An extensive article in a past edition of The Dallas Morning News describes a program to fight illiteracy called HOPE, an acronym for Helping Others Pursue Education. It is a voluntary program started by Lucy Smith of Hurst, Texas, who trains the volunteer teachers at the Hutchins State Jail in South Dallas County.
Since 85 to 90 percent of inmates in TDCJ (the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) cannot read, and the rate of recidivism is enormously high, this program should reduce recidivism substantially. That's important because a one percent reduction in offenders returning to prison can create a saving of $6.6 million, and the two-year HOPE program costs only about $800 per student. That will lead to huge money savings and, even more importantly, insure the futures of the men and women involved.
The inmates who can read are teaching those who cannot read. The confidence and self-esteem they get from teaching is equaled only by the feeling of confidence and self-esteem the illiterates acquire as they begin to read.
The program is a faith-based one, and is completely voluntary, under the direction of the chaplain at the prison. Senior Warden Elvis Hightower says, "The self-esteem they get is just amazing." Deshoaun Green, the first student to admit his illiteracy aloud, says, "It's a wonderful feeling to look up and read what's on the board and get it, for the first time in my life."
When there is hope in the future there is power in the present, and since hope is the foundational quality of all change, there is considerable reason to be excited about this program. It's already giving these inmates SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT, and if the program spreads throughout the state and nation, it will give countless thousands of others something to smile about.
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