I attended a meeting last week with a group of eight of my colleagues and a professor from the University of Washington. We meet monthly and work directly with a registered student organization on the UW campus. We, the inmate liaisons and this prison, host a summer honors class each year. A dozen or so brave souls from the university come to help do research and be a part of our think tank.

So as to not make any form of mistake, I’ll refrain from providing the program name here. I simply don’t know the ins and outs of the legalities. Anyway, the name is less important than the work. The group’s goal was originally set to help develop educational opportunities in prisons. An education is one of the biggest contributors to reducing recidivism, but this collection of amazing people are doing so much more.

Last summer, we tackled a few issues including introducing unconventional education tactics (prescreened video lectures and open source curriculum, unaccredited but worth the effort) within the walls, better practises for the aging prison population, and virtual reality as a rehabilitation tool (grief therapy, situational immersion, behavior change). The latter is being used back east and is now gaining some pretty powerful support between the UW VR lab and Washington State DOC.

From this group another program named REACH was born. REACH stands for “Reentry, Empowerment and Community Health”. We are now under the guidance of DOC’s Reentry Team and work directly with some amazing people at the top. I am a facilitator for this group also and we work hard at changing the prison culture to match your expectations of a positive, healthy, pro social community.

As we went around the room, we hashed through a few topics for the 2019 class. Voter restoration was one, Informational Technologies for secured platforms (real time info from digital sources) was another and tactics to better reduce the financial impact on taxpayers for long term sentences was another. And as we engaged in impassioned discussion about how to make our world better in every way, to include yours, I just chuckled inside about how damned amazing this group of men are… to the media, we would simply be a collection of murderers, bank robbers, and sex offenders with backgrounds in both white and black gangs. The worst of the worst…

But we are the magic of change and progress and we want better for you and yours, your community, and life in general, too. I took that look around and I don’t see the past, I see an amazing future. A whole bunch of them…

Rory Andes
for www.lgbtqprisonsupport.com