Barry Saunders

Education for inmates would help us all – Saunders

Harvey Heartley, who was a successful coach and athletic director at St. Augustine’s, was committed to the issue of teaching inmates.
Harvey Heartley, who was a successful coach and athletic director at St. Augustine’s, was committed to the issue of teaching inmates. News & Observer file photo

When I tell ya the dude worked on this up until the very end, I mean he worked on it up until the very end.

Perhaps a week before he died in June 2014, Harvey Heartley called to set up a meeting so we could try to figure out how to help educate inmates in the Wake County Jail, to come up with ways to prepare them for life outside of a cell, to ensure that once they were out, they stayed out.

It was over 90 degrees and muggy, uncomfortable for the heartiest of souls. Must’ve been unbearable for a man visibly suffering, as he was, from the cancer that would soon end his life.

Yet, Heartley was waiting for me when I got to my office, looking cool in his guayabera.

I explained, as one usually does upon arriving late, that the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

Heartley, the former head basketball coach and athletic director at St. Augustine’s University – nee College – didn’t care. He was too focused on implementing his plans to bring computers into the jail – at the time it only had one for the inmates, he said – and to teach them about life.

I marveled – still do – at how he ignored his pending mortality while displaying such concern for people he didn’t even know.

I thought of Heartley’s commitment to the cause when I read that the Wake County Board of Commissioners is debating whether to enter a program with Wake Tech to provide training for inmates.

What is there to debate?

Shutting off the spigot of inmates flowing into and out of – and into and out of – jails and prisons is essential, because no society can prosper if it spends billions locking up the same people over and over. The best way to avoid doing that is through education and training. You don’t have to give a hoot for the welfare of inmates – and judging from the calls and letters I receive daily and will receive after this, some of you don’t – but an enlightened self-interest should make us want to keep people out of the pokey.

That’s what education and training programs do.

One Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that 68 percent of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release, and 77 percent are rearrested within five years of getting out.

Is there anyone who thinks that’s cost effective?

Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison told me Wednesday that the jail was working with Wake Tech “before the economy went south” several years ago. He welcomes the chance to resume the partnership. “Even though they’re accused of a crime, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve an education,” Harrison said. That, he said, reduces the chances “of me seeing them again.”

If you’re interested in volunteering to help teach inmates some skill they’ll need once they get out, he said you can call jail director Dale Butler at 919-856-5947 for more information.

You got anything better to do?

Derrick Sauls said St. Aug’s plans to reboot an inmate training program it had up until a few years ago. Sauls, department chair for Public Health & Exercise Sciences at the school, said it ran a program teaching inmates about the human body and training them for careers as personal trainers and aerobics instructors, among other things. Inmates with longer sentences, he said, are able to use what they’ve learned to train other inmates. Increasing fitness and reducing obesity, he said, saves the state money in health care costs.

The inmates in the program, he said, learned medical terminology, CPR certification and kinesiology, among other things, and the credits they earned were transferable to four-year or community colleges. A buddy of mine who took similar courses while matriculating at Butner Federal Prison is a sought-after trainer in Raleigh.

In addition to budget cuts, Sauls said, the program ran into problems because all programs catering to inmates must be a certain distance from schools and day cares.

If Sauls is correct and the program is going to be re-implemented, there couldn’t be a better tribute to Heartley, a Hall of Famer and the school’s winningest basketball coach.

Seeing Heartley’s commitment to this cause, I had to forgive him – and cease calling him Harvey Heartless – for ending my nascent basketball career when he cut me from the team at St. Augustine’s. Of course, his opinion was seconded and then thirded by coaches at the two other colleges to which I transferred trying to make a team, too. So it wasn’t all on him.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9