Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prison Mentors

Lifers mentoring new prisoners is a terrific idea, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune; but it is only terrific if the lifers involved have become truly reformed while in prison, otherwise it’s a deeper immersion into the criminal/carceral world.

An excerpt.

"Walking back to his dormitory at the Angola prison from the auto shop every day, Christopher Fauria passes grizzled men in wheelchairs who have grown old at Angola and almost certainly will die there.

"Fauria, 34, is determined not to become one of them. He is an inmate too, but a short-termer, sentenced to a new program called Re-entry Court that uses lifers to teach young convicts everything from welding to anger management to being a better father, in hopes that this will be their last time behind bars.

"Having these skills, witnessing what goes on here, I don't want to be in this situation no more," said Fauria, who has several previous drug convictions and pleaded guilty to a burglary charge last October. "I have nine kids. I can't afford to come back here."

"Re-entry Court was spearheaded by two Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges, Arthur Hunter and Laurie White, who were tired of handing down prison sentences to offenders who would emerge no better than when they went in, unable to find a job upon release and likely to commit more crimes.

"Since last summer, Hunter and White have ordered about 40 nonviolent offenders with relatively short sentences to serve their time at Angola state penitentiary under the tutelage of inmate mentors. Those without high school degrees earn their GEDs.
All get certified in a trade and spend evenings in "life skills" classes while constantly being prodded by the older inmates to pull up their pants, stop cursing and respect others.

"Every instructor in the program, from the auto shop supervisor to the man in charge of the substance abuse class, is a long-term inmate who will live the rest of his life at Angola, barring a reprieve from the usually stingy parole or pardon boards.
The trump card in their teaching arsenal: "Don't end up like me."

"It is too soon to say whether most participants will stay out of trouble once back in New Orleans. But both mentors and mentees say the program has been life-changing. Mentors have a rare chance to exert a positive influence on the outside world."