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Prison Program Aims to Get Teens to Avoid a Life of Crime

I'm Alex Villarreal with the VOA Special English Education Report, from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglish A program in the eastern United States invites young people into a prison to try to scare them away from prison. The goal is to teach them to avoid bad choices and bad influences that could put them behind bars for life. Students can take a tour of the prison, in school groups or by themselves. At the end, the young people sit down for a discussion with some of the inmates. The program is called Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy, or PATT. It takes place at the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, a medium-security prison for men. Sal Mauriello is a case specialist there. He says eleven prisoners are in the PATT program. They tell the students about their crimes. They try to teach them about bad choices.The Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy program also includes an essay-writing contest. Tomi Dare is a seventeen-year-old student at Hagerstown Community College. She saw an announcement for the contest on her college website. To enter, students had to write about pressure from other students and why they do not use drugs. The prize: five hundred dollars for school.In her essay, Ms. Dare wrote about her own experience growing up as an African-American girl interested in sports. She wrote that drugs and alcohol slow her down and do not make her feel like a winner. The scholarship is presented by the Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy program. Prison spokesman Mark Vernarelli says most teens who visit come to understand what even one bad decision can mean. He says many men and women serving life in prison in the state of Maryland did not shoot a gun or plunge a knife into anybody. They were "accessories to a crime." They drove the getaway car. They were with the person who did the main part of the crime. And yet, they got the life sentence as well. Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy began in nineteen eighty-eight. PATT is one of Maryland's oldest programs to keep young people from a life of crime. But there are also others.Mr. Vernarelli says there is a special program for girls only. And there is a program where the students eat a meal in the prison cafeteria with the inmates.Mark Vernarelli says the prisoners also gain from the program. It offers them a chance to help repay society for their crimes, and keep others from following in their footsteps.For VOA Special English I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 11Nov2010)
Length: 03:58

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