Garner Inmates Learn Decisionmaking Skills Through Course

The art of decisionmaking, involving the use of judgment to reach suitable conclusions, is a skill that comes slowly through one’s experience amid the situations of a lifetime.

A volunteer group known as Thresholds Connecticut has been working to provide such decisional education for some inmates at Garner Correctional Institution, the state’s high-security prison at Nunnawauk Road.

On June 24, four Garner inmates who have been receiving such training during the past three months, gathered in the prison with Thresholds volunteers to mark the inmates’ graduation from a “decisional education” course designed to explain the best approaches to personal decisionmaking.

Thresholds is a nonprofit group that seeks to foster positive relations between state prisons and the community, according to Thresholds.

The Thresholds approach is motivational, with one of the volunteers speaking at the event urging that the inmates strive to become the best person that they can possibly become, and urging that the prisoners never return to a prison after they are discharged following their sentences.

Four inmates — Kyle, 35; Randall, 34; Maleek, 42; and Mwata, 28 — listened attentively during the program. The men, who sat in chairs arrayed in an arc, are serving lengthy prison terms on felony convictions.

Thresholds volunteer Barbara Sireno stressed the importance of the “five steps” that the program teaches as the means to effective decisionmaking.

Basically, those steps are:

*See a situation clearly and separate external events from internal feelings.

*Know what you want, in terms of finding a direction or setting a specific goal.

*Expand the possibilities in learning to identify various strategies for attaining a particular goal.

*Evaluate and decide the risks, odds, and possible outcomes of strategies in formulating a course of action.

*Create an action plan and a schedule for the tactics which are chosen in connection with strategies.

Thresholds volunteer John Cross worked with Maleek during the decisionmaking course. Mr Cross said he was impressed with Maleek’s knowledge of the Latin language.

Maleek observed, “I can use a formula or model to achieve my goals.”

Mwata said that the five-step decisional program has become an essential component of his daily life.

“The program has been tremendous and outstanding” in terms of its practical application to daily life, he said.

Randall and Kyle said that through the program, they gained a sense of how best to evaluate situations and determine the various options in finding solutions to problems.

Learning how to evaluate situations provides the means to make the best decisions, Maleek said.

Mwata said it is most useful to be able to see situations clearly in seeking to reach the best outcomes.

Kyle urged that the Thresholds sessions be provided more than once weekly.

Randall expressed an affinity for his instructor, whom he said is open-minded.

Mwata said he was gratified that he was able to discuss subjects with his instructor which he had not previously discussed with others, thus opening up new avenues of conversation.

Maleek told those at the graduation that although he did not like the homework assignments he was given, taking the course has made him more “interpersonal” and “positive.”

“I definitely feel like I’ve grown as an individual…It was just a positive experience…It’s beneficial for anyone in here,” he said.

The educational program fostered a sense of confidence and identity, Mwata said.

Besides Garner, the Thresholds program provides volunteers to help inmates at Cheshire Correctional Institution, Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, and Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield, Mr Cross said.

Thresholds volunteers have been working at Garner for the past two years, he said.

Garner inmates receive instruction from a variety of volunteer groups.    

The Thresholds program has operated in 14 Connecticut prisons. It has been in operation at Cheshire Correctional since 1973.

Mr Cross said that the Thresholds program is seeking volunteers who want to work with inmates in a prison setting. Mr Cross said that people interested in learning more about the group may contact Barbara Sireno at 203-272-5028. Information also is available at thresholdsct.org.

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