Thursday, January 6, 2022
A Message from Wendy Givoglu, Interim President, East and Winter Park Campuses
As shared in the December 2021 Campus Concentrate, Nicholas DeArmas, professor, English, is part of a group of East Campus faculty and staff who supports the Books Behind Bars Project, an extension of the Florida Prison Education Project (FPEP). This University of Central Florida initiative provides educational opportunities to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Florida.
Nicholas first discussed the idea to support this project when he attended his first East Campus department meeting in 2019.
“I was given an opportunity to include my colleagues in this community outreach work. The groundwork had already been laid by Dean of Communications Linda Neal, who made space for this work as one of our department goals — to better support the incarcerated population,” shared Nicholas.
Before working full time at Valencia College, Nicholas was already teaching “inside” for the FPEP. The course was an Introduction to Literary Theory course, taught to men in the main unit of the Central Florida Reception Center, a correctional facility in Orange County.
“It was an overwhelmingly powerful experience, one that filled me with so much gratitude and even more perspective,” he reflected. “The students I taught inside exceeded my expectations and helped me to become a better teacher.”
Since then, Nicholas has also taught English Composition II to more than 120 incarcerated students in five Central Florida prisons. This experience left him with a strong impression. It made him realize how critical it is to get educational materials inside the prison to students, who very much appreciated any reading materials provided to them.
Admirably, he points out, “As educators at Valencia College, we see firsthand in our classrooms the transformative, redemptive and restorative power that education holds. By providing incarcerated students with not only educational materials and supplies but our efforts and our recognition, we reinforce that they still have value, that they still have something meaningful to contribute and that they can have purpose.”
Additionally, he provides information to support this important work.
“It costs the United States $31,000 to incarcerate someone every year, and studies show that prison education programs help to reduce the recidivism rate (the rate at which the formerly incarcerated re-offend) from 54% to 14%, a decrease of 40%,” Nicholas said. “This is a staggering difference in the lives of not only the formerly incarcerated but in the lives of their family members on the outside, who are often system-impacted by the incarceration of a family member. Furthermore, spending $1 per incarcerated person on educational programs saves the community $4 to $5 in the future for decreased recidivism rates. When we educate our incarcerated population, they stay out of prison more, and we all save money and time, not to mention we allow the power of education to bestow dignity on those who have been made low.”
Thus far, the Florida Prison Education Project has collected more than 10,000 books to benefit our incarcerated students. Florida Prison Education Project Books have been included on the newly created Book Donation Map of America. The map allows you to search by your city and shows local organizations that accept book donations near you.
Nicholas credits his colleagues, Professors of English Tamara Madison, Susan Dauer and Shea Faulkner, as well as Librarians Erich Heintzelman and Chris Wettstein, who work with him on this project, and was delighted by their vision on how the book drive would operate. Thank you to the East Campus Library, the Humanities department, as well as the Communications department for facilitating transport, boxes and to help raise awareness for the book, as well as art supply, drive among faculty. Art supplies were included as FPEP also offers art courses including ART 1000, Fundamentals of Art, as well as Art History, and a visual and performative art course called Art and Wellness.
“Truly, they have done more work than I have to support this donation drive and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that they are all empathetic, selfless and good people. It is easy to work with them because we all see the value in the people we are helping and in the work we are doing as educators,” shared Nicholas.
The book and art supplies drive will continue into next year, beyond the preliminary donation to FPEP. For more information on how you can help or to donate books or art supplies, please contact Nicholas at email@example.com.