Consumer education in prison, lessons learned late

Imagine entering the job market these days after having been out of it for 10 or 20 years.  How about entering the work world without having had access to a computer for that amount of time? People in prison, once they have served their time, now must meet these challenges and become “productive members of society.” That’s why Alice Brooks, the recently-retired public information director of the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, has been teaching life skills classes at a state women’s prison. She says inmates either have few consumer skills, or can get out of touch very easily.
“And I don’t want life to be so hard for them that they don’t have that choice,” says Brooks. “I want them to get a good, stable job so that they can begin to put their lives together and work their way back up. They understand that they have got to make some changes and they understand the value of the dollar and of budgeting. But they’ve got to be able to earn that money so that they can start that process.”
Budgeting is a tough subject for the inmates who take Brooke’s classes at the Camille Griffin Graham women’s prison. This inmate says she made money selling drugs and she got too used to spending:
“I learned that I have more expensive taste than I have money and I’m going to have to try really hard to be able to afford and live not beyond my means.”
The women Brook’s classes have earned the right to be there, and some have been in those classes for a long time. Meet a woman who has a 25 year sentence:
“I have done 10 years. I have been locked up since I was 19and you say what is going to be the difference between the way I budgeting then and when I get out and independence? I have never budgeted before. You know,I was 19 years old and I lived with my mom. She did everything for me besides my little waitress job.”
And yet its the long-termers who will be the most out-of-touch when they get out. In this level three prison, do not have any access to computers or the Internet.
One inmate explains,”I never knew how to write a check until I got in here. I learned how to write a check. I learned about credit, I learned about insurance, and I’ve learned about ways of life. There’s not a lot of programs in SCDC that offer rehabilitation for lifers or long-termers.
The warden of Camille Griffin Graham women’s prison is Judy Anderson. She welcomes these life skills classes as part of program is part of a Girl Scouts outreach program.
Anderson says,”It is an absolutely wonderful program because it gives them up-to-date information about what’s going on in ‘the real world’ and what’s going on there and the things that you need to know. I heard Alice speak the other night and I learned a whole bunch.”
Among the things Brooks teaches includes balancing a checkbook, building credit, banking and avoiding consumer scams.

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