The Friends of the Chesterfield County Libraries, a local nonprofit group, applied to an education grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation and received a check for $1,000 to begin a program to teach inmates to read and write. Margaret Dotson, chairman of the organization, said the funds are to be used for materials for the program.
Ritchie Rollings, jail administrator for the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Department, said, “We want to help the ones who want to help themselves.”
However, without volunteers to teach the program, there is a chance it will not get off the ground.
“It's going to take a special person,” Rollings said. “We don't even know where to look.”
A perfect candidate would be a retired teacher or someone who has experience in instruction.
Inmates spend anywhere from days to more than a year at the detention center waiting for trial. Many come with little more than the ability to scratch out their names on the jail intake sheet.
Booked on grand larceny and burglary third charges, one inmate who has been in holding for 67 days said he can read but “anything that's educational is a good thing.”
The only reading material provided in lockup is a Bible.
“This is better than rehab. You've got the Bible. You may find something in there may stick when you get out,” the inmate said.
Rollings said many inmates want to join the program just to get out of the cell for a while. It is difficult to target the ones who need help the most since many inmates will not admit to illiteracy.
“They just don't want anybody to know,” he said.
Rollings hopes the ones who really need the help will join once they realize what the program is about.
Another inmate, also booked on grand larceny and burglary third charges, has been a resident for three months. With a ninth grade education, he said, “You can't get nothing without a diploma.”
An inmate age 50 booked for possession of a stolen vehicle has a ninth grade education. An ex-construction worker, he said if he could get his GED, he would try to get into a community college.
Rollings said without someone to teach those inmates who want to learn basic reading skills, he is afraid the program is dead in the water.
Anyone interested should contact Rollings, 623-3385.
Gale Baker may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.