A taste for tolerance fuels prison culture.
MCI is fortunate to have a closed circuit television station, the Prison News Network (PNN). Since inmates live in 20 different dormitories and cellblocks, PNN has been used to relay information to inmates as well as to present programming. Under the supervision of Tim Brant, MCI's ACA coordinator, PNN programming has dramatically expanded during the past three years. Inmates host shows including "Sports Talk," "Art Show," "Parenting," "Body Shop" and "FOCUS" (Facing Our Circumstances under Stress).
PNN's Cultural Awareness Program highlights a different country each month. The country's government, religion, food, languages and art are all presented in a talk show format. PNN covers all major prison events including the Multicultural Fair. The show "Noticias Latinos," a Hispanic news program, is presented by Hispanic inmates and is broadcast in Spanish.
The newest PNN show is "VOICES," (Visions of Interest Connecting Everyday Subjects). VOICES uses inmate correspondents as well as those from the community. Inside correspondents have interviewed authors such as Carl Upchurch (Convicted in the Womb) and the Rev. Vaughan Booker (From Prison to Pulpit). A homeless advocate, city officials and business leaders also have granted interviews. Outside correspondents from California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, London and Sydney, Australia, are taping individuals and events of interest in their communities and sending the videos to PNN. The concept of reaching out to constantly learn about other lives and cultures helps break down barriers.
The GOALS (Gaining Opportunity and Living Skills) Program is a positive self-esteem program that gives inmates the opportunity to learn skills and the tools to build their self-esteem. This self-esteem development and motivational program is designed to help inmates acknowledge their pasts, practice positive self-talk, affirm their strengths, plan their futures and respond to feedback. Each of these tools allows them to incorporate more tolerance and mutual respect for others into their daily lives.
Colleen Fiant, a business administrator at the institution, serves as staff advisor for this program. "One way inmates incorporate mutual respect for others is through cofacilitating inmate groups with staff. This cofacilitation experience allows them to demonstrate their new self-esteem skills. They feel as though they are giving to their peers and 'making a difference' in their lives," says Fiant. "The facilitators teach inmates how to feel confident and more positive about who they are, as well as to experience tolerance when dealing with peers from various diverse cultures." GOALS' philosophy is that once individuals have built their self-esteem to the point where they feel positive and good about who they are, they can respect others and exhibit this daily through their actions.
One inmate says, "One wonderful gift that came my way through completion of the GOALS program has been the opportunity to facilitate groups. I have a dream of one day being a successful motivational speaker. Today, through the GOALS program, I am beginning to realize my dream."
Another GOALS participant says, "I discovered the keys to unlocking doors in my life that needed opening."
But perhaps the most powerful statement came from an inmate of 30 years: "If I could see the judge today who sentenced me in 1969, I would look him straight in the eye and proudly say, 'Sir, you once called me a moral cripple, and you were absolutely right. But today, sir, I can proudly tell you that I am no longer a moral cripple, I am a man seeking and seeing a positive morality and future, thanks to the GOALS program.'"
Music in the Air
Inspector of Institution Services Steven Brinkley has introduced a new program this spring at MCI called Music in the Air. Recognizing that exceptional talent exists in our prison community, Brinkley oversees a program that highlights the diverse musical talent of MCI inmates. A series of Friday evening concerts are being held, each featuring three types of music. Bands that perform include country, R & B, jazz, rap, hip hop and gospel. Performances are open to the population and are recorded and replayed on PNN. A second shift correctional officer recently brought his band into the institution and it performed with the MCI house band.
As corrections professionals, we know how important it is for inmates to practice their faith. Religious services are provided to inmates through chaplains, contractors and volunteers. One particularly powerful program is Kairos Prison Ministry, an international prison ministry that provides approximately 50 volunteers to conduct three-day spiritual renewal retreat weekends. Forty-two inmate participants sit at tables with "families" that include inmates and volunteers. Clergy and lay volunteers present a series of talks relating to their personal Christian faith experiences.
Kairos encourages inmates to meet weekly with their prayer-and-share groups and volunteers return each month for reunions. Every six months, a new retreat weekend is held and the inside community continues to grow. The fifth retreat was held recently. During the past few years, I have seen changes in individuals that I would never have dreamed possible; mutual respect, forgiveness, understanding, tolerance and love have emerged from this program.
When it appeared that separate cultural recognition was becoming divisive and competitive rather than inclusive, the MCI management team decided to designate February and March to celebrate the wide variety of inmate heritages. Special presentations, speakers and musicians honoring different ethnicities are featured. Films depicting different cultures are aired on PNN. Each Sunday, ethnic dinners including Greek, Mexican, Italian, Native American, Asian and African-American meals are served. This two-month event concludes with a three-day Multicultural Fair held in the gymnasium. Inmates construct exhibit booths and educate other inmates about their heritages.
Leading by Example
Staff members who also represent diverse cultures take the opportunity to model respect and acceptance of differences. Inmates carefully observe employees and watch how staff interact with one another and with inmates. When inmates see individuals of different races and cultures working together, it provides them with real-life examples of successful diversity in action.
Christine Money is warden of Ohio's Marion Correctional Institution.
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|Title Annotation:||Ohio's Marion Correctional Institution|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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