Educating Others
TDCJ Prison Program (Old)

The History: In the fall of 2012, the chaplain at Stringfellow Unit, a men's prison in Rosharon, Texas, (30 miles south of Houston) championed a pilot "Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101" prison program that was structured as a book study. Copies of our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, were provided to the first two pilot groups totaling just over 50 men.

Upon completion of the program, the men were given a three page questionnaire. Based on the feedback from the participants, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) asked us, along with the chaplain, to present the program to ALL of their chaplains at their regional meetings. We talked about our unusual journey as our book had been intended as the basis of a sitcom, yet instead of going to Hollywood, it detoured into the world of education, and now prisons. The chaplain shared her insight and perspective on not only how easy the program is to implement and run, but the amazing feedback and results she has seen firsthand, and the potential it has to change lives – not only of the participants, but also their families.

The program is now expanding throughout TDCJ as chaplains, as well as offenders, are requesting the program. (For example, shortly after one pilot program of approximately 30 men began, there was a waiting list of over 300 men.) Unfortunately, although the Chaplaincy Department fully supports the program, they do not have money in their budget to cover its cost, which is only $25 per person. However, there have been some very generous donors who have supported pilot programs at various facilities, and we are hoping that over time additional feedback will help the State see the need to fund the program.

To put it in perspective: there are 109 TDCJ prisons in Texas and approximately 152,000 prisoners. If all of them were to participate in the program, the cost would be $3.8 million, and could not happen in a single year. The total operating budget for TDCJ is approximately $3 BILLION per year, so this program would basically be a rounding error!

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 pilot program participants, as well as the chaplain. The initial plan was to have the raw footage "in the can" in case a documentary was done at a later date. However, after watching 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 those interested in the associated 2-minute trailer, click here.
  • Please note: Although these videos are "unlisted," you can share them with whomever you may think appropriate.

A Powerful Quote: We have "non-scientific" statistics demonstrating the success of the pilot program, plus page-upon-page of quotes related to the impact the program has had on the participants and their families. However, the following is a quote from one of the pilot program participants who was interviewed that we think anyone considering this program should read, but more importantly 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. Personally, my belief in Jesus Christ is one of the ways I've made a real positive change in my life, one that's from the inside, not just the outside. 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.

"Red" versus "Black" Perspectives:

  • RED (the warm & fuzzy stay-at-home mom): "When we first started on our journey into the prison world, my thought was that these men are criminals and our time should be spent on people in the 'free world.' And there was certainly no way I would ever visit a prison. However, after watching the 11+ hours of the raw video footage of the men who voluntarily participated in the pilot program at Stringfellow Unit, they went from being offenders known by their 'numbers' to people, each with their own stories. Men who wanted better – not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. And, as a mom, I saw hope and opportunity to change not only their lives, but their families. Furthermore, after I watched the last interview, I turned to my sister and told her that I was contacting the chaplain in the morning to arrange for us to meet the men. I wanted to tell them in person how much their words affected me and my outlook on offenders."

  • BLACK (the pragmatic retired business executive): "I appreciate that there may be moral and/or social reasons to help those within the criminal justice system, but put that aside for the moment. The cost of Texas state prisons is approximately $60 a day/person. At $25 per person, our book/program costs less than half a day in prison. In terms of recidivism, if you merely delay their return one day, you have over a 100% ROI (Return on Investment). Anything over that is just gravy. So, if our book/program can possibly contribute to the reduction in recidivism, it is a small investment ... with huge upside potential. And, that does not take into consideration the impact it may have on family members because how do you calculate the financial savings in terms of individuals who might have ended up in prison, but now have taken control of their lives instead of having their lives control them?"

TDCJ Chaplaincy Manual: For a copy of the Red & Black section developed for the Chaplaincy Training Manual provided to TDCJ Chaplains during the fall 2017 In-Service meetings, which includes a program overview as well as other documents (many of them linked elsewhere on this webpage), click here.

Want to …

    • What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!: For more information on the book that was intended as the basis of a sitcom, but instead became a Texas State Board of Education approved personal financial literacy textbook and is the basis of the "Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101" prison program, click here.
    • Social Evidence Stories: Read stories from a private Catholic school system, a food bank, and a community literacy organization, each demonstrating how the Red & Black book/program is having an immediate – and far reaching impact – on program participants, by clicking here.
    • Red & Black … Are In Prison?: Would you visit a prison? Are you interested in the welfare of offenders? Red admits that she would have said "No!" to both questions. Read our February 2013 Jewish Herald-Voice column, "Red & Black … Are In Prison?" and find out what changed her mind, and what question Black thinks will ultimately challenge "the system" (click here).
    • Chaplain's "Book Review": To read the book review written by the chaplain which was part of her proposal for the initial pilot program, 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 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 fact, 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 Mr. Michael Deen: 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 Red & Black's approach versus other more traditional financial programs and "lessons" (click here).
    • Note: You will NOT have to develop lesson plans, nor do you need be a personal finance or Life 101 expert! But, be prepared to have fun and make a difference in the lives of others.
    • Letter From Red: Red explains, using examples, how our program is truly as easy as a book club. To access her letter, click here.
    • TDCJ Red & Black Volunteer Form: All potential volunteers need to do to start the process is to complete our form (click here), and we will take it from there.
    • TDCJ Book Request Form: For those TDCJ units wanting to begin a pilot program, please complete the following form: click here. (Red & Black will attempt to secure donations for all pilot programs, but any assistance the units can provide in identifying potential donors would be greatly appreciated.)
    • Follow-Up Questionnaire: Once the pilot program is completed, Red & Black requests that the participants fill out an easy-to-use, three page questionnaire – not only to provide feedback, but also to help show the results of the program to potential underwriters. To access the form, click here.
    • Note: The cost of the program is only $25 per person, which is the discounted price of the book (from $25 to $20) and includes shipping to the TDCJ unit.
    • Purchase Books For TDCJ: To purchase a gift certificate in whatever amount you would like that will then be redeemed for books by the Chaplaincy Department of TDCJ, please click here.
    • Tax Deductible Bulk Purchases: For contributions of at least $500 (20 books), TDCJ will provide donors with a letter of acknowledgement for the full value of their donation which can be used for tax purposes. If you, or your church/company/organization would like to do this, please contact Black at Black@RedandBlackBooks.com.
    • Purchase A Book For Your Own Use: Consider purchasing a book for yourself or as a gift. We will donate $5 of each book purchased toward books for the Chaplaincy Department of TDCJ when you use this link: click here.

For more information on Red & Black, our books and programs, as well as chaplain request forms, survey feedback, "unofficial statistics" and participant quotes, please contact Red (Tina Pennington) at education@RedandBlackBooks.com.