In the prison system, crime and punishment go hand in hand. Crime and rehabilitation, while often cited as a target of correctional facilities, are often more elusive. So when it occurs, it is much more significant.
Not long ago, inmates at California’s Soledad Prison pooled their resources, which earned eight cents to a dollar an hour over the course of three years, to raise most of the $ 32,000 tuition that an student needed to stay in school.
The gesture was the culmination of a process launched by Jim Micheletti, professor of English and theology / director of campus ministry and admissions assistant Mia Mirassou at Palma de Salinas School.
Seven years ago, when the couple launched the Empathy Exercises in Soledad reading program, they couldn’t foresee the cascade of positive repercussions that would follow, or imagine how the circle would be closed by sowing a seed of change.
In the program, students, teachers, and members of the Palma community met regularly inside the prison to discuss books with inmates. More than a simple exchange of ideas, it became an opportunity to modify the preconceived perceptions of the students and offered the prisoners the opportunity to break out of stereotypes.
“They come in thinking ‘monster’ and come out thinking ‘a man, a human being’. They have done bad things, but there are no disposable people here, ”said Micheletti. CNN.
In 2016, a book club selection, Ernest Gordon’s ‘Miracle On The River Kwai’, changed the trajectory of inmate Jason Bryant’s life. The book chronicles the transformation of a group of prisoners of war from a mentality of “survival of the fittest” to one of solidarity and self-sacrifice.
At the time, Bryant was serving a 26-year sentence for his involvement in an armed robbery. “Inside the POW camp, there were attitudes and behaviors that were very similar to what is normally seen in prison today, with the gang mentality and scarcity,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “A small group of men made a different decision and decide to take care of each other.”
The practice, “fooling around” with each other, was so inspiring that Bryant and co-defendant Ted Gray set out to emulate the book’s example.
Bryant and Gray decided to channel their energy into creating a scholarship fund for a deserving student from Palma. Then Sy Newson Green, a sophomore whose parents had lost their jobs due to health problems, was chosen as the recipient.
For the next three years, Bryant, Gray, and a group of dedicated fellow robbers known as the Phoenix Alliance worked behind the prison walls collecting donations to fund Green’s education.
Green, now 19, graduated from Palma last year and is currently studying at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Bryant, who was granted clemency by California Governor Gavin Newsom 20 years after his sentence, serves as director of restorative programs at CROP, a nonprofit organization that focuses on reducing the recidivism rate through training, professional development and stable housing.
In a system where so many prisoners are caught in a cycle of crime and punishment, Bryant discovered that the key to lasting change began with helping others. Take your second chance with all your heart.
“I don’t know about redemption … I can say this,” he told the Washington Post, “I know that those of us who have truly transformed our lives are committed to adding value in any way that we can.”
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