Young inmates at Lancaster Correctional Institution in Trenton, Fla., are learning to redefine success. Before their classes at the facility, they might have thought that succeeding in life meant owning a fancy house, a Bentley, a BMW. Afterward, many view success as putting in a full workday and supporting a family.
The SUCCESS for Teens program is part of their weekly class discussions led by their teacher Jon Reed, a SUCCESS reader who learned about the program through the magazine’s articles. Reed requested the free curriculum because he thought his students could relate to the teenagers telling their stories in the program’s book, SUCCESS for Teens: Real Teens Talk About Using the Slight Edge.
“They understand that if they could get out of prison and not come back, keep a job, contribute to society—that’s success,” Reed says. He uses SUCCESS for Teens to teach reading, improve vocabulary and build character; the book includes blueprints for reaching goals one small step at a time and for resisting negative peer pressure.
Most of these men, 22 and younger, are serving time for selling drugs or burglary. (Reed says the offenders’ rationale is “Why should I have to work for three weeks to earn the money for a plasma-screen TV when I could just steal yours?”)
Lancaster is not a juvenile facility. “We’ve got razor wire, electric fences, pepper spray—all that good stuff,” he says. His students have a high rate of recidivism. “It’s pushing 70 percent. I throw that at them. I’ll say, ‘Look, out of 10 of you guys, seven are coming back. And of course they say, ‘No, not me. Not me.’”
Reed works to help them break the cycle. “Programs like SUCCESS for Teens are instrumental in getting them out of the behind-the-razor-wire mindset.” He encourages them to think what they might do differently after their release.
And it is working. One student wrote on his assigned worksheet: “I’ve learned that failure is not always a bad thing…. You can gain a lot of knowledge from failing, but it’s up to you to correct that mistake and take it in stride. Use that knowledge to avoid becoming another statistic.”
For Reed, success meant that this year’s valedictorian held up the SUCCESS for Teens book as he gave his commencement speech and took material for that talk from the book.
“The SUCCESS for Teens program has helped our students gain confidence and realize they control their own destiny,” Reed says. When the students leave prison, they’ll receive another opportunity to succeed. “This time will be different, as success has been redefined,” he adds.
Contact the SUCCESS Foundation at [email protected] for more information about the SUCCESS for Teens program or to make a tax-deductible contribution to it. If you are a leader using the program or a donor, email the foundation to be profiled in a future column.