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Transitional Dorms

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

from KC Walpole of Gateless Gate in Florida


Hope everyone is doing well. I have been asked on several occasions in the last two weeks for suggestions on transitional dorms. They include everything from the physical organization of the dorm to course of instruction. Most recently the questions center around matters of instruction. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to speak to all the requests and as such am going to give the shotgun approach and divide material into three segments: organization of the dorms, transformation and information.

I truly believe the information is out and available and is all we have to do is be creative. A lot of this material was developed as a joint project between Horizon Communities in Prison and The Gateless Gate Zen Center and presented to the DOC staff of Tallahassee over two years ago. The PowerPoint presentation is still available. It goes into great detail on everything from the physical organization of the dorms to the theory behind the materials selected and the transformational nature of the program. It also points out that by reducing recidivism rate by two women in 85 residents of a dorm that the entire costs associated with each year of the transformation dorm is paid for.

This offering was largely predicated on the successes of the character based dorms in Tomoka and Wakulla as well several federal programs organized and run by Horizon Communities in Prison. Statistics for transformational based dormitories are available through DOC and Horizon Communities in Prison. Statistics for the federal programs are available from Horizon Communities in Prison. These are not feel good programs but transformational programs of a year or so in length supported by informational programs.

The offering made over two years ago was predicated upon the transformational based on Mindfulness Based stress Reduction (MBSR). This is a program developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. the success of this program as a transformational agent has been proven by medical science to the point that it is now taught in over 200 medical centers worldwide in everything from recovery from heart transplants to addiction recovery programs. The testing by western medical science has been rigorous. The program has been taught at both Gadsden CI and Lowell CI over the last two and a half years by volunteers and without incident. The antidotal and subjective results are such that Lowell CI supports five day retreats of over 100 inmates with noon meals and individual call outs. My sense is that there have been well over 500 inmates attend the course between the two institution over the last 2.5 years. That certainly is enough to generate some initial indicators as a measure of recidivism as well as indicators of demands against the medical system and disciplinary incidents. Simple regression analysis would certainly go a long way to validating MBSR as a transformational tool. This alone would serve as justification for grants on the second chance act.

There has been a second tier of instruction built on to the basic MBSR program called Mindfulness – The Gateway to Transition as well as in a sense these are built on a bases of MBSR. The premise of the second half is clearly defined in the introduction to the Gateway to Transition document and need not be repeated here. bear in mind the material was developed based on what the inmates who participated in the course wanted to help them in their transition. Whereas not all the material was relevant to all the inmates at that time, they appreciated the fact that they had the basic information in case something came up in the future.

The key to presenting a transformational program first is that it creates as a basis and skills that enable inmates to work through frustrations and difficult learning situations that they may not have had. Transformational base also gives the inmates the tools to work through difficult emotions and feelings that underlie frustrations, anger and addictions. Learning these skills in prison will enable the inmates to better face the challenges and difficulties of not only the workplace but encounters with children. the credibility of using transformational and information learning in tandem is borne out in DOC stats when comparing inmates that have gone through yearlong addiction recovery programs and workplace training. If my memory serves me correct we are talking of a recidivism rate in the low teens.

The single biggest detriment to any training program is the inability of DOC to get inmates to programs. I have been doing programs at DOC and Federal facilities for almost 15 years. My experience with afternoon programs is that they run maybe 30 percent of the scheduled time. Between delayed counts and long chow lines, inmates are normally not released for between 30 and 90 minutes into the afternoon work period. This is why we structured the dorms to be the classroom so as to eliminate the loss of instructional time due to long counts and slow chow lines. Also, there just are not enough rooms available to teach large groups of inmates. The physical layout of the dorms was built around the concept of 8 inmate families as used at Tomoka and Wakulla. The drafting work for the layout was done by the Lowell CI drafting class. The measurements included turning the recreation room into a library and 24 hour computer learning center. the open space created by the 8 inmate pods becomes a classroom to accommodate classes with tables and chairs or a yoga and meditation area with mats and cushions.

Because of the challenging nature of transformational programs, we required all participants be volunteers. It only takes a few disruptive inmates to poison the atmosphere of transitional programs. It also takes a staff that is attuned to the nature of the material and programs presented in the dorms to support the training. Gadsden CI had the ideal situation where the classification, medical and security staff functioned as a team instead of independent and often competing elements that could be subject to manipulation and conflicts. In my own vision, I see the Gadsden CI model as an absolute prerequisite for any form of successful transitional dorms.

The last suggestion I would like to make is that the re-entry coalition from each county be involved in the transition dorm process. There are 10,000 small items that often snowball into disasters and end up in recommitments for inmates. A case in point is the psychotropic drugs. In theory, upon release there is a 30 day supply of drugs and an appointment for a medical provider for evaluation. In reality only 30 percent of the inmates show up for their medical appointment. You can argue the blame game but the reality is this is not happening and those that need the drugs are going to self medicate on creative basis. A second and potential greater offering is that using the re-entry coalitions as an agent of transformation means they will have access to mentors which can often be the critical factor in a successful re-entry.

There is a whole lot more that could be said but for now this is all I have time for. I suspect there is nothing new here. the one thing we have to do is to think out of the box. We have a wealth of knowledge and skills available to think creatively. Know I wish each and every one of you well. ~KC Walpole

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