Shyquinn Dix admitted to “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker that he was skeptical of correction officials who told him they would help him succeed in life through the Connecticut Department of Correction’s T.R.U.E. Unit.
“I thought it was some B.S. because of just the stuff they were saying,” Dix said. “Like, ‘Oh, the correctional officers and staff here care about you. You get a second chance at life if you take it serious.’”
Dix is now a Dean’s List student and basketball star at the University of Maine at Presque Isle whose story was featured during a 60 Minutes segment on T.R.U.E which aired Sunday night.
Started in 2017, the unit houses a select group of incarcerated men ages 18 to 25 at Cheshire Correctional Institute. The young inmates are paired with “lifers” who act as mentors. They receive intensive counseling and learn personal responsibility through incentives offered by staff and mentors.
The unit was inspired by a trip to Germany made by former Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and former state DOC Commissioner Scott Semple four years ago supported by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Restoring Promise Initiative, which also supports the T.R.U.E. unit.
“We are proud to see T.R.U.E. and its residents and staff featured on 60 Minutes,” Semple said. “T.R.U.E. is part of a journey that began when then-Gov. Dannel Malloy and I traveled with Vera to Germany to see a different approach to incarceration rooted in human dignity. We were honored to work with Vera to bring it home.”
The name of the unit, Truthfulness, to oneself and others, Respect, toward the community, Understanding ourselves and what brought us here, and Elevating to success embodies the curriculum of the program focusing on character development and the tools for success through mentorship.
Whitaker toured the unit with Warden Scott Erfe, who admitted that he wasn’t sure at first if the German methods would work in Connecticut. He now can point to the program’s unique opportunities. “You wouldn’t have correctional officers playing board games with the inmates. That’s just not done in general population,” Erfe said. “Everybody here, you can tell, is just totally relaxed.”
Incentives include more family time, movies and a job within the prison. The goal is to reduce recidivism by allowing the inmates to get help facing their demons while building skills that will make them good citizens when they get out.
Inmates painted a colorful mural on the walls of the yoga studio. Correction officers sit in the audience as inmates stage lip sync contests.
Participants receive intensive therapy and have their progress tracked by mentors and staff on a regular basis. Those who repeatedly engage in bad behaviors are moved out of the program and back into the general population. About 12 have been removed, officials said. About 50 inmates are currently participating.
The program is still too new to track recidivism rates, but Correction Lt. Ashley McCarthy, who supervises the unit, told CTNewsJunkie in February that she tracks the number of incidents in the T.R.U.E. unit and compares them to the number of incidents among 18- to 25-year-olds at Cheshire and other prisons across the state.
“The numbers are off the charts,” McCarthy said.
Overall 18- to 25-year-olds are responsible for 25 percent of the incidents behind bars, but just 0.5 percent come from the T.R.U.E. unit.
In the T.R.U.E. unit, McCarthy said the inmates are more likely to receive tickets for not participating in a program or if their cell is out of compliance. She said they are much lower level incidents than those experienced in the general population.
Mentors see the program as a chance for redemption, said one mentor who is serving a life sentence. “I tell these guys all the time, they give me a purpose to live,” the man told Whitaker in the 60 Minutes interview.
After touring the unit in February, Gov. Ned Lamont pledged his continued support for the unit and is getting businesses on board with hiring graduates of the program.
A correction officer worked with Dix, calling college basketball coaches throughout the northeast to help make his dream become a reality.
He was serving a four-year sentence for felony check fraud when he entered the program. He was able to get a sentence reduction based on his progress with T.R.U.E.
He’s now a heavy hitter on the basketball court and in the classroom — he achieved a 3.8 grade point average — by getting all As.
“I wake up in my dorm room and I’m in college now,” he said. “It’s crazy.”