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HELP adds second-level course to program

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 (HELP) that started at the Harrison County Justice Center in 1995.
HELP began with a mission of reducing recidivism (the act of repeat offending) and providing educational opportunities in the new justice center. It was the group’s feeling that a new facility deserved new ways of rehabilitating convicts so 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, HELP turned out to be a big success, organizers say. They were 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 HELP, the Freedom 101 class was developed 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.
Because of the success of Freedom 101, a second program, Freedom 102, was developed in order to allow the graduates of Freedom 101 a chance to pass on the teaching they received and learn how to train other inmates in a volunteer group leader position.
One 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 felt 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 also will participate as a volunteer group leader.
‘Freedom 102: Dealing with Freedom’ had its first session late last month at the Madison Correctional Facility for Women. The main instructor of the class was Steve Sherwood, 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 confided that, unfortunately, Freedom 102 couldn’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,’ she said.
The program demands intense, full-day sessions with very 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, you won’t be seeing any statistics on the success rate any time soon. It’s hard 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,’ Bulleit said. ‘Once the inmates leave, it’s not their problem. No one is tracking them.’
According to Bulleit, Indiana hasn’t been tracking any prisoners until recently when they began tracking Dept. of Correction prisoners, and 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, Bulleit said.
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 HELP and, in turn, for Freedom 101 and 102.
‘I knew we weren’t popular,’ Bulleit said regrettably, but she confessed it was a real eye-opener when she tried to get sponsors and funds for this Freedom 102 program.
People don’t want to donate to help convicts because of the stigma attached to criminals, she said, noting 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, she said.
Currently, HELP is in need of volunteers. They need classroom workers, Web site developers and public relations people. HELP is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. For information on positions available or to send donations, mail HELP at P.O. Box 417, Corydon, IN 47122 or call them at 1-502-544-9006.