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Student Testimonial

Exchange for Change student Richard Pratt has been taking classes since autumn 2016

Impact for Determination

Exchange for Change has made such a difference and has profoundly impacted me and my beliefs concerning prison, rehabilitation and the worth (value) of an inmate.

Coming to prison almost 20 years ago – knowing I may never get out – was enough of a shock, a “rock-bottom” experience, that I became truly and honestly willing to examine myself and my thinking to determine what went wrong. After all, no child grows up planning on becoming a prisoner… somewhere I (and all inmates and prisoners) made a terrible decision that contradicted the values and norms of the society we live in. I determined to no longer live my life blindly or in such a way that such deleterious outcomes could flow so naturally from causes I put into motion.

That is really what rehabilitation is all about: identifying the differences between acceptable and unacceptable thinking (which leads to action) and becoming desirous of choosing the good consistently. Once I discovered this truth, I learned of another: prison isn’t designed to rehabilitate, only to foster and encourage rehabilitation.

Prisons are like hospitals without staff (doctors and nurses): you must work to treat yourself, diagnose yourself and cure yourself. The problem? The patients, for the most part, don’t even realize they are not well. Further, the orderlies (prison guards) are socially sick: there is very few, very little, positive conversations and comments – sick people watch over sick people; the model citizens often encourage negative behaviors!

Once I discovered these things, I became socially withdrawn and depressed. My hope left because I could find no help for change. The programs I did participate in were mostly superficial; led by teachers, program directors, and facilitators who did not understand how to translate their materials into everyday language, how to describe the applicability of their materials to everyday life. The other prisoners dedicated to change were near-to-impossible to find because they remained isolated as a means of protection from the rampant negativity in this environment.

Then, by the graces of Providence, I came to E.C.I and was invited to participate in the Exchange for Change program. And everything changed.

Exchange for Change is the only program I’ve been able to participate in where there is constant and consistent affirmation of value and ability. But, the program provides for absolutely zero aggrandizement; like a real class, what’s done well is praised, what’s done poorly is challenged, and a participant who either does not perform up to par or who violates the atmosphere of respect is chastised without, necessarily, being removed from the program.

We are constantly asked to “find your voice” while learning to conform to the acceptable standards of practice. Honest effort garners praise. Praise, in turn, serves to motivate one and all to strive to raise the bar of production.

Some of us have greater skill sets, others have the ability to develop their writing styles faster; we all seem to become an accepting family by the end of each semester. In an environment where some nebulous concept of “respect” rules the roost, we are able to openly gainsay and critique one another without fear, without hesitation. This is a manifestation of the power of the camaraderie Exchange for Change operating principles and vision makes possible.

To lose Exchange for Change is to deprive us of such a meaningful opportunity as well as to further victimize the society we’re already hurt by robbing them of this silent and humble hope for rehabilitated men and women. To support Exchange for Change is to contribute to the belief that prisoners not only need to change, but that we can. We can convent from part of the problem to part of the solution by learning how to appropriately and respectfully join our voices with those of this greater society to affect change. We’ve lived it and learned from it; help enable the next generation of prisoners to NEVER become; together we can have an Exchange for Change.

Richard Pratt