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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora