Lock-up lesson learned

By on March 5, 2008

Accustomed to speaking with troubled children and prison inmates, Ellis Stokely admitted he had never appeared in front of a group of students like the ones at Quinnipiac University, students that were so privileged.

But after only a few minutes, it was plain to see why the former convict came and why he has been an inspiration to so many people.

“I’m not looking to fix the whole world,” said Stokely, who is better known as “Bobo.” “I just like doing my part to help.”

Stokely visited Quinnipiac as part of a workshop for the Star Team Consultants (STC) Program that was held on Saturday. The day-long workshop was run by John Engels, the president of Leadership Coaching, Inc., an executive consulting firm based in Rochester, N.Y.

After the workshop, Stokely, 57, spoke to about a dozen students about the importance of making the right decisions and getting the most out of your opportunities.

“You guys are going to start making decisions that will affect the rest of your lives,” said Stokely, who talked about some of the decisions he made when he was younger.

In 1975, Stokely was sentenced to 25 years in prison after an attempted robbery he was connected to turned into a shootout with police that left one person dead. He ended up spending 31 years in Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison located in upstate New York.

“A five-minute decision I made cost me 31 years of my life,” Stokely, who was released in 2006 said.

Stokely also spoke with the students in-depth about some of the things he endured while in prison, including rough treatment from guards and fellow inmates.

Perhaps the most riveting part was a story he told of stabbing an inmate that was threatening him with sexual advances, which cost him six more years in prison. The students listened intently as he relived these moments vividly.

“Everyday, I woke up just trying to survive that day,” Stokely said. “I don’t mind talking about it now because I lived it for so long. It’s good for me to talk about it.”

Stokely became involved with leadership and consulting programs while at Attica, where he was involved with Cephas, an organization of volunteers that focuses on meeting the emotional needs of men and women in prison, and ALFA (A Look for Alternatives), where he talked with thousands of troubled teenagers about the consequences of their actions. He also gained degrees from Canisius College in psychology, sociology, and business while in Attica.

It was at one of these programs where Stokely met Engels, who was impressed with the dedication and leadership he showed in these programs. When Stokely was released from prison, he was released to the Rochester area and began to work for Engels at Leadership Coaching, Inc., where he has been working for more than a year.

His new-found freedom is something he has begun to treasure and he tries to make the most of his time.

“Now, I like to take my time and enjoy my life,” Stokely said. “Because I sure know what it’s like to lose it.”

The students in attendance were inspired by the speech, asking many questions and giving positive feedback on the things they had learned. Stokely was also met with many handshakes and hugs by the students afterwards, who really felt the speech put their lives as students into perspective.

“It gave us some new perspective on consulting and some inspiration,” said Nick Engels, junior history major, president of STC and son of John Engels. “It helps us see that the challenges we face aren’t even close to the ones he’s faced in his life.”

And at the end of the day, it was clear that Stokely was able to inspire students to take advantage of all the opportunities they have.

“It’s all about motivation,” Engels said. “And if we are motivated, we can help motivate others, too.”


About Josh Anusewicz