While our corrections system has a large number of credible outside agency prison programs assisting inmates to a smoother transition into the community, it is an inmate-created program that is raising eyebrows across the state.
On June 27, 46 federal court personnel came to Osborn Correctional Institution to hear a presentation from a number of inmates about their program titled “Skills of Socialization” (SOS). The attendees included federal district court judges, probation officers, attorneys and additional staff of the federal defenders office, clerks and others. The half dozen presenters included inmates sentenced for murder and other major crimes and former gang members.
The program came to fruition two years ago when seven inmates, realizing that re-entry funding was in jeopardy due to statewide budget constraints, decided to take things into their own hands in a positive way. They totaled almost 150 years in served prison time. There was acknowledgment that most of them, while on the street, did not value education, hard work and the structure of rules and laws by which most productive members of the community abide. Most importantly, they recognized they did not value themselves. Instead, they had looked up to notorious killers, drug dealers, hustlers and womanizers who did some bad things to women.
SOS is premised on undoing those negative images and teaching positive values. The SOS handbook highlights its message:
“Criminal behavior and a criminal lifestyle is no longer acceptable. Poisoning and destroying our communities with drugs and gang activity is no longer acceptable. Killing off each other in senseless acts of violence is no longer acceptable. Destroying our homes, families and communities are no longer acceptable. Removing ourselves from our homes to leave our children to grow up in fatherless/motherless homes is no longer acceptable. Coming in and out of prison as some revolving door system is no longer acceptable. Not living this one life that we have to the fullest is no longer acceptable.”
Each of the facilitators is someone who has clearly eliminated criminal behavior from their day-to-day life in prison. They are now a positive role model for other inmates. They have constructed an eight-week curriculum that includes subjects such as: “taking personal responsibility and understanding the recovery process”; “self-respect, respect for our women and community pride.” There is now a 200-inmate waiting list to participate in the program.
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly has supported the programs efforts as has Gov. Dannel Malloy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Kudos to DOC Commissioner Scott Semple for allowing the program to flourish.
Now if we could only get our state officials, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation and parole officers to attend such a meeting, SOS could have a chance to really hit a home run.