THE BLOG
06/10/2010 03:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Open Letter to Otisville: Was That a Prison or a College?

Dear Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Otisville:

Many times we write open letters to chastise individuals in the community who are participating in the promotion of predatory products that possibly hinder the economic progress of society. However, this time, we would like to commend Federal Correction Institution Otisville in Otisville, N.Y. for the tremendous work they are doing educating their population on ways to advance the economic progress of our society.

Recently, The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment was awarded with a "Patriotism" Award for our dedication to reducing recidivism through economic empowerment. We also received a letter of commendation from the Warden, Craig Apker, for our efforts to empower those behind prison walls. While we are honored to be the recipients of both, this letter is written to you, Otisville, because it is you who truly deserves the recognition.

When Manyell Akinfe and I walked into FCI Otisville for the first time back in October of 2009, the staff was extremely hospitable and made us feel at home. It was clear from the onset that this correctional facility was determined to change all the negative stereotypes that we may have brought in from the skeptical, and even cynical, society.

Then, we went on a tour of the facility and our mouths didn't leave the ground the entire time. We walked through the multiple classrooms and received a full description of the classes that were offered; strolled through the expansive library with hundreds of books to choose from; took a trip down the hall to a room with hand crafted handbags made by the inmates which were better than what you would see in any store on Madison Avenue. We visited another room with artwork and crafts that you could have seen in any art gallery or novelty store being sold for thousands of dollars; saw the green room filled with plants and vegetables growing through the means of hydroponics, solar energy, and other alternative energy and horticultural methods that I couldn't even pronounce; and lastly, my favorite image was the room full of over one hundred inmates manufacturing solar panels. All of this and we didn't even get the complete tour! Needless to say, we were impressed with the high degree of tangible rehabilitative resources that FCI Otisville had created.

Then, we had the blessing of being able to conduct a workshop for the inmates. They were attentive, respectful, and eager for all of the information that we could give in a limited amount of time. I found myself increasing the complexity of the curriculum due to the high intellect in the room. It seemed as if they had been studying before we arrived. After the workshop, to my amazement, they had been doing their homework. Through an introduction to Dominique Henry, Founder and Executive Director of the Community of Economic Development, we found the source from which these inmates received many of the principles of financial literacy and economic empowerment.

Dominique Henry has a passion for teaching financial literacy and economic empowerment. He has taken his organization to multiple correctional facilities across the country and has established a name for himself as a "guru" of economics. His grasp of the principles is phenomenal, but his desire to teach these principles to thousands of inmates being housed behind prison walls was absolutely phenomenal. It is even more phenomenal to hear about his widespread reputation across multiple prisons when you learn that Dominique Henry is serving a life sentence himself!

Mr. Henry has not allowed himself to be stereotyped as useless to society because he happens to be housed for an extended period behind bars. I always say "as long as you still have a pulse, you have a purpose," and Mr. Henry is fulfilling his purpose from behind bars by making a tremendous impact on society.

So, I say this to you FCI Otisville...it is not us who deserves this award and letter of commendation. Warden Apker, I cannot think of a more patriotic act but to work diligently within a federal system that is depleted of funds and resources due to a harsh economic climate and create a family atmosphere that relies on love instead of funds. And then create programs and resources that empower inmates to re-enter society with skills and intellect that helps them become stronger contributors to society. I cannot think of a more patriotic act, Mr. Henry, than to receive a life sentence in prison and still continue to create empowerment programs for so many. Many in your situation chose to write off the remainder of your days but you chose to continue to empower and find a way to give back to society more than most who are on the outside.

To Warden Craig Apker, Executive Director Dominique Henry, the Otisville Staff, and all of the wonderful inmates who blessed us with such tremendous love, we at The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment beg of you to continue your work because you are changing lives, making a difference, and making our job so much easier. If we had more of you, those awful stats of recidivism would not be as high; if we had more of you, crime rates would not be as high; and if we had more of you, more people would learn through your example how to leave the world better off than how they found it. Your efforts, and the opportunity that they create for others, are the essence of economic empowerment.

If there is anything that we can continue to do to assist you, please do not ever hesitate to call upon us!

Your Friends In the Empowerment Movement,
Ryan Mack, President

Watch a video of Ryan Mack and Manyell Akinfe thanking FCI Otisville.

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