A group of 12 men, most of whom wore the plain khaki-colored uniforms of prison life, sat in molded-plastic chairs arrayed in a ring around an instructor, listening intently as the teacher discussed the topics of moral philosophy, such as values, the meaning of life, and conflict resolution.
The February 24 session at Garner Correctional Institution provided an overview of what the men had studied during a three-month course. It also included the issuance of certificates of completion for their having taken the course.
Volunteer instructor Mark R. Baus, who taught the program known as “People Empowering People” (PEP), said that the 12-member class was comprised of a “superior” group of inmates.
The inmates who took the once-weekly classes ranged in age from their mid-20s to their 50s. A typical participant was in his mid-30s.
Dr Baus, a veterinarian who practices equine medicine in Bridgewater, has taught the PEP course at Garner six times.
Garner CI, at 50 Nunnawauk Road, is a high-security prison which held 520 male inmates on February 24. The facility, which opened in 1992, specializes in housing and treating inmates with chronic mental health issues.
Dr Baus explained that the course taught at Garner is adapted from a program offered by the University of Connecticut’s Extension Department.
“Empowerment” as described in the course is a process through which people take responsibility for themselves, set goals for their lives, work to achieve goals, and seek to reach their full personal potential.
The PEP program is designed to build on the life experiences of participants and emphasizes the connection between individual and community action, according to UConn. The course’s subject matter includes values, communications skills, problem solving, parenting, leadership, and planning.
Participation in the PEP program is designed to improve personal strengths, parent/family relationships, and community engagement, according to UConn.
Dr Baus led the 12 inmates in a detailed review of what they had studied during the past three months.
Initial discussion included the review of some poetic verse and its interpretation.
The group also discussed personal values and considered the origin of values. Group members reviewed the social roles and importance of families, food, religion, rituals, and family gatherings.
In his talk to the inmates, Dr Baus discussed the psychological interpretations of human motivation advanced by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Viktor Frankl, who sought to explain human actions through the desire for pleasure, power, and meaning, respectively.
Dr Baus also discussed the meaning of life in terms of work, love, and suffering.
To provide the inmates with a conceptual framework for pursuing employment after their discharge from prison, Dr Baus staged two “mock interviews.”
In one case, Dr Baus played the role of a former inmate seeking employment, and in the other case he played the role of an employer interviewing a convicted felon about possible employment.
Following the two mock interviews, the class members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the actors in the two simulations.
“How you present yourself to individuals can be very important,” Dr Baus advised.
One class member said that the tips he has acquired concerning job interviews could help him when he faces the members of a parole board in seeking early dismissal from prison.
One inmate observed that one of his prime goals in the future will be “to stay out of jail.” He said he would seek to do that by developing maturity and patience.
Dr Baus said he would like to have the members of the PEP class return to the next PEP course to serve as “peer mentors” to aid other inmates in their personal development.
Garner Warden Henry Falcone, who attended the February 24 session, told participants, “You have the power to help yourself and your family when you get out.”
“It is an achievement,” the warden said of the inmates successfully completing the PEP program.
Warden Falcone signed copies of the inmates’ certificates of completion, acknowledging their pursuit of personal development.