An old hand in a new role.

Author:Rensberger, Anne M.
Position:A View From the Line - Volunteering for prisoner education

After 28 years in corrections, in jobs from social worker to deputy superintendent, I retired to take up other kinds of work and other challenges--among them, playing in a band. One day, a fellow clarinetist, who is also a school psychologist, asked if I would be interested in teaching clarinet at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Va. She had seen a call for volunteers and, knowing my background, thought it would be fun. I immediately thought it was a bad idea. First, where would we get the clarinets? Second, where would they practice? The squawks and squeaks of a beginner clarinetist would drive other inmates and staff mad. And third, yank off some of those long, silver clarinet keys and you have yourself a nice little shank. But 1 said 1 would run a group; of all my roles in my old career, that was among my favorites. She suggested we contact the jail and see what they needed.

The jail staff told us one of the inmates on Unit 4CF had written a letter asking for more programming on the unit; specifically, a life-skills class. My colleague and I did some research and came up with a series of skills we thought would be valuable; then, we devised an eight-week curriculum. We recruited students by putting a flyer on the unit bulletin board listing the class' topics and that it leads to a certificate.

The class was popular from the start and attracted inmates to the point there was a waiting list. From inmates with master's degrees to eighth-grade dropouts, from verbal to quiet, from local street criminals to those with sophisticated federal charges and from men who lived near the jail to those from the Middle East and Central America--we had a great mixture of participants. Another decision we made was to utilize the expertise, interests and needs of the members. We provided handouts on how to make a presentation, providing both a didactic model as well as a group discussion-driven model, and invited any member who wanted to work on their presentation skills to lead a group. Members periodically gave presentations on topics ranging from "Understanding ISIS" to "Conflict Resolution." Our initial plan was to start a new class every eight weeks, but many of our class members didn't want to leave. So, we always have a mixture of old and new. Finding new topics proved to be easy, as each session brought members with different interests. We also asked the repeaters to do presentations and lead the group discussions on...

To continue reading