Pell Grants Available to Prisoners?

safb_classroomWhile I don’t agree with a lot of what President Obama has done, his latest move to conduct a pilot project to test the possibility of giving Pell Grants to some inmates is a move in the right direction. Check out this article here for more information. For too long, our country has taken the position that warehousing prisoners rather rehabilitating them is the preferred approach. As someone who has seen the effects of this policy firsthand, I can honestly say it is a miserable failure. While there are some risks that come with offering grants and the like (some inmates seek to become better criminals, not better people), I do believe there are enough people in prison who truly want to become productive members of society to justify giving it a try.

I was actually able to take a college-level entrepreneurship certification course through Kent State University when I was at FCI Elkton. I was in the class with about 10 men and I have to say it was a worthwhile course that provided valuable information and education. We walked away with college credit. For some it was the first time they took classes since high school, where most didn’t even graduate.

I hope this pilot is just the first step in a shift toward training and rehabilitation and away from warehousing. Please encourage your congressional representatives to support these types of initiatives.

Federal inmates train service dogs

prison5I’ve written quite a bit about the importance of training and educational programs for inmates in helping prepare them for release. This program is a good example of helping inmates learn a skill that is transferable to the real world. As you prepare to enter prison, and once there, I highly recommend making a list of specific skills, training and education you want to gain while doing time. being intentional about it is critical in building a sense of dedication, direction and accomplishment.

When I entered prison I knew I wanted to work on body, mind and spirit. This meant spending time studying both spiritually and mentally and taking time to eat healthy and work out. I took classes around entrepreneurship and also taught classes about marketing and public speaking.

Do you know you are going to prison? If so, you can really choose to take two paths. You can crawl up and wait to be taken into custody, or you can get busy preparing yourself for the day you enter prison. The more prepared you are now, the better you will do once you get there. We are here to help you.

God bless,


NY Times – Let Prisoners Take College Courses

safb_classroomThis is a nice op-ed piece from a prisoner in Attica who is advocating offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) to inmates through the television system in institutions. It makes perfect sense to me. Sadly, because of our society’s (faulty) mindset that results in warehousing of prisoners rather than offering opportunities to improve themselves and increase their chance of success, we are stuck in a revolving-door cycle of recidivism. I saw it firsthand. While not every inmate will take advantage of these services, those who do will more likely become productive members of society rather than just another statistic.

If you do end up in prison, there are a few opportunities to take classes, learn a trade, and improve your body, mind and spirit. Take advantage of them. Don’t waste the years sitting on your bunk, watching the Real Housewives and learning how to be a better criminal. It is incumbent on us to prove the money invested in these programs delivers results or we will lose them.

Something Fishy – Whole Foods Gets Fish, Inmates Get Training

downloadI ran across this piece (article) about Whole Foods buying tilapia from a prison fish farm. The article slams the practice because the farm uses inmate labor who receive $1.50 and hour and have very few “rights”. First, $1.50 an hour in prison is pretty good. During my five years in Federal prison the MOST I received was around 25 cents an hour. There were guys making up to $1.50 an hour working in Unicor or the commissary, but that is the exception.

Second, I think the author of the article is being short-sighted as the inmates are receiving valuable training in a skill they may actually be able to use once they are released. I saw this every day with guys working in the print shop, landscaping and other skill jobs in prison. They may not be getting rich, but they were earning some money for the commissary or to send home and they were also learning a trade to help them succeed on the outside.

So I applaud Whole Foods for supporting the training of these inmates and I encourage the author to step back and consider the full picture before judging. Most inmates enter prison with very little education and few honest skills. Anything that helps them gain valuable training offers them a better chance and a reduced risk of recidivism.

Becoming an Entrepreneur in Prison

safb_classroomWhen I entered prison I sought to allow God to improve me in body, mind and spirit. One way I took advantage of prison to improve my mind was to participate in an entrepreneurship certificate program offered through Kent State University at FCI Elkton. We earned more than 20 hours of college-level credit and a certificate in entrepreneurship from Kent State. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. For some guys it was their first opportunity to attend college-level classes and earn college credit. We definitely need more of these programs available to inmates at all levels of incarceration. I taught a small-business marketing class to inmates and found that many of them had some great ideas and were willing to put in the effort to build a business. They just needed encouragement and a helping hand to get started.

Another such program is being offered by a Texas prison (click here to see more about it). This course teaching everything from character building to how to write a business plan. It is helping one inmate start the process to build a mobile youth counseling business.

As you enter prison, you will have a choice to use the time to improve as a person or to become a better criminal. I hope you will choose the former and seek out opportunities to deepen your knowledge and faith.



Nebraska Prisoners Get Chance to Gain Skills, Career

Community Corrections Center inmate Angelo Douglas of Omaha shows off his bathroom tile work in the Prairie Gold Homes home-building project on Dec. 10, 2014, at 1739 N. 28th St. in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Community Corrections Center inmate Angelo Douglas of Omaha shows off his bathroom tile work in the Prairie Gold Homes home-building project on Dec. 10, 2014, at 1739 N. 28th St. in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Great non-profit program in Nebraska that allows prisoners to gain a skill and earn certifications in the building trades (click here for story). This is the kind of activity that can help redeem prison time for the good. Before you go in it will be helpful to identify a few areas of interest and skill on which you can focus and work during your sentence.

From Inmate to Personal Trainer

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him. Coss Athletics

Coss Marte training in the studio. He now has about 400 clients, holds 14 classes a week and has two trainers working under him.
Coss Athletics

Another great story, this one from NPR, of a former inmate, Cross Marte, who used his time in prison to not only improve his health, but also his professional opportunities (click here for full article). I know many guys in prison who used their time to earn a personal trainer certification and learn about how to start a training business. It is probably one of the more accessible programs and relatively inexpensive. I think you only pay for the test, which amounts to about $25. FCI Elkton also offered a certification in entrepreneurship from Kent State University. I participated in that program and learned a great deal about starting and managing businesses. I also taugh public speaking and small-business marketing to the inmates through the Adult Continuing Education program. It was great to see these men work toward a goal and to play a small role in helping them improve their chances for success on the outside. I strongly recommend participating in these programs during your prison time.