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Ex-offender Roger Bruesewitz Leaves Legacy of Escape

For most of his early adult life, Roger Bruesewitz was in and out of the Wisconsin state prison system. The ex-offender served time for dealing heroin, robbery, illegal gambling, and assault. It was while he was in prison that Bruesewitz started to dream of a way out of that cycle. He joined a study release program and graduated with a degree in 1975, several years before his final term in jail.

“Somewhere there was a seed that he wanted to have a different life,” said Mary Rouse of Bruesewitz. Rouse was his friend for decades, after they met during his time as a student.

After Bruesewitz served his time, he genuinely made good. He worked as a copy editor for UW-Madison, where he’d attended classes. He bought a waterfront house, and his family grew to call him a ‘straight shooter.’ And according to Rouse, he wanted to give that opportunity to other people caught in the cycle of crime and prison.

Bruesewitz left everything to Rouse, for a purpose. Since his passing in 2019, she has doled out the estate in donations to organizations that support any other ex-offender or veteran seeking to move forward, as well as journalists. That amount was not staggering, but it was substantial.

“I have given away all of his money,” Rouse said. “In my mind, he left his estate to me not for me personally to buy a better car or anything, but … to see that it would do some good. I feel that I’ve been able to honor his memory and what he was all about.”

Of the approximately $160,000 Rouse was left to disburse, $25,000 has been put into a scholarship for ex-offenders. Over a quarter of all ex-offenders have no diploma or degree at all, and less than half have anything more than a high school diploma or GED. Only 4 percent have any college degree, and their unemployment rate is 5 times that of the general public. The goal of the scholarship is to offer them the same chance Roger Bruesewitz had, to move past their criminal record, so often a barrier to many.

Image: Shutterstock

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Donation

Mellon Foundation Allocates $3.3M to Prison Education

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is investing $3.3 million in prison education programs that are designed to help inmates reintegrate into society.

“We know that higher-education-in-prison programs reduce violence inside prisons, improve incarcerated students’ ties with family and community in advance of parole, reduce rates of recidivism, and interrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” said Eugene Tobin, senior program officer of the Mellon Foundation. “Prison classrooms can and should also be sites of curricular innovation in the humanities and a pipeline for transfer and reintegration services in partnership with universities and philanthropic supporters. College-in-prison programs represent values that should be at the heart of a democratic society.”

The $3.3 million grant will be divided amongst four recipients.

The first recipient is the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which offers inmates at the Otisville Correctional Facility who are eligible for release within five years the opportunity to earn college credits during their incarceration.

The second recipient is the Marymount Manhattan College (also based in New York). Funds will go towards supporting its two- and four-year-degree programs offered to inmates at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. Additional funds will be used to expand these offerings to inmates at the Taconic Correctional Facilities for Women.

The third recipient is California State University, Los Angeles. Not only does Cal State offer BA programs to inmates at Lancaster State Prison, the college also provides post-release services to program participants who wish to complete their degrees at the university’s main campus.

The fourth and final recipient is the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, a national network dedicated to expanding access to higher education in prison and empowering former inmates by providing post-release services.

“Mass incarceration is linked to mass undereducation, but innovative, proven interventions can address both crises,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation. “The Mellon Foundation believes in each and every student’s humanity and sees expanding access to higher education in prison as a public good.”

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News

Couple Who Ran Fraudulent Charity Face 20 Years in Prison

The founders of a charity based in San Diego were convicted of fraud and theft on July 10th, and could face up to 20 years I prison. Kevin Lombard and Judith Paixao ran the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation from 2007 to 2009, which purported to train wounded veterans for jobs in the movie industry. A 10-week course was supposed to train them in new job skills and get them membership in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees for a hefty price tag of $88,000. That’s about as much as accredited film schools charge for a three-year program. Dozens of marines had their courses paid for with a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

However, it turns out that the charity wasn’t delivering. They failed to provide some of the training and equipment, which left some trainees without the skills they went there to learn. Some of the trainees had to go so far as to bring their own equipment. Instead, it seems that they used that money to pay for personal items. The couple used these funds to pay for a trip to Bermuda, expensive meals, and a sailing trip around San Diego Bay.

In addition, Paixao also defrauded another charity, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, of $100,000 dollars. She claimed that the money was going to help a marine who had already dropped out of the program.

The issue came to light in 2009, when several veterans who were in the first graduating class filed complaints against them. Among other things, it turns out that the $88,000 came primarily from veteran’s benefits, and that the purported price for a course was only $10,000. Needless to say, a number of trainees in the program felt betrayed. Three veterans took the stand during the trial.

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Resources

Yoga Behind Bars is Bringing the Practice to Prisons

Yoga-Behind-BarsIf you’re familiar with the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, then you can probably recall watching the character Yoga Jones, played by actress Constance Shulman, at work teaching yoga to her fellow inmates. While that scenario seems unlikely even for a fictional comedy-drama series, there are actually real-life, certified yoga instructors working in prisons every single day.

Based in the Seattle area, Yoga Behind Bars is an organization that sends yoga instructors into prisons where they can mentor, teach, and bring a renewed sense of self to the inmates that take their classes. According to Yoga Behind Bars, “People who practice yoga and meditation are less likely to return to prison once they finish their sentence,” of the kinds of benefits the program provides. “Thanks to our classes, incarcerated people can connect more deeply with themselves and others, inviting self-reflection, care, and compassion,” the organization explains.

Yoga Behind Bars
Yoga Behind Bar’s Instructors. IMG: via Facebook.

Yoga Behind Bars serves as not only an escape for inmates who yearn to feel centered and calm amid their high-stress environment, but as a way to help them transition successfully back into life outside of prison as well. “The transformation can be profound,” notes the organization, “students now have a set of tools to cope with stress and anxiety while in prison and for whey they return to their communities.”

Yoga and meditation are the preferred practices many people employ in their daily lives to ensure good health of the body and of the mind. Yoga has the power to reduce depression, anger, and anxiety, as well as to increase self-esteem, something that is crucial to build in women and youth inmates, especially. Right now, the impact of Yoga Behind Bars is significant; the organization sends more than 40 yoga instructors to teach 27 classes per week in 10 different locations. Reportedly, an average of 30 incarcerated students practice yoga each day through the organization’s programs, which means that each day, there are 30 individuals who are less likely to return to prison after they are released.

To learn more about this remarkable program, visit yogabehindbars.org.