from Goff, Michael Jr., Daigle, Abby and Zach.
Goff said he plans to come back to San Quentin, probably in the fall.