Inmates take the lead in Real Transition class
Few doubt that going to prison can be challenging.
Few realize, however, that leaving prison can also be daunting.
As part of an effort to help offenders successfully transition back into the community, the Utah Department of Corrections offers the Real Transition program. Originally taught at Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, the program is now also offered at the Utah State Prison in Draper.
And who’s teaching may be a bit of a surprise: Inmates.
“(Inmates) get more out of it with their peers teaching,” said Valerie Worrall, a UDC case worker based at Utah State Prison. “And it’s easier for them to teach. They have credibility.”
The concept of Real Transition is fundamental. Programming Lt. Matt Barrett explained that offenders focus on themselves in five areas: physical, spiritual, financial, emotional and social. Utilizing work books, journals and discussions, they explore personal issues.
“They write smart goals towards a successful release,” he said. “Then volunteers will critique them and refine them. It helps offenders have a solid release plan.”
Sounds straightforward, until a pandemic is factored in. In addition to working with inmates on goals, volunteers also helped monitor the courses. With volunteering on hold – and movement within the prison itself limited – a little creativity was needed.
On this day, Worrall monitors the class remotely via computer. Her image is shown on a screen in the classroom while Jason Pedersen leads the discussion. Barrett is in the room next door.
It is the new normal for teachers and students, who have already become accustomed to the setup. Pedersen is back to his biggest challenge – enticing attendees to participate.
“I’ve got to get them to open up and discuss things. It’s not easy in this environment,” he said, gesturing with his eyes to the facility. “They’ve got to feel safe.”
It appears to be having an impact for Lipine “Kimo” Lealiiee. He said his work in the class has helped him “mentally and physically.”
“I want to better myself,” he said, “and learn how to control my way of thinking and acting.”
Communications office, July 16, 2020