History of SET

The S.E.T. (Students Expressing Truth) group started in June 1999. It is the brainchild of former inmates Richard Buckner, alias “Muslim” and Robert “Chemist” James. Their main objective was to improve educational opportunities within the prison system. SET has since evolved into a powerful phenomenon, unlocking and uplifting of the minds of those incarcerated. In 2000, when I first went into the prison to participate in the nascent program, I had no idea as to where we would end up. All I knew is that I had a desire to do something positive and it was with that intention that I first visited the prison and each and every time since then.

In the early years, we had little else but drive. There were times when we went in and there was no place for us to meet the inmates and we met anyway. Sometimes it was under a tree, other times it was in some little corner of the prison. From the start, I have been visiting the prison twice a week, at first just bringing in books and conversing with the inmates and then donating computers to aid in skills development. After a short while I received clearance to refurbish the library, which became the group’s classroom and meeting place. I never gave up on the programme and its possibilities because I saw very quickly the difference it made in the lives of all the participants–including myself. I walked away from each meeting knowing that something amazing had just happened and those of us present were never to be the same again. That was enough to keep me going back.

We kept the movement low key during the first few years, not because we did not see it as significant but because we did not want to attract people who were not committed to the process of self-enlightenment and personal responsibility. However, we found that even people who accidentally drifted into us were instantly moved and wanted to learn more.After the base at South Camp was fully operational, we used the momentum to set up another base at Ft. Augusta Adult Correctional Centre, an all-women’s facility. SET began expanding beyond just learning into an all-embracive learning and self-improvement center that hosted quiz competitions and spelling bees. Recently, we set up a computer lab/radio station/recording studio complex in the Tower St. Adult Correctional Centre, Jamaica’s largest correctional facility. Soon after, SET 88.9 FM became operational and now broadcasts 4 hours of live programming designed by inmates directly out of Tower St. five days a week.

In its 7 years, we have graduated almost 100 alumni and still retained an amazing 0% recidivism rate, compared to a national rate in 1993 of 50%. SET’s success is starting to grab the attention of correctional authorities all over the Caribbean, and it continues to innovate new ways for inmates to get involved in their own personal growth, both spiritual and technical.

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