How Prisons Can Become Places Where People Change for the Better
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) recently locked down the state's prisons for several weeks. When a prison is on "lockdown," prisoners are confined to their cells. That makes for a difficult situation for prisoners and officials alike and can put the entire prison community on edge.
During the period of the Oklahoma lockdown, a group of men at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC) stepped up to the plate to help their community in an unexpected way. These men are participants in the Prison Fellowship Academy®, an intensive program for prisoners that aims to transform corrections culture one life at a time. Academy participants live with one another in community. They share the goal of learning positive behaviors and thought patterns.
Because of the lockdown, cooking and cleaning duties in the prison chow hall (dining room)—usually handled by 100 prisoners as part of an employment program—fell to already-busy staff of LARC. On top of their normal duties, they were responsible for feeding more than 1,400 prisoners.
The facility's warden asked Academy Manager Aaron Cosar, a Prison Fellowship® staff member, if Aaron could do anything to help. It was important that the warden lighten the staff's workload and ease the tension during the lockdown. Aaron told him that the Academy was available to help in any way possible.
The next day, the warden called Aaron and asked him to choose a few men to deep clean the chow hall. The men were allowed to help under DOC supervision, sometimes working right alongside the deputy warden.
A CHANCE TO SHINE
The Academy operates on a foundation of six core values: productivity, integrity, responsibility, community, affirmation, and restoration. These values set the tone for how participants relate to one another and to their broader community inside prison.
In the Academy, community isn't just something you live in—it's a way of life. Participants, program staff, and volunteers check in on one another and build one another up. They see themselves as a transformative part of the larger community they inhabit on the inside. The warden's request allowed the Academy members to put this value into practice.
"We selected 11 men from the Academy to help as part of our core value, 'community,'" Aaron says.
The men worked tirelessly for two days to help clean the chow hall. "One day, the chief of security came through to see the progress and was amazed. [He] brought other staff in to show them that this is how the chow hall is supposed to look," says Aaron. The prison staff had high praise for the prisoners' work. The deputy warden asked them to help sanitize the kitchen, too.
"I could not have been [prouder] of how these men conducted themselves in serving the DOC staff and how respectful they were during these tense moments within our state," Aaron says. Subsequently, the work the men did helped build bridges of understanding between prison staff and prisoners. It also helped lighten the load of feeding the men inside the facility.
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