So here’s the thing.
I can be pretty quick to criticize wardens and prison staffers here in Michigan when I think that what they’re doing is wrong.
Then I darn well better be up front with praise when I think something is good. And that’s where I am today.
Several Michigan prisons have undertaken a project called the Juvenile Deterrent Program. It’s a mentoring program, designed to keep troubled teens from winding up in the state prison system.
Among those prisons embarking on this project is the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, right next door in Muskegon.
Here’s how it works. Prisoners are used to mentor juvenile delinquents who are on probation in that hope that they will deter and dissuade them from continuing in this negative behavior pattern. They’re quick to point out to these kids that if they stay on that path, it leads to a room behind bars.
And to her credit, prisoners are telling us that Warden Shirlee Harry has announced that she will now include or permit single mothers who are having difficulty with their teenage sons to be eligible for this program.
The first batch of kids came in this month…they were from Muskegon’s alternative high school. And, if the report to us from a prisoner is any indication, it was a huge success…on both sides of the fence!
Quoting this inmate: “There were 9 teenagers who came up today, ranging in age from 16-18. To me they just seemed so young, small and fragile. It gave me another vantage point of how I must have appeared when I came to prison at the age of 17, only 5’6” and weighing only 135 pounds. This event provided me insight from a different perspective. Mentoring to these wayward youths today was truly a blessing and an honor! It gave me a direct sense of purpose, impact and import. I noticed that as I was striving to help these kids discover their value and self-worth, that my own sense of value was being reinforced. We were able to reach most of them, according to their own accounts.”
He explained that, “one kid has already caught a weapons charge for illegal possession. After the event he thanked us and by his account he was indeed affected by the mentoring he had received and has learned his lesson.”
Word from Brooks is that each month they’ll receive a new batch of kids. As of now, there are ten inmate-mentors, and four of the ten are “juvenile lifers.” The program is still in its fledgling state, but already we’re told that it is in the process of expanding and evolving.
So today, a tip of the HFP hat to Warden Shirlee Harry, every member of her staff who is taking part in this project, and to the inmates who are serving as mentors. And this thanks extends all the way to Lansing, and Director Heidi Washington.
The sooner this exciting program goes to all Michigan prisons, the better!