Posts Tagged ‘Rethinking Prisons’

10:00 am
11/14/2013

Today I am starting the comments on the class before it takes place. I want to pose something to the viewers of this blog and to give you some of my thoughts prior to class. I do this also with the hopes of getting some feedback from the viewers so that I can share real life experiences and thoughts with the men. I think that it is VERY important that the public has a VOICE in this particular topic. At the end of the day victim impact is about you, not me nor the other guys there. It is about us making amends for the wrongs, direct or indirect, that have been bought about by crime and violence.

One of the haunting questions that I think of, as it concerns my offense, is one word. Why? I am sure that this is a word that haunts many people that have been victimized one way or another. That why is the hardest why to answer in the world. Why do you take the life of a loved one? Why did you molest and rape a loved one? Why did you steal my car? Why did you assault my friend? Why did you burn down my house? Why do you sell drug? Drugs that you know will kill my love ones and destroy other lives. These are the why’s that often go unanswered. These are the why questions that people need to hear and have the right to have answered.

I remember, early in my incarceration, participating in a victim impact class and not taking anything serious. I was thinking to myself that this has nothing to do with me. That it was a waste of time. I mean the way that I grew up all of us were victims. In fact my journey down this road began with being a victim of violence. I have lost many family members and friends to violence and the prison system. So what make these people so special. These were my thoughts at the time. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was going to be confronted by someone who was going to ask me that WHY question.

The first time a person asked me why did I kill the person who died in my case I had not legit answer, at least not one that I wanted to share. I felt it was not that persons business. At that time all I could think about and focus on was all the bad stuff that happened to me.

As I got older and began to understand how my behavior impacted the lives of some many people. When I began to understand this I did something that I thought I would never do in my life. I actually put myself out there to be asked that Why question. Not that I had to have a reason for why, but someone needed to ask why.

It was during a victim impact class that I was able to give a woman some relief, to lighten her load and guilt. I asked this lady whose daughter was killed by her boyfriend, a case that is nothing like mine, if she should could ask him anything what would it be. She said she would ask him why. I told to act like I was him, as I was locked up for killing someone, and say to me what you would say to him. Or what you would want to say to him. I will say that it was very emotional to say the least and there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

Would I want to endure that again? I don’t think so. At least not for the sake of. It would have to be a need for that person. The emotions were too strong. But, it was needed and she could not stop thanking me for allowing it to happen.

So today as I go in here I am going to ask that question. Why? Why did you do what you did? Hopefully I get some honest feedback.

6:00 pm
11/14/2013

Well things didn’t workout as planned. There was a fight so we were locked down. Whenever there is a fight or incident between races they lock us down. They lock us down for other reasons too, but whenever things are racial it is a given that we are going to get locked down. Lock downs are common and something that one has to stay ready for. I have what is called a lockdown bag.

That is a bag of commissary food that can be eaten without using the microwave. So, I have crackers, ramen soups, squeeze cheese, mayonnaise (for the cheese sandwiches that the prison feeds us during these lockdowns) and tuna. I don’t touch this bag except during a lockdown.
Lockdowns can be rough. The prison feeds bologna and cheese sandwiches, as all the cooks are inmates and locked down too. I have been in some lock downs that have lasted 45 days. This is when the whole prison is locked down. Early in my incarceration I spent a lot of time in the hole.

The hole is 23 hours locked down and 1 hour for recreation. That is the use the phone and shower, that is about the time it takes to do those things. One hole I was in had the 23 and 1 schedule set for every other day. So, I would be in the cell 48 hours and out for 1 hour. The longest time I spent in the hole like this was 17 months. When I got out I barely had legs.

 

Yesterday we were locked down due to a race issue. Well, for most of you it would not be surprising to know of the amount of racism and separatism that exist behind these walls. It is like a blast from the past. Everything is racially divided. The kitchen, the rec rooms, the TVs, the cells, everything. Whites and blacks generally don’t mix. Mexicans and Whites generally align themselves with each other. The Blacks stay to themselves, for the most part. When you go in the dining hall there are two lines. One goes to the right and the other to the left. There is an unspoken rule that the whites use the right side line and the blacks use the other line. It is so much so that guys are conditioned to follow that trend, even if one line is shorter than the other. At the end of the day it is fear.

One of the benefits of having done a lot time is that no one really bothers you. I have 20 years incarcerated, the most time of anyone in my unit and there are at least 120 guys in the unit, so who is going to say anything to me if I decide to go to the left at lunch. I try to show others that there is nothing to fear if you are sure of yourself and who you are as a person. Fear is the biggest enemy in a prison setting. Everyone is trying to use it to control. Inject fear in this environment and you are asking for something to happen.

So, due to fear of repercussion we were locked down for the rest of the day. But next week I will pose the question of why. I think that it is relevant and need to be asked. Well I am out for now. Hopefully, next week we will have class. Until next time. Peace!

Week 5 Victim Impact October 31, 2013

This week I began with a quote: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” (Fyodor DostoevskyThe House of the Dead (1862))

We began the class discussing the mindsets that are bought to the prison environment and how they shape our visions for the future.

We also talked about the collateral damage that is a result of incarceration.

“Conviction for a crime, still more a sentence of imprisonment, may itself undermine family cohesion ad security, destroy the offenders prospects, result in loss of employment and assets, all quite apart from any legal measures…Those who commit crimes as youths may outgrow criminality as the get older but they may never be able to outgrow their criminal records.”
I talked about who really suffers from the acts which we have committed, the ripple effects. It is the family that suffer the most often.  That the suffering and penalty for incarceration does not stop when we are released.  But, that for the men there is a certain amount of degradation and loss of respect within the family. That the mere fact of having gone to prison for 1 day can, and is often set up to, destroy a lifetime of credibility.

The criminal justice system is a machine that is designed to do just that, destroy. What has to be understood is that there are no direct links to crime and incarceration. Crime is a result of poverty, under-education and urbanization. Incarceration policies do not respond to crime but to political agendas and climates. Underemployment , drugs and violence help create that climate due to the subculture that exists in these communities. That is what this system is designed to do. So it is no surprise that many men return to prison as the communities that they come from, and go back to, are still plagued with the very same issues that were there before they went to prison. So, there is a serious need to educate others to how to come up out of these conditions. To understand the collateral damage and find ways to work around it.

I also talked stats. In 1982 the cost for incarceration was 9 million a year. In 2001 the cost was 44 million a year. Today the cost of incarceration is 80 billion a year. Yes!! 80 billion a year!! Yet, crime has not been reduced. In fact between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase. More money is being spent on a concept that is not working. Prisons are not reducing crime and violence yet more prisons are being built; more money is being spent than ever before.

Many of the men were receptive to the idea that they contributed to the conditions of their communities. That they are the ones that have to go back and make the effort to get it right.

In these classes, although they are not typically coaching forums, I use the skills that I have learn to get the guys to see what it would look like. What would it look like to live in a safe neighborhood? What would it look like to come home from work and be a father to ones kids? What would it look like to be respected and really loved? Many of the men, from the hardest to the meekest, all had something to say. That it would feel good to live in a community where people were not be shot and killed. Were their kids were safe from drugs and alcohol. Where they could send their kids to school i safety. So the next question was simple. If this is the community we want imagine how many other people want the same thing. Now imagine how many dreams we have destroyed, by not acting in the community that we come in a manner to be like the one that we want for ourselves. The way that others want it to be for themselves.

Surely no one wants to live in fear under the constant threat of violence and abuse. In fact many of the guys in this situation are here because we had to be a certain way so that we could survive, day to day. It is up to those that know to teach those who do not.

I challenged the men to pick up a book. There is no way that some of us have seen everything and done everything under the sun but a book! I mean it when I say that most of these men have not read a book in years. I asked them what is there to fear in a book? Maybe it is that the truth is to be found, the truth about who you really are. If that is the case than there may be reason to be afraid to open one up. When you look at the reality of most of us we have been shot, stabbed, mugged, drugged from home and imprisoned, put in cells days on top of days with out running water. We have been made to endure long trips across the country chained and shackle, eating stale and old cheese sandwiches. Yet, the thought of opening up a book scares most of us to death.

After class I had a conversation with a guy that is starting to get it. Time will tell, is what i told him. See it is easy to do the right thing when there is someone constantly watching your every move. This is not change. This is getting by, playing by the rules. What happens when the ex offender stigma will not allow you to get the job that you want and you have to settle. Are you going to remember this? Are you going to have the same resolve to do the right thing?

To be incarcerated is easy. There is nothing to do but breath. Yes there is danger. But, there is danger everywhere in the world. The only thing that most guys are dying from here is boredom and stupidity. I often feel the same way. There is no more lesson to be learned for me. Me being incarcerated at this point in my life serves NO purpose. So what am I doing here? Nothing too exciting, other than being bored have the time. They say that an idle mind is the workshop for the devil. Hence the stupidity that guys are getting caught up in. Due to the boredom that exists.

The real punishment is when one is released and have to fend for himself out there. Are you ready for this, is what I asked the young man. Are you ready to make choices? That is what freedom and liberty means. It means that you have to make choices and you have to be responsible for the choices that you make. He said that he was. I truly hope so.

Until next week Peace!

“It was once said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering in to its prisons.”

When it come to corrections there are four major goals that are primarily used to achieve a reduction in crime and recidivism, these goals consist of:

1.Rehabilitation-which stresses the re-socialization or reformation of the offender through institutional or community programs.
2.Incapacitation-which seeks to reduce crime through the actual physical restraints of the convicted offender.
3. Deterrence- which refers to the notion that the punishment of the offender serves as an example to the rest of the society.
4. Retribution-which refers to the correctional policies that are predicated on two principals:
(a)individual responsibility
(b) proportionality, meaning a convicted offender deserves to be punished because they are responsible for committing a specific criminal violation, and that the punishment must be proportional to the severity of the offense committed.

If these are the goals of incarceration there are certain elements that must be considered, in order for these goals to be met.

1 If rehabilitation is the goal of incarceration sentencing polices must involve flexibility and the goal has to reflect the characteristics and needs of the “individual”offender.
2 If incapacitation is the goal of incarceration it is expected that the goal to reduce crime and recidivism is met but using a system of sentencing based on legislative’s or the courts desire to keep of the streets those offenders who might otherwise engage in criminal behavior off the streets.
3. If deterrence is the goal of incarceration it may cater more to the side of the public and society, as they seek means to inhibit criminal behavior through these exemplary sanctions, therefore making the needs of society precedent over the needs of the individual offender.
4. If retribution is the goal of incarceration it would require a relatively inflexible sentencing system and little discretion would be permitted at the sentencing stage.

Often times what is overlooked is that there are very few direct links to crime and incarceration. Other than the one who commits crime eventually is incarcerated. Crime is a result of, and depends on, social conditions such as poverty, underemployment and urbanization, Currently incarceration polices respond not to crime but to political climates and legislative intent. The get tough on crime model has not worked and has been proven to be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Actually, there has been an increase in crime, violence and homelessness each year since the war on drugs began, or what is commonly now called “the get tough on crime”, policies have been used to address this issue.

Statistics show:

Between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase.
1. Assaults, which account for 86% of all violent victimizations increased by 22 %
2. Total domestic violence increased from 1.1 million to 1.4 million in 2011.
3. Domestic violence increased from 4.4 million in 2010 to 5.3 million in 2011, a 19% increase.
4. Intimate violence increased from 3.0 million in 2010 to 3.3 million in 2011, a 9 % increase.

Crime is equated with social disruption and its perpetrators are a threat to the dominant culture. The role of the criminal justice system and especially prisons, is to protect societies lawful and the values of society. So the mindset is that if rehabilitation doesn’t work there is a primarily reliance of incapacitation, deterrence and retribution, which has become a cause to the overcrowdedness that exists in prisons today. It has been proved that incapatictaion, deterrence and retribution has not reduced criminality or recidivism, often most prisoners will leave prison in a worsened condition than when they entered.

What is recidivism and how is it defined?
*Recidivism is defined, by some, as the relapse of an individual into criminal activity based on re-arrest for new offenses that lead to incarceration.
What is Re-entry and how is it defined?
*Re-entry (often associated with recidivism) is the process of releasing prisoners into society , where plans for inmate’s transition, into society, are addressed. To help them develop the skills needed to live free of crime, to help them maximize the time they spend during incarceration and what its expected upon release.
So, if recidivism is associated with re-entry and it has been proven that incarceration doesn’t reduce recidivism nor protect the public, the question becomes, why is there an increasing flow of tax dollars in building more prisons when it could be used to developed more effective programs geared towards re-entry? one of the current strategies to reduce recidivism includes building more prisons and imposing harsher sentences, even though these methods have been proven to be ineffective. The sad reality is that tax payers are paying lager amounts of money to build more prisons rather than trying to find more effective and efficient ways to address this issue.

According to the Justice Mapping Center, www.justiceatlas.org.  “In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend over $40 million dollars to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single zip code in Philadelphia, where %36 of the households have incomes under $25, 000.”   In an article that is posted on my blog, called the Million Dollar Block.   It speaks about places that spend more than a million dollars each year to incarcerate residents of a single block.  You can visit my site to read these articles.

The agencies that have changed the trend some and have seen bits of results in the area of reducing recidivism are the agencies that utilize what is called re-entry courts, which are working well and have had much success in reducing recidivism. Reentry courts consist of a system where the courts collaborate with probations and parole to accommodate some of the needs of the ex-offender.

A recidivism rate of two-third ( as of now the rate is 70%) clearly shows that something is amiss and some of the offenders are not being adequately prepared to return to society. This is often due the the lack of funding that is needed to develop the appropriate programs needed to better prepare and equip the offender.

10’s of thousands of Americans are released into the community from prison and jail every year and very few of them have the basic resources needed to stay out of prison. Sadly, often prison conditions make it easy for offenders to reoffend, as the basic necessities that most of them do not have out society they are provided in prison.

There is a need for access to services, including education, job training and job placement. There is also a need for substance and alcohol abuse treatment before and after release. Half of state prisoners and one-third of federal prisoners in 1997 reported committing their offenses while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, among those who had used alcohol or drugs in the month before their crime, only %14 had received treatment since their admission into prison.
Many offenders have limited employment history and/or no experience needed to perform certain jobs. Some of these limitation are related to illiteracy as well as the lack of work training skills need to achieve self-sufficiency. Yet, few receive these services while in prison. Not necessary because they are not offered these skills but sometimes it is due to lack of enthusiasm.

How can this be addressed?

1. By redesigning the methods which are currently being used to address these issues.
2. Implementing and redesigning programs, as well as building facilities that specialize in the needs that are that are closely associated with crime and recidivism reduction.

The BOP has been looking for more ways to address some of these needs.  Here at this institution some of these steps include, but are not limited to:

1. Mock job fairs where one of the requirements is that the inmates learn how to write resumes and cover letters.

2. Partnerships with the local halfway houses and probation departments to speak to the guys about the realities of what to expect upon release.

3. The BOP also has an Inmate Employment Information Handbook that contains a list of the agencies and information that will be needed upon release.  This handbook is free and accessible to every BOP inmate.  Here at this institution we keep that information on hand and available to whoever wants it.  

4. A Career Resource Center where the inmates can gather information needed to obtain birth certificates, social security cards and other identification related information.  Information which is critical in gaining employment.  

One of the most important points that I want to make is how education is connected to the problem of recidivism. At least 70% of all people incarcerated have not completed high school. Out of this group %16 have not high school education at all. %40 are functionally illiterate, meaning that they read below or at the 5th grade level., %19 are completely illiterate. In the population of adults in America %21 are functionally illiterate and %4 are completely illiterate.

Studies show that education and recidivism are related because inmates with at lest two years of college education have a %10 re-arrest rate, while the national re-arrest is about %66. Despite the conclusive evidence the education has a direct link to crime, poverty, incarceration and recidivism education as a means of solution is often overlooked.

Education provides for employment, important to successful re-entry. There are two main systems in our society, Penal and Educational. When one fails the other takes its place. Those that adjust and do well in the educational system almost never find themselves in prison. Those that learn the importance of education while in prison almost never re-offend. Which is why furthering my education is so important to me, as well as advocating the importance of education on all levels, as a means to address these social issues that exist within our society.

Also attached to education is self worth and value, It is through education that one learns life skills, social and other proactive skills needed to stay connected to society. One also learns essential skills that will be essential to avoiding prison in the future. Lack of employment is one of the major reasons for committing crime. Lack of employment is often due to lack of education, in the communities that are more commonly associated with crime and low income.

It is through education that one learns their role in society. Many offender often return to communities that breed fragmentation and negative influences. Poverty  crime and ethnic disparity can create an imbalance in these communities therefore the community can no longer positively influence those that reside within it. The order of the day becomes survival. One begins to not only think this way but act out these roles as a means to survive. They begin to believe this is the role that they are supposed to play in life, as crime has now become a way of life for them. it is through education that this cycle is disrupted, and one learns to understand their roles in the greater society, and not just in one small destitute community.

(Would it be safe to say that what people learn in this community they practice in prison, and what they learn in prison they practice in the community?)

So that I am clear here let me go on the record as saying that it is important for those who have committed crimes to be punished, accordingly.  Therefore if incarceration is a reality of our society lets deal with the issue so that there becomes less of a need to use it in areas where it may not benefit and becomes more of a financial burden.

Along with the four goals of incarceration that are used today education has to be included as one of these goals. Not only does it have to be a component but the process of education has to start at an early age.

1. These components have to place a serious expectation, which members of the above communities can learn and benefit from education.

2. There has to be an upgrade tin the educational system at the early stages of development. Many people from these communities have been deemed unteachable and unlikely to learn. This is why of the when they enter into prisons they do not understand the value of education nor can they make the connections as to why it is important to have and education in order to remain free.

3. There has to be a broadening of opportunities and possibilities that are achieved through education. It is not enough to tell them, but to show that and continue to show them amd continue to reinforce the ideas, concepts and beliefs.

Although for some members of these communities going to prison is a given, and often considered normal, it is never too late to change. So as this stage the focus had to be on developing needs based programs, for the offender, specialized for their needs. These steps have to be taken earlier and also be workable and realistic. This plan has to focus on accountability, responsibility and be designed to set goals that will aid in the re-entry concerns that the offender must meet in order to remain free.

*The BOP has what is called an ISDS (Inmate System Development System) yet one of the concerns that I have with it is that the process of developing the plan can often come too late.  What do I mean?  The process in developing that plan needs to start at admission, at the very first jail that the inmate lands in.  It is often the case that this plan doesn’t start to develop until the inmate is sentenced and sent to their designated institution and often they have been exposed to other outside influences that may steer them away from starting the process of re-entry at an earlier point of their incarceration.  The earlier the better.

I strongly believe that investing in therapeutic learning communities and institutions, are a better investment of tax dollars, and would aid in addressing the needs that must be met to reintegrate into society. The intent and focus of these communities and program would be the acceptance of responsibility, restorative justice and meeting the educational and rehabilitation needs.

Without these programs and living conditions there is a higher chance that many offenders will fall victim to a certain type of prison socialization. The subculture that we call prison politics. It is a way of life that one has to adapt to in order to survive within the prison system. The subculture often breeds hostility, anger and resentment. Inmates often suffer extremes bouts of depression and anxiety. In some case there is a need to confine them to special housing units where they are locked down 23 hours a day depending on the time of year it could be for 24 hours at a time. I have experienced this type of solitary confinement many times during my incarceration. The SHU is used as a mechanism to modify inmates behavior. There are some of us who can withstand being locked down at lengths at a time, but there are more that can not withstand the hole. The longest time that I have done in the SHU at one time is 16 months.

These conditions and this subculture can deaden the emotions that are needed to be empathetic to the experiences of those who are harmed as a result of crime. Empathy is an important aspect in the process of change and transformation.

One of the programs that I helped to develop and facilitate here is a a program called “The New Beginnings Program”. It is a program that focus on many of the pre-incarceration issues which often lead to prison m as well as many of the post incarceration issues which often leads one back to prison. There are several components to The New Beginning Program some of them being:

1. Crime prevention – where the realities of crime and its roots are addressed. We discuss the importance of living a productive and responsible lifestyle, free of crime. Thorough increasing awareness of certain social behaviors and conditions that contribute to crime and violence.

2. we discuss thinking barriers and tactic use that complements the criminal personality. so it is here that we work on correcting think patterns.

3. we focus on substance and alcohol abuse awareness, as well as lifestyles that are equally addictive and dangerous.
4. we also have a mentoring and coaching component.

The New Beginnings Program is based on the concept that, if a person is willing to make the choice to change there are three concepts that can be applied to their lives for what we call transformation to work.  Those three concepts being:

1. Relationships – the developing of positive and productive relationships that nurture growth and development.  This is where coaching has been very effective.

2. Reframing – changing the way that one views life on a whole.

3. Repetition – getting into the practice of doing these things over and over again

The most important and critical component of this program is relationships, and the goal of this program is to stress the importance of building, mending and fostering healthy positive and productive relationships.

Another and very important program that is in the developmental stages is a program geared and focused towards preparing guys for the transition back into the family.  One of the most critical components in reducing recidivism is support, family in particular.  This is an area that is often overlooked.  How is the person going to be received back into the home?  What transitions and changes does the family have to make to accommodate the person back into their lives?  I know that there are many accommodations needed upon my release; the question now becomes is my family ready to meet the man who left a boy?

Another project that I am currently involved with is a project that I have going on with a Dr. Patrick Williams, founder of The Institute for Life Coach Training and co-author of the book Becoming a Professional Life Coach. What we are doing is finding ways to incorporate Life Coaching as a means of intervention in the area of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency. We are looking for organizations to network with and work with to achieve this goal.  This is something that is most important to me.  This is where I focus most of my attention and why I designed the RECONSTRUCT PROGRAM.  My focus is in the area of Juvenile Justice.  Please visit Coaching The Global Village to read more about this project.

I came to prison as a juvenile and I will tell you that they system has it all wrong when it comes to that area. I am not talking about juveniles being charged as adults but the treatment of juvenile and the expectations for them to act and think as adults once in the system.  So, my goal is to get involved with others that need first hand education on this issue.

One of the projects that I wanted to do was a project called the first 365. It is a documentary that recounts the first year after my release. How does a guy that came to prison a child and leaves a man after 20 plus years adjust to a new world. I can not imagine a world with computers while you can not imagine a world with out one!! So how is the re-entry process for a person such as this. This is something that I have, unsuccessfully, been trying to get others involved in, making and filming this documentary. If push come to shove I will do it on a I PHONE, because the message needs to get out there and people need to see it.

One of my future plans is to use my experiences, expertise and skills to work with wayward youth, which to me is the ultimate recidivism reducer.  Get them before they get here.  I really want to focus on the concept of relationships and Life Coaching.  I also intend to work in the field of re-entry and with ex-offenders.

In closing, I want to say that this is a societal issue that concerns us all and that to fix any of it requires that those who share the common goal of changing what exists today collaborate and work together to get the job done. These partnerships are essential in more ways than one.

As I get closer to coming home I ask myself, What makes me so different from the statistics that I just mentioned?  I ask myself who is really invested in, no only, my transition back into society, but also the transition of the other men that will be released from prison, who may have the same potentials that I have if not more.  I am fully confident that I have the tools to succeed, but what concerns me is not my capabilities but the willingness of others in extending the hand of opportunity needed in order to use the skills that I have to make a difference in a problem that will be just as much mine one day as it is yours now.  My goal and the question of what I am going to do becomes clear.  That is get out and become a citizen regardless if others are willing to help me along the way.  I am going to ask myself, Have I left something behind that is worthwhile, something productive?  Did I leave prison, making a difference and what have I done to become part of the solution?  The question now becomes what are you going to do?

mrndC7u

First I want to apologize to all of my followers for not paying attention to the site. Time has taken a different meaning now and I have been preoccupied with many things. The day to day life in prison is not an easy one. Not that doing time is hard it is more or less not having the option to set your own schedules and one finds himself trying to fit 20 hours worth of things to do in what seems like 10.  I have been getting up earlier just to get a little personal reading done. Which leaves me beat at night.

As many of you know the conference “Rethinking Prisons” is coming up, May 3rd 2013, and I am scheduled to speak along with a good friend of mine Adam Clausen. (if you didn’t already know you can go and visit http://rethinkingprisons.wordpress.com/ to see about the upcoming events). We have been trying to get some time in to just sit down and talk about this unique experience that is about to happen. We have some good things lined up for dialogue and hope to get many of the participants involved in this conversation. We are also preparing for the many questions that we know will be asked. One of the things that we hope is that people take advantage of this experience of being able to hear directly from two incarcerated men that have spent many years behind bars.

One of the things that I talk to Adam about is how does one come back from something of this magnitude. I mean as it stands I have a upcoming parole date and I will be home soon. I have vowed to take this message out to others, to work hard to establish legitimate and productive alliances to address this issue of recidivism as well as some of social injustices that contribute to this increasingly growing problem. But, that is not the case for my friend. As it stands right now he has 213 years, well he has been in 14 years now so he is at 199 years now. I am amazed at the strength that he has to put himself out there for something of this nature. Knowing that this may be his last global interaction with the free world.

We were walking and talking a few days ago and in the middle of a conversation i stopped him from talking and said, “Adam do you realize that this is going to be the first time that I have had any global interaction with society in 21 years.” He stopped and just looked at me. Maybe he wanted to know my reasons for saying that to him. To me I was thinking of the many different faces, expressions and for some strange reasons colors. Pink in particular. Maybe because the drab colors of prison consist of grey, white and tan. Other than the trim colors of black here and there and the color of steel grey, the colors of the handcuffs and shackles. Maybe that is why I am anxious to just see different colors.

Those are the simple things that one misses when they are incarcerated. Maybe you are saying, “Well if you wanted to look at different colors you should not have done whatever it was that you did.” And, if you are saying this you are right but there is a difference today, a difference that you should hope that everyone in prison at some point comes to terms with. That is the appreciation of life.

See I didn’t appreciate my life nor the lives of those around me. That is the tragedy of all of this. Not that people do bad and wrong. There are many people out there doing bad and wrong but just have never been caught. Hell the biggest weed spot in town is probably on your college campuses. All across America people look for schools that they can go to so they can party. So I guess that as long as you are in college you can get away with it, or at least a slap on the wrist. Well unfortunately it doesn’t work that way for all. My point is not to find fault but to merely express a point that when one understands the value of life they start to experience change.

When guys ask me for a lesson or two I always try to end with the note that if you do nothing else in your life learn how to appreciate the one that you have and the lives of those around you. I think that what was running through my head the other day as I walked with my friend. That right now for whatever it is worth I have come to really appreciate and understand the value of life.

One of the things that I do here inside is coach guys. I know that it sounds like a strange concept but I can say that it is one that is working, at least for the time being. If one understands the concept of life coaching I am sure that they can see how a concept such as this can work on the inside. What I want to do is kind of layout some of what I do and how it works.

One of the most important concepts of coaching involves listening. I think that this is something that is often lacking in the lives of most of us. How many times have you ever felt that you were being listened to and not merely heard? To have someone really listen to you, with intentions to hear and understand what you are saying, is priceless. Most of the time during any given conversation we are listening for what ” we agree with” or what “we disagree with” and often that is all that we hear. We sometimes miss the subtle body movements that scream sadness, loneliness, or fear. That is often due to not being able to understand how to identify emotions correctly or not being to ask the right questions to see what are the emotions that are often hidden beneath the tone of anger and frustration.

It is like the kid who comes home and didn’t make the team. He says to his pops. “hey dad I didn’t make the team.” and he has tears in his eyes and his father says, “its okay! you will get’ em next time.” Did dad really hear his son? There is so much to ask the son that the father never asked. How has he validated his son? Has he taken this  moment to teach his son a life lesson that he will always remember? Has he empowered his son to take this incident and become better at this or maybe something else? Who knows for all we know making the team may have been dads idea and not the son. So maybe he is saying, ” Dad this game is not for me.” yet he doesn’t know.

Well this could be anyone, even an offender. True there are some guys that don’t get it and will never get it but there are guys that do and will get it. I think that it is the best interest that guys come home from prison having dealt with some of the issues that may have aided them in making poor decision. It is in the best interest of the greater society that guys come home feeling empowered and not stuck in the stories of the “past” and know how to move forward in life. That is how life coaching benefits those on the inside.

What is sad is that all of the things that I have acquired over the years have been things that I have gotten on my own. There was no help nor support system from the inside that gave me an idea as to what I was supposed to do with this time. I know that many people would like to believe that there is this strict regime of therapy and programming that deals with the issues and reasons why most of us ended up here. The truth is that nothing of that sort exists! There is nothing but a bunch of rules and regulations that guys despise. This often adds to the frustration of the guys that want to do something different but some of the things that they need are not at their disposal. What coaching does is provides a time and space where guys can be heard, vent some of these frustrations and find the solution within themselves to move past this experience, or any other, and become successful out in society.

So that it be known what I do is not some self made practice. Something that I picked up reading a book and decided to play Dr. I am currently going through the training process to become a certified Life Coach through the Institute for Life Coach Training, founded by Dr. Patrick Williams, who is my mentor as well. So when I have the sessions that I have I come from a professional place where ethics are observed and evidence based concepts are applied. By no means am I the final authority on the subject but I can say that maybe my 2 cents may have some validity.

I can say that the guys that have been coached here are in a different place, in terms of the way that they do their time and what they focus on, than the guys that just wander around aimlessly. One of the questions that I ask guys who show an interest in Life Coaching is ” if you had one wish and you woke up tomorrow and it was granted what would you wish for?” Most guys say the obvious, ” i would wish to be home.” The next question that I ask is, ” what does it look like?” You would be surprised at how many guys want to go home but don’t have a clue as to what going home looks like. Sometimes I have to ask guys, “what do you see yourself doing out there?” This is when the lights really start to click. If they can “see” themselves being fathers through coaching it is reaffirmed that they can “be” fathers. If they can “see” themselves working it is affirmed that there is nothing stopping you from working. There are a host of other questions that eventually get them to take the steps now to be the person that they want to be later. That is how Life Coaching works on the inside.

Recently Talib shared his Reconstruct Program with a group of inmates located at another prison.  This is his reponse to the question asked, “Does one need to use tactics to survive in prison?

Do you want to know a sad reality? Most of us behind bars don’t even trust ourselves. That is why “doing the right thing” so scary. There is this hidden sense of fear that we don’t like to confront. The mere thought of failure after having been told that we are failures is scary. For most people there is no fear of doing the right thing. When one is guided by fears when it comes to being accountable there is a defense mechanism that we use and it is called ‘tactics’. That being something that we use to craftily avoid accountability. Those tactics are there to protect what is called ‘thinking barriers’. Thinking barriers are, as I define them, the personalities and egos that drive a lot of people. I believe that we are made up of a personalities. Over time we begin to think that we are our personalities and we use the many different personalities as survival tools.

We also have a (for lack of better words) a spiritual essence which ties us in to humankind. It is a essence where we use our feelings and intuitions to influence to guide us. This is not a religious belief but one that we as people inherit from birth. When a child is born and needs to feed, for instance, how does it know what hungry is? The child doesn’t but what is unique is that when the child cries out “we” as adults assume that the child is hungry. So on a deeper level the child begins to exhibit certain behaviors to get a certain response, this is where, in my belief, that we begin to develop our personalities. The child is acting out, and here hunger is not the main issue here, but there is an innate instinct of ‘trust’ that someone/thing is going to cater to his/her need. As we get older we forget to use that instinctual feeling of trust and start using our personalities and likes and dislikes to establish trust with others.

Personalities can change from day to day. In fact we are always changing them in search for something else. Something to replace what ever is not working in our lives. This what I call lifestyle changes. As one changes personalities they have to change lifestyles. There is nothing wrong with that as there is no right or wrong personality except when it comes to a criminal personality.

What is the criminal personality? It is a personality that drives criminal behavior and lifestyle. How is this personality developed? It is a personality that is driven by fear, anger, lust, greed, paranoia, shame, guilt, selfishness, self-pity, excuses and there are a host of other character traits. There is the inability to establish and maintain strong and healthy relationships as one of the traits to this personality is the inability to “trust”.

The question was asked does one need tactic to survive in prison. One has to be tactical in life period but the type of tactics that I am discuss is the tactics that we use to guard our irresponsible thinking and behavior. Tactics are the foot soldiers that guard the head of it all, the general/the one that controls it all, our thoughts.

So how does this work as it concern change? Well the tactics are the food for the personality and the ego, the criminal personality and ego that is. An example of this would be lets say you are holding me accountable for coming to work late. I tell you, “hey what is the big deal everyone comes to work late. In fact you were late the other day.” This is a classical example of me 1. minimizing my behavior and 2. pointing out what you have done, when the issue is me. What happens when I become a master of this behavior and find that I can get away with it? I become a master of manipulation and deceit. I am not learning how to be responsible and I don’t see the reason to do something that “everyone” does. Does that sound familiar? That I did what “everyone else in my life or neighborhood has done.”

What would a person that wants to be responsible do? They may 1. realize that they may be late and try to call and let someone know, or 2. admit that they were late and ask is there anything that they can do to offset that, maybe work a little longer if necessary. There are many variables but I just wanted to make the point that the responsible person that doesn’t use tactics can see how their behavior affects others. The irresponsible person only sees themselves. That is the difference between the two. I don’t need tactic to survive in prison if I have the true desire to be productive and responsible and that does not mean putting my life in jeopardy and causing other problems for myself. No, it means that I am going to be responsible and open to accountability. It is not always easy for me, or anyone else for that matter as we have been conditioned, but it is the focus..

When one begins to understand that this is an individual journey life changes colors. I say changes colors because we all are wearing lenses called our perceptions. Some of us are wearing the right prescriptions others aren’t. Once one finds the right prescriptions life becomes clearer and things that we never saw before become apparent to us. That is the hope in what I do and why I do it.

Two ex-inmates are trying to bring higher education to the incarcerated, one maximum security facility at a time

BY THE CRIME REPORT

This article originally appeared on The Crime Report, the nation’s largest criminal justice news source.

At the height of the tough-on-crime era in the mid-1990s, prisoners in New York State seeking access to college-level courses were dealt a one-two punch that seemed to deliver a crushing blow to inmate higher education.

When then-President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, he revoked inmate access to federal Pell grants. In 1995, New York Governor George Pataki followed suit, eliminating Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for prisoners in the state.

For Kathy Boudin, at the time an inmate of the maximum security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, it seemed like college programs “disappeared overnight.”

“When college was removed, instead of having a line of people walking to school, we had people sitting up in the day rooms playing cards, playing dominoes, getting in fights,” said Boudin, now the director of the Columbia University School of Social Work’s Criminal Justice Initiative.

Boudin — a former member of the counterrevolutionary group Weather Underground who served 22 years for her role in an armored truck heist that left three dead — and other inmates were determined to complement the prison’s GED program with a college education.

After the program’s launch in 1997, similar initiatives were started by New York’s Sing Sing prison and Bard College. Their successful struggle ultimately brought college back to a dozen prisons throughout New York, and helped form the backbone of a decade’s worth of inmate education advocacy. Today, there are programs that bring college to prison in half a dozen states.

Boudin and Cheryl Wilkins, also a former inmate at Bedford Hills and the Criminal Justice Initiative’s Associate Director, spoke to a group of graduate students and faculty at New York University on Wednesday night about their experiences creating an inmate college program after the Pell and TAP grants were revoked.

From the start, it was apparent that their movement would have its detractors.

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