Eight men sit around a wood table, a family in their own right. Contemplative, concerned with the nature of the mind and how environmental conditioning guides human behavior. Well-spoken men such as these might not be imagined to have spent the better part of their lives in prison. Today, these men pose a stark contrast to the stereotypes surrounding incarceration.
Within Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers Connecticut, the collective conscience of this group of inmates transfuses the environment. Their group is called Skills of Socialization, their dream is to save the young lives of those who walk the same path they once did.
As adolescents these men grew in a culture of gang activity, crime, drug use and distribution, and violence. The entrenched nature of this culture in inner-cities and other segments of our country is all too well known. Young boys growing up in fatherless homes, broken families, captivated by the influence of their peers. As we know, childhood and adolescence are when we are most impressionable. While there are certainly those who resist this pressure, the widespread criminal culture inevitably entangles many of our society’s youth.
The movement begun in Skills of Socialization identifies fundamental, intra-personal criminal processes and offers a method of change. Through acceptance and sharing experiences with others, true feelings and thoughts, those who participate in the group begin to unearth the reasons for who they are. An emotional support framework entirely like that of a family: members are held accountable to themselves and one another.
For some of these men, this is the first time anyone has ever shown they cared about them in their entire life. For some, this is the first family they have ever had. For others, it is the first time in their they have ever shown their true feelings to another human. Undoubtedly, the movement is a congregation of firsts.
Hope. Sometimes, it arises from the most unexpected of places. These eight men share spark of hope with all those who walk through the door into their group. Their message: criminal activity of any sort is unacceptable, but truly, there is another way. While it may be difficult for many of us to comprehend, for our fellows who have grown up in an environment of criminal activity since they were born – there may not be any other reality that ever occurs to them.
Skills of Socialization (SOS) has already touched nearly 100 young offenders, with the hope that their path can be changed. As it spreads beyond the walls of Osborn Correctional Institute, it will continue to touch many more. Together, the men of SOS aid our mission of reducing recidivism – and more importantly, saving the lives of those youth and young adults who so desperately need someone to help them.
You can read more about Skills of Socialization in an article written by the Hartford Courant here.