New program helps inmates learn life skills

The Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln has a new program called the Prison Fellowship Academy. 

Prison staff members have seen major changes from the inmates who are currently enrolled in the course.

"The program gives us, it’s almost like a second chance. Guys come here and take the curriculum and they start to incorporate it into their life and they make that transformation and become better men," said inmate James Price.

"I’ve seen the inmates be there for each other more. You see many people from different walks of life out here just helping each other out supporting each other. You’ll see them out here preparing meals together and just working on different skills together," said Unit Case Worker James Reyes.

The 12–month course consists of daily two to three hour classes. The 40 individuals who partake in the program are able to live and learn alongside each other.

"We have seen positive results with misconduct report levels being dropped, we have better interaction with staff with the staff reporting that the living gallery is a lot more relaxed than the general population gallery," said Unit Manager Caleb Larson.

Academy participants say they become as close as a family.

"Guys can get, in that whole year, everything that is needed so that when they do re-enter society they are able to maintain a job, maintain their relationships and their personal mental state," said Price.

Approximately 26,000 prisoners take part in similar fellowship classes throughout the country each month.

They learn about five different subjects: Changing behavior to not re-offend, relationships, life skills, addiction recovery and spiritual foundation.

"Through this program, it taught me how to depend on people and to communicate more. Guys look at me as a leader, I appreciate that and respect that. I try to offer my knowledge and my experience and input to try to lead guys in the direction I feel like would be beneficial for them," said Price.

The Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln will have its first program graduates this summer.

Staff members and inmates alike say they hope to expand the program moving forward to include a larger portion of the inmate population.