Think Smart Program Helps to Rehabilitate Those in Prison and Offer Lessons to Troubled Youth

man standing talking to group of men who are seated
Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 8:46am

After making choices in life that led to prison sentences, participants in the Think Smart Program are sharing their stories with youth across North Carolina to convince them to avoid the same mistakes. 

The Think Smart Program is a longstanding, exemplary investment in the rehabilitation of incarcerated persons, helping to prepare them for successful reentries back into their communities after completing their sentence. Established as an educational crime prevention program, the Think Smart Program gives incarcerated adults the chance to positively impact their communities. Each year, participants make more than 300 presentations, reaching more than 30,000 audience members. 

The response in the community has been extremely positive and appreciative. It’s not hard to see why: The Think Smart Program positively affects adolescents and also helps incarcerated adults prepare for life after prison. During Reentry Week (April 22-26, 2019), it’s a reminder about the power of rehabilitation, which makes us all safer.

Civic engagement and advocacy training provided by the program teaches incarcerated adults public speaking and professional presentation skills to help them communicate their life experiences and the effects of their incarceration to youth. The program reinforces the importance of coping skills, positive peer influences and recognizing consequences at a young age.

Office of Citizen Participation Director Cheryl Bell has been working with Think Smart initiatives and collaborative partnerships since she began her public safety career in 1989. Before serving as director, Bell was a prison case manager and program supervisor. 

Bell sees that incarcerated adults are motivated to participate in the program. “A lot of them want to help another child not go down a path of crime,” Bell said.  She also stressed the impact and change that can happen from just one young person’s positive response to a presentation. “If we can touch one child, the program is worth its effort in the community.”

According to Bell, the program has received statewide attention as an important resource available to parents throughout North Carolina. She is frequently contacted by distressed parents requesting facility tours and presentations for a child they fear is going down the wrong path.

“As a parent, I sympathize with the constant worries of protecting your child,” Bell said. “I understand the importance and effort it takes to raise a child, especially boys, and keep them on a straight path.” 

The Think Smart Program receives invitations to present at schools (starting at middle school age), churches and universities in the state. The program also partners with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s “On Track” program and teen courts in Wake and Pitt counties.

One of the objectives of the Think Smart Program is to help incarcerated persons transition into the workplace following release. As they develop skills in public speaking, professional presentation, mentorship and advocacy, they become better prepared to answer job interview questions about their criminal background. They also can point to their experience of civic engagement through youth outreach and mentorship as a positive.

Think Smart’s public speaking training teaches vocal control, body language, audience connection, delivery and many other components of professional presentations. The training prepares participants for public speaking that requires introspection, honesty and an ability to create self-determination from unease. Bell appreciates the difficulty of these testimonial presentations for incarcerated adults: “Getting up in front of people and telling your story is not easy.”  

The Think Smart Program currently partners with eight participating prisons. In particular, Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women and Caldwell Correctional Center have seen a very active level of participation in the program. 

For more information about the program, click here.

Esther McCaskill-Baker