By Gianluca D’Elia
Since last spring, a group of Rider students has been working hard to create a chapter of the Petey Greene Program, a Princeton-based organization that provides individualized tutoring at minimum-security prisons. Upon establishment of the program, Rider would be the 17th school in the nation to start a chapter of Petey Greene.
In the midst of planning information sessions, recruiting members and coming up with a group motto, the executive board of the university’s Petey Greene chapter has already been interacting with inmates at New Jersey correctional facilities.
“Education is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Rider’s Petey Greene president, junior psychology major Asia Marché. “When people work with us, we want them to connect. We’re going to get to the root of the issue, and they’ll take something away — not just how to do a math problem or read some words. They will want to learn.”
Resources are often scarce in the Department of Corrections. Prisons lack therapists and counselors, and addiction treatment programs come and go. Petey Greene focuses on educational therapy to provide inmates with skills that will help them after their release. However, educational therapy can be beneficial in more ways than one.
“Therapy comes through note-taking and math skills and reading comprehension,” said Marché. “Tutoring takes their minds off of being in an institution, because they are working towards goals for the future.”
Associate professor of sociology Dr. Victor Thompson is the Petey Greene Program advisor.
“Experiencing different cultures and environments is a part of a good liberal arts education,” Thompson said. “You learn a lot about yourself as you interact with incarcerated people because it reminds you of your own privileges, and maybe even your weaknesses. There are a lot of stereotypes about people who are incarcerated that we need to break down. Students will quickly learn how similar people in prison can be to themselves.”
Petey Greene also provides an opportunity for students to tutor different populations with varying levels of education. Thompson said the program is important because it allows students to experience a different world firsthand and gain realistic insight into the lives of others.
For junior elementary education major Brittany Smith, the vice president of the chapter, Petey Greene was a reminder of why she chose her career path.
“I made a connection with a woman whose poor education led her to a bad path,” Smith said. “She pulled me aside and told me, ‘Don’t ever let a student just get pushed through the system like I did.’ It made me realize that as a teacher, I have a responsibility to make sure my students don’t fall behind. That’s when I realized I was on the right path.”
Psychology professor Anne Law hopes students will take an interest in Petey Greene, since it will provide a unique perspective on the U.S. justice system. The Petey Greene Program aims to not only educate, but also to put faces to the Department of Corrections. Educational therapy can motivate inmates to achieve life goals after prison, and enables students to broaden their perspective. For all inmates, there is a story of how they became inmates.
“Nothing is black and white,” said Marché. “In this time with police brutality, you don’t know whose son or mother you’re pushing down. With the Petey Greene Program, we build understanding through education. You now have this third eye—you learn more than you will learn from your schoolbooks or in a police academy.”