Program helps prisoners turn their lives around
The Kansas City Star
JEFFERSON CITY | Some men sat in a large circle surrounded by family and friends.
The last time I’d been to such a gathering was 2001. It was in the old prison here. The Intensive Therapeutic Community program created by offenders and prison staff was just six years old then. It’s 17 now with nearly 1,000 men who’ve graduated from the inmate- and-staff-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
The men in this “Winners’ Circle” were brought together by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. They’re among the graduates making a good life for themselves on the outside. Although some were nervous about going public, this was one of few instances in which people who had been incarcerated gathered to celebrate something good from prison.
Donald V. Cline was associate superintendent at the Jefferson City prison when he co-founded the program. He’s retired and an adjunct professor now at Lincoln University.
Each of the men who spoke praised Cline and the program for helping to turn their lives around. “We’re still holding on to the principals of life on life’s terms,” said Darryl Burton, once an inmate facilitator whom I quoted in a Nov. 7, 2001, column on the program.
Burton, who emceed the gathering last month and plans to study at St. Paul’s School of Theology, was among the men who stressed the program’s three cost savings: It kept ex-offenders from returning to prison, saved the state the cost of their re-incarceration and it prevented society from having to care for new victims.
The Intensive Therapeutic Community works because it isolates the men from the rest of the population, adds regime and discipline to their day, forces the men to take ownership for their problems and those that they caused, and treats their criminal mentality as much as their addiction.
As the men in the Winners’ Circle said, “If you sober up a horse thief, you still have a horse thief.” Brock, one of the circle’s insiders who didn’t want to be identified by his full name, added, “You can always tell an addict, but you can’t tell him much.”
Drugs and alcohol are linked to up to 80 percent of all crimes. In addition to sentences for drug- and-alcohol-related offenses, the men in the circle had been in prison on violent and nonviolent convictions. The criminal behavior must be confronted before the man can change.
The men in the circle told of holding jobs now, being business owners, being married and having children, which wouldn’t have been possible without the program. “It took me a long time to realize I was the cause of my problems,” said Chris, who’s a business owner and employs four people. His clients include police officers.
The program helps the men to be critical thinkers and problem solvers with better impulsive controls. It taught them that life was never meant to be totally joyful. It has difficult, down times. Getting through the low points would’ve been impossible before.
“It works if you work it, if you live it every day,” Burton said.
Brock said every day he feels like a winner — as if he has hit the lottery.
“It’s every day that I don’t use and I don’t commit a crime,” Brock said. “I stay humble in my journey.”
Dan said the journey toward redemption is about confronting his demons so they don’t overtake him.
Several said they now work with men who’ve left prison and are trying to keep young people from prison.
“ITC taught me how to be a human being again,” Bobby said. “It taught me the harm and hurt I did to others. I thank God that I’m free.”
Cline praised the men for their accomplishments.
“I’m proud of it from the standpoint that they have followed through with what they’ve learned in the process — life on life’s terms — and applied it to their lives,” Cline said. “You have to learn to live differently.”
The state is considering replicating the program in other prisons. Cline said maintaining the structure, the method and the separate environment are important components.
Diluting it would hurt the program’s effectiveness. With the rising cost of crime and incarceration, that would benefit neither the inmates, the state nor the people the program keeps from being new victims.
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Star’s Editorial Board. To reach him, call (816) 234-4723 or send e-mail to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.