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Two incarcerated men in Florida debate the merits of requiring rehabilitative programs.
Illustration by Yakobchuk on Depositphotos

This article was first published by Endeavor, a newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami in its June/July 2022 issue. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

Point, by Freddie Vontress

Upon arriving at Everglades, I wondered what to expect from an incentivized program. Do I have to take programs, or do I get to relax in a stress-free environment and do my time uninterrupted as advertised? What is required of me? It was once rumored that in order to stay at this institution you would have to be in a program. That ruffled a few of the residents’ tail feathers. I heard before coming: “I shouldn’t have to take any programs if I don’t want to.”

So the question is: Should residents be required to take programs?

That choice is up to the individual if they so choose to enroll in a program. However, it would be beneficial to anyone seeking to change old habits, which is why it should be required before returning to the community. It helps address the criminal thinking that we still possess. Programs like DIRECT, which targets the criminal-minded individual, digs deeper in the mind to get a better understanding of how crimes affect us, our families and the community. Other great programs such as GEO offer a wide range of classes that also focus on criminal thinking patterns.

If you ask any current or former participant in the Corrections Transition Program, they would tell you that taking programs is like earning money. The programs are a chance to get closer to going home and a chance to be a productive citizen who doesn’t return to prison. Is it so bad that a person shouldn’t take a program? There are people in those classes willing to help if you can’t read or write. Don’t let anything get in your way of self-betterment. Learn to overcome the negative in your life to achieve a positive outlook and be a better person free of criminal activity.

Some of the older generation of men in prison will tell you, “I’m too old to even think about committing crimes, I just want to live life and enjoy it.” Others say they’re simply tired of doing the same old things and getting the same results that land them back in prison. Today you see different age groups involved in programs, working to change their mindsets and live a relaxed and joyful life. No one wants to live here in prison; maybe a small fraction of individuals do. But for the most part, freedom sounds better.

There are so many people who think we will fail upon our return to society, and eventually some will return. But you can choose to participate in a program and prove to yourself, your family, your friends and your community that change is possible. You will agree that programs here at this incentivized prison should be mandatory … at least one. There are men who truly believe that they don’t need to change, but everyone around them should change. That’s just crazy thinking. No wonder they’re back in prison, with a mindset like that — recidivism will continue to climb.

Why get upset with the system? Yes, we know it’s broken, but you can do something about it by facing the person you see in the mirror. Be the change your loved ones hope you can be. Take a chance and try a class or two. It doesn’t hurt and it will do you some good if you take it seriously and really utilize what each program has to offer.

You want to change the world? Look in the mirror and start there. Get involved with a program today.

Counterpoint, by Phil Beverly

There’s an old adage that says you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it … take programs, or something like that anyway.

Which begs these questions: First, is an incentivized facility a program facility? Are the two synonymous? Second, should residents at an “incentivized” facility be required to enroll in some kind of program? The obvious, resounding, and unequivocal response is, of course, no!

Merely because ECI offers a plethora of programs does not, in and of itself, equate to being a “program” facility. The incentivized concept is not inherently a program concept. What is inherent in the concept, however, is a complete rethink of the traditional prison model, supposedly providing a low-stress environment featuring a collaborative, cooperative effort between staff and residents. Purportedly, this allows residents greater freedom and flexibility in their pursuits. Further differentiation is the behavioral prerequisite of an “incentivized” facility. A “program” facility is entirely lacking in these provisions.

The founders of this nation recognized that our creator endowed us with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although our liberty is currently curtailed, that should not impinge the freedom to exercise the inalienable rights of life and the pursuit of happiness, in whichever way we individually choose to define it, and to whatever extent, given the somewhat limited scope and framework of the incentivized concept.

I won’t argue that programs are not beneficial, because they undoubtedly are. At Blackwater Correctional Facility, for example, the residential electrician program thoroughly prepares participants to earn their journeyman license, enabling them to immediately start successful careers post incarceration. Here at ECI, the GED and Miami Dade College programs furnish necessary educational opportunities, equipping students to meet the challenging employment landscape following their release.

For those who need or want a more structured environment in which to perform the vital internal work of self-improvement, ECI offers a medley of in-dorm, residential communities with varying curricula to aid in achieving that end. I am committed to the Exchange for Change writing courses, largely taught by professors from Florida International University and University of Miami, and credit their instruction for developing and honing my skills as a writer.

People come to ECI from all over the state of Florida for a diverse assortment of reasons: to be close to family and friends, to escape the violence and bloodshed of other institutions, to relax, to work out, and so on. Whatever that reason may be, every resident holds the intrinsic right to self-determine their individual exercise of life and their pursuit of happiness.

It’s one thing to suggest or encourage program participation, but it would be a horse of another color to mandate it. During this temporary reduction of our liberty, when much of our lives is so strictly regimented, and so little decision-making is available to us, should we not be able to exert such miniscule control as remains? To wield one’s prerogative is elemental. To eliminate it would be criminal.

Furthermore, anyone forced to do anything will poorly execute the assigned task. Resentment and bitterness are the natural, progressive result. They forge an unhealthy emotional condition. A mandate benefits neither staff nor residents.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Freddie Vontress is a writer for Endeavor, a prison newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami.

Phil Beverly is a writer for Endeavor, a prison newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami.