Why work and program participation is vital for inmates regardless of their length of sentence

Schmidt, John H., Jr.



Why Work and Program Participation is Vital for Inmates Regardless of Their Length of Sentence By John Schmidt (February 2015) One of the common themes that I hear from fellow inmates, various staff, and government officials throughout Delaware when it comes to inmate rehabilitation is that the most crucial time for an inmate to engage in programs and activities is during the last two years of their sentence. This makes sense in terms of being prepared and, in some cases, Vocationally trained, so a smoother and more successful transition into the community can take place. However, the process of making permanent, positive changes in an inmate’s life through opportunities to participate in work and programs should not be limited to someone in the waning years of their sentence or even someone who has a short sentence to serve altogether. It is important that an inmate works and participates in programs throughout their incarceration. When I walked in to Gander Hill Prison (Wilmington, DE) on November 9, 2001, I was basically in shock as to what transpired in the previous 24 hours. I had just spent all day at the precinct with two investigators as I confessed to a slew of bank and motel robberies, which was mostly to pay bookies and to also fund trips to Atlantic City casinos. As I headed to my designated pod, I was angry, upset, nervous, confused, and, more than anything, lost. Here I was, 27 years old, no savings, no college education, a previous felony, and facing a lot of time for multiple felonies in two states. I had no aim, no purpose, and no direction in my life. My immediate saving grace was a girlfriend who, for some odd reason and after only dating six months, decided to stick by my side. I spent three years in federal prison from 1997-2000. When I look back, that time was spent in vain. It was wasted. All of the behaviors and character deficiencies that led me to prison continued in prison. I failed to understand the magnitude of my predicament and, equally importantly, made no effort to change my life. As a result, I left prison arguably in worse condition than when I entered. So here I was again in prison facing decades of incarceration this time around. I started gambling after just a few days in prison. I didn’t understand why that was my go—to behavior at the time, but it was definitely a major part of the persona I wanted to project. I came to realize later that the persona was to mask many insecurities and a lack of accomplishments in my life. My awakening and realization of the deep-rooted problems I faced surfaced about two months later. A guy on K-pod with me (who, ironically, I was gambling with) gave me a questionnaire / survey about compulsive gambling. It stated that if I answer more than half of the questions “yes” then I most likely had a compulsive gambling problem. I answered nearly all of the questions “yes.” I sat in my cell stunned. It was like it all hit me at once. I was able to clearly understand for the first time in my life how destructive gambling was to me, my future, and to everyone around me. That was January 10, 2002. A few days later I reluctantly decided to attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in the prison chapel. It was there that I listened to the stories of other gamblers in recovery and took to the wisdom and guidance of the outside volunteers who led the meetings — some even recovering gamblers or spouses of recovering gamblers themselves. I also started participating in Bible studies on the tier and attending weekly chapel services. Throughout the first year and even through my sentencing (I received a sentence of 20 years level 5) I developed some consistency in recovery and strengthened my faith in God. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was of some value and that I could make something of my life and even help others. As the first two or three years of my sentence unfolded, I started getting involved in other programs such as AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) and Greentree (Substance Abuse and Behavior Modification Program), which provided additional insight and positive reinforcement on my journey of recovery. _M_gs_t of the effective and trustworthy leaders in these programs are serving lengthy, if not, life sentences. Many of the inmates with long sentences will at some point be inmates with short sentences. It is the duration of the sentence that has to be served in a quality manner. I also got a job cutting hair that gave me additional meaning to each day. After two years as a barber I was hired as an instructional aide for the Groves high school diploma program. Using some of my deeply buried abilities to teach and lead felt really good and reinforced the fact that I had really gotten off track in life and lost my way. Being a part of another man’s achievement of a high school diploma definitely reminded me of my value and also contributed to further removing myself from any thoughts of anti—social behavior on any level in my future. What I see in myself and many other inmates who are in similar roles with work and programs is that a great deal of confidence is gained through mastering our environment. It breeds the confidence needed to succeed in other areas of life. Working, participating in programs, and strengthening my faith in God through prayer and fellowship allowed me to feel that I was valuable on numerous levels. Once I began to feel I was valuable, I started treating my life like it was valuable. When someone feels as if they 2 are of no value, they will often participate in activities that have no value, hang out with others who have no sense of value, and ultimately end up in an environment that is Valueless (Prison). I began to understand my value. I see others also understanding their Value, whether they are co-workers, brothers I fellowship and attend chapel service with, Greentree leaders, AVP trainers, Gamblers Anonymous participants, etc. It is of great importance that the inmates who are within two years of their release receive the necessary access to educational, vocational, treatment, and spiritual programs to better equip them for the challenges and opportunities that will surely come once released back into the community. It is incumbent upon each individual to be open and eager to accept the necessary assistance, whether it is the programs offered within the prisons or the programs and assistance offered through I-ADAPT (A Delaware initiative started five years ago that, through the collaboration of many state agencies, offers assistance to offenders transitioning back into the community) and other independent agencies throughout the state. In my opinion and with regard to my numerous experiences and observations while incarcerated, the more an inmate participates in programs and activities that promote positive and healthy ways of thinking and living, the more they are likely to see themselves as valuable and productive members of society once released. I know things could have been much different for me when I was released the first time if I would have spent my time meaningfully and productively. In addition to the mental and emotional issues that plague many offenders who are released into the community, a large percentage also reenter society with little to no work experience, diminished social interaction skills, and a lethargic approach to gathering resources and utilizing support systems that would otherwise significantly increase the chances to live successfully in the community. These factors put a high percentage of offenders at high risk to return to prison. It is through working and program participation throughout an inmate’s sentence, however short or long, that these key areas can be thoughtfully addressed and, therefore, the risk of returning to prison significantly reduced. It is so important that men (and women) with lengthy sentences work, develop a sound spiritual and moral foundation, participate in academic and vocational programs, and invest themselves in whatever programs are necessary to identify and address the particular behavior that led to their moral and ethical decay. No matter how much time a person has to serve, it is in their best interest to be productive and proactive in their own growth and maturity. This pattern of behavior also benefits the institution and the offender’s family as a whole because the inmate is steadily building trust with others and with themselves while realizing that hard work and focus can lead to achievement. An inmate who takes responsibility for their life in prison and works toward putting their dismal past behind them 3 is also reassuring for the victims who certainly do not want to be at risk for further damage because an offender released into the community doesn’t “get it.” Furthermore, inmates who make willing decisions to work and participate in program activities, regardless of their length of sentence, are usually an asset to the institution because they pose less of a security threat, stay out of trouble, and reinforce the fact that working and program participation are important keys to personal development. Inmates who have not begun this process can witness other inmates in prison experiencing success and deriving joy from making positive decisions that create a better quality of life and increase the chances for success in the community. Participation in work and programs bodes well for the inmate, prison, community, victims, and the government agencies that spend the state’s precious dollars and resources to fund prison programs and reentry initiatives. I know that because of my opportunities to work and begin the multi—faceted programs early on in my sentence that I’ve continued and built on for years. I walked into Gander Hill over thirteen years ago with no direction and no goals or purpose. Working throughout my time, participating in numerous programs on various levels, and putting together a support system filled with family and friends has given me all the tools and experiences I need to succeed in here and in the community for the rest of my life. I am forever changed and grateful to my family, friends, my fellow residents, and the staff, security, and administration that provide the services.

Author: Schmidt, John H., Jr.

Author Location: Delaware

Date: October 23, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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