Inside MacDougall Correctional Institution’s Character Building Unit, the rumor mill is often the best way to stay up to date on programs, events and opportunities. But a new newspaper in this South Carolina prison hopes to change that.
First it had to find a name. Patrick Jones won the naming competition with his entry: Moments Around Our Community, inspired by the initials of the unit’s Men Achieving Character program.
“The newspaper gives us the opportunity to inform and inspire,” said Jones, who will also be reporting. The newspaper will help build “the community’s character and morale,” he added, which are “cornerstones in the MAC program.”
Full disclosure: I am the newspaper’s editor, a job that includes reporting, writing, making the coffee and sweeping the place up. The staff includes five other inmates: an assistant editor, production manager and three reporters. The inaugural issue landed at the printer in mid-December. We plan to publish quarterly at first, with a circulation of between 50 and 100 readers. Early articles will cover a talent show, Halloween Story Night, upcoming classes and an art show and auction to raise funds to supply indigent inmates with hygiene products.
The Men Achieving Character program in MacDougall, about 35 miles west of Charleston, S.C., is meant to help address the broader system’s high recidivism rates, increasing costs of maintaining facilities, an aging incarcerated population and spiraling health costs. It’s designed to “promote a pro-social and educational environment” that develops training, emotional health, spiritual growth and respect.
“We’re not behind locked doors here at MacDougall,” said Steven Zey, who has been with the MAC program — here and elsewhere — since 2014. It encourages social interaction, he added, “while promoting individual responsibility and holding each other accountable, from noise level to hygiene.” Indeed, the unit’s quietness is one of its striking features compared to other prison cell blocks and dorms, which can be hotbeds of calamity and a cacophony of noise.
“The usual prison culture is all about ‘me’: ‘What do I want?’ Here, that attitude is replaced with respecting others,” said Zey, who has served more than 16 years in prison and has 13 left. “You develop a sense of caring for others.”
There will be a lot for the new newspaper to cover on education. The MAC program includes 51 courses on such skills as social contracts, art, computers, electrical wiring and creative writing. The MAC can sometimes feel like a college campus but without the usual vices.
“If your true motivation is to learn and grow, then the MAC program is for you,” said Michael Mercer, a participant of about 18 months. “We’re completely different from other programs because MAC is led by us, the inmates.”
The day-to-day operation of classes and scheduling, and even the mundane tasks of groundskeeping and taking out the trash, are a community effort. And now the newspaper will join in that spirit of camaraderie.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.