The tests in prison, part 1

I am on a trip to Hong Kong and India and have been reviewing my work over the past year.

One of the most profound experiences I had was a trip in November to Umatilla, Oregon– which is in the eastern part of that great state. Beautiful plains and rolling hills. Horses, cattle, cowboys. Still the west and some of it wild.

The purpose of my trip was to raise funds for a scholarship program at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution, a state prison in Umatilla.  About a year ago one of the prisoners received a copy of my book and he and I have been in correspondence since. He was part of a state funded program to see some prisoners through an academic program leading to an associates degree. That was, until the state cut the funding. I was outraged about this.

Any of these men, like the inmate who had my book,are seriously are intent on getting their lives together. The academic program– run through Blue Mountain Community College, is not costly, in fact, in the scheme of things, it costs very little. But the state cut the funding!  One of the teachers at TRCI was determined on keeping the program going, and after talking with her I wanted to do my part and pitch in.

After giving a talk at BMCC to a very enthusiastic and interested audience, I gave three talks in the prison– one to the staff (teachers, guards, administration) and three to the inmates. This was, arguably, one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had– as a teacher, a psychologist, and a fellow human being. As I reflect on this experience it continues to unfold. Facing these men– incarcerated for terms lasting from a year to life– the first and most prominent feeling  that I had was about their humanity.

The experience touched me deeply. I will be writing a series of posts about it. Here I’d like to say that the humanity we all  share is what most moved me.  That some of us face the tests– the stresses– of life, in ways that are  unconscious, desperate, or deliberate as to break the law and end up in prison, makes the case even more strongly for teaching tools, in our schools, from the earliest grades, for how to cope with the stresses of life.

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