Students learn practical lessons in Street Life
Each student in the high school classroom is more intent on the subject than usual. The guest speakers this afternoon are not the norm for a small, mountain valley school.With braids or a shaved head and adorned with tattoos, the guests are clad in drab green with numbered patches. They sit in small groups answering the students’ questions directly, with more emotion than expected from men in their 20s. The three men from the Rifle Correctional Center already have spent much of their maturing years behind bars for offenses ranging from attempted murder to vehicular homicide.The students ask everything from how much the offenders make at their prison jobs (about 60 cents a day), to what the prison system could do better (improved parole hearings), to if prison has changed the men.”I done changed,” said Markie Peoples, a talkative man who said he came to speak to the students to learn how to communicate better with his four daughters. “I was a gang member, could not read or write. Now I have computer skills, a GED and a janitorial certificate. I rehabbed myself. If I didn’t make a change, I’d be in there the rest of my life.”The powerful discussion is part of the popular Street Law class for juniors and seniors at Basalt High School taught by enthusiastic third-year social studies teacher Ben Bohmfalk. The course explores practical law that students might use in their daily lives and delves into how the American legal system works.While learning about the juvenile justice system along with criminal, civil, family and employment law, the students also examine problems in the system through guest speakers, videos, mock trials, debates and research assignments.BHS teachers have asked inmates and prison system workers into the classrooms for the past four years. Students who are not enrolled in the Street Law classes ask to sit in on the inmates’ visit.”I like to expose you guys to lots of different career paths in the law, because there are lots of jobs other than cops, lawyers and judges,” Bohmfalk tells the students before case manager Steve Young and Maj. David Scherbarth, once in the Air Force and now second in command in Rifle, provide an introduction to prison life and careers.Bohmfalk said he tries to find out for the students how the prisoners who came to speak the previous year are doing. The offenders in the 192-inmate, minimum-custody center are at the end of their sentences and may seem more positive than the overall inmate population. National statistics show two-thirds of all felons released from state prisons are rearrested within three years.Absorbed in the group discussions, the students inquire about curfews, visitations and activities. They ask what is the worst part about prison (seeing people come back) and if the men think they will make it through their parole period.”I can’t be no loser. That’s not an option,” said inmate David Durham, arrested eight years ago for a gang-related shooting. “I can’t let (my mom) down again. My mom always cries when she comes to visit.”Suzie Romig is the RFSD’s public information officer.
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