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AETN programs aim to break the cycle of violence in Arkansas

“U.N.I.T.Y,” a 60-minute documentary featuring a group of gang-affiliated inmates in an Arkansas maximum security prison reinventing themselves to reach beyond prison walls to keep teens from following the path to incarceration, will premiere on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m.
“This documentary boldly steps into the world that some only here myths about, with a chilling, but sincere, voyage inside the minds of those locked up in a maximum security prison in Arkansas,” Leifel Jackson, executive director of Reaching Our Children And Neighborhoods (R.O.C.A.N.), said. “As these young men in the U.N.I.T.Y. program try to steadfastly make amends for the wrongs they have done, their words and actions help bring understanding and hope to my youth at ROCAN and youth all across this country.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, nationally the number of gangs increased by 28 percent and the number of gang members increased by six percent from 2002 to 2008.
“There is no neighborhood, there is no group of people, there is no social class, there is no economic level that is immune to drugs, that is immune to someone becoming a gang member,” Dina Tyler, Arkansas Department of Correction Assistant Director, said. “I think the first time that someone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s not gonna happen here, this happens in another part of town to another type of people,’ then they probably just increased the chances that it’s going to happen right under their foot, because they’re not paying attention.”
In 2004, inmate Alvin Williams, the late Building Captain Jackie Davis, and Prison Psychologist Richard Moore, formed the U.N.I.T.Y. (U and I helping Teen Youth) program at Tucker Maximum Security Prison in Tucker, Ark. The program is a five-month, prison-based intervention program with hopes of reaching into the community to educate youth about the consequences of negative gang activity.
“U.N.I.T.Y.” follows a class of inmates, demonstrating the unique relationship between the brothers of U.N.I.T.Y. and how such a program can help to slow the tide of violence and incarceration for today's youth. Along the way, viewers meet anti-violence advocates around the state who are trying to slow the tide of juvenile bad choices, violence, gang affiliation, incarceration and death.
“They work very hard on prevention among the participants in the program,” Steve Nawojczyk, staff development and training administrator, Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services, said. “That spills over into the inmates’ families and the message that they spread back to the street.
“The reality is that many of those guys continue to be shot-callers, and they have influence on the street. So why not try to spin that into positive influence rather than negative influence?”
Major funding for “U.N.I.T.Y.” was provided by the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Morris Foundation Inc., the Munro Foundation and the Jane Howard Foundation.
AETN will air two other locally-produced documentaries in conjunction with “U.N.I.T.Y.,” “Therapeutic Justice: Life Inside Drug Court” at 8 p.m. and “Woodruff: A Lesson of Non-Violence” at 8:30 p.m.
“Therapeutic Justice: Life Inside Drug Court” is a documentary about the innovative and successful Washington-Madison County Drug Court in Fayetteville. The film shows the inner workings of this rehabilitation program through the eyes of a judge and a professional football player who struggles with drug addiction. Of 2,400 drug courts in the country, this is the only one with its own TV show and the only court to hold actual sessions inside local schools.
The documentary analyzes tough issues surrounding the program, including ethical concerns over the broadcasting of drug court. Washington-Madison County Drug Court appears on TV in 200,000 households in Northwest Arkansas. Some participants in the program are wary of airing their intimate details in front of the camera, but many recognize the educational value of such a TV show.
There are ongoing efforts to keep the drug court program alive. Despite one of the highest success rates in the country, Fayetteville’s drug court is in danger of being terminated if it doesn't receive much-needed funding from the state. The program was produced by Jesse Abdenour with services provided by the University of Arkansas Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism.
“Woodruff: A Lesson of Non-Violence” tells the story of Woodruff Elementary School, which opened under a big top tent in the fall of 1911. The doors of the new building were soon open, and for 98 years it served as an anchor for a changing neighborhood. In 1988, with the neighborhood under siege from gang rivalries, a new era began. A dedicated principal, counselor and staff launched an experiment in conflict resolution that lasted until the school closed as an elementary school in June 2009.
Through this experiment, students learned to work out disputes, avoid fights and celebrate non-violence, and, in the process, academic performance and test scores soared. During its final days in 2009, Woodruff finished a run of more than 300 days without a fight and was Little Rock’s only recognized school of “excellence.” The program was produced by Ron Blome with major funding from the Arkansas Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).
Additionally, the iBelieve public awareness campaign begins this month in an effort to attract more volunteers and mentors to the more than 40 organizations that make up the iBelieve coalition to help families and youth in Central Arkansas. AETN has been working with this group for nearly a year in an effort to get the word out about what is happening in communities, specifically with children, throughout the state. The coalition decided the premiere of “U.N.I.T.Y.” was the ideal time to issue a call to action.
iBelieve works to help build safe communities and healthy opportunities for youth to realize their hopes and dreams. The coalition is seeking community members to join alongside kids to teach them how to become successful and productive members of society, beginning with their own families, schools, worksites and neighborhoods. iBelieve is partially funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention through the Department of Justice. Additional information is available at www.ibelieve.us.com.
The campaign slogan – “iBelieve that 4 hours a month can change a life….forever.” – speaks to the power of mentoring, which is being promoted by this coalition of key leaders in health, education, juvenile justice, law enforcement, the community, churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations. The campaign billboards will be unveiled across Central Arkansas on Tuesday, April 26.
The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas’s statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit www.aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at www.aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).

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