Monday, June 6, 2016

6-5-2016
The Redemption Project: How I Found Myself In Prison. 
After coming out in 2011 it created an awakening for me. I found that once that giant was no longer taking up valuable space in my head I suddenly had a lot more room to work on the hard stuff, like why I came to prison. I took many programs in that time. All served a purpose and offered valuable tools. One of the most influential was a program called Compassion Focused Therapy. It dealt with the emotion Anger. 
This Psychology Professor from a major Washington University designed and taught the class. He had this breakthrough way of teaching us that anger can be controlled. I learned so much. 
As I took program after program inmates started to take notice of my progress and kept mentioning "Redemption Project" at Stafford Creek. It was explained to me in loose terms as a program that teaches you to recognize yourself in the first part, then offers more advanced classes in mentorship and communication skills, like teaching, public speaking and presentations. Problem was I had to switch prisons. Eventually the opportunity presented itself to move to Stafford Creek and I jumped on it. Redemption, here I come.
I got here in April of 2014 and was signed up for Redemption that same month. Everything was right on track for me. Except one thing, I seemed to be the only homosexual here. So my isolation was intense. 
I began my Redemption journey in fall and it offered a 21 week class that is group therapy based with a workbook. Its intent is to get us to be situationally aware of our actions. Both in and out of prison. I'll be honest, the curriculum wasn't this 'aha!' moment for me. But you know what was? The people.
This class was taught by inmates. They were well spoken and polished. Week after week they displayed genuine concern and when I announced to the the group of 40 inmates that I knew many of them didn't like me because I was gay and I knew it. I didn't experience anything but a big ole hug by not one, but several people. Going to Redemption felt like home. Week after week I couldn't wait to go back. I ended up graduating in 2015. Within a few weeks I was in the next classes offered which were the Redemption Facilitators Class and Mentorship & Acquired Communication Skills. Which are also inmate taught. Here you learn how to do all the things that those guys did. Speak publically and lead a class in basic group therapy exercises. Deal with heavy emotional topics and embrace them. Its like a college of compassion. I learned in all this that these guys are changing the prison culture. Promoting nonviolence and compassion. One class at a time. Teaching guys to think before they act and to focus on their own problems. Those who chose to go on, like me, were entering into a fraternity, a brotherhood of sorts.
I was choosing to make my life fairly public and putting my reputation into the hands of those who were here with me. Its been two years since I first started Redemption. Now I am a facilitator, I get to watch guys find themselves and have their own 'aha!' moments. Over and over again. Its been a complete pleasure. I can't wait for the next chapter to come either. These guys have become a family to me. Were all works in progress and labor out of love for ourselves and each other. We endure hardships and pain together, we cry together...we laugh together until we cry. 
Redemption helped me find my voice, my place in life, why I exist and how I can help change my environment.
I will be talking about this program a lot.
With Love
Jeff Utnage 823469

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