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Prisoners learn life skills from Extension programs

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Speakers usually don't like captive audiences, but two Extension agents in South Mississippi are happy with theirs.

Marcia McLeod and Liz Sadler teach life skills, parenting, health and nutrition classes on a regular schedule to inmates at the Mississippi Department of Corrections facility in Greene County. McLeod is the Greene County 4-H agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, and Sadler is an Extension area health agent working out of Lamar County.

"Teaching in the prison is one of the best learning experiences that I have ever encountered," McLeod said. "Not only are the inmates excited to see an outsider, but they are really appreciative of the information we give."

McLeod has been teaching in the prison for about three years. She began when an alcohol and drug counselor at the prison asked for her help.

"It was scary at first because when you go in, you're locked inside. When you hear those doors close, you wonder what's going to happen," McLeod said. "But the staff members are wonderful and I've gotten used to it."

McLeod works primarily with 18- to 25-year-old inmates in the Regimented Inmate Discipline program. Inmates must attend her half-day program before completing their three-month incarceration.

Sadler works with the adult men in the drug and alcohol unit. Most are serving time for a first-time drug offense or a third-offense driving under the influence conviction. There are about 180 to 200 men serving sentences in this unit at any given time.

"It's been a rewarding experience for me because they have responded well. My class is optional, so the men don't have to come if they don't want to," Sadler said. "I find that they really want to learn."

Among the Extension Service educational programs used are Healthy Habits for Life, It's All About You, Take Charge of Your Health and Know Your Numbers.

Prisoners at the minimum-security Greene County facility come from across the state. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of these educational programs to inmates; however, both agents are confident that they are getting their message across.

"They're at the point in their lives when they realize that something needs to change," McLeod said. "We tell them about the Extension programs in every county and how if they have children, one of the positive things they can get their kids involved in is 4-H. We also encourage them to give back to their community by volunteering."

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Released: Nov. 11, 2004
Contact: Marcia McLeod, (601) 394-2702

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