Five Ways to Make Prison Time More Productive

Photo: <a href="http://www.artsinprison.org/ehs.html" target="_blank">Arts in Prison, Inc.</a>

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BARD PRISON INITIATIVE

New York (and replicated elsewhere)
PROGRAM: After Congress eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners in 1994, effectively ending access to higher education in prison, Bard stepped in to offer inmates a chance to graduate with degrees “identical to diplomas we give on campus.”
ANNUAL COST: $1.2 million, about $4,000 per inmate, all from private sources.
TAKEAWAY: Courses this year include “Power Part I: From Machiavelli to Marx.”

EAST HILL SINGERS

Kansas City
PROGRAM: Brings together church choir directors and singers with inmates at the Lansing state prison. Choir held packed concerts at area churches until budget cuts forced the show behind prison walls. Concerts are now taped—along with messages from inmates—for play at the churches.
ANNUAL COST: Part of a five-site state arts-in-prison program that costs $200,000 altogether.
TAKEAWAY: According to a 2009 study the program gives inmates “opportunities for transformational change” and “a sense of group responsibility.”

 

VETERANS GROUP OF IRONWOOD

Blythe, California (and several other state prisons)
PROGRAM: Incarcerated veterans collect recyclables and throw prison pizza parties to raise dough for charity.
ANNUAL COST: Free to taxpayers. Inmates pay for pizza parties with their meager prison wages.
TAKEAWAY: “They do four pizza sales a year, and we have over 4,000 inmates,” says Michael Alonzo, the prison’s spokesman. “If they make a dollar profit for each pizza, you see how they can raise money pretty quick.” The club has raised $250,000 total; recently $10,000 went to highly specialized wheelchairs for veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. “They’ve kinda taken that personal,” says Alonzo. “They understand the government’s not paying for those chairs.”

 

PEN PRISON WRITING PROGRAM

National
PROGRAM: Founded by the nonprofit writers’ group after the 1971 Attica Prison riot, the program publishes a writing handbook, matches inmates with professional writers as mentors, and sponsors an annual prison writing award.
ANNUAL COST: $49,000, mostly donated by PEN members.
TAKEAWAY: Selections from the program’s writing contest are featured at a celeb-studded (John Turturro, Eric Bogosian, and Mary Gaitskill) gala reading. Winners this year included “I Wore Chains to My Father’s Funeral,” by Charles P. Norman: “After they’d retrieved their nine millimeters, their ankle guns, their Buck knives, canisters of pepper spray, police batons, and 12-gauge shotgun from the trunk, the car backed out, and we were on our way.”

 

OSBORNE ASSOCIATION

New York
PROGRAM: 2 percent of kids under 18 have a parent in prison. Osborne teaches 5,500 inmates each year parenting and other skills.
ANNUAL COST: $14.2 million, mostly from government grants.
TAKEAWAY: Program director Tanya Krupat recalls helping kids in a support group in New York City make cards to send to their moms upstate. She worried that the “kindergarten arts and crafts supplies” would turn off teens. “But every kid, even the coolest of the cool, with not a word of protest, sat down with glue and crayons and made the most passionate cards for their mom.”

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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