After his first year in prison, Eli Schmiedeknect knew he wanted to change his life. The problem was, he didn’t know where to start. But after learning about ESUBA, an awareness program spearheaded by Miami Dade College professors Samantha Carlo and Minca Davis-Brantley for inmates in the Florida Correctional System, he was able to take steps toward recovery. “It [ESUBA] gave me perspective on things that I never even knew were an issue,” said Schmiedeknect, now 27, who was sentenced to 56 months in prison in his early 20s. “I learned that I was abusing myself, with my heavy smoking and drinking, and I needed to invest in myself.” ESUBA – “abuse” spelled backwards – is a 24-week course that helps inmates identify the causes and effects of violent and abusive behavior, including emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. The professors lead the sessions with the support of selected MDC psychology and criminal justice students. The goal is to help inmates pinpoint their own behavioral problems and develop non-violent methods for coping with conflict. “There’s an idea that these are throwaway people and it’s their fault if they’re inside. It’s so important for people to get these stereotypes out of their heads,” said Davis-Brantley, who teaches psychology at MDC, North Campus. Davis-Brantley and Carlo, a criminal justice professor, initiated ESUBA at MDC in 2014 after realizing there were limited opportunities for students to work in real-world criminal justice. Since then, at least 700 inmates have benefited from the initiative. “It’s an experience you can’t get from a textbook,” said Solanch Alvarez, a criminal justice major who participated in the program in spring 2017. “There are good people in there who made mistakes; you can see how it could really happen to anyone.” ESUBA is currently operating in four correctional facilities in Miami-Dade County and has already garnered quite a reputation. One prison has a 300-person waiting list for the program, which is the only one of its kind in Florida. Schmiedeknect, who completed his sentence in 2017, commended ESUBA for showing students the human face of the prison system. “The professors had no reason to care about inmates, but they made it their battle,” he said. “They’ve gone out of their way to help us.” – AP
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