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Bexar County Inmates Learning To Take Responsibility For Their Circumstances

Eileen Pace
Bexar County Jail, where classes began last year to help inmates learn about personal responsibility

A new philosophy of rehabilitation for inmates has taken shape at the Bexar County Jail. The effort is designed to stop the cycle of escalating levels of criminal activity by inmates after they are released from the local facility.

Pamela Taylor, CEO and founder of Dress for Success, teaches a new class at the Bexar County Jail.

"So I encourage you to start looking at the information I gave you," she tells a group of inmates. " 'The Four Agreements' is really, really powerful.”

The classroom on the 7th floor of the Bexar County Jail goes silent as Taylor asks the male inmates to think about how they want to be remembered.

“And I would encourage you to maybe go back and write your own obituary,” she told them.

Taylor began classes at the jail last fall. The men’s class, called Managing Your Life for Success, is based on the popular book, 'The Four Agreements,' by Don Miguel Ruiz.

“It’s like I talk to them and say, ‘When you were a little boy, was this your idea? Was this where you wanted to be? Is this where you saw yourself as an adult?’ And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a ‘Yes, this is where I wanted to be,’ ” Taylor said.

Tom Meckler, vice-chair of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Board, observed the class in San Antonio this week. He said TDCJ has more than 22,000 volunteers that now teach similar chaplaincy-based programs in Texas prisons. Meckler said such classes can not only reduce recidivism, but also can keep inmates from committing more serious crimes.

“The population in Texas, I believe, is somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 people a day moving to Texas," Meckler said. "And then you have the natural growth of the population itself in Texas, and yet the prison population in Texas is shrinking. That’s why three prisons have been closed over the last two legislative sessions.”

Taylor's teaching calls for four commitments from the inmates: 

  1. Don't take anything personally
  2. Don't make assumptions
  3. Be impeccable with your word
  4. Always do your best 

Meckler said the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” method was not working. He said with new programs, the prison population has declined from 156,000 to 151,000, freeing up more than 5,000 beds and closing three Texas prisons over the last two legislative sessions.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.