inmate_literacy02.jpgBILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Knox College student Moriah Spicer listens to fellow student Cordelia Bone, left, as they explain grammatical writing guidelines Wednesday afternoon at the Knox County jail. Dave Kraus, from left, Dell Reed and Aaron Castro are among the inmates studying to eventually earn their GED.

Making the most of their time

Inmates gain life skills, more through jail literacy program

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Moriah Spicer and Cordelia Bone are buzzed through the heavy metal doors at the Knox County Law Enforcement Center every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.

With book-filled bags strapped to their backs, the two Knox College students make their way through the jail's lobby, past the inmates in holding cells and the deputies in uniform.

They enter a small room lined with metal shelves full of worn paperbacks, Bibles and outdated encyclopedias. After rearranging the tables and chairs, they write lesson plans on a dry-erase board mounted on the cement-block walls.

Just after 3 p.m., four young men in orange jumpsuits file into the room.

Some of them have GEDs, some of them don't and some soon will be headed to federal prison.

But all turn to Spicer and Bone for lessons in math, reading and life skills to better themselves while they are serving time.

"I've got nothing but time," said Dave Kraus, who takes part in the voluntary tutoring program to brush up on his skills and because it gives him something to look forward to each week.

Spicer and Bone are the latest Knox students to run the jail literacy program, which is affiliated with the college and Altrusa Club of Galesburg. They began tutoring inmates in January as part of a service project for a college course.

The course is now over, but Spicer and Bone keep coming back.

BILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Knox College student Moriah Spicer works with Knox County jail inmate Aaron Castro on geometry homework Wednesday afternoon at the jail.

"You get really involved in the lives of your students," said Spicer, who is leading discussions at the jail of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" as part of The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts program designed to revitalize literary reading in American communities. Galesburg is one of about 100 cities nationwide participating in the program this year.

The inmates are reading an abridged version of the "The Grapes of Wrath," which follows the Joad family's migration to California from Oklahoma during the Great Depression.

Dell Reed, a California native who moved to Illinois several years ago, said he identifies with the characters' journeys in the novel.

"I'm in the same situation but instead of running from poverty I ran from trouble. I still had the trouble here," he said. "Ma is my favorite character by far. The only thing Ma wanted was for the family to stick together."

In addition to reading the novel with the inmates, Spicer and Bone presented several lessons on the Great Depression.

Spicer said the topics and lessons depend on what the inmates want to learn. She downloads GED-preparation curriculum online and supplements academic lessons with instruction on skills that will help the men be successful outside of jail or prison, such as searching and applying for jobs.

Aaron Castro, who said he will be facing time in federal prison, participates in the program because he wants to make the most of his time behind bars.

"I'm getting ready to go to prison and I want to get a college degree when I'm there," he said.


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