For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.
This spring, the D.C. Jail grappled with a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases. We check in with the D.C. Department of Corrections to get an update on how people in the D.C. Jail and the Central Treatment Facility (the medium-security institution for men and women next door to the jail) are faring during the pandemic.
And, like educational programs across the country, the Department of Corrections has had to suspend in-person learning. We’ll talk about how different classes have pivoted to online classes.
Then, we learn about Young Men Emerging, a mentorship program for young adults in the D.C. jail.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Quincy Booth Director, D.C. Department of Corrections; @DCCorrections
- Tyrone Walker Associate, Justice Policy Institute; Former mentor, Young Men Emerging
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll talk about reading, writing and journalism programs for people incarcerated in the D.C. jail. But first, today we're checking in with the D.C. Department of Corrections to see how it's managing its two facilities where there were coronavirus outbreaks last spring. And we'll also discuss how the programs and services they offer to inmates from libraries to workshops have been affected by coronavirus. Joining me now is Quincy Booth, Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. Quincy Booth, thank you for joining us.
QUINCY BOOTHThank you for having me. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIQuincy Booth, this spring the D.C. jail was the site of a large coronavirus outbreak. Inmates sued the Department of Corrections at the time over conditions including for not following guidelines to protect inmates from coronavirus. What changes have been put in place to protect inmates and staff since then?
BOOTHGood morning -- or excuse me. Good afternoon again. So prior to the pandemic DOC, we had a pandemic influenza plan. We also had a continuing of operations plan as well as emergency response plan. But as you know, with the coronavirus, we were learning as the country also was learning. And so we heavy relied on our partnership with D.C. Health as well as the information that was coming out from the CDC. So today what we have done is we continue to educate our staff as well as the residents on COVID-19, the importance of wearing PPE as well as maintaining social distancing.
BOOTHWe developed an effective communication plan that was both for the residents as well as the staff on what COVID-19 is and how it has evolved more so on a weekly basis as well as we provided opportunities for the staff to express their concerns or any, you know, matters that they had as it relates to COVID, as well as doing social distancing town halls with both the residents to get that understanding around COVID because like the community there was concerns and fears that individuals had.
BOOTHAnd so in order for us to be effective in our communication it was imperative that we listened to them and developed a plan around that, as well as we enforced social distancing, enhanced our cleaning as well as offered testing for both the residents as well as the staff. And so when residents come into our care when testing became available by Mayor Bowser that we're grateful for, we were able to do a rapid instant testing as residents came into our care, as well as we placed them on a unit for a total of 14 days to test them several times to ensure that they were not coming into the facility.
BOOTHAnd if they are we're providing high quality care, and one last thing that I'll say -- I'm sorry. As it relates to this is well as we single cell where possible to ensure that we are mitigating the matter.
NNAMDIWell, we're seeing a surge of coronavirus cases in this region. What do the numbers look like in the D.C. Jail and Central Treatment, Correctional Treatment Facility right now?
BOOTHAs of today we have a total of four positive cases and they have all been through intake. And so we've received them over the last week and a half where we've had four individuals come into our care that have tested positive and they are currently on an isolation unit receiving high quality from our healthcare providers as well as our staff.
NNAMDIThere was a push to test all 1300 inmates last spring. You may have mentioned this before, but are you testing both staff and inmates regularly now?
BOOTHYes, sir. And we are providing the guidance from D.C. Health so we are testing staff and staff have the opportunity to take advantage of one site testing as well as the testing that's in the community as well as our healthcare providers. But as it relates to the residents when they come into our care, we're providing that testing and we are leaning on D.C. Health and an epidemiologist that's been detailed to us to do point prevalency testing where they see fit.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Quincy Booth, Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. Quincy Booth, the D.C. Department of Corrections offers different educational programs for incarcerated residents. Can you give us an overview of the programs you offer and how they've pivoted during the pandemic?
BOOTHSo sure. So prior to the pandemic we were a rich community that provided high quality programming as well as college and career readiness. And so as you know, because we've talked about this in prior interviews where we develop our programs and services based off of the men and women in our care. And so they will educate us on what they see fit and what they find to be important. So from things from parenting classes to journalism classes to college and career readiness, and so we've had a partnership historically with Howard University, American University, Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School as well as Ashland University. And so as you know, prior to the pandemic majority of our classes were in-person, sir.
BOOTHAnd so to that end when we had to go into a different posture and enforce the same practices that are out in the community which are mainly medical stay in place that restricted our ability to allow visitors into our care as well as movement in a limited way because the jail is constructed in a way that it's small from a real estate space. And so in order to enforce the six feet distance we have to limit the amount of people that we have both as visitors as well as our residents.
BOOTHSo to that end our Deputy Director Camille Williams as well as Deputy Director Amy Lopez held town hall meetings with both our volunteers that we are grateful for because they still wanted to have a connection and engagement. And so we did a virtual town hall with both sides, both the education side as well as the programs and services. And we talked about how we could partner in that way. And so several months ago we laid out a detailed plan with both the education side as well as the programs and services on how we are going to transition into a virtual platform.
NNAMDIAnd using tablets of course. But using tablets for learning for is not something new in the D.C. jail. Tell us about how they've been used before.
BOOTHThat is correct, sir. So prior to this we had about three to 400 tablets that we deployed to the residents. And so we were using it with both Ashland as well as mainly an opportunity for people to connect from a reading standpoint of different, you know, sort of applications on the tablet that provided them opportunities to read, opportunities to address their mental health and behavioral health as well as they were Ted talks on it that I'll talk about briefly that we are not doing our own version of the Ted talks where residents could again listen, learn and become educated at their own pace.
BOOTHAnd so prior to the pandemic we had about 300 tablets. I went to the mayor as well as the city administrator and expressed given the current posture that we are in we needed to make sure that we continued our high quality programing, because residents would be in their cells longer than they would normally be out of their cells.
BOOTHSo to that end, the mayor had made an investment of an additional 1,000 tablets that allowed us to gradually deploy all of the tablets throughout the facility. So right now we have about 1200 tablets deployed throughout our facility where individuals are being able to connect and have high quality programing in a way that they did not necessarily connect before because of the design of the facility.
NNAMDIOkay. Joining us now to talk about another program in the D.C. jail called Young Men Emerging is Tyrone Walker, an Associate at the Justice Policy Institute and a former mentor in the program. Tyrone Walker, thank you for joining us.
TYRONE WALKERGood afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou were one of the first mentors in the Young Men Emerging program. Tell us what the program is, who it's for and how you first got involved.
WALKERWell, I'll start with how I first got involved. I was on the Central Detention Facility and I got an interview by Deputy Director Wanda Patent. She called me out of my cell about seven o'clock in the morning. I didn't know what was going on. And I come to find out a very good friend of mine, who was also the co-author of the paper, Mr. Joel Caststone had put in a good word for me that I would be an excellent mentor on the unit. So I got interviewed and about a week later I was later placed on the unit.
NNAMDIWell, it's my understanding that mentees have access to their mentors 24 hours a day why is that important for someone in the program?
WALKERWell, it's very important for a lot of reasons, but I'll state this one here. A lot of mentees who are also emerging adults because the program is for people who are 18 to 25 years old, a lot of them come from abused home. A lot of them didn't have father figures. And so to have somebody that they can look up to -- and we didn't use the word father figure. We'd just say that we were your mentors on the unit. And to be able to talk about the problems that we've already encountered, because we are now grown and a lot of us have similar experience.
WALKERAnd so a lot of times when you can see that young folks are really grappling with things in life they may be ashamed because they have been sexually molested, you know, they have been abused physically, emotionally. And all those things are so -- and so they don't talk about those things until they learn to trust you. And so when they can talk to you at any time of the night it was just invaluable that the program was setup like that whereas though they had complete access to us to talk about those things.
NNAMDIAnthony sent us an email. "I'm a recently released mentor of the Young Men Emerging program. One of the most important groups is morning circle where we sit and rate how we are feeling that day. That's essential to us a mentors because it let us know who is having a rough day and need to converse with. Due to social distancing we weren't allowed to sit more than five mentees in a group at Young Men Emerging." As for you, Quincy Booth, on your side of things, why did you want to create this program and do you look to any other programs across the country to help you develop it?
BOOTHYes. As stated a little bit earlier, Mr. Nnamdi, it's imperative that when you're providing programing to not just do a box off the shelf programming. And so we listen with our ears and with our hearts to just ensure that we're providing the appropriate programming, and so we did look across the country. What I will say as Mr. Walker indicated, this is a unique program that was really customized for the men and soon to be evolving to women as time progresses around the Young Men Emerging and the Mentee / mentorship model has been proven to have great results and I'll stop right there.
NNAMDITyrone Walker, a big part of Young Men Emerging is mentorship. In what areas do mentors help their mentees. You mentioned a few earlier.
WALKERI mean, you help them at every area where they're struggling at. You know, my favorite saying -- I just want to also give a shout out to the co-authors of the paper Joel Caststone and Michael Woody. I used to always say that as your mentor it's my job to help you recognize your talents and your gifts and help you get to the path to achieve them. But it's only one trick to that is that you have to walk the path once I help you there, because those are your goals and aspirations.
NNAMDIOriginally, Tyrone, only people who were deemed minimum or low risk could join Young Men Emerging, but you and your fellow mentors worked to change that. Why was that important?
WALKERWell, in that regards we have to give a big shout out to DOC's leadership as Director Booth just alluded to, you know, they listen. Not only just their ears but with their hearts and their minds. And we felt that, we have a whole lot to offer to people who were going to go inside the federal bureau of prisons. And that was very important for us to -- all the mentors that served on average in 20 years at the time. And most of us had spent at least 15 of those years inside the federal bureau of prisons. So we had a lot of knowledge to give to those individuals who weren't going back inside the community.
NNAMDIOkay. We're running out of time in this segment. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about how the D.C. jail is operating during the pandemic and its educational programs. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the how the D.C. Jail is handling the pandemic and about its education programs there. Quincy Booth is the Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. And Tyrone Walker is an Associate at the Justice Policy Institute and a former mentor in the Young Men Emerging program. Tyrone, you were mentored when you were a young man incarcerated in the D.C. Jail. What is it like now being on the other side of that, the one who is mentoring young men?
WALKEROh, it's really unbelievable, like to pay it forward and to like give back when you know -- like when I really needed some help and a man came into my life. And during those times we didn't call them mentors. We just called them o'heads. And like to be one of those people to naturally want to help and like give back, it has been remarkable.
NNAMDIWell, Fazia in Falls Church has something to say to you. Fazia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FAZIAHi, Kojo. I just want you to know that I love your show and really quickly, I am a mentor with Justice for Juniors. Can you guys hear me?
NNAMDIYes, very well.
FAZIAYes. And I work with the kids at the YSE in D.C. and I'm in Falls Church and we have a group of mentors from (word?) that go down there. But my question to you is, it's wonderful that you do this 24-7 mentorship, because it builds trust. And we've been doing the same thing for five years on a part-time basis with the kids in D.C. Detention. How can we transfer that or who are the right people to talk to so that we can start collaborating on something like that for kids that are 13 to 18?
NNAMDIQuincy Booth, any answers?
BOOTHSo I think she already has the relationship with URS, I would just probably say it's imperative that she connects with Director Lacey over there as well as the associate directors if she wants to enhance that relationship, but I also know beyond sort of -- it's the inside aspect. But it's also the outside part. Where I think it's needed even more is more so how do we prevent people from even coming into the system. And often times it's imperative that a mentor shows up in one's life to show them either a different path or just exposing them to things that I think that is meaningful that we all received in our lives. And so I would say both the inside with connecting with URS as well as community based organizations throughout D.C.
NNAMDITyrone, anything you'd like to add?
WALKERYes. I think also connecting -- because she always connected with YSE. So connecting with a credible messengers model at DYRS. Then you have east of the river who's also doing some things. But like Director Booth mentioned like it's really to prevent the things. Like we try to do more things in the community so there's a collaborative effort going on around the YRA here in D.C. to implement the strategic plan to bring about these type of things inside the community to help folks in the community. Not when they get to D.C. Jail or not when they get to the Central Treatment Facility. We want to help them before they get there.
NNAMDIAnd, Quincy Booth, we got this email from James who says, "I was released from D.C. Jail on May 5th 2020 during the early stages of the pandemic. I had served 24 years. While at the jail, I was taking advantage of an educational program called CTech. I was on my way to completing my third certification when the jail was locked down due to COVID. It was a scary time. We were locked down. The teachers and officers were refusing to work. It heightened the alarm of the prisoners." Can you tell us whether or not that program has been resumed at all, Quincy Booth?
BOOTHSo the CTech program which is another word for our staying in our STEM program we are now looking at -- so that's the easiest way to explain it. So from fiber optic cabling, network bonding to say the least, but it's several certifications that the young man just mentioned. We are, again, in the posture of looking at how do we do it via the tablet, because a lot of it was hands on. And so we actually had equipment there so from wires to cables to some of the tools that we are again working with CTech just to see if there's way that we can explore how to do this via the tablet. But as of right now it's on pause. And we'll keep you updated around that.
NNAMDITyrone, you now work as an associate for the Justice Policy Institute. That's a non-profit based here in D.C. You co-authored a report about how the program began and its successes. Did anything surprise you when you were putting together that report?
WALKERNo. No it didn't. I mean, some of the things that's not in the report. Like if it's another reason they want to duplicate this model like you have to have a relationship with leadership. You know, I can't say enough about leadership and how they listened to us with their ears and with their hearts. And they heard us all. You know, I can recall one incident where Director Booth and Deputy Director Wanda Patent came and sat down and they asked us what we want. You know, this is during the early stages of the program and getting it going. And all our mentees, they wanted all this stuff here. And they looked at us and said, we going to see what we can do. And we looked up everything that they asked for we got. And it showed our mentees how powerful their voices can be when they fix their minds to do the right things.
WALKERAnd I like to shout out Arnold Ventures for supporting this effort in this report so we can highlight the things that's going on in D.C. and let the world see that great things are coming out of this city.
NNAMDIHere is Maricia in Washington D.C. Maricia, your turn.
MARICIAHello. I was just calling to compliment the work that the Department of Corrections is doing. I think it's amazing that I'm a D.C. resident. I lived in D.C. all of my life. As D.C. residents, we've all been impacted by the jail whether we've had family members here, whether some of us may have been in jail at some point in time. So it's very important to hear positivity, because I feel like a lot of times we only hear negative.
MARICIAAnd the Department of Corrections is a family and it's a home and it's an amazing place to work. And I'm happy to have been here.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. We only have about 30 seconds left, Quincy Booth. But in the next segment we'll be talking about the program behind a newsletter inside scoop and the podcast "Inside Voices," what can you tell us about them? Uh-oh.
BOOTHCan you hear me?
BOOTHOkay, I'm sorry. You said, uh-oh, so sorry about that. The "Inside Scoop" is an opportunity to hear the voices of the residents and it's a journalism class that we actually have that's been taught by our staff members to make sure that their voices are heard throughout the jail. Prior to the pandemic, sir, we were using paper copies. But we've now transformed into a virtual where now all of the residents are receiving the "Inside Scoop" that just tells their voices, what their experiences are, all the way down to cooking lessons and opportunities to take care of their wellness as people that are not here.
NNAMDITyrone Walker, Quincy Booth, thank you both for joining us. We've received some comments from the writers of "Inside Scoop." Zachary says that writing for "Inside Scoop" is, "very fulfilling, providing me a form of mental escape from incarceration while also allowing me to feel that I'm doing something productive and beneficial with my time. Brainstorming recipes or story ideas, having discussions with my peers on the newsletter and typing out my articles all provide a sense of normalcy in altogether abnormal situation."
NNAMDIAnd Coley who writes the "Wisdom behind the Wall" column for "Inside Scoop" says, "It means a great deal to be able to share the message of hope to a segment of the human population that quite often find themselves in a state of utter hopelessness." We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk a little more about "Inside Scoop" and hear questions and comments from people currently incarcerated in the D.C. Department of Correction's system. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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