Transformation Behind Prison Walls

One of our TUMI sites is located in one of the most violent prisons in the state of California. Thanks to the efforts of a visionary, transformational warden, the doors were opened for us to launch TUMI on the Special Needs Yard (SNY), where prisoners are housed who are in danger because of the nature of their offenses or the gang structure of the prison.

During the past two years, violent incidents at the prison have decreased by almost 60%, and TUMI is often pointed out as one of the programs that have helped to shift the culture of the institution. Our students are often highlighted during tours of the facility as others come to see for themselves the kinds of changes that are taking place. One of our top students and a class leader has become the first lifer EVER to parole from this prison.

Recently, the warden was leading a tour of the facility and wanted his visitors to meet the TUMI class and hear firsthand about the changes that were taking place. As I sat in the meeting, I was no longer surprised to hear from our students how they have changed since enrolling in TUMI. They explained how their attitudes toward God, themselves, other prisoners, and staff have completely transformed. Their relationships with their families are often renewed and revitalized, and they are taking places of leadership in the local church inside.

The warden commented to the group that he was working hard to see these same kinds of changes begin to impact his officers as well. Then one TUMI student said something that caught both the warden and me totally by surprise. He shared that recently, a housing officer had called him over for mail call and commented that he had observed the change in the prisoner over the past several months and told him to “keep up the good work.” Now this may not sound like much to you and me, but to the prisoner, and to the warden, this was unprecedented! One by one, students began to share other experiences that they had been having. One man, with tears in his eyes, told about what had happened to him just the previous visiting day. The guard that escorted his mother to the visiting area told her that her son was doing really well and she should be proud of him! He said, “This was the first positive thing my mother has heard about me for more than thirty years!”

Don Allsman is World Impact's Vice President and the TUMI Satellite Director.