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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Prison Chess

     I have never been in prison and only know a couple of people who have but NM James R. Schroeder’s program for prisoners was a project I occasionally supported. But due to Schroeder’s age, the program is no longer in operation. Also, over the course of my postal chess career I played a few prisoners. The USCF at one time (maybe they still do) had a special request on their entry forms one could check if they did not want to be paired with prisoners. Obviously these opponents knew my name and home address, but I never had one show up at my door or anything.
     Sometimes playing prisoners can be problematic because of incidents like the one that that happened with the last prisoner I played. His chess material was confiscated in a shakedown and he was transferred to another prison. I didn’t know what happened to him for six weeks. When he contacted me and requested to continue the game even though he had been forfeited by the postal chess organization involved of course I agreed.
     Schroeder’s claim was that the rate of recidivism of inmates who played chess in prison is 10% while the rate of recidivism of inmates who did not play chess is 90%. For many years Schroeder accepted donations and bought books sets and boards which he sent to prisons. He wrote to every prison in the state of Ohio when he lived there and later in the state of Washington after he moved asking if they needed chess supplies. One prison, for example, wrote back that they could use 40 sets. Obviously such a program would require a tidy sum to fund.
     The USCF’s Patron Program says donations will be used for USCF projects consistent with the U.S. Chess Trust's activities: scholastic chess, junior chess, prison chess, and U.S. representation in international events. I checked their website and didn’t find anything specifically on prison chess. I suspect that it’s the other activities that get the bulk of the funds.
     A few years back Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff Tom Dart launched a chess program at the county jail. His hope was that inmates could take what they learned from a game that rewards patience and problem-solving and apply it to their own lives. He said, "We see it day-in and day-out that people want instant gratification and that often individuals do not think before they act…Thoughtless actions will hurt you while playing chess and hurt you more on the street."
     Does anyone know of a chess program for prisoners existing anywhere? If one had the time, ambition and funds, it might be a worthwhile project.

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