Beyond the Khaki

How ACC is helping the rehabilitation process at FCI Englewood

Jake Smith and Monica Fuglei


Data via National Institute of Justice

Jake Smith, Reporter

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, it’s easy to dehumanize people in prison and think the worst of them. It’s an inherent bias in society that exists solely because the U.S. is terrible at using prison as a rehabilitation system. According to World Population Review, the United States accounts for 25% of all the prisoners in the world. Of those prisoners, 44% will end up back in prison in less than one year and 77% will be in prison again within five years. The U.S. is extremely good at locking up its’ population, but terrible at prevention. Barring a major change in policy, these numbers will only increase.

Arapahoe Community College has been a staple in the Littleton Community since 1966 and they aim to help the entire community, including those who are incarcerated. In the beginning of 2021, the ACC prisoners program finally came to fruition. After multiple false starts thanks to COVID-19 and a variety of leadership changes, Joelle Milholm finally started her work with the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI Englewood) and the students inside.

The team that runs the project comprises of Julie Beggs, Mitch Garrett, Darren Copeland and Milholm from ACC and Dominque Fierro and Megan Fitzsimmons and various other staffers at FCI Englewood. Copeland and Garrett are the primary instructors for the fall semester. The goal is to have each student graduate with an associates degree in business with special focus on entepeneurship.

In the first semester at FCI, Joelle taught English Composition to 10 students selected for the program. From 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM Monday through Thursday for 10 weeks, they met with no internet and no computers in a room with no air-conditioning. Because college writing courses are typically taught in labs with computers and library access, it took some adjustments. Joelle states “what’s most important is students who want to learn.” She quickly learned that she was in a room with 10 of them.

“I never had to be like.. ‘you guys, you have to do the reading.’”

After trying to teach via zoom during the pandemic, Joelle, like many other teachers, was feeling burned out. After getting to teach the students at FCI Englewood however, her passion for teaching is reignited. Her students are excited to learn and impassioned to trailblaze for future beneficiaries of the program.

The program ACC is running is unique. Only a third of all state and federal prisons offer access to vocational or educational programs. Those prisons are responsible for a 36% decrease in recidivism, however. With a higher focus on rehabilitation, prisons are less likely to see repeat offenders.

When asked about the vision of success for the program, both Joelle and Dominique Fierro, recalled the time a student finished an essay with two golf pencils and no pencil sharpener. The student had an essay due and no access to the materials he needed to write it. Dominique was able to work a deal with prison officials and the student was given some paper and just two very tiny pencils that are typically used to keep score during a golf game. The student received a B on the paper and passed the class.