Tag Archives: Re-entry

Adult & Child Literacy

All literature, and literacy, is born from the human need to tell stories, to tell stories about one self or about others, to tell stories about the world to better understand our existence, the others and the universe we live in. All the stories, the myths, the fables and the novels, including those addressed to children are, in fact, the result of this wish and this basic need: they help us to live, to survive; they help children to grow up and develop.

I became a certified Motheread/Fatheread Instructor in 2006.  In an adult male prison, we called this program Fatheread. Getting this program up and running was a challenge in the prison system!  Especially with a limited budget.

This was a program for fathers with children under the age of ten years.  Inmates would submit an application for consideration and after verification of their children, current disciplinary violations and ensuring the children or child were not victims of their crime, I would select 10-participants from each unit to participate.

These inmates would receive five children’s books and we begin the process of meeting weekly for six weeks to learn to read these children’s stories using expression and character voices.  When the inmate felt “ready” I would record them on DVD reading the books to their children.  They made craft items that highlighted the book themes. When all the “items” were ready, they sent the books, DVD and craft items home to their children.

This program was available to the inmates at no cost, with the exception of mailing the items home.  The inmates have “homework” assignments and reports to write.  For example, one of the books used could be “Amelia’s Road.” A suggested the adult book would John Grisham’s novel, “A Painted House” as it is amazingly similar.

Funding for this program came from the “community.”  After my first run, one family was so impressed with the program; they donated $500 to keep it up and running.  A local community business donated another $500 and I was able to purchase the children’s books through the Scholastic Book literacy project at a substantial savings. My husband and I purchase the mini RW/DVDs to record the inmates and usually the art supplies for their crafts.  You can’t put a price on learning, reading, and parenting when it comes to inmates and their children.

Motheread was developed in North Carolina and was primarily used in the Women’s Prisons. Over the years it developed into a more broad based literacy program, sometimes being utilized in preschool environments and allowing the mothers to be trained.

The Motheread/Fatheread curriculum uses children’s books, and adult poems and narratives to teach literacy skills to adults, with an emphasis on developing skills in all four areas of literacy:  listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Additionally, the lessons help parents understand the importance of reading regularly to their children.  Parents not only learn the “why” of reading with their children, but also the “how.”

Some of the men became very emotional when recording their DVD’s. I allowed them all to add a personal video note to the child/children. Some would expound upon the story theme to relate an even deeper, more personal lesson or family value to their child/children.

These men valued the opportunity to participate in this program and did not jeopardize it by stealing from the program. They also knew if they had any major disciplinary “tickets” while taking the course, they would be summarily dropped from it.

It was a labor intensive program, but well worth the time and cost. Literacy programs are worthy endeavors.

~The Prison Librarian

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The Story… His Story… History

He was tall. Long would actually be a more fitting description. He was as long as a mid-summer’s day casting a shadow across the hot pavement. And he was black, as black as a moonless December night. He had not an ounce of body fat, he was lean and muscular. He may have been in his mid-twenties and he was alone in a sea of inmates on the prison yard. The various races would have nothing to do with him. Sadly, this included the African Americans. Perhaps he was too black.

He pensively entered the prison library. Thus began an evening ritual. He would ask to approach the half door and speak with me. When it was a quiet evening with no pressing issues, I allowed him to do so. And he would talk. He was hungry for conversation, thirsty for human interaction.

After our first meeting I knew instinctively what the issue was. He was a foreigner and it was difficult to hold a conversation with him as sometimes much was lost due to either his or perhaps it was my accent – God only knows.

I was first struck by the gentleness of his eyes, the broad smile and his ever so white teeth, although one of the front teeth was broken. It turned out that was his concern. His tooth had been broken when he was thrown to the ground by the police during his arrest.

It took weeks for the story to unfold. The story… his story… history, if you will. For this we must travel back a number of years to the Sudan for as it turned out, he was one of the lost boys of the Sudan.

In 1983, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government had been at war in southern Sudan. The conflict had already claimed more than 500,000 lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. These ‘lost boys’ of the Sudan trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from the fighting. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they crossed from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back, with many dying along the way.

Mind you, I had been aware of the Sudanese conflict back then, and of the displaced children, but what could I do? Even our own nation seemed to turn a blind eye to this plight. Perhaps my taking the time for him was in a sense my act of penitence. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, not as an act of commission, but more so of omission.”

He was employed by a car dealership and detailed cars. Sometimes he was asked to drive a car from one dealership to another. It appears that what transpired was a gross case of miscommunication between managers and this difficult to understand young man. One manager had sent him to deliver the vehicle to another lot and somewhere along the way another manager was in search of the vehicle to show a customer. When it could not be found, the police were called.

They found the vehicle and when the young man pulled over; he was summarily dragged from the vehicle and slammed to the ground. His tooth was broken. He wanted to know if it could be fixed. I tried to explain to him that this could be handled in a civil suit once he had been released from prison. Much, very much was lost in translation.

I feel much was lost in translation when it came to the police department, his employer – who wanted to drop the charges but for one reason or another could not and then of course with the court appointed legal counsel. No one wanted to take the time involved to listen to this immigrant with broken, hesitant English. So he was advised to take a plea, go to prison, serve a term and go home and begin again. How many times must one begin again? That was a rhetorical question.

At home, he had a younger brother and cousins waiting for him to return. They were relocated to this country by Amnesty International. Can anyone argue they were not political prisoners at the most and victims of horrific circumstance at the very least?

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.

Their(our) vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

They (we) are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion, and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.

After more than 50 years of groundbreaking achievements, Amnesty International is now embarking on a major process of evolution, to adapt to the dramatic changes in the world we operate in, and to increase the impact of their (our) human rights work.

What could I do? I was merely a lowly prison librarian caught up in the story of life. I prayed. I fretted. Finally I contacted Amnesty International and provided them with his name and his number, his location and a brief history of what had transpired. I also told them I could possibly lose my job for doing this. Sometimes, one has to move beyond comfort and become involved. To be a candle in the wind, a voice crying in the wilderness, a heart pierced by injustice.

This experience happened years ago. It was only recently I learned from a dear friend who worked in the prison’s Visitation at the time, that a lawyer from Amnesty International did indeed come to visit with the young man.

I pray this young man has begun again.

~The Prison Librarian

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Throw Away the Keys

One of the biggest travesties in our society today is private prisons and the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality.

Prison privatization is a booming for profit business, but at what cost? In my state of Arizona, private prison is a booming business. Why? Lobbyists and government officials who own stock in said corporate prisons.

Many of the higher ranking prison officials who have retired from the state prison find their way into the privatization sector hired as administrators. We would call that “double dipping.”  It’s not illegal nor is it immoral. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right in the eyes of justice.

What I find morally wrong with the privatization of prison is the warehousing of human souls. Our state pays the private prison industry per bed, whether it is occupied or not. If a private prison has 1500 beds and only 750 are filled the state still pays for 1500.

Private prisons do not provide the programming opportunities that the state facilities do and inmate “jobs” are not as readily available. This means the inmate population has more free time, unstructured time. More time to get into trouble. It also means the inmate who is to be released has no training or coping skills to prevent recidivism. This means the entrance to prison has become a revolving door and if it is a private for profit prison and what does the warehousing of a human soul mean except more money from the tax paying citizens of the state.

When our nation began using penitentiaries to incarcerate offenders, it was very different than today’s standards and methods. Just breakdown the word penitentiary or reformatory and seek its true meaning:

Penitentiary = penitent
pen·i·tent [pen-i-tuh nt]

adjective: feeling or expressing sorrow for sin or wrongdoing and disposed to atonement and admendment; repentant; contrite.

noun: a penitent person. In the Roman Catholic Church a person who confesses sin and submits to a penance.

Related forms
pen·i·tent·ly, adverb
non·pen·i·tent, adjective, noun
un·pen·i·tent, adjective
un·pen·i·tent·ly, adverb

Synonyms
remorseful, rueful, sorrowful.
penitent (ˈpɛnɪtənt)

— adj – feeling regret for one’s sins; repentant
— n – a person who is penitent

Christianity: a person who repents his sins and seeks forgiveness for them; RC Church a person who confesses his sins to a priest and submits to a penance imposed by him.

Now let’s look at reformation:

Reformatory = reform
re·form   [ri-fawrm

noun: the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt,unsatisfactory, etc.: social reform; spelling reform. The amendment of conduct, belief, etc.

verb (used with object): to change to a better state, form, etc.; improve by alteration,substitution, abolition, etc.; to cause (a person) to abandon wrong or evil ways of life or conduct; to put an end to (abuses, disorders, etc.).

Chemistry – to subject to the process of reforming, as in refining petroleum or gold or silver.

verb (used without object): to abandon evil conduct or error: The drunkard promised to reform.

Related forms
re·form·a·ble, adjective
re·form·a·bil·i·ty, re·form·a·ble·ness, noun
re·form·a·tive, adjective
re·form·a·tive·ly, adverb
re·form·a·tive·ness, noun

Synonyms: correction, reformation, betterment, amelioration, better, rectify, correct, amend, emend, ameliorate, repair, restore.

(Definitions provided by dictionary.com)

Do we see any true reform happening within the confines of current prison sentencing? Do we see any actual amends to the victims of crime other than the assessments the courts impose?

In the Arizona state facilities inmates were required to raise funds to go towards victim rights programs. How was this done? Funds were raised by selling the inmates items they normally could not get in prison, i.e. a “pan pizza” that cost $5 would be doubled in price and the inmate would pay $10 to get a pizza or maybe a container of ice cream that cost $2.50 would sell for $5.00. This is well and good if the inmate has  1) funds to purchase the item and  2) likes the item being provided.

It is like getting “the goat” from here to there: the goat is attached to a cart. A carrot is attached to a pole. The carrot is dangled just out of reach above the goat’s head to get it to move towards the carrot thus propelling the cart as a means of travel. This depended upon two things: you had something to entice the goat and that the goat was attracted to the item.

Please understand, I am not comparing inmates to goats or vice versa, just the similarity between the two actions. How do I know these things? Nineteen years of working for the Department of Corrections provides me with a bit of knowledge and expertise.

Does an administratively “required” action such as this actually cause the inmate to think about the victim they left in the wake of their crime? I don’t think so. It gives the inmate an opportunity born out of selfishness to have or receive an item they normally do not have a chance to receive.

I do know of a number of wonderful things that were provided due to funding collected in this manner such as playground equipment for a park – all installed by inmate labor and furnishings for an after school program for a Boys and Girls Club. But again, how did this action benefit the victims of the inmates’ crime?

Back “in the day” when they were penitentiaries – the opening to the institution the inmate would enter was low, so low they had to crawl in on their knees. It was a symbolic gesture to help the inmate realize the only way to redemption was through acts of penitence. It was also in these penitentiaries that inmates were introduced to education. They were taught to read – to read the Bible. One could say it was a real “Come to Jesus” time in their lives.

Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Society and criminal justice have changed and not necessarily for the better. Private prison corporations are, after all, set up to run at a profit. This begs the question – where is the justice? Why do we allow inmates to be incarcerated for non-violent offences? Why is there such overcrowding? How are other countries coping?

*Take a look here for a look at what’s happening in Europe. And what happens if you have a jail with no one to put in it? Look what Sweden is doing here [From Shannon at Finding Grace Within.]

We need reform. Reformation of the prison system as we know it and reformation and rehabilitation of the inmates who will be returned to society.

~The Prison Librarian

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