I recently took a trip upstate to Ossining. I went to the infamous prison Sing Sing for a tour. The tour leader was an intelligent and engaging young man by the name of Sean Pica. He is a remarkable man - a former inmate who is now the executive director of the amazing Hudson Link - a partnership with Mercy College and Sing Sing inmates to use education as a link in the chain that keeps inmates from sliding towards recidivism upon release from state's custody - those figures (for recidivists) are somewhere near 60% as I recall.
I thought I had a vague idea of what to expect at the facility. I was wrong. It was a much colder and harsher environment than even I had envisioned. We were a group of about 15 on the tour on that cold Monday evening. The cold made even more bitter with the frigid wind whistling off the Hudson river. I was truly not prepared for the way I would feel once those heavy gates slammed shut behind our group.
We were, of course, with a guard at all times - counted every time we went through another locked area or cell block. We kept ourselves together as instructed, always keeping to the right like the prisoners are trained to do. One group of inmates in cell block A was watching the news and did not seem to mind the intrusion on their private life. One inmate even showed us the inside of his small cell - he had tried to make it seem like "home" - a man can spend a lot of years in Sing Sing - some are lifers - we didn't meet any of those.
The highlight of the evening was a presentation about the previously noted Hudson Link program. It is a truly amazing collaboration between Mercy College and certain inmates at Sing Sing - whereby inmates (carefully selected based on behavior and academics) are given the opportunity to receive a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management. Amazingly, not a single former inmate has returned to prison after going through this program - not a single one! Those are statistics that should not be taken lightly, given that again - some 60% or more of inmates will become repeat offendors and return to prison at some time after being released from Department of Corrections rolls.
You can call Sean directly if you would like to have him schedule a tour for a group, or even come and speak to a group with which you are affiliated - you can reach him at 914.941.0794, or if you would like to donate a specific amount of monies - $3000 is the cost of one complete course - $300 is the cost of textbooks for a semester - $100 is the cost of the commencement fee, cap and gown per student and supplies and dictionaries for new students is $50.
You can view more information about this amazing program via their website. www.hudsonlink.org