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Running Head: ARE YOU FREE YET?

Are you free yet?

Kelli Stansell
Gonzaga University



Ethical communication theorists agree that communicating with integrity and giving truth high
importance is key. Em Griffin (2012) explores nine ethical theories that explore ethical behavior
and emphasizes the necessity for individuals and society to adopt some standard of ethical
conduct to guide future behavior rather than be a rationalization of acts already performed (p.
454). This paper will reference some of these theories explored by Griffin as they are revealed
through three key communication choices made by the prison escorts featured in a New York
Times article, You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?, Carlos Cervantes and Roby So. After
revealing the ethical dimensions of these three key communication choices and the situations
they each created in the lives of ex-convicts picked up by Cervantes and So, this paper will move
into applying similar communication choices to a current social problem. The problem this paper
will highlight is the embracing of entitlement and lack of initiative shown by North American
college students. For context, the article written by Jon Mooallem, is accurately subtitled:
Carlos and Roby are two ex-convicts with a simple mission: picking up inmates on the day
theyre released from prison and guiding them through a changed world. Here well explore
their communication choices that made a difference in the lives of the recently released inmates.

Key Communication Choice #1

Skillful discussion balancing challenge and direction.
New York Times contributor, Jon Mooallem, painted the picture well. He related a story
shared with him by Carlos Cervantes and Roby So about picking up one particular inmate, Dale
Hammock. Throughout their day spent with Hammock, Cervantes and So went through
seemingly normal experiences, but with delicate precision as they find the balance of challenge


and direction for Hammock. The first stop was for breakfast where after ordering his chocolate
milk, So sat back and let Hammock make his own choices about what to eat and drink, without
having someone hold his hand or decide for him. Choices like this show how Cervantes and So
treat Hammock like a capable human being and empower him to start living his life in a way that
he has chosen after leaving prison.
The skillful discussion chosen over and over in Cervantes and Sos day spent with
Hammock included each of them giving snippets of information and providing their own
opinions, giving space for Hammock to form and express his own opinions and giving priority to
the task at hand without losing the person intimately connected with that task (Ross, 1994).
Mooallem related how Cervantes and So said they eased into discussing some practicalities,
careful not to overwhelm Hammock with everything at once. Ethically speaking, Cervantes and
So were potentially withholding information in order to open opportunities for safe failure and
success as well as focusing on the consequence rather than importance of telling full truth. In the
end, what came of this was independence, through experiential methods, Cervantes and So were
able to keep Hammock in the learning zone rather than twilight zone where he could make his
own life choices.

Key Communication Choice #2

Empathic listening intentional if-then statements.
Previously mentioned author, Em Griffin (2012), provided a few points about empathic
listening, that Empathic listening focuses on the other persons thoughts and feelings [and]
requires three skills sets: focusing, encouraging, and reflecting (p. 193). Cervantes and So drew
from these skill sets in their relation to Dale Hammock. Hammock dreamt to cutting hair and


expressed this in pieces to the pair. Slowly, Cervantes encouraged this. He gave Hammock
information about Barber College, later offered that he would be interested in Hammock cutting
his hair, and concluded the day by clarifying the tools he saw in Hammock and said Youre
going to be alright (Mooallem, 2015).
The ethical dimension of this choice reveals that empathy could mean sugar coating
which could mean not giving the cold, hard truth. At the end of Mooallems article, Cervantes
and So dropped Hammock off with another previous inmate, Stanley Bailey, where he would be
living. Bailey expressed difficulty in securing a job and hit on other topics that he and Cervantes
had spoken about previously. Instead of filling him in on what steps could be next and/or how
grim his situation actually looks, Cervantes slipped him some money and planned to work on the
issue from his end. The empowerment that Hammock was given through the specific this is
what you will need to to in order to make that dream come true type communication might be
lacking in regards to Bailey. Other positive effects of this choice are a friendship and mutual
respect formed between the pair and Hammock as well as a healthy and tangible dose of reality
for where to go next.

Key Communication Choice #3

Open-endedness Are you free yet?
Almost home from their first day out escapades, So asked Hammock, How you feel so
far? Are you free yet? (Mooallem, 2015). This was Sos attempt at showing Hammock just how
open his future is, he has urged him to pursue his passion to be a barber and prepared him for a
friendship with Bailey in order to continue the adjustment process. Cervantes and So have
decided to emphasize the importance of open-endedness in their communication with recently


released inmates. Ethical communication theorist John Stewart puts priority on the two words
and and next because they [keep] all the elements on the table and [reminds] people that the
communication theyre experiencing is continuous, unfinished, ever-unfolding (Griffin, 2012, p.
139). This type of communication potentially opened Hammocks eyes to the truth of freedom
and opportunity.
Hammock received hope from Cervantes and Sos choice of communicating with openendedness in mind. There is room for continuation of learning and growing and a lessening of
fear of the real world happened. Surrounded by success stories, Hammock was given reason to
walk out with hope for his future. A potential negative effect of this communication choice is not
revealing how difficult it will be as an ex-convict to make it in the world because of stereotypes
and appearance judgments (tattoos, bald head, etc).

Current Social Problem Application

The problem this paper will highlight is the embracing of entitlement and lack of
initiative shown by North American college students. A first look at the three communication
choices listed, it is possible to see them as instigations of this type of outlook. Take it step
further. From the perspective of a college professor, a person of influence on college students,
embody the choices of skillful discussion, empathic listening and open-endedness.
College students need to be challenged. The previously mentioned idea of keeping the
recently released inmates in the learning zone has been used by many experiential education
scholars and holds weight in both a traditional and non-traditional setting. In an Australian
Journal of Outdoor Education article by Mike Brown (2008), he describes the theory behind this
idea: when placed in a stressful or challenging situation people will respond, rise to the occasion


and overcome their hesitancy or fear and grow as individuals. Brown references the lack of this
challenge as the comfort zone and the excess of this challenge as the panic zone, both places
where learning and growth dont occur as well. Skillful discussion, pulling students into the
conversation but leaving them with something to consider and test out on their own is necessary
to their growth and development as initiative-taking adults. Following this up closely with their
need to both be empathically listened to and to engage in empathic listening. To move outside of
themselves and empathically consider the needs and ideas of someone else can move college
students from entitlement to empowerment. Lastly, the communication choice of openendedness, and how, for instance, a professor can utilize this choice to move students from
having a lack of initiative to making a difference. Open-ended communication can reveal other
social issues or opportunities to students and the ways they can impact the world.

Persons with influence on North American college students are not free from
responsibility. We can make communication choices that empower them to look outside of
themselves and enact positive change in the world. This paper explored three of these
communication choices that were exhibited by Carlos Cervantes and Roby So. These choices
made a difference in the lives of the recently released inmates Dale Hammock and Stanley
Bailey. After revealing the three key communication choices of skillful discussion, empathic
listening and open-endedness we looked at them from an ethical perspective and extrapolated on
how they ultimately effected the released inmates. The current social problem of the embracing
of entitlement and lack of initiative shown by North American college students was highlighted
in order to determine how those same communication choices could make a difference in solving


this issue. From here further work can be done. Individuals with influence on current college
students, have the responsibility of enacting a positive change in the way they view themselves
within the world.


Brown, M. (2008). Comfort zone: model or metaphor?. Australian Journal of Outdoor
Education, 12(1), 3-12.
Griffin. E. (2012). Communication, communication, communication: A first look at
communication theory. (8th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Mooallem, J. (2015). You just got out of prison. Now what?. New York Times. Retrieved from
Stewart. J. (2012). Bridges not walls: A book about interpersonal communication. (11th Ed.).
New York, NY: McGraw Hill.