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From our Volunteers: Steph Garber on the Florida Prison System

I was appalled when I learned about the prison system here in Florida, the state I have called home for nearly 20 years.

In December of 2019, Mark Inch, Florida’s secretary of the Department of Corrections at that point, described the system as marginal in a Tampa Bay Times interview. He way overrated it in my opinion.

Although almost 90% of prisoners return to prison after release, is anything being done to remedy this? Why are we not better preparing these inmates for a return to the real world?

According to the Florida Times-Union, “In 2009, former Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil warned that the state cannot afford to keep building prisons for a prison population that had reached 100,000.” That was more than 11 years ago. Intakes are slow right now because of COVID-19, yet we still have nearly 85,000 behind bars. The growth will certainly return after COVID-19.

That same article from 14 months ago said, “Florida’s prisons have too few educational programs, too many inexperienced guards, too many hostile inmates with drug problems and arising gang culture.” It was also noted that these are the identical warning signs that preceded a prison riot in New Mexico in 1980.

So, that too few educational programs struck me. That was awful in my mind and it stayed with me. But once I read about College Guild and found out about the volunteer reader positions, I felt uplifted. Now I could be part, albeit a small part, of helping with that issue through College Guild. Even if not in my home state, I could make a difference, as sadly this fact is true all over the country.

I joined College Guild to help in that tiny way, and I feel I have gotten so much back, and at the same time as getting the satisfaction of giving. This was what I needed to feel I am doing what I can. The letters College Guild shares with us as readers from the students, and the enjoyment the prisoners get from this program is immense. Thank you, College Guild, for giving me a path to help!

Steph Garber

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