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The Amazing Results When You Give a Prison Inmate a Liberal Arts Education

By Jerry Adler / Smithsonian Magazine

Separated by eight years, a dozen subway stops and a vast socioeconomic distance, Erica Mateo and Max Kenner had one thing in common growing up: They were no one’s candidates for most likely to succeed. Mateo was raised by her grandmother in one of Brooklyn’s roughest neighborhoods, dropped out of school in the eighth grade and ended up in a juvenile correctional facility. Kenner’s handicap was to grow up among artists and left-wing intellectuals in 1980s SoHo, an environment that did not exactly promote a rigorous academic work ethic. At the famously progressive Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, which is known for quirky gifted graduates like Lena Dunham and doesn’t even hand out grades, “I basically checked out by senior year,” he says cheerfully.

They met in prison, at the Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan, where in 2006, Mateo, an insouciant and streetwise 19-year-old, was serving a three- to nine-year sentence for assault. Kenner was there speaking to inmates about the Bard Prison Initiative—a program he had conceived and created while still an undergraduate at Bard, the forward-thinking college in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The program’s unlikely purpose was to provide a Bard education, and degree, to inmates at some of New York State’s toughest prisons.

Since its origins, BPI has expanded to six New York prisons, where it now serves some 300 students. Kenner isn’t empire-building; he encourages other colleges to establish their own programs. His vision has led to a sister organization, the Consortium for Liberal Arts in Prison, now exporting the concept to other states—nine as of 2014, where around 800 students work toward degrees from such elite institutions as Wesleyan, Grinnell and Goucher. This year his mission—to offer liberal arts education to inmates nationwide—took a major leap forward when Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education, begun with seed money from the Bard program, received its own Ford Foundation grant.

But more important, Kenner, who is 36, says, this was the year that his tireless advocacy for prison education began to pay off in nationwide political visibility, as the concept won the endorsement of Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Attorney General Kamala Harris of California.

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Famous Prisoners: Where Are They Now?

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Where are the legends who were seen indulging in gourmet entrees and sipping fine wines at the trendiest restaurants, but are now waiting in chow lines to dine?  Where is former billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, who swapped illegal stock trading for commissary stamp trading?

Ja Rule, the famous rapper, caught for not filing his income taxes ended-up filing for parole.

The only three piece suits these former dignitaries wear now are composed of handcuffs, leg irons, and waist chains.   

From Wall Street to movie sets and recording studios, many renowned people have gone from a posh to prison. Other notables have become renowned for the crime that landed them behind bars. 

Phil Spector 

Remember the haggard pouty-lipped Phil Spector, the rock star who produced such hits as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling?” Well, he must of lost that “loving feeling” when he was convicted of killing 40-year-old actress, Lana Clarkson. Spector allegedly shot his date after a night of drinking. 

Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Spector was later inducted into the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran, Calif. in 2009 for 19-years to life. When Mr. Spector is eligible for parole he will be 88-years-old. 

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Prison Taught Me to Teach

By Petride Mudoola / NewVision
One of my favourite things to do when I meet an inmate for the first time is to ask: “What is your story?” Asking that question in a jail setting usually results in a non-trusting glare from the inmate.
However, when I further define the question by letting the inmate know that he can tell me about his family, his hobbies, what occupies him in prison, he thenrealises that I am a friend and not particularly interested in knowing why he was detained. It is amazing how the inmate opens up and the subsequent stories he tells.
Over time, inmates will share the pain that they have endured, their shattered dreams and, maybe once in a while, something that gives them joy. As I listen to each story, I try to offer encouragement and motivation.
Some stories bring tears. I believe that most of these guys want to be happy and do the right thing. When I see an inmates experience his “nastiest” moment and know they are ready to turn their life around and give back to the community, it does not get much better than that.
 Inmates of Luzira Upper Prison during a tailoring class
Fred Ndorere’s story will bear me witness. The 50-year-old father of two was sentenced to death for aggravated robbery in 1999 and was later referred to the condemned section for inmates sentenced to death.
For 19 years, he waited for the hangman to say: “Let’s go,” but this did not happen. Instead of sinking in despair, he chose to become a teacher and teach his fellow prisoners. 
He realised that only 10% of the condemned inmates had completed O’level at that time.
Ndorere then proposed to the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija, to set up a school in prison. His proposal was accepted. The school was established in 2000 and the pioneer candidates sat for their Primary Leaving Examinations later that year.
“I started teaching when I was still in the condemned section. Most inmates were not educated, which made me think that there was a correlation between crime and lack of education,” Ndorere says.
On June 13, 2005, Ndorere’s sentence was commuted to 20 years after Susan Kigula and 417 other death row inmates petitioned the Constitutional Court against the death penalty.
Ndorere, now left with four years to complete his sentence, is profoundly proud of his pioneer students. He says that some of them have completed a diploma in small scale business management and entrepreneurship offered byMakerere University Business School (MUBS) in the prisons.
“Despite the challenges we encounter as inmates, it gives me a lot of joy and pleasure to see that most of my pioneer students have completed a diploma. Even those who left prison are now employed, having attained education and acquired skills while in jail,” Ndorere says proudly.

International Men's Day Invitation

Image courtesy

By Jerome Teelucksingh

I would like to invite all members of to observe International Men’s Day on 19 November 2014. International Men’s Day continues to cross geographical, political, cultural and language barriers and was celebrated by boys, girls, men and women of different ethnicities, ages, religions and classes.  The theme for 2014 is   “Working Together For Men and Boys.”

International Men’s Day has 6 objectives which include promoting peace, equality, tolerance, and understanding. The objectives are:

  • To promote positive male role models, not just movie stars and sportsmen but everyday, working class  men who are living decent, honest lives.  
  • To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment. 
  • To focus on men’s health and wellbeing --  social, emotional, physical and spiritual. 
  • To highlight discrimination against men --  in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations and law.
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality. 
  • To create a safer and better world, where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential.


Break the Prison to Poverty Pipeline

By Clio Chang /  Image courtesy

The New York City Department of Corrections has decided to eliminate solitary confinement for inmates age 16 and 17 by the end of the year. This resolution is a response to public criticism of abusive conditions at Rikers Island, which houses more than 12,000 of the city’s inmates.

The jail made headlines this summer after the federal government released a report stating that the city was violating inmates’ civil rights. Stories of abuse have been as numerous as they have been bleak — an inmate beaten for falling asleep in class, a culture of distorting data on violence, and a 16-year-old boy who, accused of stealing a backpack, waited three years for a trial that never happened.

Preet Bharara, New York’s federal prosecutor, states he is ready to pursue legal action against the city if it does not achieve reform soon.

Eliminating solitary confinement is one of the more concrete improvements that Correctional Commissioner Joseph Ponte outlined in his recent memo to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Other changes include an expansion of educational programs and a better ratio of guards to adolescent inmates.

The fight for “Rikers Reform” is important for the welfare of inmates behind that particular set of bars, but it also shines a light on the issue of the other 7 million people under correctional control in America. The way we treat prisoners while they are locked up, after all, directly affects how they fare when they re-enter society.

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Using Education to Stop the Prison Revolving Door

By Lois Davis /  Image courtesy

According to the Department of Justice, in 2012, Alabama had the third highest imprisonment rate in the United States, trailing only Louisiana and Mississippi. A fierce debate has erupted over what to do to reduce overcrowding in Alabama prisons at a time when the state's budget is tighter than ever. The possibility of federal take over has been discussed.

Across the United States 700,000 individuals leave state and federal prisons every year. Within three years about 40 percent of them are back behind bars, imposing a crushing burden on already strained correctional system budgets. According to a recent National Academy of Sciences report, state spending on corrections is the third highest category of general fund expenditures in most states today, ranked only behind Medicaid and education. 

As a result of the 2008 economic recession there are fewer opportunities today for prisoners to participate in effective rehabilitation programs. But what if there were a way to reduce recidivism at a fraction of the cost of incarceration? Well, there is.

Providing education and vocational training to inmates is a cost effective way to reduce recidivism rates and thus shrink prison populations and ease the strain on prison budgets. Education is far less expensive than incarceration. Our study at RAND found that every dollar spent on correctional education programs saves taxpayers, on average, five dollars. And this is a conservative estimate that counts only direct costs. It does not take into account collateral savings like reducing the strain on the criminal justice system and financial and emotion costs borne by crime victims.

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3 Things That Will Revolutionize Prison Education

By Jay Derragon

The majority of people in prison are not hardened criminals; they are good people who have made bad decisions. Yet the current educational system in prisons leave little room for good people to learn how to avoid bad decisions. As W. Edwards Deming said: “A bad system will defeat a good person, every time.”The current system of prison education is not doing enough to empower behavioral change and rehabilitation of minds. The current “system of education” within prisons is antiquated, ineffective, costly and ripe for change. A transformation in methods, means, and thinking is desperately needed.

How Well Is The Current System Working?

Since 1985, the number of people incarcerated has jumped from about 744,000 to over 3.3 million in 2011. That represents an overall increase of more than 400%. While all sectors have grown over that time period, the highest growth was in the federal prison population, which increased by 473%. Increases in the other sectors ranged from 175% in state prisons to 178% in local jails. “The current correctional rehabilitation system is obviously is not working”.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reported in 2011, that nearly 7 in 10 people who are formerly incarcerated will commit a new crime, and half will end up back in prison within three years. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually rejoin society, it is crucial that we develop programs and tools to effectively reduce recidivism.

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