White cinder brick walls. Cement floors. Metal tables and chairs bolted to the floor. Blue jumpsuits prevail behind locked doors that do not open for the residents.
But 15 inmates at the Coconino County Jail now have a program to help them through their stay and keep them from coming back. The program, started in February, is the Northern Arizona Education and Re-entry Program.
It’s mission: “To help inmates improve their chances for staying of jail/prison by changing their thinking about their lives, thus changing their behavior and reducing recidivism.”
Glendon George, 37, is in the program. He’s in jail on charges related to alcohol abuse. He says he can’t really read, can’t really spell, and he never really read a book in his life. He has a copy of a Sherman Alexie book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
“I need to do something else with my life other than being in jail all the time,” he says, adding that he is excited about his prospects after release.
To that end, he has taken classes in life skills, literacy and parenting. He has received his food handler’s permit and just enrolled in Coconino Community College.
“I hope to get a job, learn from my mistakes, go to school, change my life,” George says.
THINKING FOR CHANGE
Ralph Sedillo, a substance abuse technician and jail educator, decides which inmates to accept into the program. The criteria for selection are those inmates with the greatest need in terms of numbers of arrests, their risk of rearrest when they leave and the responsivity to accept the concept of “thinking for a change.”
Sedillo adds that the inmates in the jail dorm stay in the dorm during the four-week program. Fifteen inmates are enrolled at a time, potentially reaching 150 inmates a year.
“It’s really to reduce recidivism,” Sedillo says, “And unless they change what they’re doing, they’re going to keep coming back -- just like the definition of insanity is wanting or expecting a different result from the same actions.”
The participants upon release can attend CCC for further education, and there is scholarship money available to them, Sedillo says. Additionally, certain employers in Flagstaff are willing to take a chance and hire inmates who have gone through the program.
Classes are from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Age does not matter, Sedillo says.
A sign on the jail dorm wall says: “You change for two reasons: Either you learn enough that you want to, or you’ve been hurt enough that you have to.”
Volunteers from the Literacy Center in Flagstaff come in as part of the program, said Carynn Davis, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Coconino County. The volunteers are part of a grant-funded partnership with CCC to help improve literacy skills of inmates.
When inmates were interviewed and asked for feedback, vocabulary building was the most requested item among the inmates, Davis says. They also are interested in grammar, sentence structure and ability to communicate with potential employers once they get the skills necessary to fill out an application.
On this day, volunteers are exploring vocabulary. Words litter a white board hanging on the wall of the dorm. Words like “unkempt, homely, attractive, excellent, and anti-”
Participants call out words: “Antidote, antichrist, antiviral, antithesis.”
The volunteer leading the class wants to know the meaning of the word “antithesis.” He gives a sentence of “This place is the antithesis of Disneyland.”
The participants laugh, and someone shouts, “opposite?”
Without a doubt.
NOT COUNTING BRICKS
Emery Kado Begay, 38, is in jail for probation violations. In halting cursive, he has written out why the program is important to him. He reads: “These sessions provide skills to repeat offenders and help them realize the behaviors that keep bringing them back to jail.”
He was thankful to the Literacy Volunteers who give of their time.
“They’re going above and beyond to help individuals improve themselves,” Begay says.
In addition, he is learning how to interact with others and how his interactions affect his everyday life.
“It’s really helped with self-esteem,” he says. “There’s a sense of belief, of change.”
He adds, “We’re not just in here counting the bricks.”
Marcelino Angeles, 26, is in on a probation violation for a felony offense.
“At first, I thought it would help me pass time,” Angeles says.
But he received his certificate of completion today.
“It helped me to realize it’s up to us if we want to make it in life ... Nobody else can do it for you.”
He has taken anger management and parenting classes. He also received a food handler’s license. His biggest fear is of leaving the jail and putting his new skills to use.
Begay says he appreciates learning about the seven habits of highly effective people.
“It shows there are people out there who really care, who want to make a change,” he adds.
For more information about the Literacy Center, visit www.thinkliteracy.org.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or email@example.com.
If you go
What: The Learning Center’s 17th Annual Mountain Spelling Bee
Fifteen teams will compete
When: Thursday, May 2, 5:30 - 10 p.m.
Where: High Country Conference Center on the NAU campus
Cost: $50 for dinner for guests not in the competition. There will be a chance to participate in games, bid on silent auction items and cheer on the teams.
Info: www.thinkliteracy.org, or call 556-0313.