Criminal Justice

Red & Black In Prison?

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

Are you interested in the welfare of incarcerated people? Would you visit a prison? Red admits that she answered both questions with an emphatic, "No!" So, what changed her mind? And how did we end up in the criminal justice world? For a quick overview, read our February 2013 column, RED & BLACK … Are In Prison? (Oh, and the question Black said she would one day ask … well, she has been asking it more and more these days.)

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

So, how does a self-published book launched by Neiman Marcus that was intended to be the basis of a sitcom lead the authors "off to prison"? We're not exactly sure, but we do know that our journey into the world of criminal justice has been eye-opening and immensely gratifying. Not to mention full of stories and surprises!

It all began when Black accepted an invitation for us to speak at a national prisoner's family conference (Red thought she was kidding when she first opened the email). Unlike the other speakers, who focused on either advocacy or faith-based topics, we shared how a crisis became a catalyst that forced Red to face reality and learn about basic "Life 101" topics (such as personal finance, handling stress, relationships, and values and priorities). Which, in turn, allowed her to take control of her life instead of having her life control her.

Soon after the conference, Black was invited on a "field trip" to Stringfellow Unit, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison south of Houston. (There's an amusing story about the visit, including the prison chaplain's first impression of Black, that we'll post at a later date.) Ultimately, it led to the first "Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101 Program" inside prison walls which, since 2012, has been completed by thousands of men and women.

Red & Black Perspective On Criminal Justice

Different people have different thoughts and opinions about criminal justice, obviously influenced by their own experiences and perspectives. Like most things, we looked at the same situation but saw things very differently when we started our journey into the criminal justice world. But we each found the feedback from the program participants (and the chaplain who championed it) truly enlightening.

  • RED (the warm and fuzzy stay-at-home mom): When we first started on our journey into the prison world, my thought was that these men are criminals and our time should be spent on people in the "free world". And there was certainly no way I'd ever visit a prison. However, after watching 11+ hours of raw video footage of the men who voluntarily participated in the pilot Red & Black program at Stringfellow Unit championed by Chaplain Watkins, they went from being offenders known by their prison identification numbers to people, each with their own stories. Men who wanted better – not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. And, as a mom, I saw hope and opportunity to change not only their lives, but their families. Right after I watched the last interview, I turned to my sister and told her that I was contacting the chaplain in the morning to arrange for us to meet the men. I wanted to tell them in person how much their words affected me and my outlook on people who are incarcerated.
  • BLACK (the pragmatic retired business executive): I appreciate that there may be moral and/or social reasons to help those within the criminal justice system, but put that aside for the moment. The cost of Texas state prisons is approximately $60 a day/person. At $25 per person, our book/program costs less than half a day in prison. In terms of recidivism, if you merely delay their return one day, you have over a 100% ROI (Return on Investment). Anything over that is just gravy. So, if our book/program can possibly contribute to the reduction in recidivism, it is a small investment ... with huge upside potential. And, that does not take into consideration the impact it may have on family members because how do you calculate the financial savings in terms of individuals who might have ended up in prison, but now have taken control of their lives instead of having their lives control them?

Additional Information

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