It's not particularly easy to become a volunteer at the prison. You don't just show up on the doorstep. It starts with an application to Huntsville, where they do a background check. Once that is cleared you have to attend a training session. These aren't offered very frequently, so you may have to wait a few months. Once the training is done that record is sent back to Huntsville and you wait for them to officially approve you.
None of this process is fast. It can take 3-4 months to get approved. So you have to be patient.
Once you get approved every two years you have to go back through the training. That's what I have to do in a few weeks.
The training mainly consists of teaching you how to avoid being manipulated. Usually through flattery. Inmates talk to you, creating the impression that you are unique and special, that you share a special bond and intimacy. Once that bond is created then comes requests for favors. Can you do this for me? Carry this out? Bring this in? Contact this person for me?
Obviously, you're working in a prison, so you run into the "dark triad" traits a lot. Narcissism, Machiavellian and psychopathy. And it's hard to sort through actual intimacy and manipulation. Psychopaths can be extraordinarily charming.
I share a lot about the consolations of prison ministry. But as I share in Reviving Old Scratch, this is one of the desolations, the vigilance you have to maintain to keep from being manipulated, the care you need to take to monitor boundaries and handle requests for special favors. There's always the question gnawing at the back of your mind when you're getting close to an inmate, "Is this for real? Or am I being played here?"
We like to think that we have some infallible social radar that can tell us when and who to trust, but the waters are murky and the signals often mixed.