Prison Study Internship at the Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a non-profit civil rights organization that investigates and exposes hate groups
It includes several partners, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that often work together on important issues.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has recently begun to focus on prison reform. They have done many studies about how to help offenders avoid returning to prison. As a result, they have recently sponsored a two-week prison study program in Columbia, South Carolina.
How should a student prepare for this internship? First, make sure to ask about the Prison System study. Second, and more importantly, ask about the Division of Prisons.
“Prisoners from all over the country come and visit here,” says Jim Gammage, of the South Carolina National Guard. “They pay their own way, they stay at my house. They do volunteer work, too.”
“We’re a racially mixed bunch,” Gammage says. “I was a leader in my home. We had a lot of blacks and whites. We all lived together. When we went away to war, we all worked together.”
There was one area where South Carolinians could not live peacefully with their fellow Southerners. It was called “Black Belt”. People in this area were considered to be criminals by the former Confederate states, and even during Reconstruction after the Civil War.
“We hated them,” says Bobby Henderson, a former member of the Klu Klux Klan. “The big wigs down there took them out and hanged ’em. It was bad.
“There was nowhere we could go, especially in South Carolina, when the prisons were being built,” says Henderson. “We had to do what we had to do. So, we moved out west.”
Henderson had been a correctional officer in that part of the state. He says that the law enforcement facilities were sometimes so crowded that they were holding people who did not need to be held.
Now, inmates in the South Carolina prison system are allowed to live together in housing facilities. This is one of the first internships that require a student to work closely with the prison system. It is still a small sample, but the school that sponsors the prison study is now considering expansion to other areas of the country.
“At least there is some opportunity now to see the world and to talk to different people who have been in jail and have ended up working inside,” says Almeida, of Florida International University. “I’m not saying they are all like that, but there are people that are that way.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been on the front lines, but we’ve always been on the front lines of national news. I can’t imagine how exciting it would be to be able to bring our students on the inside,” says Almeida. “We can’t hope to change the prison system, but to do something that might change someone’s life in some way.”