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School Of Re-Entry Helps Inmates Prepare For Life After Prison

The School of Re-Entry is the first kind in Massachusetts. It's located inside a minimum-security prison in Roslindale, and focuses on the inmates most likely to re-offend — those without a high school diploma. The school has been open for a little over a year.

Matthew Guillou is a student inmate whose typical day consists of moving from one class to another. He explains how he was arrested and charged with prison time years ago.

“When I was on the street I was involved in a negative lifestyle," Guillou said. "I had a substance abuse addiction which led to me distributing narcotics to provide for the habit; it's expensive. So ... eventually it led to a three- to four-year incarceration.”

Guillou says when he found out about the school, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“They put on this presentation for the school over here at the Boston Pre-Release Center," he said. "There was a lot with it, you know, education, the academic part and IT training ... it sounded like a good package, so I signed up."

Guillou didn’t exactly sign up. Inmates like him with low level felonies like drug convictions can apply. Right now, there are 15 participants in the school. There are more than 140 inmates at the prison, but student inmates are housed in a separate area that resembles a college dormitory. There are no bars, just small bedrooms side by side. School headmaster Edward McAdams says this set up is based on research.

“The more closely we could emulate a true academic environment in a traditional sense, the more success programs had, so that was key for us as we started to look at this," he said.

The school — which is about a year old — costs about $300,000 dollars a year to run. The state and private funders share the cost. 

“The academic piece focused on students ... that needed high school equivalency, because statistically, they are most likely to re-offend. They are [the] least advantaged," McAdams said. "Then, we looked at what can we do for them. Vocational T-shirt screening is great if you want to work country fairs, but it doesn’t really work for the long term.”

So, most students spend six to eight hours a day in classes, getting computer certification in programs like Microsoft Word, or they can also earn college credits.

Matthew Guillou is already putting his skills to work through a paid internship. The paid internships come from partnerships that Allen Spencer works hard to build. Spencer is Director of Workforce Development at the School of Re-Entry. He says he is focused on getting the men thinking about their future.

“We want them to think beyond getting the job and becoming career-minded individuals," Spencer said.

Matthew Guillou is headed in that direction. He hopes for parole in August. He’s earned college credits and has plans for his future.

“When I get out I'll finish the Associates at 64 credits, transfer to UMass Boston do two more years there," he said, "Then I can start law school."

That will be very a long way from where he started.

“If the [prison] population is down and the costs are up and recidivism is a real driver of prison costs, then we should be able to look at data to come up with a way to decide whether or not we can reduce prison costs and crime,” said Ben Thompson, Massachusetts Assistant Undersecretary for Re-entry. Thompson helped create the school and joined Greater Boston host Jim Braude to talk about its progress alongside James Fidler, a current School of Re-Entry student.

“Right at the beginning, I knew it was going to be different,” said Fidler, who will finish a three-and-a-half-year sentence for drug trafficking in January. “I already completed my HiSET, which is a high school equivalency, and I am already involved in the … drug and alcohol counselor program that I'm about three courses away from completing."

When asked why he is so passionate about this program, Thompson pointed to Fidler.

“Data shows every dollar I invest in him, in education and vocational training, I get $3-$5 back as a tax-paying citizen,” Thompson said. “I don't want to spend $60,000 for him to stay in jail because I know what he can do and he's out here, he's earned his HiSET, he's got a potential 12 college credits, he's working on getting custody of his kids. Why would I want to spend money to keep him in jail?”

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