Educational Series #4
Two programs offered here at FCI-Petersburg providing much needed skills are the Release Preparation Program (RPP) and the Parenting classes. Both of these programs focus on much needed skill-building, skills that can make all of the difference once the prisoner is released. Let's take each in turn.
Release Preparation Program
According to the FCI-Petersburg Inmate Admission and Orientation Handbook, "The release preparation program assists inmates with specific and broad-based preparation for release back into society. Inmates can learn resume' writing, interview skills, job search and retention skills. Mock Job Fairs provide realistic experiences for those inmates nearing release."
The long and short of these classes is that they are a good idea. I like the RPP idea very much and wish that it would be expanded a bit. Here at FCI-Petersburg, prisoners nearing release have the option to attend the Mock Job Fair where real employers from the surrounding area come in and interview the prisoner participants. This provides much needed experience and – at times – has been known to result in employment once the prisoner is released. During these job fairs, the prisoner-participant brings the resume that they created in class prior to the job fair. They also prepare in class for interviews. For example, my cell mate is in one of the RPP classes. In his class, they cover shaking a person's hand, looking them in the eye, how to show up to work on time, how to tie a tie, and many other needed job skills. You would be surprised how many people in prison lack the basic ability to look someone in the eye and shake their hand. You would be even more surprised by the vast number of people in prison who have never held a job.
Though, FCI-Petersburg also offers other RPP classes outside of basic job skills. For example, in the Education Department they offer an RPP Personal Finance class. This class meets at the same time as my Writing and Publishing class. As a matter of fact, they are across the hall from me. There are also occasional special RPP events. For example, several months ago a DC advocacy group came in and spoke to prisoners nearing release about gangs and such. This event was considered an RPP class.
As with other educational endeavors in which prisoners may participate, RPP classes are a great idea. Anyone who has been in prison a while could certainly benefit from them. Heck, anyone in prison could benefit from them. After all, we didn't come to prison for following socially acceptable conduct.
One aspect that is often overlooked when it comes to prisoners is the fact that many prisoners have children. In a normal home, raising a kid is a challenge. When the prison element is inserted into the equation the math changes from being a good parent to being a parent at all. Prison has a very muffling effect on the incarcerated parent. It really is a sad thing. In a future post, I will discuss Assisting Families of Inmates, a group that assists families in the state of Virginia. For now, let's take a look at the parenting classes offered at FCI-Petersburg.
According to the handbook, "The parenting program is designed to help inmates maintain family ties and parental bonds during incarceration. Parenting related activities include parent education, community-based social services, and parent/child visiting room activities."
Now, in this section it hurts me to tell you the truth. I wish that I could say that FCI-Petersburg goes far out of their way to facilitate communications and relationships between prisoners and their children. But this is not the case. In direct opposition to the previous quote, the only 'parenting program' that I've seen is the parenting class. This is a class that meets, I believe, once a week for an hour or so over a two month period of time. While certainly a great class, it is probably not all that is talked up in the handbook. As a matter of fact, the only other semi-parenting activity that is available, to my knowledge, is the board games, which can be checked out for use during visitation.
One would be advised to contact Assisting Families of Inmates for more information regarding how to maintain contact with a parent in prison. Do be on the lookout for future postings about Assisting Families of Inmates. In them, I note their info sheet which provides tips for preparing a child to visit an incarcerated parent. If you live in Virginia, they are of particular use because of their economical transportation services and the Milk and Cookies Children's Program which is a support group for the children of prisoners. Do note that in a future blog I will be addressing their Milk and Cookies program in-depth.