Thoughtful conversations that give people getting out of prison a better chance for a different future.
Reading Between the Lines is a simple but powerful way to build critical thinking and effective communication skills.
The idea is to “unpack” a short, powerful piece of writing—poem, essay, speech—in small discussion groups led by trained facilitators. The group reads the text aloud and listens to each other as they understand and analyze what the author is trying to say. The conversations are lively and respectful. There are no tests or grades. There are no right or wrong answers as long as responses can be supported by evidence from the text. The sessions are thoughtful conversations through which women and men learn to listen, think, express opinions and exchange ideas. In the process, they build confidence and self-worth. With even modest, newly acquired soft skills, like careful listening, critical thinking and effective communication, participants re-entering the community have a better chance for a different future.
Beginning as a pilot program at St. Leonard’s Ministries on Chicago’s west side in September 2013, Reading Between the Lines currently works at three transitional residential facilities for the re-entry population in Chicago, where trained volunteers facilitate discussions of short literary masterworks. Since its inception, the program has engaged 20 volunteer trainers and served 450 participants. Discussions are held weekly, 50 weeks of the year.
What participants are saying:
· “I was able to have a different opinion without arguing.”
· “I can understand [how] to be focused.”
· “I know if I don’t listen, I won’t make it.”
· “I learned I could think outside the box.”
· “I finished something; I’m grateful.”
Well-run support and intervention programs can drastically reduce recidivism, citing rates of about 20% after three years compared to the national average of nearly 50%. Collaborating with transitional living facilities, Reading Between the Lines complements and strengthens the work of those other re-entry intervention programs. Its unique role in reducing the recidivism rate is to provide individuals with life skills that help them:
· develop new ways to talk to people and express opinions
· listen and accept different points of view
· develop self-awareness and control
· hear their ideas and voice validated, often for the first time
· recognize their own intellectual capabilities
· build confidence and self-worth.
Reading Between the Lines is not just a social justice program. The program is also an economic initiative. Reading Between the Lines is cost-effective. Its FY2018 annual budget of roughly $100,000 will support the development of the organization and delivery of services from the current 150 to over 250 people. If even a few of the program’s participants are able to improve their lives and remain out of prison because of new-found critical thinking and communications skills, they not only benefit, but so do their families and communities. This return on investment—a modest expenditure with outsized gains—is a tangible contribution to our city and to society.