In Chicago jails chess teaches better moves in life

Chicago is a wonderful city with its vibrant ethnic communities, world class entertainment and beautiful landmarks. However, the media paints a decidedly narrow picture… one cloaked in death, despair and helplessness. The law enforcement has been dogged by allegations of unlawful acts, police brutality and obstruction of justice.

The city has seen heated confrontations between the public and the police and the jails continue to fill up. This story is similar to what one finds around the country. The irony is that many men learn the deep consequences of their actions in a very unconventional way. Oliver Fluck arranged a nice photo series of inmates who found chess as an outlet.

Mikhail Korenman (left) conducts chess classes at the Cook County Jail.
Photo by Phil Velasquez (Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago Tribune ran a story about the benefits of chess on inmates. There are already a number of studies showing a reduction in recidivism. While the lessons often amount to cliches about “chess is life” or “making better moves,” the lessons stick. Jeff, a two-time participant in Cook County’s chess program stated, “If I make the wrong move, it can cost my family,” he continued, motioning toward the other pieces on the board. “It can cost everything that I have.”

Mikhail Korenman started the program four years ago and has made quite a bit of an impact. Chess is often used in a way to examine one’s inner self through introspection. Some see it as a tool that will enable them to succeed after paying their debt to society. Ernest expressed a bitter truth:

Once you get older and you start having kids, you realize that one bad decision can cost you your freedom, your life,” he said. “I just hate that it took me this long to really, really grasp that. But now, I really understand it. I really look forward to being successful when I get out there in the world. Because I believe I could do it.


One Comment

  1. The collective view is nothing can be done..
    the ‘gang banging’ is assumed to marginalize the community…
    Those of us who have worked in the ‘ undesirable communities’ know that there is always hope always ways of making things better ..

    one of those ways is to support the chess community of all peoples!

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