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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

UNO inmate program will graduate 15 ex-offenders this month

Fifteen of 25 ex-offenders will graduate on Dec. 17 as transformed individuals from a University of Nebraska at Omaha project centered on the disciplines faced by Omaha native Malcolm X.

UNO implemented the 20-week Transformation Project in October 2007 with the help of a $1 million private donation from UNO alumnus and Winmark CEO John L. Morgan.

Chris Rodgers – Douglas County Board of Commissioners Chairman, District 3, and senior community service associate at UNO – said the project was the “first of its kind” but it would face some challenges.

Rodgers spoke to lecturer Karen Weber's public affairs reporting students about these challenges, as well as the upbringing of the project for the students' speech story assignment on Nov. 24.

“I knew the biggest hurdle would be curriculum,” said Rodgers, who is responsible for putting the project into fruition.

Chris Rodgers speaks to lecturer Karen Weber's public affairs reporting students on Nov. 24 (Andrea Ciurej/UNO).

With the help of Manning Marable – director of the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University and Transformation Project consultant – Rodgers formulated the curriculum for the project. The curriculum focuses on the values of discipline, faith, kinship, literacy, honesty, respect and historical perspective.

Rodgers said 20 modules were formed using these values to evoke introspection and behavioral change to promote offenders’ successful re-entry into the community after prison. The project will prepare offenders using real-life struggles faced by Malcolm X: health, employment, job training, social networking, housing and transportation.

Rodgers said the project attracts offenders with 18-20 months left until eligible for parole.

“Toward the end, they realize that is the step to go,” Rodgers said. “It’s not going to come easy.”

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Douglas County Department of Correctional Services and community-based organizations You Are Not Alone and the Malcolm X Foundation will attempt to prompt interest beyond Nebraska.

Project partners, along with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, are looking to pilot the project into other jurisdictions.

“It’s not like this light at the end of the tunnel,” Rodgers said. “It can change direction.”

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