i’ve been spending a lot of time in the oregon state penitentiary lately. i’m currently teaching my fifth inside-out class and it continues to be an inspiring, rejuvenating experience. it’s amazing how much good will can be generated in a tiny room on the fifth floor of a maximum-security prison where 15 oregon state university students come together with 15 (or so) inmates in order to learn and work together. the inmates in the group are men who are working hard to change their lives and to make their time behind bars meaningful. of the approximately 2300 men in the penitentiary, i’ve selected about 60 to participate in inside-out classes; as such, i’m well aware that i’ve worked with a skewed sample of the best citizens in the prison. we’ve received good press for the program and i’ve been singled out for some honors for my part in the process, but what i appreciate most is knowing that these classes have offered hope and motivation in a place where both can be very hard to find.

this quarter, we’re focusing again on the topic of preventing delinquency, and i’ve challenged the class try to figure out what action(s) they can take to make a difference. they’re trying to come up with small-scale projects that can be implemented relatively quickly and with no budget. a challenge, to be sure.

and so, i’ll offer my own small-scale project as an example. i applied for a “literacy grant” from a national program last year and did not get it. because i thought the idea was a good one, i pitched it to administrators at the penitentiary and they agreed to fund a pilot program (two inmate clubs are also providing funding). it’s a simple enough idea, but it just might make a difference: incarcerated fathers will have a chance to sign up to read the same books as their children. with help from the lifer’s club (and others), we’ll start with a volunteer group of fathers and their children. with help from local librarians and bookstores, i’ll choose age-appropriate, interesting books and give one to the father and one to the kid. reading the same book(s) will hopefully give them another chance to connect, another topic to discuss, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or via mail. the fathers are enthusiastic about the idea; presumably the kids who agree to participate will get on board if we choose good books.

simple, small-scale, do-able. i’m hoping this little program succeeds and grows. i don’t know if it will make a difference, but at least we’re trying to do good and we’re working to translate our good intentions into action.

if anyone has suggestions for the program, for projects for the inside-out students, or recommendations for interesting kid/teen books, i would love to hear them.