UConn basketball star Tina Charles helping inmates make turns for the better with prison internship
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Saturday, March 6th 2010, 1:42 PM
Less than three miles down the road from Gampel Pavilion and just off the campus of the University of Connecticut where she stars on the women’s basketball team, Tina Charles disappears several times a week inside the razor-topped fences of the Bergin Correctional Institution and thinks a lot about second chances.
As an intern at the Level-2 minimum security prison, working six hours a week to earn two college credits, Charles helps prisoners begin the process of adjusting to life back in society.
She sits in on group counseling sessions where inmates talk about the mistakes they’ve made that led to their incarceration. They discuss how they can make better decisions when they are back on the streets. They talk openly about their hopes for building a better future.
But for Charles, the senior All-American center for the Huskies out of Christ the King in Queens, the future is much more certain.
Sunday, she leads the Huskies (30-0) into the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford with a chance to tie the NCAA women’s Division I record for consecutive wins with 70, which was set by UConn in 2003.
A psychology major with a minor in criminal justice, Charles says she would probably work in corrections after college if not for basketball, and she still may after her basketball career is over. She says she enjoys her work with the program, helping inmates prepare for their return to their communities.
Some of the inmates recognize her as a basketball player, she says. They congratulate her after big games, such as Tuesday’s win over Notre Dame when she became UConn’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She was featured in a short piece in the Connecticut Department of Correction‘s January newsletter.
“I worried the first time that it might be a distraction to have a basketball player there, but she is very humble and very genuine,” says Calma Frett, who is the supervisor of the prison’s volunteer and internship program. “She listens and participates, and the inmates treat her like they would any other staff member.”
Despite the inmate’s circumstances, Charles says ones she has met are just regular people who have made mistakes and are trying to change.
“They are just everyday people, people you would see anywhere you go. They are just people who have made mistakes,” Charles says. “Everybody makes mistakes, you have to learn from them and change.