|North Carolina Department of Public Safety|
Domestic Violence Program Touts Success
By Pamela Walker
BADIN, Jan. 15 Ė With tears in his eyes, inmate Larry Phifer talks about a new program at Albemarle Correctional Institution designed to educate offenders about domestic violence. He talks about how learning to prevent it and to empathize with victims has changed his life.
"I was abused as a child," said Phifer. "And I used to think domestic violence was just physical abuse. Iíve learned it can be emotional as well, but itís the emotional scars that stay with you."
Albemarle recently started its second class in the program called S.T.O.P. (Survey Think Options Prevent) and Change Direction. Albemarle is the first facility in the state prison system to offer the program on a continuing basis.
"We felt we needed to do something to address a problem that is not going to go away by itself," said John Hamlin, assistant superintendent.
In January, eight inmates graduated from S.T.O.P. after 20 weeks in the program. The second class, which just got underway Jan. 22, has three times as many participants as the first class. Participants take part in classroom instruction, presentations and workshops three hours a day. The offenders do research, lab work and homework.
Joe Marinello (standing), contracted instructor at Albemarle Correctional Institution, talks with inmates Larry Phifer (from left to right), James Rogers and Walter McDowell. The inmates recently graduated from S.T.O.P. and Change Direction, a program aimed at educating offenders about domestic violence.
"Domestic violence is a learned behavior," said Sandra Huffman, staff psychologist. "We grow up in a certain environment and if itís violent then that may be all we know." She added, "The S.T.O.P. program gives offenders the tools to change their attitudes."
Joe Marinello is the instructor of the program. Heís been a counselor in domestic violence since 1994. "The reason why so many people are incarcerated with domestic violence related crimes is because there is so little education and prevention, and few people are told of the ramifications," said Marinello. "The program is an opportunity for offenders to learn about domestic violence, way beyond just physical abuse. It starts with emotional abuse and can even reach sexual abuse."
Marinello says the program participants have bonded and formed an excellent working relationship with each other. He added that they have opened up and talked about their feelings, which is something most men arenít socialized to do.
Both Huffman and Marinello say several family members of the inmates who just graduated the program expressed their gratitude at the graduation ceremony. "Some of them cried tears of joy and told us how different the inmates seemed," said Huffman.
Some of the S.T.O.P. graduates say they are sorry the class is over for them. "I thought my violent behavior was normal," said inmate Walter McDowell. "I learned how important it is to not let arguments escalate." Inmate James Rogers says the class changed him. "I learned you have got to show respect to get respect," said Rogers.
In the future, the facility plans to enroll as many as 25 inmates per session of the program. They will also have two inmates acting as peer counselors. Currently, there are plenty of inmates at Albemarle wanting to enroll in the program, but the facility will consider inmate transfers from other institutions with a case analyst referral.
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