Sound Program helps inmates refresh reading and writing skills

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A new program in Walton County is helping inmates build skills for when they get out of jail.

It's called the Sound Program.

"We come in once a week and spend an hour learning our vowels like a, e, i, o, and u," said Walton County inmate Samuel Hubley.

"This is like, my third session and I'm already making progress," said fellow inmate Arana Williams.

The Sound Program brings understanding words and reading back to the basics.

"This is a program that helps you learn where the words derive from and how to spell them a lot easier. Syllables are sound chunks. I never knew that and they taught me that," said Williams.

"You start out in week one. The first lesson is understanding the syllable, understanding your vowels, understand sounds. Then it moves on to putting together words, breaking down words for what it actually is and then you move forward and each week builds upon it for the next six weeks it just continues to grow," said Walton County Jail's Programs Manager Andy Watkins.

Williams and Hubley are just two of the inmates selected to participate in the new pilot program.

"I'm learning something new and not only is it that I'm learning something new but it's helping [instructors] too because this is something that has never been done in the United States before," said Hubley.

A first of its kind at a correctional facility in the U.S., this program is designed to help inmates learn and refresh some of their reading skills.

"I've learned it before, but it's just bringing it back, redoing it. So it's something you can definitely use, even if you got a full education, college and everything, you could still come back and learn this stuff," said Williams.

Watkins said on average, many inmates that come to this facility may only have up to a middle school education.

"A lot of people don't have reading skills in life. They didn't take advantage of opportunities they had when they were younger by attending schools for various reasons such as... they just never learned the fundamentals," said Watkins. "They didn't learn phonics, they didn't learn things and so in life, you must read. You have to read. That's all we basically do is read and write and so by having this program they can learn to attain the ability to read and hopefully they will build self-confidence and self-esteem in their lives."

"Some people don't have great education growing up. I did, but not all people have that chance, so this is great. Being able to help people who don't know how to read, people who don't know how words are spelled or where they come from," said Williams.

"I read two or three books a week so I'm actually able to look at words and try to understand them more than just read past them," Hubley said.

"The guys come in. They sit at the tables. They begin to help each other. They will help each other take and break down words. They'll help each other, it becomes a team building exercise also because they want everyone sitting at the table to be successful," Watkins said.

Watkins said their main goal is to give inmates skills to keep them from returning to jail.

"When you can see a change in someone's life and they develop something to see that their life has meaning, they can walk out these doors and say, 'Hey look, I'm going to do something with my life,'" said Watkins.

"It's probably something I wouldn't have went to do on my own without Mr. Watkins here to push and help and reinforce," Williams said.

"It means a lot to me. Like I said, I'm trying to do the best I can to better myself while I'm here instead of just using the time to be lazy. It's a big step for me," Hubley added.

The sound program is a six-week pilot. At the end of the program, the participants get a certificate of completion.