By Dianne Frazee-Walker American prisoners and wild mustangs roaming the Arizona desert have a lot in common. The most obvious mutual denominator inmates and these
Like many other states, North Carolina’s approach to prison education is multi-tiered and varied. With inmates coming from different backgrounds, cultures, and educational levels, the population of NC prisoners has access to many programs suited to their needs. Not only does the North Carolina Department of Corrections offer basic adult education to inmates, they partner with universities and community colleges statewide to offer qualifying inmates access to higher education.
Why Education in NC Prisons?
The NC vision for education isn’t much different than other state programs that hold the view that if you educate prisoners, give them a chance to earn an income through legitimate forms of employment, you will reduce recidivism. In a news article in the Star News Online, the reporter acknowledged that North Carolina is among a handful of states that make “inmate education a priority.” An official at the Department of Corrections stated clearly that they have the inmates as a “captured audience.” They then treat this audience to a regimen of programs that are ultimately good for them—and many inmates realize the good it does them as they participate in their own educational growth.
Addressing Educational Needs
Many inmates require educational programs that teach the basics—reading and writing. There are programs that impart basic literacy skills to prisoners statewide. Many inmates, of course, have basic skills but do not have a diploma or GED that would make them more employable upon release. So, the prison system offers coursework that allows inmates to brush up their skills and acquire the certifications they need to eventually gain legitimate work. Other programs address vocational skills that help inmates develop specific career skills for specific types of jobs. Gaining experience in a field is an important asset for prisoners to obtain in order to qualify for jobs upon their release.
Kathryn Griffin, 53, leads an unconventional reentry program at the Harris County Jail in Houston for women who have been incarcerated for prostitution. Griffin’s mission to rehabilitate women who were living on the streets supporting their drug addictions by means of prostitution is not just a coincidence. She has lived this lifestyle herself.
Griffin’s experience began 30-years ago, when she toured as a singer with Rick James. She developed a cocaine habit that she couldn’t sustain with her singing income alone. Griffin had to sell herself for sex to keep up with her drug addiction.
After 20-years of accruing drug and prostitution charges, Griffin was facing up to 35-years in prison. Her life turned around after she completed her drug treatment and sentence.
Griffin was volunteering at Harris County Jail when she met up with Adrian Garcia, then city councilman and currently Harris County Sheriff. The program was spawned when Garcia was inspired by Griffin’s vision of creating a program for women serving time for prostitution. Garcia is responsible for launching the program that dozens of women have successfully completed.
On a nippy spring morning in April, I arrived at Trinidad State Junior College in Alamosa, Colorado, a little shy of 8:00am. The cosmetology students were anxiously awaiting my arrival. The purpose of my visit was to demonstrate Tammy Taylor’s famous 12-step process for doing a full set of acrylic nails in one hour or less.
Tammy Taylor is a real person who owns an international nail supply company based in Santa Ana, California. Taylor started her career as a nail technician and today she holds the Guinness Book of World records for the fastest set of acrylic nails; she can do a full set of nails in 20 minutes.
I am a part-time independent educator for Tammy Taylor nails and a free-lance blogger for prisoneducation.com. The day I returned to the cosmetology department at Trinidad Junior College I wasn’t expecting to tie my nail educator job with blogging about prison education.
When I walked into the room a familiar looking face lit up and said “Hi Tammy Taylor, whoops, I mean Dianne.” I responded to the student by saying, “I remember you as the only student who was old enough to know who Jimmy Buffet was the last time I was here.”
Susan Trieschmann, a northwest Chicago café owner took a big leap of faith when she renovated her for-profit business into a non-profit reentry program for young adult ex-offenders. The second chance café is an experimental restorative justice restaurant. Initially the neighbors were skeptical about offenders pouring their morning coffee. But it only took the community three weeks to trust the stigmatized employees to serve them the blue plate specials. Today you will find customers on Central Street lined up at the counter during the noon hour waiting for lunch to be served by the transformed ex-offenders.
Curt’s Café is a solo act in a city that only provides reentry programs for juvenile offenders. Chicago has hundreds of coffee shops, but only one restorative justice café that gives ex-offenders a second chance. The innovative reentry program requires the employees to form a restorative circle at the end of each eight hour shift to check on each other’s personal development and work skill progress.
Trieschmann’s idea for her restorative restaurant originated from a passion to help offenders reenter the workforce with employable skills. She emotionally explains that she doesn’t think it is fair how difficult it is for ex-offenders to become productive citizens when they re-enter the working world with a criminal record lingering in their past.
When the employees first started working at the café they barely knew how to make a cup of coffee and had difficulty making it to work on time. The ex-offenders have come a long way since they first began working at the café. They had many challenges to overcome, but persistence has paid off.
Returning to community after spending time in prison can be very challenging for ex-offenders. Finding employment, housing, education and even acquiring essential paperwork can be daunting. Support and resources are necessary for returning ex-offenders for successful integration into community.
Reentry AfterCare is a grassroots organization that works with communities to help them understand the problems and solutions of returning citizens and how by helping them with essential skills and education, recidivism rates can be greatly reduced.
On any given day, there are an estimated 2 million children in America that have at least one parent in prison. How do these children and families cope with this family separation?
In California, there is a service called, Friends Outside. Since 1955, Friends Outside has been a visionary, pro-active child and family advocate helping families, children and incarcerated individuals cope with the trauma of arrest and incarceration, find a new direction, and move forward with their lives.