Help needed to prepare for GED

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Like many states, Oklahoma prisons offer very few programs for inmates to better themselves and prepare to return to society. And that was before the budget cuts. There's no point in cutting the programs budget. There are so few programs and they are offered so infrequently that they're practically nonexistent.

My assigned prison job is to tutor inmates who want to obtain their General Educational Development (GED) certifications. I love helping people discover and learn new things; however, being a tutor at Mid-State Prison is not an easy job. I have very few materials to help my students learn.

The GED books provided by the prison's education department are a decade old. The GED test was modified a few years ago. I have
no materials to help students with the new test. Moreover, some of my students cannot read well enough to understand the outdated books and I have no material to help them improved their reading skills. It's sort of a Catch-22.

Books are important for prisoners not only for entertainment and relaxation, but also to help hone their reading skills. I don't particularly care what types of books my students read -- as long as they're reading
something. They are willing to put forth the effort if I can find books for them.

There's a saying you may have heard: There is no difference between the person who can't read and the one who doesn't read even though he can. Unfortunately, that now includes those who can't get anything to read.

-Submitted by Corvus Sagire
Oklahoma Mid-State Prison, Oklahoma

Better World Books grants PBP $5,000 for GED Initiative

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Our very own Prison Book Program is a winner of the first annual Better World Books Literacy and Education in Action Program (LEAP) award!

Through the grant, 220 prisoners will receive GED test preparation materials and dictionaries so that they can earn their GEDs and have viable options for work when they are released.

According to the Department of Justice, 77% of prisoners have not received a high school diploma. Yet GEDs are necessary for almost any job, and a New York Department of Corrections study showed that prisoners who earn their GED are up to 14% less likely to return to prison within the next three years.

Visit Better World Books for more information on the LEAP awards and the six other grant winners. And visit the Prison Book Program to make your own donation!

"Literature has been my great escape... Is it yours too?"

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Before my incarceration I had read less than five books in my entire life. There was never time... Jobs, kids, cars, friends, yard work, social engagements, cooking, cleaning, home repairs, neighbors, church. You know what I mean.

Then I was sent to prison for the first time at the age of 40, with a life sentence. The shock, despair, and hopelessness were overwhelming. It may be understandable that the prison experience was nearly more than I could bear. Concrete, steel, noise, lock downs, belittling guards, strip searches, anger, shakedowns, violence, hatred. My sanity was leaving me. I had to get away.

I started to read.

A little at first... a book here, a short story there. Soon, I would voraciously devour anything in print.
Charitable and compassionate organizations like the Prison Book Program would selflessly send me (and other inmates) books, free of charge. Thanks to their kind efforts I was shown the wonderment of Africa, by Wilber Smith. Stephen Hawkins opened the Universe to me in A Brief History of Time. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia introduced me to the world of literature in Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. There I laughed and cried to the great works of masters like Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and countless others. Ben Bova took me into the future and to other planets. With Terry Brooks, I stood in awe and wonder at the power of the Efstones and the wielding of truth by the Sword of Shannara. In almanacs I discovered that, in prison, I am not part of the few, but rather the many 2.5 million of us all together.

Without the beauty of reading, my sanity, if not my very life would have been forfeit.

Literature has been my great escape... Is it yours too?

-Submitted by Jim Huber
Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas

"Through reading, I found myself."

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I'd have to say that the book that has had the biggest impact on me while incarcerated has to be The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Though I am not of the Islamic faith, nor am I militant, this book has impacted upon my way of seeing things profoundly. It has taught me that I can utilize this time into becoming whatever I set my mind on becoming.

Young Malcolm was a drug dealer, drug addict, and burglar. But instead of dedicating his sentence to entertainment and pastimes, he applied himself to change. He studied hard, copying the dictionary -- words and their definitions -- out entirely. He learned discipline and fund religion. He began to question the reason for things being as they are and investigating the drive behind them. In sum, Malcolm used his prison time to become a better person. To hone his potential and when released be better for his stay.

When I came to prison I wanted to do something with this time and be prepared for the eventuality of these doors opening and my going back out into society. I didn't want to leave here (after all the years spent) the same person I was when I entered.

Everybody who comes into these walls changes. For the better or for the worse is entirely up to them. But change we all do.

Most inmates just want to get through their sentences in one piece and try to distract themselves through various means until their release, whether through sports, TV, working out, or reading. [They are] just trying to pass the time until their release.

Malcolm showed me that I can "use" the time. Or should I say make use of it. So I study. And I've studied hard.

First I acquired a dictionary from the Prison Book Program and bettered my command of English. Reading, writing, and speaking.

Second, I mastered a second language. Spanish. Reading, writing, and speaking.

I studied my heritage. Being that I am biracial, Puerto Rican and Irish, I was confused as to who I was. So I asked the Prison Book Program to send me information on these backgrounds.

Through reading, I found myself. By reading Malcolm X's autobiography, I became motivated and found direction. I became a better person from reading a myriad of materials provided to me and countless other prisoners by various prison book programs. I would like to thank these programs' volunteers for their dedication in bringing hope and information into these environments. Your work is appreciated and does a lot of help.

I thank you all!

-Submitted by Michael Santana
Upstate Correctional Facility, New York