Inmate education program works

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In view of recent articles about inmates losing an important transition program, I want to bring attention to another one that happens on the inside.

New Directions Education Project is an all-volunteer organization founded in 1999 in Pendleton. Its sole focus is to provide the opportunity for college classes to qualifying inmates at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute in Pendleton.

Inmates must test into minimum math and writing prerequisites, pay $10 per credit hour for their classes, and have clear conduct and a good job record while incarcerated. Gifted teachers provide the instruction through Blue Mountain Community College and under its auspices toward an Association of Arts Oregon Transfer degree.

They are paid their full salaries through donations from generous foundations and individuals as well as from the inmates' own tuition fees. All donations are tax deductible because NDEP is a 501(c)(3) corporation.

Why do we do this? Because no other opportunity exists for inmates to obtain a college education while incarcerated and because education changes lives. State and federal funding for incarcerated persons was cut off in 1994, and there are sparse libraries and no online opportunities available in prison for inmates.

Why have we continued for more than 10 years now? Because men like "Derrick" write us letters, year after year, thanking us so profoundly and eloquently: "The greatest gift the program provides is arguably the most powerful of any that can be offered to someone in prison -- hope.... We will strive to grow in the image being projected upon us."

The program works because only motivated and qualified inmates are admitted, and they usually can take only one class at a time. Our fantastic teachers support and nurture men who possibly never before have been successful at anything.

It takes these men many years to earn an AAOT degree at EOCI -- years during which the student-inmate learns, as one man put it, "perseverance, patience and structure for my life."

For more information about NDEP, and to see more inmate letters, please visit our website at bluecc.edu/newdirections . We will be glad to provide a speaker for your group or organization.

Kittee Custer

NDEP Board Member

Milton-Freewater

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