Cisneros: Real life lessons come from day-to-day living | Amarillo Globe-News Page 1 of 2
Real life lessons come from daywtomriay living
By Ricardo Cisneros
Our bus bumped along Interstate 60 headed to Pampa as a butterscotch sun rose in the distance, piercing through the caged windows.
For four long days, some of society’s worst fears from the Neal and Clements Units journeyed to the Jordan Unit. We sacrificed time and sleep, endured hassle, shackles and discomfort to volunteer in a life—changing project —— Peer Health
Peer Health Education (peer education) is a lifeboat —— inmates helping inmates live a better life through healthy choices.
The AIDS Foundation Houston and Texas Department of Criminal Justice teamed up last month to help train 80—plus inmates from different units as certified peer educators.
Inmates new to the program didn’t know what to expect, while seasoned peer educators expected a refresher on what they knew, but no one anticipated the training that was ultimately uncovered.
I Day 1: We explored our values and beliefs. We engaged in exercises that questioned our thinking. Where do I stand on complex issues? Am I consistent in my thinking? How much of what I believe is influenced by fear, ignorance or anything other than facts and good judgment?
I reflected on what I used to believe about prisoners, what others believe and what I know now. What a difference our beliefs make in a world where goodness and evil exist.
I Day 2: We poured over material from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and discussed the best practices for teaching inmates. Experienced peer educators modeled how they share the information with other inmates in various prison—life settings. The care and passion of the peer educators made me think about why I do what I do, not just as a peer educator but as a person who gets involved and helps others. I guess that is just who I am. That is what my five older brothers modeled for me every time they helped someone in need or stood up for what was right. Looking back, it was my family who first taught me how to care, and I haven’t stopped.
I Day 3: We jumped into a new segment for chronic care inmates who are being released, which helps them plan and prepare for successful re-entry into society. We analyzed past problems of repeat offenders, identified thinking errors and played out scenarios where we practiced communication skills. A lot of care and courage was displayed by the peer educators, knowing that those we are preparing for will need support, encouragement and helpful information.
I Day 4: We wrapped up with personal testimonies. More than teachable material and helpful resources, our program coordinators provided us with an opportunity to be a part of the hope that affects positive change. I walked away feeling like I had been hand—picked for this moment a long time ago. When I was a kid, my brother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said someone who helps people. Looking back, I’ve been training for this tasl<—.all my life —— many of us have. We’re not all criminals in prison. The training we received helped me see that in many of us. Some of us are peer educators trying to make a positive difference as we do time.
We climbed into the caged bus for one more ride. We headed back to our units where we have been living for 10, 20 or
30 years as society’s worst fears.
But something was different. http://amarillo.con1/opinion/opinion—columnist/guest-columnist/20 14-09-20/cisneros-real-... 10/22/2014
Cisneros: Real life lessons come from day-to-day living | Amarillo Globe-News Page 2 of 2
A small chant of camaraderie rose as we pulled into our destination. The change had begun. The difference in our lives was being made, and I realized then the real training had been happening all our lives — a training in courageous caring.
Ricardo Cisneros is an inmate at Nathaniel J. Neal Unit in Amarillo.
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