Centenary University Student Founds Literacy Program for Incarcerated Men and Women at New Jersey’s Warren County Correctional Center

Contact: Kristen Volkland

(201) 960-3102

    

Through book donations and a 16-week literacy course, Kayla Diee of Wantage, NJ, hopes to change the trajectory of the future for people in prison.

 

HACKETTSTOWN, N.J., May 21, 2024—As a small child, Kayla Diee was fascinated by law and the court system. Her favorite game was playing Judge Judy, wielding a wooden spoon as a gavel to hold mock trials and mete out justice just like the television icon. Today, Diee is seeking justice in a different way: The Centenary University student has founded a literacy program for incarcerated individuals at the Warren County Correctional Center.

Called The Next Chapter Foundation, the program seeks to increase the confidence and communication skills of imprisoned people, providing them with an outlet to process their experiences and emotions. First, Diee organized a drive that collected more than 600 books to establish a recreational reading library at the prison. Then, the Wantage, NJ, resident launched a 16-week writing course for detainees, providing them with communication skills to better assimilate to life after incarceration.

“Statistics show that people who take educational courses while they’re incarcerated are over 60 percent less likely to be reincarcerated once they’re released,” explained Diee. “But beyond helping them to seek stability and find a job, I want to help people grow in confidence within themselves and learn to communicate in healthy ways.”

Diee first experienced the dynamics of incarceration through the New Jersey State Police Explorer Program, a nationally-recognized career exploration activity for teens. During a visit to an Atlantic City correctional facility through Stockton University’s CSI program, she witnessed dire conditions, including a man whose pleas for a doctor were ignored and a maximum security prisoner whose only recreation was pacing back and forth within a small caged area. “I made direct eye contact with him, and it was just like this lightning strike moment,” Diee recalled with tears in her eyes. “I knew I needed to do something. There’s no way people can live like that, and then be expected to go and build a life with no resources to rely on. There is a really pressing need for libraries in prisons, and just humanities opportunities in general.” 

When she tells people about her work at the Warren County Correctional Center they often express fear for her safety. “I completely understand,” Diee said. “But there’s a misconception that people who are incarcerated are sort of like caged tigers waiting for any opportunity to strike. That’s not true—it’s a much warmer, kinder, and gentler experience than people really anticipate. When my students collaborate, I’ve never heard ill will or criticism. They’re always amplifying each other, offering suggestions and ideas on how they can develop their writing.”

At Centenary University, Diee will earn dual degrees in English and writing, along with a minor in paralegal studies, next December. She has been involved in a host of activities on campus, including as a tutor for the Writing Collaboratory, resident assistant, copy editor of the Cyclone Chronicle, and member of Alpha Alpha Alpha, the University’s honor society for first-generation college students. She is also editor-in-chief of Centenary’s student newspaper. In addition, Diee is a photojournalist and intern for the Prison Journalism Project, a national organization that publishes the work of incarcerated writers.

After completing her Centenary education, Diee plans to pursue a career in correctional education administration: “What I hope to give back to incarcerated people is a sense of value that leads to making healthy decisions to benefit themselves and the world around them.”

  

 

ABOUT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY

Centenary University offers extraordinary learning opportunities that empower students to develop intellectually, emotionally, and interculturally—keys to career and personal success. 

Under the leadership of President Dale Caldwell, Ed.D., the University aspires to advance its reputation as a world class institution offering innovative programs, including the world’s first Master of Arts in Happiness Studies, to lift the future for our students and local communities. 

 

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