Thursday, 4 August 2016

John MacKenzie's Correctional History (Green Haven 1985-1999)

In 1985 John was transferred to Green Haven Correctional Facility. He immediately accepted a position as Peer Counselor at the Pre Release Center and eventually went on to become Resident Director. During his 15-year tenure as Peer Counselor he conducted a variety of classes for inmates who were preparing to appear before the parole board or were about to be released back into society. He was also instrumental in developing classes on Health, Family Planning, Job Interview Skills, Aggression Replacement Training (ART), Domestic Violence and a number of other classes designed to assist men in preparing for their return to the community. John developed both the Drivers’ License and Rap Sheet classes [still in use today] which helped men clear up their records and helped further prepare them for the transition back into the job market. John performed numerous computer related functions designed to enhance the services offered to the inmate population. He also continued his educational pursuits and enrolled in the Marist College program. John finally fulfilled his degree requirements and received his Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration. After graduation, John continued to work with the Marist College program and tutored Introduction to Computers and Intermediate Algebra. When AIDS became a major concern for prison officials, the Department of Correctional Services canvassed the prisons for inmate volunteers to teach about AIDS awareness. John was one of the first five inmate educators certified by Albany’s Health Services Department.

In 1992 John became the Director of the Youth Assistance Program (YAP) and coordinated a number of sessions with various local area youth groups and law enforcement agencies. These groups and agencies included the New York State Division For Youth, Dutchess County Probation Department, Allen Residential Center, Pius XII Residential Services, the Key Shelter and Elmcor Youth Services. In addition, John coordinated his efforts with various school officials to establish an interactive program for students in an attempt to make the youth program an integral part of the school curriculum. In June of 1993, John was appointed Chairman of the Family Reunion Committee where his duties and responsibilities included being the liaison for the facility administration and inmate population. When the National Trust was looking to establish a computer program for inmates, they asked John to teach the first class.

John continued to pursue the establishment of a Victims Awareness Program and his efforts included an extensive mailing campaign wherein he wrote to virtually everyone connected or involved in Victims Awareness Services and/or any agency that he thought would support his endeavors. Finally in December of 1996 John was successful in getting the Green Haven administration to officially recognize victims’ issues and to allow him to establish a Victims Awareness Program. In 1997, in what would appear to be a first, John submitted a grant proposal to the Open Society and received an eight thousand dollar grant. In 1997 the grant was approved, but as of March 1998 the Department of Correctional Services had not accepted it. Undeterred, and despite the lack of funding, John managed to continue operating the program. Members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, (MADD) and Parents of Murdered Children, (POMC) became regular participants. The Hon. James Cowhey, (Westchester County Supreme Court Judge), Hon. Jeffrey Berry, (Orange County Criminal Court), Hon. Debra J. Kiedaisch, (Orange County Family Court Judge) also attended the program. Additionally, Assemblyman Howard Mills, then ranking minority member of the Corrections Committee expressed an interest and attended the program.

As a component of the Victims Awareness Program, John created the Children’s Story Book Project, which gave men the opportunity to record a variety of stories for their children. For this venture, John had to get copyright permission from both Scholastic Publishing and the William Morris Agency, who represent Bill Cosby. The project helped fathers keep family ties strong with their children, and inspired and encouraged them to seek help in learning how to either read or improve on the reading skills they already had. Unfortunately, both the Victims Awareness Program and the Story Book Project were cancelled after John was transferred to Woodbourne.