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Educating Others
Powerful Voices

In the fall of 2012, copies of our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, were provided to two pilot groups at Stringfellow Unit (in Rosharon, Texas), totaling just over 50 men, who voluntarily took the program. Upon completion of the program, the men were given a three page questionnaire, which included both qualitative and quantitative questions. (To see the original questionnaire, click here). The feedback was overwhelming positive and supported continuing the program, and expanding it to other units within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

A Powerful Video

Based on the strength of those initial questionnaires, TDCJ allowed a film crew to spend three days inside Stringfellow Unit to interview the program participants, as well as the chaplain who championed the program. Black's initial plan was to have the raw footage "in the can" in case a documentary was done at a later date. However, after watching the 11+ hours of raw footage, we decided that the voices of these men were so powerful, and relayed such important messages, that they needed to be heard. Now.

  • Red & Black: The Stringfellow Story: To watch this powerful 15-minute video, click here.
  • Red & Black: If I Had Known: For the fast-paced 2-minute trailer, click here.

A Powerful Quote (Male)

The initial questionnaires not only provided "non-scientific" statistics demonstrating the success of the pilot program, but combined with the interviews, have given us page-upon-page of quotes related to the impact the program has had on the participants and their families. It is almost impossible to select the most meaningful quotes, but we believe the following one is relevant for anyone considering a Red & Black prison program, but also anyone questioning why we are involved with the prison system:

"I believe that a lot of people in prison have actually made a positive change, a real change, from the inside not just an outwards change, and unfortunately society has pretty much closed the door on a lot of us. We have a lot to contribute, in terms of our experience. And I think there's a wealth of information that can be gleamed from someone who's lived a dysfunctional life and has found ways to turn things around. … I do believe that through our experience other people can learn not to make the same mistakes. And I applaud you for being here. And I thank you for that. And for giving me the opportunity to be able to reach out when that avenue might have been closed previously." – Arturo R.

A Powerful Quote (Female)

In July 2014, TDCJ requested 100 books in order to start the Red & Black program at Plane State Jail, a women's facility in Dayton, Texas, as part of their prostitution and human trafficking initiative. Even before the program was started, demand for the program exceeded the initial book supply and an additional 50 books were requested. Chaplain Watkins, who championed the pilot program at Stringfellow Unit, agreed to lead the pilot book study program at Plane State Unit.

Black (the pragmatic non-emotional one) will admit being caught off-guard by the responses from the women and the impact on their self-esteem. And there is one quote that haunts her, and is in response to the question, "What, if anything, did you learn that you plan to share with your family and/or friends?"

"That I am of value." – Christine D.

A Powerful Collection of Feedback

We continue to have program participants (which now include employees and parole clients) complete the three page questionnaire. As such, we have an assortment of documents, including summary statistics and quotes, that are available upon request.

Meanwhile, we think you may find the following of interest:

  • Chaplain's "Book Review": An important component of the initial request seeking permission to pilot a Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101 program within TDCJ was Chaplain Watkin's book review (click here). Please note that the review is her own personal opinion and does not represent TDCJ.
     
  • Chaplain's Initial Reaction: A chaplain at a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF) was not sure about where to start and how much he needed to do in advance. He had heard that our program was as easy as a book study, but he still was somewhat hesitant. However, that all changed once he started the program and, in order to share his experience with others, he wrote a memo to capture his thoughts not only on the ease in which he was able to implement the program, but the impact it made even after just a few classes (click here).
     
  • Letter From "Inside": Mr. Deen's background is financial in nature, so his perspective after taking the program at TDCJ's Ramsey Unit is particularly interesting as it talks about our approach versus other more traditional financial programs and "lessons" (click here).

The Program's Impact

  • Key Messages: Although the Red & Black program addresses many personal finance topics, the feedback from the men and women indicates that one of the most impactful lessons being learned is the realization that we all have the power to take control of our lives – rather than having our lives control us. Many program participants are questioning why these lessons were not taught in schools, and many indicated it would likely have changed the trajectory of their lives. They are also asking where people in the free world can take this program.
     
  • Family Impact & Ripple Effect: One of the most amazing aspects of this program is that the men and women are sharing the stories and "lessons" in the book with their families on the outside, so the "reach" of the Red & Black program goes beyond the participants. And while you do not want to get Black on her soap-box of "you should not have to go to prison to learn these lessons," the fact still remains that participants in the program are trying to change the trajectory of their family members on the outside.
     
  • Employees Requesting Program: Feedback from chaplains in various units indicates that employees are questioning why a similar "Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101 Program" is not offered to employees. In addition, we have also heard back that several officers who were in the back of the room while the "class" (book study) was underway asked for copies of the book. Based on written feedback from the first Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) employee program, 90 percent of the participants felt the program should be offered to all TDCJ employees, and 80 percent thought employees should be allowed to invite family members to participate.