Inmates of Smyrna correctional center find purpose in assisting others

By Craig Anderson
Posted 8/20/21

SMYRNA — To learn how to help others who can’t always help themselves.

That’s the goal of eight inmates inside James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

Via a patient companion …

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Inmates of Smyrna correctional center find purpose in assisting others

Delaware Technical Community College Allied Health instructor Sheree Thomas describes the foccus of a patient companion program at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

SMYRNA — To learn how to help others who can’t always help themselves.

That’s the goal of eight inmates inside James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

Via a patient companion program, the men are seeking to earn home health aide certification through 96 hours of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical training.

The program is a collaborative effort between the Delaware Department of Correction and Delaware Technical Community College.

Upon release from prison and if their certification is still valid through monthly continuing education, inmates can enter a 75-hour program at DTCC designed to prepare them to become a certified nursing assistant. The program is offered through the school’s Workforce Development and Community Education Division.

Inmate Jeffrey Crippen, who is from Dover, described the opportunity to take part as a “game changer.” He said he has several family members in the health care field and would like to join them upon release.

“It’s very cathartic because not only am I learning a new skill, I’m also learning how to take care of other people and, during times in my life, I may have taken things from people,” Crippen said. “This is like giving it back ... so it’s very cleansing for me in my spirit and it allows me to do things I’m able to do and see the potential I didn’t know I had.”

The opportunity to pursue a career while incarcerated is a “great opportunity for all of us,” said inmate Corey Johnson, who hails from Newark.

“They talked about job placement, and giving us an opportunity to find a job is a great thing,” he said.

Mr. Johnson added that he’s learned to be “more open-minded to the fact that there’s many people out there that can use our help, and pursuing a career in this, it’s amazing to be able to give back, to help people that aren’t able to perform like we can.

“It’s just a great opportunity.”

According to the DOC, participants are developing skills to aid in daily activities including:

  • Feeding (setting up patients’ food tray, unwrapping food items, cutting food into pieces).
  • Assisting with ambulating (cane, walker or wheelchair).
  • Assisting with transfers to and from a bed or wheelchair.
  • Assisting staff in repositioning the patient in bed.
  • Oral hygiene.
  • Assisting with making an occupied bed and sanitizing the environment, under the supervision of DOC security staff.
  • Reading books and letters to a patient; assisting in letter writing; providing emotional support.
  • Sitting with a hospice patient during an end-of-life vigil.

The participating inmates don’t provide medical care, administer medications or provide bathing or other intimate care. Upon graduation next week, however, they can assist inmates in need to free up medical staff for other duties.

Companions are paid, though the DOC would not disclose their wage. The position is among the higher paid inmate jobs, the DOC said.

More than 20 inmates seeking to join the program were interviewed, and Susan Conley, the Correctional Treatment Services director for the DOC’s medical division, said the “best and brightest offenders were sought.”

DTCC Allied Health instructor Sheree Thomas has guided the program and said she was initially unsure how teaching inmates would play out. She found out that, “They’re just ready and eager to learn.”

Ms. Thomas said there is a need for more health care professionals and, “We (know) that these inmates are going to get out, and when they are released we want to make sure that they have a place to go.

“We want to make sure they can take care of themselves when they get out there. We want to make sure they make a good wage so they don’t go back on the streets and do whatever made them come in here.”

To qualify for consideration, companion prospects had to be classified as minimum security risks, have a GED/high school diploma or higher, and be recommended by facility counselors and the facility classification board. They could not have any serious disciplinary offenses, nor positive drug tests or convictions of abuse, neglect or mistreatment, as well as no history of sex offenses or sexual related disciplinary infractions, along with other criteria.