Project Echo at the Otero County Prison Facility
The University of New Mexico developed a program called Project ECHO to improve health care through teaching, receiving feedback, and gaining a collective understanding. The aim is to collaborate with many different agencies, including correctional facilities. A group of residents at the Otero County Prison Facility underwent the necessary training to become peer educators.
Erick Ballejos is one of the Project ECHO participants. “All my life I’ve seen educators,” he says, “I looked up to educators. I looked at them, I admired them, and I never could’ve imagined that I would be one of those educators, standing in front of people with something valuable to give to them.”
“I do believe they take it to heart,” Warden Hector Rios explained. “The beauty of it is that they meet frequently to be able to develop a lesson plan. Of course, you have our staff, our education staff, assisting.”
Recently, Project ECHO organized a competition amongst participating correctional facilities in the United States and the UK to spread awareness of hepatitis C. The men at Otero County won the contest.
“That just says a lot right there itself,” says Erick, “How our chemistry as a team has come together. Other people recognize it.”
Wenses Baca is another resident participant. “Sometimes being incarcerated, you don’t feel like you’re heard or seen. And to see that people are actually taking notice in what we’re doing. It just goes to show that’s a testament of what our team is doing here in the facility. We work together. We utilize our team strengths, abilities.”
“Not really having too many things to be commended about in the past as far as my whole past goes,” admits Erick, “and now turning that around and having somebody recognize me for something positive – and the whole team as well. Just to think, ‘well, I am capable of doing some good. I am capable of being part of something good’.
Academic instructor Elizabeth Jones works with the men on Project ECHO.
“Ms. Jones, she is just an outstanding motivator,” states Warden Rios. “She’s energetic. I think the men see that.”
“I think just to see them, the excitement of being recognized,” Elizabeth states. “I think just to see their faces receiving the trophy and the free pizza that we received, that is just amazing. It’s just priceless.”
One of the greatest things that I could say about being part of Project ECHO,” Erick relates, “is the staff support that we get. Ms. Jones has been incredible, our biggest cheerleader, our biggest fan.”
“There’s no words,” Elizabeth says, “to describe how much we can change and how can we impact society when we give them the right tools.”