In taking a look back over the span of this course, the first thing that comes to mind is how we able to do some groundbreaking work on an issue that really gets no love or attention. It was incredible to hear, learn, and see the realities of the justice system. I never imagined myself sitting across from a “prisoner”, who I now consistently try to refer as people who are incarcerated thanks to Shaka Senghor. Hearing their stories really gave me perspective on how lucky and blessed I am to have so many great opportunities in life that they never really had. Hearing about their challenging family conflicts and their problems really made me see them not as prisoners, but people just like us. I couldn’t fathom actually being in a class of prisoners talking about the issues they face to successfully re-enter society. I can’t believe we made a functional website that people who were formerly incarcerated can use to live a much better life.
But you know what? I can believe it. All of it. We crushed it as a class and I have met a bunch of new people in our class and in the correctional facility. They all helped me look at these problems from a new perspective and in a much more complete way. I learned about the lack of resources in jails and prisons for rehabilitation. I learned about the struggle of hanging around and vegetating in the pod/cell all day leads to no motivation on the outside to change from their old ways.
The CBL component of this course was superb. I really enjoyed spending time with my classmates while actively making a difference in the world. Seeing the smiles and thankfulness from the people who were incarcerated in the facility really was a feel good moment, not for myself or the class, but for them, that they had a new source of hope and ambition to now have the resources to change for the better on the outside.
I really enjoyed meeting Shaka Senghor. Telling friends and family that I met and conversed with a man who killed someone at first was a shock to them. I dove right into his story when talking with these people, making sure they understood how he transformed his life 180 degrees and how he is doing revolutionary work in the world today. Thinking about it in depth, I’ve never met or seen someone turn their life around quite like Shaka. Going from the absolute lowest of the low, life of being abused, selling drugs, no family love, and solitary confinement to a fellowship at MIT, published author, a professor, and working with politicians such as Newt Gingrich on the #CUT50 movement. This is truly wild to picture, even in my own head. His steps that he used it to do so were huge, flipping the script on his entire way of thinking. Acknowledgement, apologizing, atonement, and literature were all the great steps that he took towards starting his new life.
I learned that I can use these steps in my life, taking responsibility for my actions everyday. The “Remix Your Life” seminar was super cool, I’ve never been a part of something like that before and I am a huge rap and hip-hop fan, so that to me was incredible, learning how to stay positive. Not that I have a problem staying positive, but hearing it from a guy who has gone through so much more adversity than me made me put things in perspective and be extra thankful for everything I have. I had no real surprises from the talk, I expected him to be fully transparent with us about his story and his ability to do so made him even more of a bright light in society.
The only question remaining that I have from the experience is how far is he in developing his app. Thats about it, other than that it was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m psyched I got to meet him.
There are so many issues that a prisoner faces when he leaves his or her correctional facility. These challenges include housing, a source of income, transportation, rehab, and so on. I believe that the most important challenge to re-entry is employment. Being employed eliminates so many problems, from occupying time to making money to purchase food/housing/transportation. Being at work, as one of the inmates at the correctional facility told me, keeps people from being out in public, wondering how to get by or how to spend their day. Work keeps you busy and keeps you out of trouble, coming home tired, getting a good rest, waking up and doing it again. Staying on schedule is a huge part of reintegration, because with free time, bad choices that put a person in jail are much more likely to be made again if the person is off schedule. The money made at work can allow for so many doors to be opened, to get a fresh start in a new area, and to move away from the people and places that got them in jail in the first place. Having a job is a form of rehabilitation in itself when you really think about it.
Some barriers to getting hired include the employer’s lack of trust or skepticism towards hiring a former inmate. Also the lack of motivation from the inmate to continuously grind in terms of putting in the time searching for a job. Some support organizations include the federal bonding program and the state department of labor, which work with people who have employment challenges (https://labor.ny.gov/businessservices/services/fbp.shtm). A couple of other websites include comprehensive lists of companies that are willing to hire former prisoners
An inmate could use these services to find employment and a better life.
First of all, the group discussion that we had in the facility was unreal. Have you ever heard of college students and their professor sitting in a room with prisoners discussing how to make life better post jail time? I sure haven’t. I truly believe the work that we are doing in class is mind blowing and revolutionary. Nobody is doing what we are doing; Solving the issue of re-entry back into society after the prisoners are released from jail is unheard of, especially that college students are doing it. Looking across the whole United States, I truly do believe that no other institution is working on solving the issue that we are attempting to do. Society has put these people in jail out of sight and out of mind, creating steep barriers to survive post jail time. This includes a lot of things that we take for granted, such as housing, a job, food, water, transportation, social security, DSS, and counselors to talk to.
This experience for me was pretty intense at first. Some of my other classmates seemed calm, cool, and collected when meeting the prisoners. I was really hyped up and excited, which created some heavy feelings of butterflies. When they first entered the room and sat down with us, there was some tension at first, but conversation and questions stimulated a great discussion with contribution from everyone. Learning about the hardships that they face in leaving jail was pretty eye-opening. I think the key challenge that struck a chord with me was the fact that they go back into the same environments that got them in there in the first place. Leaving jail and being forced right back into the same situations that cause bad choices to be made, whether it be drugs or whatever, really does suck. They have to go back to these places because it may be where their only place to stay or survive is. It’s really sad that they don’t really have that fresh start that they deserve when they leave jail.
A solution that could be made to address this problem is creating a nationwide network of affordable jobs and housing for inmates looking to turn the page on their past. These folks are willing to change and work anywhere for a new start with no temptations or pressure to fall back into the trap of making bad choices. The network could include employers looking for labor, with only post jail applicants applying for a second chance in life. These people can positively give back to society and live a normal life, but they need the chance and opportunity to do so. Right now, they don’t have that opportunity, so they go back to the life pre-prison which ultimately could get them right back into jail.
I’ve told all my friends and family about the work that we are doing and they have all been super excited about it. It truly is groundbreaking work and I really do want to thank you Steve for the all the preparation and effort you have put into this to make it all possible. It takes a ton of courage to do what you are doing, changing people’s lives for the better. No other professor is doing what you are doing and that’s pretty sweet. I was talking with some kids in class and we agreed that we could even make national news for the work we are doing if we succeed, which would be wild. Especially with recent talk about prison reform, this is revolutionary stuff and I love it.
In thinking about the justice system and criminals in general, I do have some preconceptions that have been shaped from media, TV, and simply my imagination. These preconceptions paint the picture of prison as perpetual and profoundly complex. I tend to visualize prison as a dark cell, with a single window facing out to the free world while the prisoner inside is full of regret and pain. I see life inside the bars as time for inmates to spend considering the mistakes or decisions they have made in their life. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, theft, murder, whatever the case may be, deep down, the prisoner knows he messed up and his or her willingness to admit it is up to his or her reputation or status that he or she wants to portray.
I do believe that the justice system could be vastly improved from where it is today. The stipulation is that this does cost serious money, money that isn’t willing to be poured into a fund that helps criminals. The argument from the top is that the money could and should go into places and disciplines of education, construction, and the market rather than the rehab and improvement of those who drastically need it. To be a criminal, you have to chose to break the law and the choice of choosing to do so means that rehabilitation or teaching is necessary to solve the problem in most cases. If money could be funneled into prison programs to resolve the mental issues or help someone get clean, the nation would not have to rebook citizens back into jail, saving money in the long run. If a prisoner is taught the tools of education and taught how to navigate the outside world to live a better quality of life, there is very little chance that they will break the law again.
I would say the only fears I have about going to the correctional facility are that I am going to see someone who has killed another person. It is scary to think about that I could I staring and talking with a human that has killed another person. I know that most likely this will not happen but at the same time I believe that it will be difficult for me to look in the eyes of a killer.
I hope to gain valuable perspective on the jail system, the prisoners, and their stories. I am very much looking forward to seeing the facility to rid my mind of the most likely false misconceptions that I have about what a correctional facility looks like in reality. I also am excited to hear the stories of the prisoners and to teach them the tools necessary to succeed in the outside world.
I expect to talk to the prisoners and give them advice on lessons that I have learned firsthand on how to be successful and how to make the best out of any situation. I have faced adversity my whole life, big to small, not even close to the level that they are facing but I want give them hope to live a better life outside of prison.
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