Wednesday, 02 November 2011 14:47

Inmates Freed After Federal Crack Penalties Are Eased

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Antwain Black was facing a few more years in Leavenworth for dealing crack. But on Tuesday, he returned home to Illinois, a free man.

Black, 36, was among the first of potentially thousands of inmates who are being released early from federal prison because of an easing of the harsh penalties for crack that were enacted in the 1980s, when the drug was a terrifying new phenomenon in America's cities.

"I did more than enough time," Black said outside his family's Springfield, Ill., home, where family and friends had gathered to celebrate over dinner. "I feel like I can win this time. I'm a better man today than I was then."

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 16:13

Ministry offers ex-inmates avenue for change

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The former roadhouse does more than house people needing a place to stay. It's a 10-month stopping point for many former prison inmates wanting to turn their lives around.

"Every man deserves a second chance," says Peter Schneider, director of Jesus is the Way Prison Ministries.

The ministry works with paroled prison inmates and attempts to give them not only new skills for life but a change from the inside out. "The real satisfaction to me is seeing a man's life changed," Schneider said.

He visits eight Illinois prisons, including one federal prison, and intermittently four county jails on a regular basis — not trying to drum up business but to tell inmates something many have never heard before, about the way of salvation through Christ. "We don't take offerings in the joint. We rely on donations from outside," including a fundraising banquet, Schneider said.

The men can't just show up at the door and ask for a room. Inmates must be paroled to the ministry after an intense application and interview process.

Roger Adkins of Pontiac was one of those who was accepted after initially being turned down. He soon realized the place wasn't for him.

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:45

Technology in America’s Most Notorious Prison

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By Brent Rose
Oct 24, 2011 12:00 PM

Do prison inmates surf the Internet? Do they have gadgets? Do they make gadgets? Do they make weapons? Where do they get their porn and booze?

On the outside, we enjoy lives built around the fruits of modernity. But what about prisoners? San Quentin sits on the San Francisco Bay, minutes away from the most technologically famous valley in the world, so we went to prison to find out how much of our 21st-century techno-culture has made it behind bars.

San Quentin Prison in San Quentin California

San Quentin State Prison is the stuff of legend. Hell, Johnny Cash wrote a song about it. A lot has changed since The Man in Black visited, but even more striking is what hasn't changed. Recently, Gizmodo had the rare opportunity to get inside this notorious prison. To say that it was enlightening is a serious understatement.

There are a lot of rules when you visit the slam: You can't wear blue, grey, or orange. Not a stitch: Those colors are reserved for inmates only—blue and grey for the full-time residents, and orange for guys who were still being processed and might well end up in a higher security prison. (They kept us far away from the guys in orange.) You also can't bring in a cell phone, a very coveted piece of contraband. And you most definitely cannot bring in anything that could be used as a weapon; not that they're hurting for weapons, as you'll find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:41

Dorn: Mentoring: caring adults and safe places

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11:00 PM, Oct. 22, 2011 |
Jeffrey Dorn, Director of Shapes Mentoring Program in Missouri
Jeffrey Dorn
Tom had only been mentoring for a few short weeks and was already convinced that he was a failure. He felt this way because his mentee fell asleep in the car the moment he got picked up for this weekly outing. Tom assumed that his mentee, Robert, was bored with him and was really not interested in "hanging out" with him.

Upon some inquiries from program staff it was determined that Robert's sleeping was, in fact, not a result of boredom, but because he was in a place he felt safe.

Robert, age 5, was a mentee in the Shapes Mentoring Program. Shapes provides caring adult mentors to children of inmates living in southwest Missouri. Robert was one of these children. His father was in a Missouri prison, partially due to the fact that he abused his children.

The father would come home late at night. He would typically be intoxicated and he would enter Robert's room and hit him. Robert had learned that it was not safe to sleep through the night. Even though dad was no longer in the home, Robert's sleep patterns were still affected.

Why was Robert sleeping in Tom's car? Because he felt safe with Tom. He knew that Tom was there for him, to be a friend, confidant and mentor.

Throughout the United States there are approximately 2.7 million children who have a parent in prison.

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:40

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison

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Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison


Has a book ever changed your life? This project, "Books Across the Miles" will help youth charged as adults in federal prison transform their lives through books and writing. Through a "virtual book club" that explores the ways that books and writing are relevant and offers concrete tools to build on new visions, "Books Across the Miles" will help the young men of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop choose positive futures and a success reentry.

What is the issue, problem, or challenge?

Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop introduces the life-changing power of books and writing to youth charged and incarcerated as adults in Washington, DC. Because Washington, DC inmates are transferred to federal prisons across the country, books, and connections built through books, become even more vital.

How will this project solve this problem?

"Books Across the Miles" utilizes Free Minds' proven book club model to continue cultivating a strong love for reading among young inmates, allowing them to interact and discuss what they are reading with each other in a way that increases their understanding and appreciation of the book. In this program, members read the same book and engage in a written dialogue through our monthly newsletter, building a network of positive peer support as well as increased motivation for learning.

Potential Long Term Impact

When youth return home from prison with a passionate desire for education rather than the street life, the community is strengthened. "Books Across the Miles" is an innovative tool in lowering recidivism and building safer, more connected communities.

Project Message

"Thank you for donating money for books and helping us grow!! Reading has literally changed my life, and the Free Minds Book Club has played a very significant role in my personal transformation."
- Jonas, Free Minds Book Club member in Federal Prison

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:10

Little-used mother-infant jail program has benefits

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Mom & Daughter With Grandson In Prison
Tammy Lohman, 39 (left), and her daughter Nikki, 20, are inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Nikki has her eight-month-old son Logan with her.Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald

A prison hardly seems like an ideal place to raise a baby. The barbed wire and the potential for drugs and violence aren't exactly a Disney-like environment.

Canada's federal prison system allows eligible women to keep their children for up to four years, as the Herald's Laura Stone recently reported in our Michelle Lang Fellowship series, Women Behind Bars. Detractors of the program say it exposes children to dangerous criminals. Crime victims argue it's not right, especially in cases where violent women have robbed someone else of a family member.

Except in the cases of exceptionally violent crime, and in crimes involving sexual offences or crimes against children, we disagree with those opposed to babies in jail. In the U.S., which has much more experience with mother-infant programs, researchers say it reduces crime and is ultimately better for the child.

Joseph Carlson, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, completed a 10-year study on the issue and published his findings in the journal Corrections Compendium in 2009. According to a report at the time in the Daily Beast online news site, he thought such programs were "strange" when he began his research. He now believes they are "a win-win situation" for mothers and babies by reducing crime and helping inmates to reform.

Saturday, 15 October 2011 18:59

Christians Launch 'Doing the Right Thing' Movement

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  • (Photo: The Christian Post)
    Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, speaks at the launch of the "Doing the Right Thing" movement at Christian Fellowship Church, in Ashburn, Va., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2011.
  • The Christian Post > Church & Ministries|Sun, Sep. 25 2011 02:32 PM EDT

    ASHBURN, Virginia. – America is in what evangelical leader Chuck Colson is calling an "ethical mess" and it's time for Christians and the rest of the population to start "doing the right thing."

    Tens of thousands of Christians from across the country tuned in to a live webcast on Saturday to witness the launch of the "Doing the Right Thing" movement. The grassroots movement is being led by Colson, who believes an ethics revolution is "desperately needed."

    Unfortunately, Christians and the majority of the American population have been afraid to speak up and have allowed the "cultural elite" to force them into silence, Colson said.

    "The vast majority of people just listen to what a small group that run the culture talk about – the elite," the founder of Prison Fellowship said.

    "I think we're intimidated," he commented.

    But, he stressed, "there is time to get a movement of people ... who aren't willing to sit in the spiral of silence but want to speak out and want to make a difference around them."

    Saturday, 15 October 2011 17:16

    Miss: Freeing 89 terminally ill inmates saved $5M

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     Sunday, October 2, 2011

    JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Releasing 89 terminally ill inmates has saved Mississippi about $5 million over seven years, corrections officials say. Releasing terminally ill prisoners lets the state avoid costly health treatments and is more humane for inmates facing their final days, officials say. Some were released to their homes, others to care facilities.
    Saturday, 15 October 2011 16:22

    Non-Profit Helps Felons Recognize Effect On Victims

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    Posted: Sep 28, 2011 8:01 PM EDT Updated: Sep 28, 2011 8:32 PM EDT
    Victims Advocacy

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – One local non-profit group is helping convicted felons take responsibility for their actions through mentoring. You Have the Power's Victim Impact Classes offer inmates the change to think and discuss the pain their actions have caused others

    David Harris, a convicted felon who spent years in prison, is now working to uphold the laws he once broke. Harris works with The Tennessee Department of Correction "You Have the Power" to help inmates understand how they've affected their victims.

    V.20 No.35 | September 1 - 7, 2011
    Feature Archive
    By Marisa Demarco

    Folks met up at La Plazita Institute in the South Valley and split into groups to offer narratives about New Mexico’s prison system. Photo By Eric Williams

    It started with a chess game. Volunteer radio DJ Nick Szuberla challenged the Wallens Ridge State Prison to offer up its most skilled inmate for a match.

    Nick Szuberla of Thousand Kites

    Nick Szuberla of Thousand Kites. Photo by Eric Williams

    The game took five months to complete. Szuberla would announce his move over the airwaves each week. Then a letter would make its way to the station from the prison in Wise County, Va., issuing a counterstrike.

    The DJ lost to Big Daddy Duke.

    "Holler to the Hood," Szuberla's hip-hop program, was the only one like it in central Appalachia's sea of bluegrass. Back when the 1,200-bed prison opened in April 1999, prisoners were shipped into Virginia from around the country—and the number of people listening to the community radio show increased dramatically. "We were a friendly voice in an unfriendly situation," he says. The request line lit up. Letters started pouring in from prisoners—some of them describing human rights abuses. "We got a couple hundred in the first few weeks of the prison opening," Szuberla says.

    The Literacy Project in a meeting to discuss inmates and families concernsPhoto by Eric Williams
    Nick Szuberla and the Media Literacy Project collected stories that will be shared on community cable channel 27, KUNM and at

    Coal mining was the major employer in that region for decades. As the process became more mechanized, the local economy tanked. To shorethings up, states in the area built prisons as a form of economic development. Hence: Wallens Ridge, Virginia's second major supermax prison. Szuberla's from nearby Whitesburg, Ky., a town that's not even twice the size of the prison's population. (About 2,100 people live in Whitesburg, according to the 2010 Census.)

    With this newfound audience reaching out to him, Szuberla organized a day where families and friends of prisoners could call and be broadcast on the radio. He wasn't sure what to expect. As the day began, some people rang the station to say they were upset about the show. Correction officials disliked it, too, and were vocal about it on the airwaves: The prisoners don't deserve this, they said.

    Then kids started calling in. Their families couldn't afford the prison's phone rates, so they hadn't spoken to their parents in months. Family members from other states began offering shout-outs to incarcerated relatives whose locations were unknown. The nearest bus station to the prison is about three-and-a-half hours away, and the nearest airport is about the same. Spouses, mothers, grandmothers—hundreds saturated the airwaves with messages for their faraway loved ones in lockup.

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