|The Redemption Project: Ripple Effects of Doing Good|
|By Andrew Garber, Washington Department of Corrections|
ABERDEEN – The words coming from Ismael Bucio were surprising, considering he was secured to a chair inside the Stafford Creek Corrections Center Intensive Management Unit.
The highly secure unit, with its thick concrete walls, steel doors and single-bed cells, is where the prison’s most problematic inmates are held.
“I’ve learned something I never realized, but I really hurt my victims,” said Bucio, who’s serving a 38-month sentence for burglary. “The people I robbed and stuff. It’s not okay. My family too, I hurt them because of my drug use.”
Bucio said he’s come to grips with his past through the help of other Stafford Creek inmates, who are part of a program called The Redemption Project.
Inmates involved in The Redemption Project say the goal is to pay back society for their crimes by helping prevent people who are incarcerated from committing new crimes after release. The 21-week program has been around since 2008, but only to inmates in the general prison population.
It’s proved so successful, however, that Stafford Creek administrators this summer decided to see if a more compressed version could help men placed in the intensive management unit (IMU) because of behavioral problems. The hope is the program will turn their lives around, as it has with others incarcerated at the prison.
“We focus on ripple effects,” said Dawn Taylor, a correctional specialist who oversees the program at Stafford Creek. “Your actions, whether good or bad, have a long lasting effect beyond what you’ll ever see. These men are thinking about their positive choices and how many people that will impact. Before making a negative choice, they think about how that will affect them and their family and their community.”
‘Are You Doing Good?’
Bucio, 24, has been attending The Redemption Project classes for the past 11 weeks along with several other inmates housed in the IMU. Some, like him, have only a few months left before they’re released, while others have years, or are serving a life sentence.
During a recent class, Bucio and four other IMU inmates sat in a circle, their arms and legs secured by chains to massive, steel-framed school desks. The men laughed and smiled despite the restraints.
Working from a book, they held group discussions on topics such as what it means to set a good example, both in prison and for their families.
Bucio was eager to share his thoughts.
“Although we’re in prison, the way we act and the way we conduct ourselves, you know, we want to show our kids that although we’re in here, we’re in here because we made a mistake and we’re trying to correct that mistake,” he said.
Bucio said he wants to impress on his son “not to take that freedom for granted like we did. When I talk to my son I ask him, ‘Are you doing good?’”
The classes are led by inmate facilitators who’ve gone through more than a year of intensive classroom participation and training.
This IMU class was led by five facilitators who live in the prison’s general population. Several of them, like Cyril Walrond, are serving long sentences for murder convictions.
Walrond led the IMU discussions, volunteering his own views on sensitive subjects to get others talking.
One of the discussion topics, for example, was insecurities. “One of my insecurities is dying in prison,” he said. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings to us. I can do the best I can to take of my health but at the end of the day we are on the clock.”
His admission led to a lengthy discussion about things that inmates worry about or fear.
Walrond, who’s been incarcerated since he was 19, said his life was transformed by The Redemption Project when he first got involved four years ago.
“I may not be able to bring back my victim. I may not be able to help heal the wounds of my victims, but what I can do is devote my life to preventing somebody else from creating more victims,” said Walrond, who is 28 and not projected to be released until 2038.
“It’s beautiful to see that guys are able to come to class, from all the different things that they’ve experienced in life and lay it down on the table and say ‘these are my hopes, my dreams, my failings and my desires. This is not who I am, but what I hope to do next.’ ”
Changing Prison Culture
In total, more than 4,600 men incarcerated at Stafford Creek have gone through the program since it started.
“The magic is in the peer support; that’s what I’ve seen. Once you have a full classroom where they engage and share things in-depth . . . that’s where you get the camaraderie with people you normally wouldn’t,” said Taylor, the correctional specialist. “You see this guy from a certain gang, but now that person has a commonality with you, and is going to be supporting you.”
Inmates also say The Redemption Project has helped change the prison’s culture.
“I didn’t want to talk to a sex offender when I first got locked up, much less share anything about my personal life. But inside this class, we’re all on equal ground,” said Andrew Lee, who is serving a 43-year sentence for a murder conviction.
“Everybody has a right to share. And now when you’re walking down the boulevard, a guy says ‘hi,’ and you say ‘hi’ to them and then you say ‘hi’ to everybody who’s in the class. That in itself changes the environment. People are happier and having a good time and it’s contagious.”
Walrond agreed. “Redemption opens doors to where you see guys not for what they’ve done in the past, but for who they are now and what they’re trying to do,” he said.
Early indications are that The Redemption Project’s courses in the IMU are prompting the same self-evaluation and changes that it did in the prison’s general population.
“This class should be in every IMU in the state because there are a lot of people like me who’ve been in prison a long time that really want to make a positive change and really don’t know where to go to get it. And you come to this class and you know where it’s at,” said Chad Gardner, an inmate sentenced to 270 months for assault and attempted armed robbery and has been incarcerated since 2002.
Bucio, who is due to be released this October, said The Redemption Project has helped him understand his potential.
“That’s what this class has helped me with a lot. Realizing your self-worth. Sometimes you lose track of that,” he said. “Redemption really helps you understand who you are, who you want to be and where you want to go.”
Andrew Garber has more than 30 years’ experience as a reporter at daily newspapers in South Carolina, Florida, Maine, Idaho and Washington. He spent 14 years at The Seattle Times with most of that time as a statehouse reporter covering the governor's office, the Legislature and state government. He joined the Washington Department of Corrections in March 2015.
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