A terrible event happened that shook America when Kim Potter, a police officer stopped Daunte Wright in his car because he had air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and an expired tag on the license plate. Should police even pull people over for those things? It seems like a petty excuse to stop someone. Stores all across the country sell air fresheners on a string that are meant to hang from the rearview mirror. Are the people that sell air fresheners on a string responsible too? Things went wrong when Kim Potter attempted to arrest Daunte Wright for an outstanding warrant. He resisted arrest and she shot and killed him. Now, Kim Potter is going to a prison that offers rehabilitative services. A chance that 20-year-old Daunte Wright and many others will never have.
A news story this morning says that Kim Potter is going to Shakopee, a Minnesota prison that offers rehabilitative services in what is described as a Christ-centered environment. Jesus and all of his disciples went to prison but is prison a Christ-centered environment? Maybe. The prison’s website describes it’s vision, mission, and goals and values as “achieving justice through the promotion of racial equity, restoration from harm, and community connectedness, transforming lives for a safer Minnesota, and creating successful experiences for others through safety, dignity, honesty, service, equity, fairness, and respect,” all of which are core Christian beliefs.
Prison Fellowship says that Shakopee prison offers in-prison programs designed to help with rehabilitation. Inmates can run in 5Ks, learn to sew, plant gardens, and attend higher-level educational classes. It sounds as if there is a perfect opportunity for lawyers to teach inmates to advocate for themselves and others. They say that one inmate, Maureen Onyelobi is attending law school online, but that she will not be able to receive her degree because the American Bar Association (ABA) does not support a completely remote law degree.
Maureen Onyelobi, who is serving a life sentence without parole for aiding and abetting first-degree premeditated murder is attending Hamline Law School through Shakopee’s pipeline program that allows inmates to earn advanced degrees while incarcerated. She has learned how to help inmates file appeals. “I’ve helped several women with their appeals. It’s rewarding to help other people. I care about others, and I feel more worth now than I did before. This is a legal revolution. The statistics don’t lie. I’m living it. You can’t learn this experience in a classroom”. Other inmates at Shakopee’s women’s facility also express gratefulness for the opportunities that they receive there.
It has never been more relevant to understand and fund opportunities for inmates. The negative effects of unhealthy prison environments follow inmates back into society and makes communities unhealthier as well. Opportunities such as the ones offered at Shakopee reduce recidivism and create stronger communities and healthier families. Studies show that prisoners that seek an education and learn skills to be successful do not go back to prison as often as uneducated inmates that do not receive opportunities to learn how to live healthier lifestyles. Inmate opportunities are also an effective way to reduce violence inside prison systems. Sometimes, sadly, prison may be the only chance for someone that has never had a family to teach them life skills. Though most prisons do not offer such opportunities and most prison guards do not have the education to teach inmates.
Tracy Beltz, the warden at Shakopee is proud of the way that she runs the prison. Hopefully other wardens will note her success and implement programs and opportunities into their own prisons so that when inmates are released they won’t just hit the streets with no skills and a longer record. Tracy Beltz says that her prison prepares inmates for re-entry back into the world, “This is the stuff we know works to keep people out of prison. Prisoners need those community connections. They need people to support them in their reentry. They need people that are going to hold them accountable to do the right thing, while encouraging them. When you promote that life can be bigger than just a prison, it does something to the psyche and to the population. The women start seeing things differently. They start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”.
On the other side of the country in California, Fritz Hortzman is changing the way the prison system works with the Compassion Prison Project. The program was sparked by her own childhood trauma and now she is dedicated to helping inmates re-shape their lives at Kern Valley State Prison. Dr. Hortzman has created tools that utilize techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and the power of intention, explored childhood trauma, and the impact it has had on their lives. She says, “Understanding the shame and dehumanization that results from both child abuse and incarceration, these men found ways to make amends to themselves, the people they’d harmed and their communities. They learned what it means to have a deeper compassion for themselves and others, what it means to have a sense of belonging by recognizing our shared humanity. Through this process, they began honoring and uplifting one another while joining together as a community. The real story,” she says, “is how so many lives can be transformed by addressing childhood trauma through increased awareness and compassionate understanding”.
While some may be rioting because the United States justice system is so broken, there are people that work to make a difference so that the things that happened to Daunte Wright and millions of others stop happening. The Prison Fellowship Program and the United States government both know that education in prisons is important to creating a better society. Yes, Kim Potter may be getting opportunities in prison that others do not have, but what if others could get those same opportunities? What if prisons all over the world began to offer opportunities alongside accountability?
Education and training opportunities in prisons offer connection which is vital to human existence. The average inmate is known to be less educated, 30% of inmates to not even have a high school diploma, have lower literacy and numeracy assessments, and less training in job skills than the general public. Surveys show that 70% of the inmate population wishes for educational opportunities and to learn real-life job skills. Providing that education through re-entry programs can stop the revolving doors at the prisons.
On February 18, 2022 Kim Potter was sentenced to two years and this video shows the families response:
Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state. The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page.