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Freedom takes whole new level


July 02, 2008
Ninety-five percent of those currently serving sentences in state prisons and local jails will at sometime be released back into society. The question posed by Freedom 101 Director Deb Bulleit is: How do we want them to return?

"Freedom 101: Dealing with Confinement" is a four-day intense seminar that uses non-conventional learning techniques that allow the inmates to realize why they are in prison, to discover the power they have over their own lives in the choices they make and to learn how to make change for the better. The class is part of the Harrison Education and Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.) that started at the Harrison County Justice Center back in 1995.

H.E.L.P. began with a mission of reducing recidivism (the number of prisoners being rearrested) and providing educational opportunities in the new justice center. It was believed that a new facility deserved new ways of rehabilitating convicts so that they stay out of jail and solving the "revolving doors" dilemma that many county jails face.

With great community support and the sponsorship of the Harrison County Community Foundation, H.E.L.P. turned out to be a success. It was able to begin a successful GED program and enlist the help of many volunteer professionals who were able to teach communication, money management and anger management skills as well as skills essential for obtaining and keeping a job.

Growing out of the learning experience and success of H.E.L.P., the Freedom 101 class was developed in order to specifically deal with the issue of recidivism. The tools taught in the seminar include: techniques to release anger and forgive long-held hurts, how to become more "centered" in a calm place so that they are less likely to be reactive to small irritations and more likely to make clearer decisions, and the realization that "we're all in this together" and want the same basic things in life.

Freedom 101 has so far been a success, so much so that a second program, Freedom 102, was developed in order to allow the graduates of Freedom 101 a chance to pass on the teaching they receive and learn how to train other inmates in a volunteer group leader position.

One specific success story occurred on a family level. Mark and Sara Chinn were arrested a few years back for drug-related charges. Mark was sent to prison and Sara was sent to a halfway house. They both participated in the Freedom 101 program and expressed how much the program helped them. The class got Mark ready for prison and gave him the confidence and drive to pursue an associate's degree while incarcerated. Sara and Mark both got involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous after they were released within a few months of each other.

After being out of jail and drug-free for two years, Sara thought that she "wanted to give back" to the program that helped her so much. She finally has a chance with Freedom 102, where she will participate as a group leader. Mark will be participating as a volunteer group leader, as well.

"Freedom 102: Dealing with Freedom" had its first session last week at the Madison Correctional Facility for Women. The main instructor of the class was Steve Sherwood. Sherwood is a motivational speaker and the author of "Finding Freedom," a book that teaches people how to free themselves from the emotional baggage they carry around and how to choose their direction in life without being shackled by their past. The class is a five-day seminar that involves more intense emotional soul searching that involves facing deep-seeded pain or trauma the inmate may have suffered in their life or childhood.

Bulleit said that Freedom 102 can't be done in a county jail.

"The county jail can't handle the strain," she said. "There are too many security issues and meal breaks."

The program demands intense full-day sessions with little time allowed for meals so that nothing is lost in the breaking down of emotional barriers and the building up of trust between the trainers and the inmates.

As helpful as the classes seem to be in turning around pathological criminals, there won't be any statistics on the success rate any time soon. It's difficult to track the success rate of reducing recidivism at a county level due to lack of resources and manpower.

"County jails are trained in security. Once the inmates leave, it's not their problem," Bulleit said. "No one is tracking them."

Bulleit said Indiana hasn't been tracking any prisoners until recently when it began tracking Department of Correction inmates, but that's only at a state level.

The Freedom 101 and 102 classes are purely for inmates who want to be there. There is no offer of reduced sentencing for taking these classes. In fact, when the question of doing this came up during one of the classes, the inmates refused because they felt it would corrupt the class. The inmates didn't want people to take the class just to get a reduced sentence or time off for good behavior. They wanted people there who really wanted to be there.

To entice inmates to take the classes, a free notebook is given the first day for journal entries. Many come for the free notebook and then become intrigued by the class and decide to stay.

Fundraising is a big concern for H.E.L.P. and, in turn, for Freedom 101 and 102.

"I knew we weren't popular," Bulleit expressed, but confessed it was a real eye-opener when she tried to get sponsors and funds for the Freedom 102 program.

People don't want to donate to help convicts because of the stigma attached to criminals. Bulleit noted that these people are coming back whether the community likes it or not. A small investment now could provide a safer environment for the future.

Currently, H.E.L.P. is in need of volunteers. It needs classroom workers, Web site developers and public relations people. HELP is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

For information on positions available or to send donations, mail H.E.L.P. at P.O. Box 417, Corydon, IN 47122 or call them at 1-502-544-9006.

•In 2006, over 2.2 million people were incarcerated in federal, state or local prisons or jails. An additional 4.9 million were on probation and parole.

•By the start of 2008, more than one in 100 Americans had been incarcerated.

•Nearly 650,000 people are released from federal and state incarceration into communities nationwide each year.

•Nearly two out of three released prisoners are expected to be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years after release.

•Money spent on corrections alone increased from $9 billion in 1982 to 59.6 in 2002.

•Between 1991 and 1999, the number of children with a parent in a federal or state correctional facility grew from approximately 930,000 to approximately 1.5 million.

(Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
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