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Missouri duo shows youths what prison is all about.

Sgt. Marion Mitchell and Officer J.R. Renick work together to give local students a taste of what life is like at the maximum security Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri. On their own time, the officers deliver hard-core facts to students from fifth grade to junior high school through a two-part program.

In the first part, the officers visit schools and make presentations that debunk the romantic images of prison life sometimes created by movies and television. The officers cover topics such as AIDS and homosexuality in prison and discuss how predatory inmates victimize weaker inmates. The program includes a display of homemade weapons confiscated from inmates and a video of life inside the prison.

In the second part, the students tour the prison facility and meet two inmates who volunteer to discuss their lives in prison. Mitchell and Renick also conduct separate tours for teachers and school administrators to introduce them to the program.

Mitchell, an 11-year veteran and supervising officer, began the program about five years ago. Renick joined him two years ago after the two encountered a beaten teenager while driving through Jefferson City. The experience prompted Renick to offer to help Mitchell make the presentations.

The program encourages youths to avoid getting into trouble. The officers stress education and taking responsibility for one's actions. "We tell them to reach for the sky and take what's in between," Mitchell said. "We tell them that nobody can take a good education from you."

Mitchell and Renick also stress the loss of freedom in prison. "They start paying real close attention when I ask them: |How would you like to stay in your room for 22 hours a day for three months with just a toilet, a face bowl and a bunk?' That starts to sink in," Mitchell said.

Renick believes that the program is doing more than just reaching students. "Nobody knew anything about corrections officers before this," he said. "Now, both students and their parents are learning a little about what it's like to be an officer."

The program has generated positive publicity for corrections. Last March, the officers were the subject of a lengthy article in the Jefferson City News Tribune.

Recently, they were invited to speak at a juvenile center. Renick said they asked about one thing before going. "We told them we don't want just the kids--we want the parents with the kids."

Renick sees only one drawback in the program. "If we only had the time to go out and talk to every kid in Missouri--that would be ideal," he said.
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Title Annotation:correctional officers educate children, parents and teachers
Author:Spertzel, Jody K.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Thanks from a former offender brightens officer's outlook.
Next Article:Experts engage in the 'great debate.' (American Correctional Association's 123rd Congress of Correction)

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