News / USA

    Prison Tours Scare Teens Straight

    Young people have open discussions with inmates

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Faiza Elmasry

    Inmate David Belton leads the Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy program, which works to prevent young people from turning to a life of crime.
    Inmate David Belton leads the Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy program, which works to prevent young people from turning to a life of crime.

    If you ask young prisoners what got them behind bars, many will point to negative role models and peer pressure.

    To raise awareness among teens and help them steer clear of bad choices, the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown (MCI-H) runs the Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy (PATT) program.

    PATT sponsors an annual essay contest for a $500 scholarship and arranges prison tours for young people.

    Essay winner

    Tomi Dare, a 17-year-old student at Hagerstown Community College in Maryland, came across a contest announcement a few months  ago while browsing through the college website.

    Scholarship winner Tomi Dare speaks to inmates.
    Scholarship winner Tomi Dare speaks to inmates.

    "I said, 'Oh, I want that,'" she recalls. "So I looked into it. All what you do is write an essay. And it was about peer pressure and why you feel you don't do drugs."

    In her essay, Dare focused on her own experience as an African-American girl growing up with an interest in sports, especially basketball.

    "Drugs and alcohol not only slow a person down, it doesn't make you feel you are a winner," she says."It doesn't make you feel you are the best. As an athlete, I'm 6-2 [6 feet, 2 inches tall], so I feel that I should be above peer pressure because I'm bigger than anybody around. So I was talking about that. I was also talking about how I consider myself a queen. And if I am a royalty, I need to not put substances in my body. Drugs and alcohol are not what a queen should be taking."

    Sal Mauriello, a case specialist at MCI-H, was one of the judges on the committee that chose Dare's essay as this year's winning entry.

    "Just reading her essay, you can tell she was speaking from her heart," he says. "We discussed each essay and we chose this one because it seemed like she really meant what she was talking about."

    Prison tours

    PATT began in 1988 and it gives young people a chance to learn valuable life lessons from inmates at the facility. At the end of each prison tour, the teens sit down for an open discussion with some of the inmates. < /p>

    "We have a group of 11 inmates who are in the PATT program," he says."They tell the youth what they went through as a child, what their crimes consist of. They teach them about peer pressure and bad choices."

    Sharing personal accounts like those can save lives, says Mark Vernarelli, MCI-H spokesman.

    "These inmates in the PATT program are just heartwarmingly sincere," he says. "They pour out their heart and soul into these young people."

    What most teens understand after these sessions, he says, is that a small mistake in judgment, one bad decision, can have big consequences.

    "A lot of men and women serving life in prison in the State of Maryland didn't pull a trigger or plunge a knife into anybody," he explains. "They were accessories to a crime. They drove a getaway car. They were with the perpetrator who did the main part of the crime. Yet, they got the life sentence as well. A lot of these young people don't realize there are a lot of people in prison serving life who didn't kill anybody. It's a very eye opening experience to hear these inmates."

    Life lessons

    PATT is one of Maryland's oldest programs designed to keep young people from a life of crime, but it's not the only one.

    "We found that girls really need special sit down sessions sometimes more than boys, so we have a program for girls only," he says. "We have a program that travels across the state. That's called 'Choices,' which is a very graphic program that talks about the dangers of gang affiliation. We have an excellent program called 'Impact' where the inmates actually lead a tour and they have children eat a meal in prison cafeteria with the inmates and do all kinds of activities that are - I don't want to say shocking - but eye opening for the kids."

    Vernarelli believes the inmates who participate in the Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy program also benefit. By keeping young people from following in their footsteps, as well as sponsoring an annual scholarship, he says they can feel proud that they are paying society back for the crimes they committed.

    You May Like

    Can EU Survive a Brexit?

    Across Europe politicians are asking if the British vote to leave the European Union will set in motion dynamics that will see other member states leave too

    Video Entrepreneurs at Global Summit Tackle Range of Challenges

    Innovators strive to halt sexual harassment in India, improve rural health in Myanmar, build businesses in Africa

    Key African Anti-Venom About to Permanently Run Out

    The tale of Fav-Afrique’s demise is a complicated one that reflects a deeper crisis brewing in global public health

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Marketsi
    X
    June 24, 2016 10:43 AM
    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Britain’s Vote to Leave EU Sends Shockwaves Through Global Markets

    Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union is sending shockwaves through global markets. Markets from Tokyo to Europe tumbled Friday under the uncertainty the ballot brings, while regional leaders in Asia took steps to limit the possible fallout. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.
    Video

    Video During Ramadan, Faith and Football Converge in Lebanon’s Megadome

    In Beirut, a group of young entrepreneurs has combined its Muslim faith and love of football to create the city's newest landmark: a large, Ramadan-ready dome primed for one of the biggest football (soccer) tournaments in the world. But as the faithful embrace the communal spirit of Islam’s holy month, it is not just those breaking their fasts that are welcome.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora