In June 2016, I proposed an experimental community re-entry program for inmates at the Volusia County Correctional Facility. The jail administrators approved, and Project Ataraxia was created. Until October 2017, I went to the jail each week and met with program participants in their dorms and classrooms. I’ve only been mistaken for an inmate once. Here’s an information sheet based on the proposal with more detailed information, and here is a handout on the program.
The program was approved as a research project by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I have presented on this program at several research conferences, including PCAS/ACAS and SAMLA in Fall 2017, and I will present at PCA in Spring 2018. I also have drafted an article based on my research and am evaluating an avenue for publication.
Project Ataraxia consistently received only positive feedback from inmates, Volusia County staff who participated in the workshops, ERAU faculty, and the community, throughout its tenure at the jail. However, the Program Services Manager for Volusia County jail continually harassed me during the course of the program and repeatedly abused her power, documented in written records, ultimately leading to the suspension of the program. The Director of Corrections was advised of this documented harassment and has not held his staff accountable. I advised the Director of Corrections that due to this supervisor’s inappropriate behavior during and after my volunteer service for the Division of Corrections and the lack of accountability for it, I would not feel comfortable under her supervision.
Project Ataraxia is a community reentry program, designed for sentenced county jail inmates, that teaches adult participants tools for self-awareness and communication skills in order to create a concrete plan for re-entry into the community. The program is designed for both male and female inmates, and anyone who fall elsewhere on the gender spectrum. It meets in five 90-minute weekly sessions.
Project Ataraxia was one of the few, if not the only, non-religious volunteer program offered at the jail. The majority of volunteer-based programs offered to inmates rely magical thinking and belief in the supernatural. Most inmates currently incarcerated in the Volusia County jail have no more than a GED and are literally a captive audience, making them vulnerable to religious rhetoric.
The mission of this project is to help participants explore their personal values, exercise mind and body, and heighten communication skills to improve quality of life through interdisciplinary studies, discussion, and creative expression.
While this program provides some information on resources available in the community, it hinges on helping participants understand their own personal values to identify goals in order to envision a good life and have hope that it is achievable. It’s designed to help participants:
- Identify their personal values with a focus on language and expression
- Build communication skills with a focus on audience awareness
- Establish a plan for reentry to the community with a focus on employment and addiction management
Evidence shows that in order to be successful in the community after release from jail, inmates must meet basic needs and feel hope for a good life. The challenges faced by inmates being released are complex and daunting, often putting them in survival mode. They are often released with nowhere to live, no job, no transportation, and no clothes other than what they’re wearing.
I’ve collected clothes and household goods, which are available to anyone needing them. It’s an ongoing process. Their struggles are everyone’s struggles. If you have something to offer, please let me know. I supply participants with notebooks, art supplies, workshop materials, certificates of completion, and other materials as needed. Currently, this program is self-funded and my resources are limited.
Thank you to Sabrina Bertele for the generous contribution in printing the booklets, The Trails Racquet Club for providing space for clothing donations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a course release in Spring 2017, the Volusia County Correctional Facility for allowing me in and letting me out, and the many friends who have made clothing donations.
So far, I’ve drafted three workbooks, which will be revised and updated over the next several months. I plan to develop at least two more workshop booklets, which the most pressing being devoted to addiction issues. The three workshops are as follows:
- Workshop 1: hydrogen and helium explosions, glass-topped igloos, personal values & the art of writing a personal manifesto
- Workshop 2: how time flies, noise, the soul in the machine, 700,000 hours, résumés & living the life you’ve always dreamed of
- Workshop 3: the ethics of trolley-watching, sex, smoking crack, and everyday living in a world of temptation where stereotypes may wane with a firm handshake
This program is still under development, and there are many components that I would like to develop as time and money become available. Among other things, I’d like to:
- research and develop a workshop on addiction issues with a focus on innovative, evidence-based systems and treatments for primarily addictions to opiods, crack, cocaine, meth, and alcohol
- research and develop a workshop on fitness and nutrition, possibly titled squats, good food, addiction dilemmas, body love, meditation, masturbation & ways to fill the void
- develop a program assessment tool
- create a way of tracking post-release data and recidivism
- aggregate information on community resources such as housing, employment, transportation, etc.
- create a social media presence for Project Ataraxia to serve participants upon release and get help from others
- do whatever legal work is necessary to collect donations
- fix the world
Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss the program or have something to offer.