Change is possible.

Due to the many voices of concerned citizens and the swift decline of our nation’s economy, the enormous errors in our criminal justice system are under more scrutiny than ever before.

We are uniting as Americans, through organizations and coalitions, in an effort to enlist community involvement for rehabilitation of the “accused”, in lieu of incarceration.  

The methodology of our religious groups, our community organizations and our social service agencies; along with civic groups, corporations and researchers are varied.  There is stronger indication that rehabilitation by way of community partnerships is a viable alternative to our current method of punishment.  The alarming rate of recidivism is testimony that something else is needed.  The amount of tax dollars required to continue this “placebo” treatment is phenomenal, and finally getting some attention from some long overdue resources.

President Bush is advocating the combination of “Drug Courts” with spiritual counseling, and has committed to increase the available funds for these type “partnership” programs. Currently, several States have successfully implemented the coordination of community partnerships that may or may not include spiritual counseling, but these states offer the statistics that prove the effectiveness of this approach, as an alternative to prison confinement.  

Although the manner and methods of delivery, the elements and areas of concentration, and available support systems differ greatly, these alternative methods consistently reveal uniformity in structure and long term goals.

Examples of successful community partnerships include; institution based readiness programs, institutional and community assessment centers, reentry courts, supervised or electronically monitored boarding houses, mentoring programs and community corrections centers.

Elements of these programs include:

1-Inmate preparation:  Offering institution-based programs designed to prepare offenders to reenter society, which involve areas of education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, job training, mentoring by religious or civic organizations, full diagnostic and risk assessment.

2-Community based transition programs to begin prior to, and immediately following inmate release from the correctional institutions. These services will include appropriate reiteration of the previous phase, adding the monitoring of progress by appropriate officials.

3-Community-Based Long Term Support Programs, connecting individuals who have left supervision of the justice system with a network of social services and community based organizations to provide ongoing services and mentoring relationships.

There is scientific as well as clinical data indicating that implementation of behavior modification based programs utilized in correctional communities, are an integral, effective component in rehabilitation alternatives.  

The importance of professional assessments at the onset of sentencing, the necessary involvement of family, health care professionals and community organizations, cannot be stressed enough.

Fortunately, at a time in my life when I was destined to become engulfed by the penal system, I participated in a program that was provided as an “educational tool” for anyone interested in making the changes that could possibly keep him or her from “relapsing” or re-offending again.

The program was called, “A Framework for Breaking Barriers.”  It was written by an ex inmate, Gordon Graham, and facilitated by previous offender, who was working toward a degree in psychology at that time, volunteering at the “facility” that I was currently housed in and working a full time job as a mechanic..

That program saved my life.  It showed me, without preaching or judging me, just where I had gone wrong.  I learned the reasons for my mistakes, how taking the responsibility for my actions instead of blaming others would insure my destruction and how my “old” habits and information had brought me to my present misery.  I was then given the tools to change my thinking, change my habits, and realize my own accountability.  I became a certified facilitator for the Breaking Barriers program by way of sponsorship through a wonderful organization that continues to help in rehabilitation areas. My honest to God belief in this program and my never ending passion to deliver it,  brought about changes in the rehab community that were so profound, that  I was being endorsed by corrections officials, 12 step groups and even therapists.  I volunteered anywhere and at anytime I was invited.  I taught at rehab centers and, even on probation, at the local jails and half way houses.   When I started college, as was expected, I had to stop my volunteer efforts and concentrate on full time studies, full time jobs and full time single Motherhood.  I lost touch with the program and my associations with “Breaking Barriers”.  Since my re-marriage, 4 years ago re locating to South Carolina, I was fortunate enough to have time to volunteer again.  After many hours with the soup kitchens, meals on wheels and other charities, I realized that my heart just was not in it like it used to be.   I realized that I needed to be back in the jails, prisons and rehabs.  I needed to be giving back the tools that were so generously given to me.  I needed to help those that were stuck in the places that I was once stuck in, in order to feel useful.

I tried to find the Breaking Barriers program locally and failed.  No one had heard of it, but everyone was interested in finding out more about it.   I attempted to contact Gordon Graham & Co. at the address and phone numbers I had kept for 10 or so years and failed.

Late one night my phone rang and it was a woman identifying herself as the Mother of my 18 yr. Old son’s girlfriend in Wisconsin.  He had finally been arrested and was in the county jail up there.  I was relieved.  Finally, he may re-consider his life, his addiction and actually take advantage his opportunities. In an effort to find help for my son through the program that I knew could make a difference in his life, I called the jail.  Not only was I promised that the program would be offered to him, I was given the contact information that I had sought after for so long. I discovered that Mr. Graham and Co. had developed several other programs.  One of them focuses on the re-entry phase of incarceration, and the difficulties in finding employment, maintaining healthy relationships, understanding the outside world and coping with the many challenges that will affect a person upon release.

As in “Breaking Barriers”, the curriculum of this “New Realities” program is based on the belief that there is a body of knowledge found in cognitive psychology which, when effectively taught, allows people to break an inhibiting cycle of conditioning, and become happier, more fulfilled human beings.  It takes into account the fact that many people instinctively reject the idea that they may be basing their life decisions on incomplete or inaccurate information about themselves.
In a systematic process, with the facilitated workshops, Gordon skillfully guides participants toward an understanding and acceptance of four educational values,

1-That change is possible.

2- That current reality is the result of beliefs, habits and attitudes that we have adopted in the past.

3-That our future is determined by beliefs, habits and attitudes that we adopt today.

4- That it is possible to choose our beliefs, habits and attitudes in order to reach our goals and visions.

My son is now awaiting sentencing, but he is equipped with the tools given him, by the same person, at the same institution where I found my own tools.  Whether he uses them or not, is up to him. Only time will tell.  

I have now made a commitment to introduce this program and others like it; that have been so very successful in the corrections/addictions/domestic violence and reform communities.  

I have asked for, and been granted permission for the allocation, training and distribution of these cognitive learning programs by Gordon Graham, and am currently working with many non-profits, church ministries along with re-entry program personnel in probation, parole and Department of Corrections officials.  I will soon be moving from Greenville, S.C. to Columbia, S.C. It was and still is my intention to become involved with one or more of the “community partnership” programs, and eventually volunteer my time, and experience by teaching many of these programs, instead of explaining them.  I want to be “out there”, in the trenches, in the jails, the rehab centers and shelters.  That is where my heart is. I need people who are interested in helping me get the program information out there, people who honestly want to make a difference.  

Anyone that is interested, please send me an email.  I need people with the heart, especially those that are in recovery, or with personal background and experiences in the areas of addiction, abuse, incarceration and rehabilitation. ANYONE that has suffered through the consequences of irrational or uninformed decision-making, and has made it to the other side.  We need to show others how to find their own directions.  I am one small voice that, although quite loud and persuasive, very limited when it comes to helping EVERYBODY, try as I might; it remains a tremendous task, all by myself.

© Copyright 2003 Annette Stepp

Thank you, Annette Stepp   email;

The Injusice System – Future Book

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