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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid