Program gives prisoners
tools to face future
Four times a year, Art Schneider and Ron Higginbothom help inmates face their future. During a week of classes, the two extension specialists teach prisoners at the Boonville Correctional Shock Treatment Unit how to prepare for the work world, a place that's not likely to welcome the return of these men with any fanfare.
"If you look at research on inmates, they're very optimistic about finding a job after their release. But the truth is, it's difficult," said Schneider.
These inmates are particularly optimistic. Most are in their mid-20s and are incarcerated for drug or drug-related offenses, not crimes that would mark them as dangers to society. But no matter how desperately these inmates may want to work, most employers would rather hire people without a record.
"We take a very practical approach," said Schneider. "We're realistic about the difficulties but we want them to leave with all the right tools to look for a job."
The course starts by giving inmates a clear goal: to establish a work record. In other words, their first foray into employment might not be their dream job. But if it's a job - any job - and they work hard and remain drug-free, then even the most menial of tasks can be a stepping stone to a more meaningful career.
"This whole idea is also about delayed gratification," said Schneider. "Set a small goal and work toward your bigger goal. It's not easy for a lot of the inmates."
Schneider and Higginbothom also teach the inmates that when looking for a job, everyone has a handicap. The trick is to work around it. At 6'4", Schneider, for example, was too tall to be an Air Force pilot. "Everyone faces limitations. That's the message we send," he said.
Becky Ehlher, the substance abuse unit supervisor at Boonville, said the program gives the inmates encouragement in a realistic way. "This kind of class, and the way it's presented, fits perfectly into the format," she said. Inmates also take classes on a number of topics, including self-esteem, alcohol and substance abuse and anger management.