DeafInPrison.com Celebrates 50,000 Views!!!

By BitcoDavid

Congratulations to us – DeafInPrison.com – who just received our 50 thousandth view! Of course all of you helped, but it was DoTheWriteThingTampa, who drove home the golden spike. In addition to the link on this post, they will get one on the sidebar as well. Thanks guys, your support is greatly appreciated.

And to everybody else who’s made DeafInPrison.com a reality – our awesome contributors, our supporter contribs and guests, and all our worldwide readers – an extra special animated gif thank you, too!

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Does Your Health Insurance Cover Hearing Aids?

By BitcoDavid

Hearing aid

Hearing aid (Photo credit: Soitiki)

I just learned that only 2 states out of 50 have laws mandating hearing aid coverage. Even so, those laws are ridden with loopholes allowing insurance companies leeway in opting out of providing the coverage. An entry level hearing aid, the Siemens Motion 300, costs 16,00 bucks. A top of the line model can go as high as 3,000. And that’s for each ear.

Cynthia Dixon, who writes 4 eyes, 4 ears, and has been so helpful to DeafInPrison.com, informs me that many HoH adults are forced to turn to vocational rehab, in the hopes that they will provide what health insurance won’t.

English: U.S. Health Insurance Status (Under 65)

U.S. Health Insurance Status (Under 65) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A member of the FaceBook group, Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Kat Pol, is endeavoring to start a letter writing campaign to bring awareness of this issue to the public and legislators.

DeafInPrison.com supports this effort. Like so much else in the world of Health Care, the ability to hear and communicate should be treated as a basic Human right, and not a privilege of wealth.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

DeafInPrison rough in Britain, Too

By BitcoDavid

This article was brought to our attention by Handeyes from PEOPLE OF THE EYE. It originally appeared in Charlie Swinbourne’s Limping Chicken. According to research by the Howard League for Penal Reform, the British penal system is unable to meet the needs of Deaf inmates, and as a result, these inmates are not getting the rehabilitation services afforded their hearing counterparts. The report titled, Not hearing us: An exploration of the experience of deaf prisoners in English and Welsh prisons by Daniel McCullough, was sponsored by the Howard League.

Mountjoy Prison, the main committal prison in ...

Mountjoy Prison, the main committal prison in the Republic of Ireland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Limping Chicken reports:

Some deaf prisoners interviewed as part of the research claimed to have had trouble accessing employment, education courses and behaviour classes in prison because of issues relating to their disability.

Others said they were concerned about their safety in the event of a fire because they would be unable to hear an alarm and would be unsure of what to do. Some deaf prisoners feel lonely and isolated because of difficulties communicating with other inmates, as well as family members and legal services outside of prison.

In this report, McCullough writes of a partial justice system, referring to the inequity of treatment for the Deaf. He makes reference to Shrewsbury Prison, where inmates and guards are both offered BSL courses, as a model by which other British prisons can benchmark.

English: Frances Crook OBE. Director, the Howa...

Frances Crook OBE. Director, the Howard League for Penal Reform. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Howard League CEO, Frances Crook said, “The Howard League legal team has represented young deaf prisoners who have experienced difficulties in participating in the prison regime because their needs were ignored and misunderstood both in state prisons and in private jails. This research should spark a reconsideration of the services provided to the deaf inside penal institutions. It is unacceptable that organs of the state and commercial prisons fail to comply with equalities legislation.” — LC

The 44 page report is available for download, but a login is required. Here’s that link:

http://www.howardleague.org/publications-not-hearing-us/

and here’s the link to Limping Chicken’s original coverage:

http://limpingchicken.com/2013/01/16/deaf-news-prison-service-failing-to-meet-the-needs-of-deaf-prisoners-research-finds/

DeafInPrison.com is grateful to them for allowing us to reblog this story, and grateful to Handeyes for bringing it to our attention.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

When One Hand Refuses to Wash the Other

By BitcoDavid

I was asked, the other day, why DeafInPrison.com – a site dedicated to the plight of the Deaf inmate – reports on such a diverse palette of issues. We cover the School to Prison Pipeline, Prison Reform, solitary confinement, mental health issues, Women in prison, the drug war, prison gangs, prison rape, wrongful conviction, Deaf culture and even stories about Angela McCaskill and Taylor Swift – to name just a few.

My initial answer was simply, “we need content.” And that’s true. In fact, I could go in a tech direction with this post, and give you 1000 words on why content – any content – is so essential to the success of a Blog site. But, yesterday, I watched a video from Penn Law about pregnancy in prison. It was an eye-opener for me, but less so for its actual content than for what it didn’t say.

What occurred to me, watching this wonderfully crafted and enlightening documentary, was that all these issues are connected. Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and one can’t take one specific issue and try to effect change without looking at all the other issues that act upon it as contributors or agonists.

Let’s take for example, the abuse cycle. Although some Deaf would argue the point, abuse does indeed take place in a percentage of Deaf families. Imprisonment follows abuse like the tail on a dog. So in order to effectively address the issue of Deaf imprisonment, we must address the issue of Deaf domestic abuse. And if we’re going to do that, we’re going to end up learning about domestic abuse as a whole.

English: A collage of Deaf people, both histor...

A collage of Deaf people, both historical and contemporary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Deaf community represents a sector of the American population – for that matter, the World’s population – and a significant social group. Therefore it follows that an equivalent number of Deaf would be behind bars. It’s no secret that the prison population has exploded in numbers over the last 4 decades, ergo, the number of incarcerated Deaf has increased accordingly. That’s simple arithmetic. But unless we take a close look at why that population has increased so dramatically, we’ll never be able to offer any assistance or succor to those members who happen to be Deaf. In short, they’re Deaf and they’re in prison, but that situation – and their heightened struggle – is symptomatic, not causal.

English: ASL sign I-LOVE-YOU (wikt:en:ILY@Side...

Maybe we can make a concerted effort to start using this 3 fingered sign for I love you, more often then we use the 1 fingered sign we all know too well. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems go much deeper, and effect far greater segments of our population. Poverty, education, abuse, the drug war, our punishment crazed society – all these things and more, contribute to the suffering of the Deaf community lost within the Justice system.

Several of the women interviewed in the above mentioned video said the same thing. “They don’t tell you anything.” I know this to be true. Hearing or not, you’re arrested -  and the first thing you become aware of, is the lack of communication. Nobody in the system ever tells you anything. You’re cuffed up and moved from here to there. You stand (mute) in front of a judge, while a complete stranger speaks in a foreign language. Next, you’re cuffed up again and shuffled off to somewhere else. You can actually go days, even weeks with nobody telling you anything about what’s happening to you. We have reported on this phenomenon as it impacts the Deaf, but again, the issue isn’t one of having an interpreter present. The problem is much deeper. Police, prosecutors, judges, COs and Public Defenders should be far more forthcoming with information. This is true for all of us, and not just the Deaf.

Prison Industrial Complex #occupysanquentin

Prison Industrial Complex #occupysanquentin (Photo credit: @bastique)

It really comes down to what kind of society we want to be. Do we want to be a nation that tortures and abandons its weak, like mountain lions in the wilderness? Or do we want to be a nation that prides itself on its ability to forgive mistakes and rebuild broken people? Once we were known as the system that created the World’s  largest and most powerful middle class. Now, we’re the World’s jailer and we’re becoming known for creating the World’s largest but least powerful criminal class.

I’m committed to the idea of presenting those stories which I believe to be applicable to our stated cause, even where that applicability is difficult to see. I hope that we can serve as a place for education, enlightenment and aid. And I hope that people – Deaf and Hearing alike – can benefit from our work.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Concern at a Distance

By Joanne Greenberg

In Lakewood, Colorado as in many other places in the United States, people are protesting the placement of schools and other facilities for the Deaf. They worry about increased traffic, and the lowering of property values. They fear danger from the pupils in those schools, or the recipients of those services.

”We have nothing against the Deaf,” they say, “but the school doesn’t belong here – or here, or here. Such a school would spoil the integrity of the neighborhood.“

I’ve already heard this complaint. About Black people, Jews and Hispanics.

English: Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colo...

Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A society will create what it values. In this case, concern at a distance. The reality is, that dozens of studies of such intrusions, show us that when the “invaders” are welcomed, they serve to bond the community and result in improvement in property values and the stability of neighborhoods, the way schools, parks and other additions do.

A neighborhood near me accepted a group of at-risk boys in a residential center. The boys were under closer supervision from the school faculty, than home-raised children are. Their group leaders urged them to volunteer time and effort to help the neighbors around them. They became welcome presences in the community, shoveling snow and doing odd jobs for older people and shut-ins who needed their help. Friendships resulted. “The best neighbors you could have,” my friend told me. When the group wanted to expand, the new neighborhood picketed against them. Maybe a Wal-mart will come in for those fearful people.

English: Footprint of Walmart stores within th...

Footprint of Walmart stores within the United States. Areas with more than one branch have progressively larger points. Alaska not to scale with the rest of the map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

NAD Advocates for Deaf Youth in Foster Care

Length of stay in U.S. foster care

Length of stay in U.S. foster care. Picture credit: Wikipedia

In a recently published position paper, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has issued a position paper that targets the special care Deaf children require in foster care. According to the NAD paper, Deaf children require foster care that is both linguistically and culturally accessible, including appropriate medical, psychological, educational and mental health services. This position paper was intended to provide a road map for all professionals and agents who work within the foster care system to ensure the appropriate provision of referral and care services to Deaf children.

US Navy 070421-N-4124C-066 Sasebo-based Forwar...

US Navy 070421N Sailors hand out chocolate at the conclusion of a visit to the foster care facility, Koyoryo Children’s Home. Photo: Wikipedia

The NAD, a powerful advocacy organization by and for Deaf people has historically championed the rights of Deaf adults and youth. This recent position paper is evidence of their continued tradition of advocacy, social justice and equity. The NAD’s paper on Foster Care should be required reading for all social service, juvenile justice, early childhood, education, and parent agencies serving Deaf children and youth.

HEARD’s Writing Campaign

Want to help write sorely needed letters to Deaf inmates in prisons throughout America? Here’s your chance to help alleviate someone’s insufferable solitude.

Hello Fellow HEARD Supporters:
Its that time again, writing time. HEARD Board members and volunteers we will be gathering for a few hours to write to some of our Deaf inmates that are in prisons across the country. This month our focus will be our Deaf women and Deaf blind inmates. Please let us know if you would like to join us.
Please send HEARD an inbox message, or an email at info@behearddc.org. Please put Writing Campaign in the subject line.

Here’s the link to the FaceBook events page. It’s a public event – everyone can sign up.

http://www.facebook.com/events/227125900747195/

English: Supermax prison, Florence Colorado Es...

Supermax prison, Florence Colorado. Another town in Colorado, notorious for its overwhelming number of prisons, is Caňon City. It goes by the appellation – Jail-town USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

An Amp Guru – Music Synthesist’s Perspective on Deafness

Let me give you what I know about the science of sound. The term sound refers to the compression and rarefaction of an elastic medium in a contained space. This compression and rarefaction takes place within the range of 20Hz to 20KHz and moves at a rate of 340.29 meters per second. An individual sound is known as an event. Syllables of words are separate events. Each event consists of a fundamental frequency and harmonics of that frequency.

The fundamental frequency is filtered by its delivery system. In other words, the sound of a violin is generated by the strings, but filtered by the body of the violin. That’s why a violin sounds different from a guitar. The filtering is broken down into two components – the cutoff frequency, and the resonance. The former is the frequency above or below which sound will not pass. The latter is the addition of harmonic information relative to the cutoff frequency.

Finally, every sound event consists of 2 envelopes – amplitude and frequency. Both envelopes have four portions. They are attack, decay, sustain and release. Take for example the sound of a bass drum, vs. the sound of a pipe organ. The bass drum has a short attack. The sound is at its greatest amplitude immediately after being hit. There is a very short decay period, followed by very little sustain, and the reverberation at the end of the event is the release time. The organ, on the other hand, climbs to its loudest point, has no noticeable decay, sustains almost indefinitely and slowly fades out in its release. Many instruments also experience pitch changes during their events, and the frequency envelope governs those.

What does this have to do with the Deaf?

Well, I’ve spent years synthesizing sound and hand building the machines that create or amplify it. Now, I’m on a different mission – the inverse. I’m trying to understand what exactly goes wrong with those ears that don’t work right.

Today I had a wonderful and informative meeting with Marsha Graham of – among others – AnotherBoomerBlog. Some of the many things we discussed were hearing aids, and a few of the different symptoms suffered by the Hard of Hearing. It was an enlightening experience for me. When a hearing person thinks of deafness, he tends to think in all or nothing terms. You just plain can’t hear – or you can hear, but the volume’s really low.

That’s not the case. Many Deaf and Hard of Hearing can hear, but only at certain frequencies. Often they hear, but their brains scramble the sounds. In other cases, they are unable to tune out certain noises while tuning in others. When the hearing speak in a crowded room, or on a city street, our ears – and our brains – filter out the unnecessary background noise. Many Hard of Hearing don’t have that filtering capability.

Therefore, hearing aids must employ much more sophistication than one might think. A hearing aid must be much more than simply a tiny microphone connected to a tiny amplifier. It needs to be capable of shifting frequencies, adding or removing filtering and altering envelope shapes. As I become more involved with the Deaf community, I find myself relying more and more on what I learned in its antithesis – music.

D for Deaf

As bloggers, what do we do? Well, we write. Now me – writing, fighting and fixing machines – that’s about all there is. Kissing Jack and performing honey-dos for my wife are squeezed into the mix, somewhere.

In this era of Internet access – where anybody with a keyboard can be another Steinbeck – things like spelling, grammar and usage tend to be given a pass. I often see language that would make an English teacher cringe. In fact, I’m often guilty of it myself. Nevertheless, convention dictates that we give grammar and spelling our best effort.

An example would be the following sentence:

He was born Deaf, and his deafness has proven an asset rather than a liability.

Apparently, there are some rules regarding the capitalization of the word deaf. The upper case is used when referring to the Deaf as a culture, and the lower case is attached to the condition itself. This was a lesson for me, because when most hearing think of deafness, we think of it solely as a disability, similar to paraplegia or cleft palate. Deafness is both a condition and a culture.

When referring to the Deaf, sociologists use the upper case to classify the ethno-linguistic group, similar to American, Black or Jew. Someone afflicted with the inability to hear, but who became so later in life would not receive the big D.

Sign plays an important role in all this. As we’ve pointed out often, Sign – ASL and its many international counterparts – is a unique and identifiable language. As such, it not only commands linguistic classification, but sociological classification as well. For example, to be Italian means a lot more than simply speaking that particular language. Well, the same holds true for the Deaf.

And since we ‘B’loggers (a culture as well as a calling) – as a group – strive for excellence in our writing, we need to pay attention to when to use that big D.

This dish is Italian. Hungry yet? The image is courtesy of http://tastyplanner.com/recipes/lasagna–2

 

 

Deafinitely Theatre

Image from Deafinitely Theatre

Deafinitely Theatre is a British theater group that utilizes Deaf actors and crews to put on plays in Sign. Here’s what they say about themselves on their own Web site.

Deafinitely Theatre was set up in 2002 by Artistic Director Paula Garfield with Kate Furby and Steven Webb.

We are an independent, professional Deaf-led company.
Our productions
are made from a Deaf perspective and aim to empower Deaf culture, identity and pride locally, nationally and internationally.

We create productions in British Sign Language (BSL) and English, which can be understood by everyone and yet retain BSL as the leading language throughout, on and off stage.

With a great lack of Deaf Theatre and millions of Deaf people worldwide, we aim to provide a stage for untold Deaf stories, reflecting and exploring Deaf culture by bringing it front stage.

Image from Deafinitely Theatre

Deafinitely Theatre aims to build a bridge between Deaf and hearing worlds by showing plays to both groups as one audience. Our plays set out to correct the misconceptions about the Deaf world – as well as correcting Deaf peoples’ misconception of the hearing world.

Here’s the Contact information:

Deafinitely Theatre
Unit 20
Deane House Studios
27 Greenwood Place
London NW5 1LB

Tel: 020 7424 7360.

(Images courtesy of Deafinitely Theatre.)

 

More Noise, More Hearing Loss – NYTimes.com

More Noise, More Hearing Loss – NYTimes.com.

An interesting article on hearing loss and noise pollution.

The Injustice of Lonliness as Punishment

[The tagline for DeafInPrison.com is Sentenced to Solitude in Silence. Our contributor JoanneGreenberg sent this in. --Ed.]

The hardest part of being deaf and in prison may not be the rapes, the missing of messages or the misunderstanding in general. It might be the absence of other deaf people. Imagine a Russian or Basque speaker in jail who knows very little English, and suffers the unappeased hunger for simple contact, conversation and communication. This absence, we hear from other prisoners, is what is so biting in solitary confinement.

What I remember from my trips to mental hospitals, before their patents were ditched into our local streets, was the complaint of deaf people there who had been placed geographically, instead of by medical definitions. This was a huge advance for the ordinary hearing mentally ill, because it didn’t discriminate between chronic and acute conditions, thereby allowing the chronic to be simply warehoused instead of being treated. For the Deaf, it was ruinous because they had no way of knowing who else might be there with whom they could communicate.

Now, the prisons have the same problem. If deafness could take prcedence over the type of crime or the length of sentence, deaf people could be housed together and services tailored to their needs could be instituted.

May at DeafInPrison.com

Click on the link to view a PDF update on our activities for May.

May at DeafInPrison.com

Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners, 2008

svrfsp08.pdf (application/pdf Object).

The Addition of “Bliss -2″

Since this site was launched, I’ve been writing – on my page – about the tragic story of Felix Garcia. This innocent Deaf man has been behind bars for some 30 years now, for a crime he didn’t commit.

Due to the fact that I’m writing this story in chapters, and it’s becoming quite long, David has given me an extra page. You can find the newest additions to the story by looking in the right hand column, on the home page scroll, and clicking on “Bliss-2

Behavioral Control

Click this thumbnail to view post

Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison

Image courtesy of Catboxx (http://catboxx.blogspot.com/2010/05/parchman-farm.html). One of my favorite images of the old Parchman Farm chain gang.

The other day, I posted the DOJ report on prison populations as of Mid-year 2011. I did so, in an effort to respond to a question I was asked by a reader. Quite simply, how many Deaf inmates are there, in American prisons. In numerous searches, including having read the above report, I have not yet been able to find a reliable answer to that question.

One answer bothered me, however. On Yahoo answers, one respondent claimed that Deaf inmates are not sent to conventional prisons, but rather to special halfway houses or dorm facilities. Needless to say, anyone who reads DeafInPrison.com knows this is – sadly – just not true.

This is an article I found on About.com.

Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison.

Go Directly to Jail

Jail Cell at Alcatraz. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Being an ex-con is hard enough.

Many of the educational opportunities available to people in prison are not available to the deaf inmate. We hear of men graduating high school and even of completing college by taking advantage of the volunteer-run programs that tutor and teach.I know three people who conduct such programs as well as programs for simple pleasure and improvement – poets in prison, being one.  In our federal and state institutions the deaf stand outside the options provided for help and training.  Unless members of the deaf  support world stand up to help, these programs and others will never be available to the deaf prisoner.
Education may be the brightest hope prisoners have and a hand extended to help might be of great advantage in the lives of deaf prisoners in and out of the correctional system. Being an ex-con is hard enough.  The social cost is already great. I’m not trying to appeal to professional interpreters, but to people in the larger deaf community who know Sign–sisters, brothers, friends.  If you want to do something good, go to jail, go to prison.  If my Sign weren’t so lousy, I’d be there, myself.

Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 – Statistical Tables

This beautiful shot of the front gate at the infamous Attica prison is courtesy of http://www.pbase.com/kjosker/image/25165269

jim11st.pdf (application/pdf Object).

"A" Block, from the same source.

Prisoners Helping Prisoners

by McCay Vernon, McDaniel College & Katrina R. Miller, Emporia State University

Doing Time

At the end of his trial, Mark Brackmann heard the verdict: nine years in prison. Shortly thereafter, he was in a jail cell awaiting transfer to the penitentiary. He had never been in a prison before and knew little about what he would face there. He was saddened that he would be separated from his family and friends, and was leaving behind the two successful businesses he had started from scratch. Literacy among state prisoners is typically lower than the general public (“National Assessment,” 2007). Like many educated men entering prison for the first time, Mark thought he would be very much alone and did not think he would find in prison anyone with whom he would have much in common.

Once assigned to prison in Wakula, Florida, Mark began to get acquainted with his fellow inmates, the guards, and other prison officials. He soon discovered that many of the prison inmates he met were similar to persons he had known on the outside. Some had a positive outlook, others were depressed and angry. Some had college degrees, others had only minimal education. Some had led interesting, productive lives on the outside, others had barely scraped by. Despite those differences, Mark learned that most of the men had dreams and ambitions for their futures, just as he did. For example, many who had spent their lives in crime-ravaged neighborhoods wanted to live where it was safe. Some prisoners hoped to spend time with their children, to be employed, and to have a home. Others dreamed of establishing their own businesses.

Few of these individuals had given serious thought as to how they would achieve their goals, nor had they made the effort to implement their future plans. In fact, only a tiny minority had worked out specific, realistic itineraries for their lives following discharge. As time wears on, inmate self-concept may degrade (Walrath, 2001).

Making Time Matter

In numerous correctional institutions, GED and vocational programming is strongly supported and sometimes court-ordered (“National Assessment,” 2007). Given Mark’s background as a college graduate, his first assignment as an inmate was to prepare fellow inmates to take and pass the GED test for their high school diplomas. He proved very effective at this task. About the same time, Mark formed a close friendship with another inmate, Jeff Botward, who had been a banker prior to his incarceration. Both men were appalled that so many of their peers were doing nothing constructive to prepare themselves for life after release from prison. Nor were they getting needed guidance from the prison staff regarding their futures and the hurdles they would face upon release.

It is notable that former inmates struggle more with keeping employment than acquiring a job. Many earn their GEDs, but lack basic social and life skills that are essential to the workplace (Koski, 1998). Rather than commiserate about the problem, Mark and Jeff decided to do something about it. They discussed the issues and proposed solutions to the prison chaplain, Reverend Allison, and to other interested prison officials. These officials were impressed by and supportive of the idea of helping inmates prepare for discharge back into society. Despite initial objections from some of the more traditional officers, the program Mark and Jeff had proposed was started.

Their first step was to write a book, Life Mapping, which was to be the text for their proposed course. The book detailed the specific steps prisoners should take while behind bars, in order to prepare for life outside prison. It also provided guidance on issues ex-convicts would face and how to cope with those problems after release.

Life Mapping

After Mark and Jeff finished writing Life Mapping, Reverend Allison and a few other prison officials who saw its value arranged to have the book printed. Once the book was available, classes in Life Mapping were begun despite continuing objections from some prison officials. Fortunately, key authorities supported the program and made it possible for Mark and Jeff to conduct classes using the text they had written.

From the beginning, the class proved to be a success. At the conclusion of the Life Mapping class, each student was required to take the poium and share his personalized Life Map.

Mark and Jeff were inundated with requests to open up more classes on Life Mapping. A volunteer professor from Florida State University, Dr. Mike Wallace, observed some of the sessions. Describing them, he said, “They are like a single flower in the desert. It is a miracle that the flower can survive in a harsh, inhospitable prison environment, yet it does. Its beauty is stunning, but even more so because of the austerity that surrounds it.”

Mark and Jeff were excited by Dr. Wallace’s evaluation, but knew they and their fellow inmates had to do more if they were to change the barren culture of the prison system. “We put everything we had into making Life Mapping class a success,” Mark explained.

Growing opportunities

About the same time Life Mapping classes started, another program was launched by an inmate who had studied how to write a business plan. He now teaches that course to fellow prisoners. His program was effective although rough in spots, and could be improved upon. Another class is currently forming, focused on credit and debt management.

The inmates involved in instructing these classes met and formed a steering committee that included Mark, Jeff, and another prisoner, Darrel Simpson. The committee’s goal is to oversee and plan so that the classes developed by inmates are organized, unique, and effective.

The inmates who did the organizational work wanted to brand what they were doing, so they chose the name Realizing Educational and Financial Smarts (REEFS) for the steering committee and bank of educational programs. As their work continued and time passed, the prison culture did change. By now, 6,000 prisoners have completed REEFS courses.

Ordinarily, as one walks through a prison dorm, the prevalent activities are gambling, card games, arguments, sports talk, or fighting. By contrast, today many of the prisoners in the REEFS Program are discussing business plans and goals, while others are reading about current events in business, religion, marketing, and trade journals.

These are positive changes, but they did not come about easily. For example, there were volunteers who wanted to teach, but were unqualified. Some volunteers sought to take ownership of the REEFS’ program and materials. Inmates found it difficult to say no to volunteers due to their lower social status. While most students in the classes were eager to learn, some presented a challenge to instructors. For instance, some wanted to fight when their academic work was deemed unsatisfactory.

The REEFS Program

The REEFS program has successfully demonstrated a way to improve prison systems nationally, not just in Wakula, Florida. It has been shown that exposing inmates to REEFS programming can effect a change in the attitudes and goals of a significant number of participants, as well as positively impacting the prison environment or atmosphere in general. Disciplinary actions decrease in correctional facilities offering educational and vocational programming (Torre & Fine, 2005). The REEFS participants were transformed from idle inmates with few realistic goals to life planners, using their time in prison for self-improvement and preparation for their return to society.

The REEFS Program addresses three crucial factors that prison administrators in the United States presently face: recidivism, costs, and unproductive use of inmates’ time. To implement the REEFS Program or others like it requires that key officials in state prisons adopt an approach similar to Wakula. Lower recidivism rates are associated with prison-based education programming (Torre & Fine, 2005). The financial savings alone would more than justify any costs associated with implementation of such a program.

In order to make the Wakula program a success, there was a high level of collaboration between prison officials and inmates. Cooperation between these two groups is a key element of building an effective program. Additionally, many prison chaplains value educational and vocational training as an avenue to change for offenders and may be a useful resource in program building (Sundt, Dammer, & Cullen, 2002)

Understandably, inmate-steered programs present a concern for prison officials, who are often hesitant to create opportunities for dangerous offenders to disrupt or take over the proceedings. To avoid this, careful screening of prospective participants is required at Wakula.

Most inmates self-select for educational programs in prison, which is considered a coping strategy (Jackson & Innes, 2001). Among inmates, there is a correlation between lower education levels and lack of participation in educational opportunities, suggesting that encouraging inmates to complete their GEDs may increase their interest in continuing educational pursuits (Jackson & Innes, 2001).

Utilizing Peer Resources

Many state prison systems today have sophisticated intake procedures that involve the use of educational achievement testing and data on previous schooling to assess the academic levels of incoming inmates. Some prisons also perform intelligence testing and obtain data on inmates’ work histories. Additionally, all prisons archive details relating to inmates’ criminal records.

While prisoners are outcasts, representative of drug addicts and alcoholics, sex offenders, and violent offenders, the prison population also includes a significant number of well-educated persons in professions and trades such as teacher, professor, business, cleric, physician, accountant, lawyer, and politician. While these inmates have been convicted of various crimes and are consequently serving time, they may also serve as a resource, helping other inmates prepare for the GED test and teaching life skills courses. Walrath’s 2001 study of a peer-run prison program found that in addition to behavioral changes, optimism among inmates was improved as a result of participation.

Because state prison systems do not typically harness inmate potential, a majority of prison inmates leave the system poorly educated and unprepared for life on the outside. Society pays the price in terms of recidivism and enormous criminal justice costs.

Attaining a GED and completing vocational training is not enough. A key problem that may ex-convicts face is not acquiring employment, but maintaining it. Because so many offenders have complex educational deficits, a multidimensional and internally consistent approach to self-improvement that includes life planning is recommended (Koski, 1998). The model that Mark Brackmann and Jeff Botward created at Wakula has proven successful in preparing inmates to re-enter life outside of prison. It provides an outstanding model of prisoners helping prisoners.

References

Jackson, K.L., & Innes, C.A. (2001). Affective predictors of voluntary inmate

program participation. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 30 (3/4), 1-20

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Summer 2007). National assessment of adult literacy and literacy among prison inmates. Alaska Justice Forum, 24(2), 2-4

Koski, D.D. (1998) Vocational education in prison. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 27: 3, 151-164

Sundt, J.L., Dammer, H.R., & Cullen, F.T. (2002) The role of the prison chaplain in rehabilitation. Religion, The Community, and the Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders, 59-86.

Torre, E.T., & Fine, M. (2005). Bar none: Extending Affirmative Action to higher education in prison. Journal of Social Issues, 61(30, 569-594

Walrath, C. (2001). Evaluation of an inmate-run alternatives to violence project: The impact of inmate-to-inmate intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 697-711.

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