Archives for June 22, 2008

Day Reporting Centers for Supervising and Assisting Offenders

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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=66

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio portion of D.C. Public Safety. I’m Len Sipes. Today at our microphones is Curtis Atkinson. Curtis is the program manager of the day reporting center. I’ve been to the day reporting center a couple of times to do some focus groups on programs and to ask the opinion of the offenders who are there for the day reporting system and wow, what an interesting group. What a very, very, very challenging group of individuals. I remember doing the focus group and this was a pretty rough group. They were very challenging. Fugitive Safe Surrender was a program that was run by the Court Services and Offender Supervision agency as well as the U.S. Marshalls Office as well as the collective Criminal Justice System. We ask different people to voluntarily surrender and we had 530 people voluntarily surrender. But I wanted to talk to a group of offenders who were a fair test group of offenders and I found them, Curtis, in your day reporting program. These are the individuals who aren’t doing well from what I understand. Individuals who do not, cannot find work during the daytime so you bring them in. You find that there are individuals there as an intermediate sanction where they’re not doing well in the supervision for a wide variety of reasons so they have to report to you every day. Am I in the ballpark?

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Okay. Tell me about it.

Curtis Atkinson: Well, my guys are an interesting bunch.

Len Sipes: They are an interesting bunch. Let me tell you.

Curtis Atkinson: They really are. They really are. It’s an involuntary population. They’re referred by their probation or parole office due to the fact that they’re unemployed.

Len Sipes: They don’t want to be there?

Curtis Atkinson: They absolutely don’t want to be. And you know the first few days are usually the roughest but you know after a while they begin to buy into the program and actually subscribe to what we do. So, I think you came at the very early stages of a new batch.

Len Sipes: And they were a wild bunch. I mean, basically they sat there and told me that, look Mr. Sipes, not only am I not going to participate in this program, I would tell other people not to participate in this program. But it was interesting because after the full half hour, and they were getting on my nerves and I think I was getting on their nerves. They did tell me that by and large, this program is probably a pretty good idea; Fugitive Safe Surrender. Asking non-violent offenders with warrants to voluntarily turn themselves in and so they went along with it. At the end of the program, they said, yeah, we understand why you’re doing this and we understand why some people would participate. I’m just telling you, I wouldn’t participate.

Curtis Atkinson: They have absolutely no trust when it comes to the criminal justice system in general. Based on their experiences from the point of arrest all the way through the supervision process, so when you spoke about meeting at a church and actually talking about this program that could be to their benefit, they didn’t believe that what we were saying was true.

Len Sipes: Right. And there’s that universal mistrust. Not just in Washington, D.C. but of any group of offenders anywhere in the country, probably anywhere in the world of the criminal justice system. They don’t trust us.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. And that’s one of the biggest barriers that I have in working with the population on a daily basis, getting them to understand that we are here to help them. We’re here to assist them and we’re here to help them become reintegrated into the community.

Len Sipes: Right. To help them escape a life of crime and help them escape a life of drugs. We’ll get into that for a second. Who is Curtis Atkinson? Where do you come from Curtis and how did you get here?

Curtis Atkinson: I am here from Missouri. I was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, spent about 13 years in Baltimore completing my education.

Len Sipes: And that’s where I grew up and that’s where I was in the criminal justice system. Ballmur as we refer to it.

Curtis Atkinson: Exactly. I did primarily work with the juvenile population before coming to this agency.

Len Sipes: Which is a rough population.

Curtis Atkinson: They are very rough. That was a bit too much for me but I dealt with transitional age youth.

Len Sipes: Transitional what?

Curtis Atkinson: Transitional age youth. Those were the youth who were about to be waved to the adult system.

Len Sipes: The real tough ones. You love this real tough population don’t you Curtis?

Curtis Atkinson: I think I’m made for it. I do. I do because I try my best to have a balance between being tough and being fair.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: And I think for the most part, they understand that but dealing with transitional age youth, they used to tell us all the time, they would rather be in the adult system because there are less services.

Len Sipes: Fewer services and they don’t want those services.

Curtis Atkinson: They do not and they didn’t realize it is going to stick with them for the rest of their life.

Len Sipes: Get out of my face.

Curtis Atkinson: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Just let me do my time and then let me get back on the street.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Yeah. And that becomes problematic because they desperately need the programs. One of the things that research basically says is that you can watch them all you want and the population, citizens in not only Washington, D.C. but throughout this country, really want them supervised but at the same time, one of the things that we say is that the research very, very, very clearly indicates that it’s just not a matter of supervision, programs have got to be there. So, you’re a combination of supervision and programs because you’re there to try to help them get a job, create a resume, how you present yourself before an employer, referring them to programs that are clearly within their best interest.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. And you know one of the biggest things about the day reporting center are my community relationships. They really help to sustain the program. I have lists of about a dozen partners who work with me on a regular basis who are able to provide the services for the offenders in the community.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: So, regardless of whether they’re discharged to my program or not. Regardless of whether they’re on supervision or off, they can still receive services from these community-based programs.

Len Sipes: Sure. Sure. And there are a lot of people in the community that are willing to help them.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. There really are. There are a lot of resources that are being under utilized quite frankly and these agencies in the spirit of reciprocity, they’re providing a free service to CSOSA but we’re providing them with the numbers that they are so desperately need.

Len Sipes: Sure and I think that’s a two way street but our guys, if you will, because the overwhelming majority of our offenders are male.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: It is the paradox. They desperately need that 8th grade education. An 8th grade certificate. They desperately need the GED in this economy. In some cases they desperately need to learn how to write.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: In some cases, they desperately need to understand how to conduct themselves on the job and doing a job interview and what a job expects and that’s one of the things that we try to provide here at CSOSA. We have programs that will assess a person’s educational level, provide them with a GED, provide them with a reading assistance, provide them with assistance in terms of getting a job. We do quite a bit of drug treatment but we do up to 25 percent of the population that needs it. That means 75 percent we refer basically to private or DC agencies and that’s tough. We provide mental health services. So, there’s a lot of services. We provide anger management training. There’s a lot of individuals. There’s a lot of opportunities for the people who are under our supervision but that’s the paradox is that getting them there and having them take advantage of it are two different things.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. So, really what we do is we run our community partners to CSOSA. You know, I can give them all the referral information in the world but they’re not actually going to make it to the threshold of that organization. By us bringing the community partners to our agency, they really have no choice but to sit there as a captive audience and respond to the information and then elect to partake in the services or not. It’s really up to them and the community partners, like I said, are very generous with their services, they’re very gracious in how they conduct themselves and they understand the population that they’re working with. Usually what I do is I explain my population because as you know it can be challenging and as they come in, they know exactly what they’re getting into. They know exactly who they’re going to be working with and they come in with the resources in tact.

Len Sipes: And that’s wonderful because there are social service agencies out there who would rather not deal with offenders. Now, that’s not just in D.C., that’s throughout the country.

Curtis Atkinson: True.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the biggest problems we have is that making sure that the individuals, if they’re going to serve our population, understanding how difficult our population can be. I mean, we talk about difficulty. You know, I’ve been in the system for, oh goodness, going on 40 years and I’ve done groups, I’ve ran a group in a prison system, I’ve done the jail or job core kids, I’ve done gang counseling on the streets of the city of Baltimore. You know, this is a very tough population regardless as to where it is that you go. Now, it can be immensely rewarding taking individuals from a tough background and suddenly a light does go off where they get their GED, where they go over and involve themselves in a job with a future, that they reorient their attitudes, they reorient their friends. I mean, you know, most of these offenders, all they see around them is their friends going to jail, their friends getting shot, their friends getting injured. I mean, in some cases, and again, it’s not just Washington, D.C., it’s all throughout this country. Sort of like a battle zone. These are some, in some cases, battle scared veterans.

Curtis Atkinson: Definitely.

Len Sipes: And they’re not coming to you saying, oh please help me, you’ve got to some how, some way break through those barriers and that’s the toughest part of the job.

Curtis Atkinson: Definitely it is. It definitely is and like I said, they’re very resistant in the beginning. Once they realize that this program is intended to assist them and their families for that matter and help them get back on track, they sort of buy into it.

Len Sipes: How do you break through those barriers?

Curtis Atkinson: It’s a difficult process at times but once they see that we have tangible resources for them because you know it’s a population where it’s all about show and prove.

Len Sipes: Right. Show me. Show me. Don’t talk to me. Show me.

Curtis Atkinson: Exactly. And once we’re able to do that, then they buy into it and then a lot of the barriers are broken down.

Len Sipes: Okay. And you know doing this on a one on one basis is real tough. Doing it in a group basis where they’re reinforcing each other’s negative behavior. Wow. I mean, you’ve got to be almost a magician to go before this group of individuals. How many people on a daily basis?

Curtis Atkinson: The average daily population is any where from 20 to 25.

Len Sipes: Okay. To go before 20 to 25 human beings on a daily basis; all of them have chips on their shoulders the size of Montana. To break through those barriers is tough.

Curtis Atkinson: It really is. It really is and I spend a great deal of my time redirecting conversations to be very honest with you but once they realize that I’m not one to be played with. I’m going to be very honest with you. You have to be very firm. You have to be very firm but you have to still be compassionate. So, sometimes it’s spent doing some of the house keeping things to be very honest with you. Redirecting their conversation but we can eventually get to what needs to be done.

Len Sipes: When I was doing the focus group for the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program, I lost my temper at the end because one guy was particularly mouthy, one guy was particularly nasty and I turned around and I said, look I saw you 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. It just doesn’t end for some of you does it? And he was startled by that because I was looking at him straight in the eye and it was like that sometimes is the issue for those of us who’ve been in the criminal justice system and seeing human beings filter themselves through the system, human beings that are worth reaching but it is sometimes so difficult to reach them.

Curtis Atkinson: It definitely is. It really is and you know but at the same time as hard as their exteriors are, when you get them alone, you can really see what the issues are.

Len Sipes: Yes. I totally, totally, totally agree. This is why doing it in a group is so challenging because one of the things that I found in my career is that once you’ve reached. Because a third of that population, I’m just generalizing now, a third of that population wants to be reached.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: A third of that population is sitting on the fence. You can reach them. If you’ve got enough courage and enough fortitude and keep your temper in check; and a third are tough. A third just probably are not going to make it at all. So, two thirds of the individuals sitting there are salvageable yet it’s just so easy for them to get sucked back in the drugs, sucked back in the crime, sucked back into deviance. So, you are the lone person. You and what we call, what the rest of the country calls parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers. Between the two of you and whatever treatment providers you refer them to or get involved in their lives, you all collectively have got to some how, some way remind yourselves that two thirds of the people here can be saved.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I would even say it’s more than that. Really what it’s about is assessing their needs, getting passed the barriers and cause what they’re really trying to do is trying to take you off your game.

Len Sipes: Right. Yep.

Curtis Atkinson: They want to prove that they have power over you because so many years, the system has had power over them.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: So, now they want to assert their own authority. So, often times it’s unnecessary power struggle but I don’t engage in that. I’m not going to go toe to toe with you. I’m not going to go back and forth or anything. I’m going to say my peace, I’m going to allow you to vent a little bit and then we’re going to move on with what we’re supposed to do and then once you show them that structure, they have no choice but to respond to it.

Len Sipes: When I did gang counseling in Baltimore city, I would have, again, in a group structure because again you’re out there on the streets with these kids and when you’re there, it is in a group structure, it doesn’t, I find it or found that it really didn’t work all that well but one by one by one they come to you and say, can you get me back in school? You know, is there really a job with a possibility for me here. Because the group that I dealt with was heavily into glue sniffing and you know from time to time they would come to me and say, look I really need to stop this. It’s really screwing up my life, you know, is there a program that you can get me into. So, that’s my observation is that you’re observation they come to you little bit by little bit by little bit, one by one and say you know, quite frankly Curtis, what you’re talking about makes sense. Can you help me with this and can you help me with that?

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know the most difficult client during a group will usually come up to me directly after the group and in their own way apologize.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: The words, I’m sorry will never come out their mouth but they have some type of gesture or something to indicate that they did not mean to come off as harsh as they did and I’m fine with that. You know, we’re able to process it after the fact and actually deal with what the real issue is. And a lot of times, it is the individual who is the loudest and who is the meanest and in many cases is the person most in need of assistance and he understands that.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely. I had a guy that came in my office yesterday and he was in Lorton and other facilities for over 20 years and as he puts it himself, he is completely conditioned and knew nothing but jail time. He was put in there when he was 18 and now to come out in the community, this is all he knows. He is a textbook case of that type of institutional rage and everything we’ve thrown at him, he’s so skeptical about. You know, we’ve managed to secure employment opportunities for him; we’ve placed him in a CDL training program.

Len Sipes: CDL as a commercial drivers license?

Curtis Atkinson: Commercial drivers license. Yeah. He wants to be a truck driver.

Len Sipes: Well, they can make a lot of money by the way.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: A lot of money.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely but he is so resistant thinking that every opportunity is not going to hire him because of his record. He’s unwilling to try and because of that, you know, the agency is apply pressure and he is becoming more and more angry and he expresses that via his very rough exterior and very challenging at all times. But he was literally in my office yesterday just venting. He said, I need help. I just want somebody to help me and no one would ever have guess that that’s him. That’s who he is.

Len Sipes: Well, when I was dealing, and I think I have this on another program talking to an individual in our high risk drug unit where the people have very long histories of crime, very long histories of drug use. They are indeed a very difficult population to deal with and she put it, the harder the exterior where the guy comes in and he is just really, really, really hard, looks hard, dresses hard, acts hard, that if you ever break through that exterior, what you find is a very frightened individual. So, the toughness is a mask for extreme vulnerability.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know had this guy not been coming to me every day for several weeks now, we would probably have never known that because the first thing he shows you is that anger.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: Whenever we refer them to a community based organization or even to an employment opportunity, he has that rough exterior so no one ever looks past that but he’s beginning to trust us.

Len Sipes: And people are freighted by this.

Curtis Atkinson: Most definitely.

Len Sipes: Social service providers don’t want to deal with this person.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And yet, the core of this individual. I mean, that’s a paradox isn’t it? The toughness, the roughness, the clothes, the attitude; everything that goes along with it is just a mask for extreme, extreme, extreme vulnerability.

Curtis Atkinson: And frustration as well.

Len Sipes: And frustration as well.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely and this is what he was trying to convey to us but even as he’s talking to us and quite frankly pouring his heard out, he’s doing it in a manner that’s very challenging, very aggressive.

Len Sipes: Now, where does all this come from? You know, there was a book called Street Corner Society that I had to read in my criminal logical studies. Did you read that?

Curtis Atkinson: I did.

Len Sipes: Well, there you go. So, it was an Italian street corner gang back in the 1930’s. The city is not supposed to be identified but it’s New York. It’s the same thing that we deal with and quite frankly, it’s the same thing that anybody deals with regardless of where you are in this country, regardless of what the race of the offender is, regardless of the background. It’s this tough exterior. It’s this rough exterior. It’s this whole sense that I don’t believe in you. I don’t even believe in me. They believe in fate. They’re not part of this immediate world that you and I are involved in. They don’t believe that they have control over who they are and what they are. You know, getting high is a big part of who they are, carrying a weapon; although, they carry revolvers and knives; a different world but it’s the same thing isn’t it. I mean, that whole sense of rough exterior and if it is the same thing regardless of the group, where does it come from?

Curtis Atkinson: Well, for this gentlemen it came from a childhood of pain and it came through 20 years of having to fight his way through the system as he describes it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: And then it comes through being in a community for 5 years and not seeing things come to life like you thought they would.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: You know, after dreaming in jail for 20 years as what life would be on the outside, it’s just not happening the way that you want it to be. But the fortunate thing about our program is we had the opportunity to confront. You know, a number of referrals were made. You know, he was supposed to go get health insurance. He was supposed to go to a clinic to get the anger management counseling that he needed. He was supposed to do a host of things that he did not do. So, my role is to confront that, to obviously listen to him, and to counsel him of course because he was very angry. You can’t send someone outside like that. We had to calm him down. We had to get him to a place where he can do that.

Len Sipes: He’ll never get a job with that persona.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, we had to do that and then we had to quite frankly address what he did not do. You want to complain about your situation but have you done everything on your part and literally break it down for him so that he could understand it. And sometimes in a manner that he can understand it.

Len Sipes: And the interesting thing is, and this is where, we talk about the roughness and the toughness of the job but the interesting this is that these individuals, I have seen it personally where the extraordinarily rough, tough, nasty exterior, a year later he’s got a GED and a commercials driver license and he’s doing fairly well. He’s off drugs.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And so there are so much pessimism and a good part of this program talked about how rough and tough and difficult it is and those of us in the system know how difficult it is. I’m not quite sure but I’m going to guess that the people who are listening to this program who are not part of the system, they understand it every day but these are all salvageable individuals if you can find the right method of reaching them.

Curtis Atkinson: You absolutely can and actually when he first came to us, he’s somebody that I wouldn’t have thought could made it through a three month CDL program because of his anger, because of his resentment. He’s just very challenging in general so if someone’s in the front of the class teaching him about how you drive a commercial vehicle, he’s going to interject his own opinion regardless of whether he knows it or not but he made it through and he made it through because he constantly checked in with us. We constantly checked in on him and quite frankly in our own special way told him to tone certain things down and he was able to respond, adapt, listen, and learn and now he’s out, he has his piece of paper that he had longed for for quite some time. But now the issues is, I don’t really know what to do with it.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: So, now we’re going in a completely different direction and helping him follow through with an actual plan. We had focused so long on developing that plan. Now we’re in the action stage.

Len Sipes: And a lot of individuals like this, I mean, it is very difficult say for an offender where we provide one on one services here at CSOSA. In most jurisdictions in the country, they don’t. So, they are referred to the local health clinic to get on that list for anger counseling or for drug treatment. They are referred to the unemployment office where he goes in and stands for 2 hours and you know, the general public is going to say, hey, I have to do this. You know. Why can’t your offender do this? Well, it’s just different for them. They have little tolerance. They’re suspicious of the bureaucracy and if you don’t provide these direct services to them, often times they will fail. I mean, that seems to be the issue in terms of providing those direct services by people who understand how to deal with offenders and if you do that you can take a person who either you’re going to spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in the long run due to continued criminal involvement or the person becomes a tax payer but it takes special people, special programs to help that person get from point A to point B.

Curtis Atkinson: It really does and we really do have to admit that a lot of these community based programs or social services I should say aren’t very sensitive to our population. So, they are treated unfairly when they go into a large clinic. They’re not treated.

Len Sipes: Or they create a sense of unfairness for themselves.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. It goes both ways. What we try to do is we try to minimize that because then they’re going to use that as a barrier and say why they can’t get something done.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: So, my job is to go out and bring the resources in that can assist them with the process. A perfect example of that is getting them their health insurance. As opposed to going to a crowded clinic that you just mentioned where they could be waiting in line for hours, we bring the project Orion Van to our community supervision sites so they can get their health insurance in a matter of minutes.

Len Sipes: And that could make the difference between the person being vested in himself or vested in terms of going back to drugs. The whole gang structure, the whole criminal structure being what we call in the lifestyle is so easy to slip back into. It’s so embracing. You know, your friends are there, the language is there, the movement, the whole sense of being again sucked back into that is just amazing. Somewhere along the line, a person has got to say, okay, I’m not going to invest myself in that. I’m going to invest in myself for my sake, for the sake of my children because 70 to 80 percent of these guys are parents.

Curtis Atkinson: Definitely.

Len Sipes: You know for the sake of my mother. For whatever reason, the relationship with God. You know, once they’ve reached that point, services and people who know how to deliver those services to that particular population need to be there and that’s, I think, the whole purpose of the day reporting center.

Curtis Atkinson: It absolutely is the whole purpose. You know, we are completely involved in the wrap around approach. Meaning that they’re here for structure and discipline. You know, we monitor the time that they arrive, they’re here for the majority of the day, we provide them with services while they’re here but then we link them outside of that as well.

Len Sipes: Right. Right. So, the whole thing can continue beyond day reporting.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: But again, I asked you a little while ago, where does this sense of anger, the chip on the shoulder, the size of Montana, where does it come from? You mentioned it in the terms of that one particular person a lousy childhood. People who listen to this program know that that’s a pet peeve of mine. I think the majority of the individuals who come to us, and I’m not excusing their criminality in any way shape or form. If you do the crime, you do the time but the hard truth of it is that the majority of them come from histories of childhood abuse and neglect.

Curtis Atkinson: I absolutely agree with that and we have very open and frank conversations about that. And it’s not just childhood abuse and neglect. It’s the grief, of course, that they’re still living with but it’s the trauma as well. Many of them have seen some horrific things that you and I couldn’t possibly imagine.

Len Sipes: Battle scared veterans.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the article that we had quite some time ago speaks about.

Len Sipes: Right. And that becomes who you are. Again, that whole persona as the woman from the high-risk drug offender, office of the community supervision officer. I thought it was very, very interesting in the way that she put that. They are combat veterans. They’ve seen so many of their friends hurt, die, they’ve been injured in the past. By the time they get to social service providers, you know, they’re difficult cases to deal with principally because they’re scared to death.

Curtis Atkinson: Definitely.

Len Sipes: They’re scared to death and the people who understand that and can break through that which takes a special person and a special program. You can, again, the point, I’m not trying to over emphasize the point, but can take a real problem for society and turn that individual into a tax-paying parent.

Curtis Atkinson: And that is our goal. That is absolutely our goal to provide them with the resources they need to get back on their feet and you start with the basics. You talk about structure and you talk about accountability, that has to be, you know, where they are every day. But when we talk about being a parent as well because then you have another generation that’s going to rely on them.

Len Sipes: That’s exactly right.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely. So, we have a three part fatherhood programs that are aligned with our program right now who focus on not just the offender but their children as well providing them with resources; everything from books to referrals to back to school clothing, back to school supplies, focus groups.

Len Sipes: Give me some of the names of the people who are involved in this program with you.

Curtis Atkinson: Wow. One of my greatest community supports is the Greater Washington Urban League.

Len Sipes: Okay. The Urban League.

Curtis Atkinson: The Urban League, AFLCIO.

Len Sipes: Great.

Curtis Atkinson: Trusted Solutions Group Construction Company, AmeriGroup. CitiBank, The Georgia Ave. Colaborative, University of District of Columbia, Public Defenders Service, Community Offender Program.

Len Sipes: Wow. There are a lot of programs. Go ahead.

Curtis Atkinson: United Plan Organization, Mens Fit, New Morning Star Baptist Church, Project Orion. I could go on and on and on. These people routinely really chip in to help our population in every single way.

Len Sipes: Alright. Alright. So there’s a lot of people out there who are saying we understand what it is that you’re going through, we’re here to help you.

Curtis Atkinson: Definitely and they really, really just go the extra mile for our population. You know, whatever our offenders report to them. My child needs a coat. That coat is found on the very next day. I need a metro pass to get to and from. That’s provided for them as well. So, they provide the counseling. They provide the support. They provide the referrals of course but they also provide the tangible resources that these offenders need to get on track.

Len Sipes: And that’s unusual.

Curtis Atkinson: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Because in most, again, most parole and probation agencies throughout this country, it is report to me twice a month for 15 minute chunks of time. Have you been looking for work? You know, did you sign up for the drug treatment program? Did you sign up for anger management? Are you going? Can you prove that you’re going? Have a pleasant day. Where here we work with them as individuals.

Curtis Atkinson: We definitely work with them. We work with them for a substantial amount of time.

Len Sipes: And that’s substantial. How long are they there again?

Curtis Atkinson: Many of my guys are with me from 10 a to 3 p.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, but for how many weeks, months?

Curtis Atkinson: Until they find a job.

Len Sipes: Until they find a job. There you go.

Curtis Atkinson: Yeah. I mean, it used to be a time limited program but then we realized that the offenders were being discharged back into being unproductive citizens. So, now it’s until they either align themselves with a vocational or educational program or find full time gainful employment.

Len Sipes: Okay. But do some simply hang out there for a while to get the services they need.

Curtis Atkinson: They do. I wish I could say otherwise but that’s absolutely the case. My longest case right now is a gentlemen who’s been with me for about 8 months. But I will say on his behalf, during that 8 month period, we’ve assessed that he was learning impaired. So, right now we’re focusing on his GED.

Len Sipes: Yeah. And in many cases, it is those baby steps that propel a person from one stage of the life to another.

Curtis Atkinson: It really is because, I mean, this is a 33 year old man who had no desire to actually go get his GED.

Len Sipes: Right.

Curtis Atkinson: And when we tested him and found his scores were so low, it was even further from reality now.

Len Sipes: You know, Curtis, this is an extraordinarily interesting engagement, interview if you will. We need to do this again. I really enjoy talking to you and ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’ve been talking to Curtis Atkinson, the program manager of our D reporting center. Look for our website www.csosa.gov. Please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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Faith-Based Offenders and Reentry

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.
See http://media.csosa.gov/blog for the “DC Public safety” blog.

This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=68

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. At our microphones today is Guy Charity. Guy is the secretary of the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program and that is a program, a faith based program dealing with the provision of services to former offenders. We have two people currently under the supervision of my agency; the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we’ll simply know them as Larry and Michael. So to Guy, Larry and Michael, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Guy Charity: Thanks. Glad to be here.

Len Sipes: All right. Guy the first question goes to you. Now, the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. First of all, describe what that is and let’s get onto the broader topic of assisting people who are coming out the prison system.

Guy Charity: The Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program is a 501C3 program that is sponsored by Metropolitan AME church that is designed to help ex offenders returning back to the community by strengthening their family, spiritual, and economic well being.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now that is laudable and let’s get right into the questions in terms of the different people listening to this program. They’re gonna say okay, should the church be involved in dealing with ex offenders. Doesn’t the church or5 the mosque or the synagogue have elderly people to deal with or poverty or about 1,000 other issues that the church should be focusing on? Why is the church dealing with former offenders?

Guy Charity: I think the church is doing this in that they have the resources and they have the commitment to make things like this happen. Metropolitan AME church is located in downtown D.C. so it has an urban ministry. So, we have the ability to reach out into the community and provide these types of services

Len Sipes: Okay. So everybody in the church is on board.

Guy Charity: Yes.

Len Sipes: And everybody is supportive of the concept of dealing with ex offenders.

Guy Charity: Yes. Very much so.

Len Sipes: Okay. I mean, you see the difficulty, I’ve been working with offenders for decades and they tell me they come out of the prison system and nobody wants to give them any time at all or for that matter, the churches, they’ve said the churches have not been supportive. They go and try to get employment, they go and try to get services and its like, man you’ve been in prison, I’m sorry. I’ve got a whole waiting list of more worthy people standing in front of you. So there’s always been that barrier and I’ve heard from people in the past that the churches and maybe the mosques and the synagogues are also part of that barrier. But in your case it’s not.

Guy Charity: No. I think you have to educate yourself and you have to educate your congregation. Once the congregation knows and people know that it’s not that bad and that there is results, positive results, that can be had from taking steps into addressing the needs of this target population, it’s very rewarding.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Guy Charity: So, it’s a matter of just educating. If you educate your congregation, if you educate the community and they see that it’s not really that bad and that positive results can result from efforts taken, I think they’ll be more willing to step out.

Len Sipes: All right. So, to get around to the larger issue of people coming out of the prison system, you and I had a discussion one time when we were doing fugitive safe surrender and people were voluntarily turning themselves in with warrants and you and I were having this discussion outside of the church and we just basically agreed that this is a difficult area. That I’ve worked in the area, I’ve had hands on experience in working in the area and it is really difficult to see so many young men and in some cases women purposefully throw their lives away in terms of crime and drugs. Even if they come out and get a second chance, sometimes it’s a daunting situation trying to convince them that there is a life outside of that heroin needle, there is a life outside of being on the street, hustling, being a part of the game. It’s difficult. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Guy Charity: Yes. It’s all about choices and unfortunately if you make a bad choice it takes time to recover from them, but we in the church community and the faith-based community, we understand that it’s about choices and we understand that you can be forgiven and we understand that you can have a second, a third, and a fourth chance.

Len Sipes: All right. Who wants to go first, Larry or Michael? Somebody raise their hand because I’ve got questions for you. Okay. So you are Larry?

Michael: Michael.

Len Sipes: Michael. I’m sorry. Michael, tell me. Now you’re currently under our supervision and you’re a client over at the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. Correct?

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: Can I ask you why you’re under supervision?

Michael: Well, I was under the supervision for marijuana possession with intent to distribute.

Len Sipes: Okay, and you’ve done either recently or somewhere in your history, you’ve been incarcerated.

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. So you’re out on the street. How’s things going for you?

Michael: Well things are going fine. I’ve been employed by the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. I’ve been given a mentor who’s got a charity, right here sitting beside me and it’s been a good experience in the program. Initially when I first got in the program, it gave me a hope for the future and that was important. Being in the summer program that they had at the time was very good. It gave me something to do everyday, life skills; it taught me a lot of things.

Len Sipes: All right. How long you been out?

Michael: We’ll say February of 2006.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’ve been out on the street for a while. Are you successful?

Michael: Yes. I would say, I mean I feel like I’m more successful now that I ever was because of the position that I have with the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program.

Len Sipes: What do you do?

Michael: I’m administrative assistant for the program and, you know, I work hands on with a lot of ex offenders.

Len Sipes: All right.

Michael: It’s very rewarding.

Len Sipes: So, it’s not only you’re getting mentorship from the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Center, you also have a job?

Michael: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right. So what is the key ingredient in terms of taking people who come out of the prison system or come out of jails, and what is the key in terms of turning them around? Because the statistics are not very encouraging according to the Department of Justice, two-thirds are rearrested within 3 years and 50% are reincarcerated within 3 years.

Michael: Well, the reason that it’s probably not successful is because the active probation is more inclined to have you reincarcerated. Because if you weren’t on probation, you wouldn’t get locked up for missing a meeting with a probation officer or felony drug test, so you really, probation is gonna get you locked up, you know, it’s you got really one foot back in jail anyway. But, programs like the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program, they kind of offset that in a way because they give young men something, some hope, and something to do. Because a lot of young men, this isn’t their first time in the system. You know, so I mean

Len Sipes: How old are you?

Michael: I’m 20, well I just turned 30 yesterday.

Len Sipes: Congratulations. Happy Birthday.

Michael: Yeah. So it’s like the program it teaches you life skills, it gets you on the right path and plus you know you have a congregation behind you, a lot of people behind you, a lot of resources.

Len Sipes: I’ve heard that so often a lot of people come out of the prison system, a lot of people come out of the prison system and they’re not well connected to either their family and their friends may not be the best of friends to go back to and a lot of times I’m told that the religious organizations that are part of this network, that’s a really important thing. Not necessarily the religion, we’re not asking people to become Baptist, we’re not asking people to become Muslims. But just having people surround you and take care of you and discuss things with you and support you and take you to job interviews or to do whatever, supply you with a set of clothes for the job interview. Well, evidently that seems to be important in a lot of people’s lives.

Michael: Yes because a lot of people don’t have, weren’t raised up around that type of environment where you have an uncle who’s a lawyer, you know, an aunt who works down at the court building, where you can have things, the system could work for you, you got people who can pull strings for you. And you know, I mean so when you have, when you enter a program like the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program, you getting the whole Metropolitan AME church behind you.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: Whereas whatever resource you need, if someone in that church, since the whole church is on board with the program,

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: And they’re not looking down on you like you’re a sinner because the whole basic thing of church is forgiveness.

Len Sipes: Right, it is forgiveness.

Michael: That’s what church is about.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: You know, so I mean when the church signs on and everybody is on board, it’s like you have a whole network of people behind you and you can, and strings can be pulled for you that might not have been able to be pulled for you in the past. So, it’s really like you come from being a second class citizen to maybe like a middle or upper class citizen as far as your connections.

Len Sipes: Because you have, you’re surrounded by people who are, you know pro social people who are not involved in crime, not involved in drugs and they’re embracing you and they’re helping you take you from point A to point B.

Michael: Yeah. You’re meeting people where you wouldn’t have met in the past.

Len Sipes: Right. Understood.

Michael: And you’re interacting people and you’re seeing that these people have made the right decisions. They haven’t had to dabble in the street life or in the drug culture.

Len Sipes: But both of us know that an awful lot of people that come out of the prison system go back to the criminal justice system. Now I want to get back to your point a little while ago. When you said, you know, the probation system sort of sets you up for failure, the average person would say but you know, aren’t you obligated not to do drugs, aren’t you obligated to show up to your parole and probation officers place on time. That these are things that if you’re out of the prison system, these are things that we want you to do. So, how does that set you up?

Michael: Well, like I can answer that in two ways because. You’re exactly right. You do owe your debt to society which is part your prison sentence and the other part is your probation when you’re on the streets or halfway house, whatever you have to do.

Len Sipes: Right.

Michael: So, that is true. At the same time, you’re expected to live a life and pay bills if you’re not in a halfway house, you’re expected to live somewhere, you’re expected to feed yourself, you’re expected to do a lot of things. And when you expect to do those things, you might have a lot of obligations. You might have a drug program at 6:30 that day. You might got to meet your PO at 2:00. You might have to go to a program, like say for instance you in the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Program. You’re in there during the middle of the day. Your day is filled up and really where’s the money coming from. So there you go. You need money. So that might be one reason why if you’re looking for a job or you have a job or you have a way you can get money, it kind of conflicts with those things and your bound to miss some things like that. But I do say that the probation officers here that I’ve had in the District of Columbia have been understanding. I’m not gonna say they’ve been to the point where they just have no understanding of what you’re going through because you know they off in the community too. They probably have an uncle or nephew that’s on probation and they understand what you’re going through.

Len Sipes: But feel free to criticize us. I mean you get to say whatever it is that you want to say. I’m interested in hearing the reality of the situation and I’m glad that you’re finding the CSO’s, what we call Community Supervision Officers, most jurisdictions around the country they call them parole and probation agents, I’m glad that you’re finding them helpful. So let me just ask a couple more questions and then we’re gonna get around to asking the same questions of Larry. Okay. So we both know that there is a lot of people that come out and don’t do well. We know that there’s a lot of people that come back out, get back involved in lifestyle, back involved in the game, back involved in drugs, back involved in crime and they go back to prison. So what’s the difference between you and them?

Michael: Well, there really is no difference because the thing about it is we’ve all made the same choices in the past and the only difference between me and them is that, I mean it’s the same difference between me and a pastor at a church or someone in the congregation in a church. I might have gotten caught. The person in that church who is sitting in the front row yelling and screaming every Sunday, they might not have gotten caught. So there, that’s why dealing with the church is good because it’s all about forgiveness. We all do things, you know what I mean. So,

Len Sipes: So everybody who’s listening to this program will basically says look my man, you didn’t serve enough time, what do you want from me. Why you even out? You should be in prison. We both know that those people exist and maybe there’s more than just a couple people with that attitude. What do you say to them?

Michael: Well, those people I mean I can understand why they feel that way. They probably, most of them probably Republicans you know.

Len Sipes: Don’t kid yourself. Don’t kid yourself. I think across the board,

Michael: I’m just joking.

Len Sipes: Upper income, lower income, white, black, I’ve heard this over and over and over again.

Michael: I’m just joking. But seriously, I mean I can understand that. If I had family and a wife and kids, I wouldn’t want some guy coming home from jail living next door to me. Because that’s the perception that you have of people who return home. But the thing is if you look at it as all the stuff that you done in your life and you really know that you done and you’ve never been caught for.

Len Sipes: All right.

Michael: They’re no different from you.

Len Sipes: They’re gonna say, yeah I cheated on my income taxes, yeah I drove while intoxicated, yeah I hit somebody when I shouldn’t have, but I haven’t raped, I haven’t robbed, I haven’t murdered anybody.

Michael: Okay. That’s true and neither have I for the record.

Len Sipes: Okay. Not suggesting that you have, but you know, this is how people feel. People are saying, yeah I’ve done that, I’ve done things I could go to prison for, but I haven’t done these really extreme things that we keep hearing about every night on the evening news.

Michael: Yeah. I mean I understand that. To speak on violent offenders and people who commit crimes, heinous crimes, a lot of those people pay their debt to society and they come out, I mean it’s like say you do 20 years, 10 years, I mean it’s you become institutionalized and jail may be your home and you might want to go back there because that’s home. I mean some of that stuff you’re dealing with, issues that you know we can go talk for hours about those issues, but as far as what I would say to somebody who doesn’t understand why these people should be let back into the community, I would just say this community is made up of different people and this is home for people. If a person killed somebody and they go do their time and they come back, where they gonna go. So you better make this, the transition back into society as smooth as possible because they not going to Richmond, they not going to Baltimore. They killed somebody in D.C. in 1980 and they just come home, they coming back to D.C. so you need to make D.C. a place where they can receive the type programs and benefits that can make them a productive citizen in D.C. cause eventually D.C. is gonna be the place where they commit their next murder if they don’t have these types of programs.

Len Sipes: And the research does indicate that these programs, when I say these programs, mental health programs, educational programs, GED programs, job programs, that people who are involved in these programs generally speaking have a substantial less rate of recidivism. In other words, it’s a lot less of the times they’re gonna out knocking somebody over top the head and they’re being tax payers instead of tax burdens and so these programs do seem to work. But for those of us who are involved on this end of the criminal justice system, these programs work, but if they work how come we don’t have a ground swell support in terms of more of these programs. That’s always puzzled me. But it is now Larry’s turn and Larry you’re the one up next and you’re the one who I want to ask. We’re gonna go through this same conversation and then we’re gonna go back to Guy to end it up. Now you’re currently under supervision of my agency, the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, correct?

Larry: Yes.

Len Sipes: Can you give me a sense of why you’re under supervision.

Larry: I’m under supervision, I committed the crime when I was like young. I was like 19 when I committed the crime. I happened to help someone get away after they committed a crime. That’s actually my case, helping someone get away after they committed a crime. Accessory after the fact.

Len Sipes: All right. And you’ve done time.

Larry: Yes, I have.

Len Sipes: All right. So, you’re out. How long have you been out?

Larry: I’ve been out now 13 months.

Len Sipes: And what’s it been like?

Larry: It’s been rough for me in the beginning, but I sticking to it, holding on now. I’m working and I go to school during the day.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now let’s get back to the part of being rough. A lot of people that come out of prison and they’re not prepared for what it is they’re coming to and a lot of people tell me that you have elation, the family picks you up and everybody gets together for a nice meal and everybody is happy that you’re home and it’s, you know, nice for a couple of days, but suddenly, you’ve got to find a job. Suddenly, you’ve got to find a place to live and even though the family has welcomed you home with open arms, they may not necessarily want you to live with them. So a lot of the guys that I’ve talked to, its a rough transformation. They’re not mentally, psychologically prepared for, you know, those days after everybody welcomes them home.

Larry: Yes it is rough a lot for one, when a person come home from jail, he’s obligated to, he or she is obligated to bills, the world doesn’t stop because you’ve got problems. When you inside, life’s still going, you’re family still pay bills. So when you come home, you have to help support and its hard coming straight out of prison because you have no job, you coming straight from scratch like a newborn baby.

Len Sipes: Now, what would happen, by the way, if you had these programs in the prison system. I mean, every warden I’ve ever talked to, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the federal system or the state system, every warden I’ve ever talked to basically supports the following proposition. That everybody in prison should get their GED, everybody in prison should get drug treatment, everybody in prison should have a job training program and everybody in prison should have mental health treatment. And all that stuff should be continued when they get back out to the community. Now, every warden says this, but the research tells me that, the national research is that the overwhelming majority of folks leaving the prison system aren’t getting these services or while they’re in the prison system they don’t get these services. Now why is that?

Larry: It’s that because it takes folks so long for the program to get setup. The time that individually, like my self, will be able to get in, will likely get in one of the programs, there might be a waiting list. I might not have enough time. I might have to have a certain criteria of time, jail time to do. I might be shorter than that or I might be longer than that. It’s just I’m not coming home for the next couple of years, they might put me on the back burner and back burner for them people that is short, put them first, you know and that’s how that goes on.

Len Sipes: All right. But is it, I guess this is what I’m trying to get out of you Larry. In your opinion is this a sense that, I mean we build jail beds, prison beds, by the leaps and bounds and by the way, just for the record, I’m not against that, if you do the crime you do the time and I’m not quite sure you would agree or disagree with me on that. But, there are certain people who need to be incarcerated and certain people who need to be punished. But, as long as they’re in the prison system, they should get the services they’re going to need so they don’t continue to commit crimes when they get out. I mean, that’s my own editorializing and I’ve always wondered, okay why is this? We build prison beds by the tens of thousands every year but we don’t build these programs that folks need while they’re in the prison system.

Larry: I really don’t know the reason why. You have to ask someone that’s like in charge of doing the programs, you know. But where I just come from, I come from a prison that’s really strictly for all of D.C. inmates. You know, where I was just at, we had programs.

Len Sipes: But that was a federal prison, just for people listening outside of the District of Columbia.

Larry: It was a federal prison.

Len Sipes: All D.C. offenders now go to a federal prisons or the people beyond the limits of the District of Columbia.

Larry: Yeah and I was in the prison in North Carolina and this particular prison it was a private owned but we was funded by the Bureau of Prisons.

Len Sipes: Right.

Larry: So everybody down there is from D.C. or they was an immigrant. And that prison, the majority of people who go to,

Len Sipes: Rivers.

Larry: Rivers, that’s the name of it. They do have a lot of programs. When I went to Rivers, I got into keyboarding, every type of keyboarding, word processing, all the way through Microsoft Excel and Power Point; I did all that. I even got a, even went to college. We went to college. They had a community college, Roanoke Chowan Community College. I went there for a year, got my heating and air conditioning certification, my CFC. I went through a 30-day drug program to teach me a little life skills. I went through, they do have a lot of programs there for you, but you have to be, you’ve got to be able to want to get in them yourself.

Len Sipes: Right. You’ve got to have the mind set that you want to go in and pick up these and run with them. Now, how you doing on the outside?

Larry: On the outside, I’m doing swell. I’m in the David Alexander program and a program located around Willow Creek, the old valley green, I’m in a pre apprenticeship doing construction industry there now.

Len Sipes: Okay. So you’re using those skills that you picked up in the prison system?

Larry: Yeah. I’m trying to. See in the prison system, it was all books, it was no hands on.

Len Sipes: Right.

Larry: They couldn’t get equipment and things like that. So I really just got the book smart, but that’s not what I need to get a job in that field. I need some type of training, so that’s why I’m in Willow Creek right now for.

Len Sipes: Larry, tell me, what do people need when they come out of the prison system? They hear from me, they hear from Guy, they hear from the President of the United States who in his State of Union speech back in 2004 talked about the necessity for these sorts of programs, specifically faith-based programs. You hear from advocates and you hear from lots of people who simply say, hey I’m sorry, we’ve got the elderly to deal with, we’ve got schools to improve, we’ve got kids who are sick and don’t get medical care. I’m sorry I got too much on my mind to deal with people coming out of the prison system. I’ve got all these other things going on and I just don’t have a lot of time, nor do I have a lot of sympathy for those who come out of the prison system. So, you represent those 650,000 people coming out of prisons every year back into the community. So can you imagine that? You came into here representing one person and today you represent 650,000. What do you say to people to convince them that you’re worth investing in?

Larry: You have to always give people a chance. Everybody is not as bad as what it say on paperwork. Like in my instance, paperwork you’ll say that I’m a very violent person based on my criminal background my case that I had, but I’m not that way at all. People need a chance. That’s all we need is a chance to make it. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be as soon as we get out we’re gonna do the right thing. It takes time. Some people have to change their whole lifestyle, their whole character, not just their lifestyle their character. You know, some people just grew up just in the corrupt environment and it takes time to change. Change takes time.

Len Sipes: All right. Guy, we’re gonna go back to you for the last 5 minutes of the program. Now we’ve heard from Larry and we’ve heard from Michael and we’ve heard two individuals who have been incarcerated, they’re now out, they’re now drug free, they’re now employed or getting training. They’re now either tax payers or about to be tax payers instead of tax burdens. Are these the rare few individuals who are, if the services were there across the board for people coming out of the prison system, would they be part of the mainstream of offenders coming out of prison system or are these just hand-picked, cherry-picked guys who are doing well? What do think would happen if we had all these programs that we feel are in society’s best interest?

Guy Charity: I think this is the rule and not the exception. These guys are doing well. We didn’t cherry-pick them. I think they wanted to change and we provided them the opportunity. As with our program, there’s a learning curve. When we first started out, we stumbled around. We didn’t exactly know what we were doing, but we put one foot in front of the other and we led and we just went out in faith. We made our mistakes and, for instance, when we first started the program, we had committed to providing jobs. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but when we started we said we we’re gonna provide, one of the cornerstones of our program is gonna be jobs. We want to give, we promised, we will promise you a job. Didn’t know where it was coming from, but we made that promise.

Len Sipes: Right.

Guy Charity: So the guys came into the program saying okay he said he’s gonna get me a job. And so when the program progressed along, we said okay now we’ve got to get these jobs. Now where they gonna come from? So, I actually stood up at a blackboard with our board members and we actually crafted a plan to provide jobs. So we did. So we actually found jobs. So the first job that we found we sent one of our program graduates to, it was a restaurant. The restaurant said, the guy said you send him here, we need help right now, you sent him he’s hired. If he shows up, he’s hired. So we’re excited. I’m excited, I’m like rah our first job. We got somebody a job. So, we send him to the place, he looks at the outside of the building and he says, I don’t want to work here. You know, so I call, I’m thinking that that’s a done deal and we can move on. I find out he never even showed up, never went to the appointment. So, you have those types of disappointments. But, we took that into consideration, we changed, worked with the program, calibrated it, and figured out well we’ve got to ask these guys what they want.

Len Sipes: Right.

Guy Charity: He didn’t want restaurant, so we should have known that, so we shouldn’t have sent him there. So we had to make these types of corrections. We had to deal with these types of disappointments and frustration, but it’s a growing process, and I’ve think we’ve learned from it and we have been able to do what we said we were going to do.

Len Sipes: Yeah. It’s never been easy. I did one time a little over a year of street counseling, on the streets of the city of Baltimore working with gangs. No structure. You were just out there at night with these guys and these guys could be a little rough and tough and, it was just heartbreaking seeing so many young men who sort of so willing to toss their lives away. But, you know somebody told me at one time that just be ready for me Mr. Sipes. He said, when we’re ready for you, you’ve got to be ready for us because if you’re ready for us, if you’re in a position to help, there’s a whole mess of people, maybe even the majority who will walk over, cross that bridge to being tax payers instead of tax burdens. And I always felt that was a unique perspective.

Guy Charity: And I think we discussed this in our previous discussions that we got to catch them before they turn 40 and sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Len Sipes: Oh absolutely. Somehow, I want the 25 year olds, I want the 22 year olds, I want the 17 year olds because that’s exactly that high-crime age. You know, you get to 35 and you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. I want to reach him when he’s 15. And that’s a wonderful show. We are bringing Larry and Michael back in the future and let them tell us how to reach them when they’re 16. Ladies and gentlemen this is D.C. Public Safety. Our guests today have been Guy Charity, the secretary of the Daniel A. Payne Reclamation Center and two people who he is assisting, Michael and Larry. Thanks guys for coming in today and ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening. Look for us at our website which is www.csosa.gov. Have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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GPS/Satellite Tracking of Offenders

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.
See http://media.csosa.gov/blog for the “DC Public safety” blog.

This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=67

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Today’s program, I think, is extraordinarily interesting. We’re going to be talking about GPS or global positioning system tracking of offenders. It’s also known as satellite tracking of offenders. Today we have with us the branch chief. The person in charge of the Special Supervision Services branch, Kathleen Terri Crusor and we have Carlton Butler. He is the manager for the GPS unit and to Kathy and to Carlton, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Kathleen Crusor: Good morning Len. Thanks. It’s always a pleasure should I have an opportunity to share with the community the innovative supervision opportunities that we have. GPS is just an example of that innovation and how well you’re going to utilize it to supervise offenders.

Len Sipes: Well, there’s a wide array of supervision strategies in terms of what we do here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and we talk about sex offenders in particular although we’re using GPS or satellite tracking of offenders not just on sex offenders. We’re using it for domestic violence cases. We’re using it for violent offenders. We’re using it as an intermediate sanction. We’re using it in a wide variety of ways but the thing that really interests me is the fact that we now have over, what, 350 offenders on any given day?

Kathleen Crusor: That is correct Len. The program has really grown tremendously in the last year where we’ve gone from 90 offenders where we started retooling the program where we have now in excess of 360 offenders. I’d like Carlton to talk with you all a little bit just about the technology and how the program has grown in the last year.

Len Sipes: Well, I do want to set it up and either you or Carlton can deal with this. Number 1, what is GPS tracking of offenders? What is satellite tracking of criminal offenders? What does that mean? Carlton.

Carlton Butler: Good morning Len. I’d like to also thank you for the opportunity to speak to the public to tell them about the innovated program we’re running here at CSOSA. The satellite tracking of people is 27 satellites actually orbiting the Earth and they’re sending signals to the device that the offender would wear and we’re able to use that data to determine movement and places that the offender has gone for our benefit.

Len Sipes: Right. So, these satellites are constantly moving around the Earth, orbiting the Earth. Now, these satellites are used for a wide variety of other purposes, not just for satellite tracking of offenders but we just tap into that technology and what, we give them an anklet and they wear that anklet and that sends a signal to those satellites?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. It’s a bracelet device that they wear on their ankle that sends signals and receives signals and then that information is updated to the master system and translated so that we can utilize the data.

Len Sipes: Now, we need to tell the public that there are 2 kinds of GPS systems. There are active tracking and there’s passive tracking. The active tracking is that we have somebody hunched over a computer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year seeing in real time where that offender is going. We use a passive system where the, what we call parole and probation agents community supervision officers, they come in the following day and take a look at that data and find out where that offender has been and whether or not the offender has violated any special conditions of his or her supervision, correct?

Carlton Butler: That is correct Len. The active system actually sends the real time information every 10 minutes. The system is actually sending signals every minute but along with the ability to actually go to any web based system and actually look that information up, I actually could go to my computer, my home-based computer at home and pull that information up at any given time. The passive system is a system as you’ve said already, it does call in information twice a day but it also, we have the ability to update the system any time we want to. In the background of that system, we have the company that provides a 24 hour coverage of the system and they’re getting the notifications of any violations as well and they have the ability to contact the probation officer and or the GPS tech people to tell us when there’s a serious violation they want us to be aware of.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, the community supervision officer known elsewhere as a parole and probation officer comes into his or her computer in the morning, logs in and can see in graphic detail where that offender has been and what that offender has been doing, correct?

Kathleen Crusor: That is the case Len and the good thing about the system is while we have an excess of 360 offenders on the system, the system is set up such that when the CSO, Community Supervision Officer, logs in, they get an actual report and a list of all the offenders they have on the system. So, at any point they can click and push and see exactly what that offender’s been doing. Whether he’s been compliant with a curfew, if he has been placed on a curfew, if he stayed out of areas where he’s been excluded from. So, it gives him a snapshot. It also has the feature that allows them to immediately recognize where an offender has been in violation. So, you don’t have to go through every thing on that list but the system will actually alert them to this is the offender I need you to look at now.

Len Sipes: Right. So, the idea, say, we mandate that that offender stay home at night. We mandate that offender stay away from all schools and areas where kids hang out and if this offender is suddenly, you know, next to a playground and spent a half an hour at that playground, we know immediately that that offender is in violation.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. That is correct. As soon as they log on their system to check it, they will get an alert that this offender has gone in an area that the system has been set up to notify us as an exclusion.

Len Sipes: Okay. And if we have somebody in terms of domestic violence case and he has a stay away order from that other person and if he is in proximity of that person’s house, we also get that alert immediately.

Carlton Butler: That’s correct also Len. We have the ability to build what we call an inclusion and exclusion zone. The inclusion zone is the zone that we build around the offender’s home or the place that we want them to report to that tells us what time they reported and what time they actually left. The exclusion zone also places where we want the offender to stay away from and the moment that he or she goes in that area, we can immediately get notifications. And I also want to say by the way too, it’s not always with the computer. We have the ability with this particular software to set it up so we can receive instant notifications by way of pagers and cell phone notifications as well that can ultimately alert us to go to the computer and actually see more details but we also have that extra added as well.

Len Sipes: Right. If you have a high risk offender and this individual is really known to be out there actively engaged in this sort of thing, the CSO can go to that computer at any time of the day or night and intervene immediately if necessary in terms of contacting MPD, Metropolitan Police Department or other law enforcement agency saying that this individual that we’re really concerned about is hanging out at the playground again. Correct?

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. That is the ability that technology has and we also have a partnership with the local law enforcement to include not only metropolitan police department but the U.S. capital police, Prince Georges county police who also have been trained and given access to the VariTrac system which is a data system that the information is dumped into so when we and our partner in information sharing meetings identify an offender who is known to have high risk behavior.

Len Sipes: Then they can go on that system and track him themselves.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely. They have the ability to go in and see from time to time or as often as they would like. Just, what’s going on with this offender and it’s been very helpful because there are times when just the street level parole, excuse me, patrol officers with the computers in their cars have contacted the supervisors to say, I’m in this area, I see this individual, according to their tracks, he’s in a violation because he’s got to stay away from this area. Do you all want me to initiate an arrest or should I have him report to you? So, it gives us the ability to type of partnership communication as well as let the offender know, you’ve got a lot of eyes out in the community watching you. So, we can immediately act and that’s particularly important when you’re looking at domestic violence situations and stay away so we don’t want to have another victim.

Len Sipes: Sure. So, we have that level of corporation. MPD can pull it up in their computers in their cars; can pull up the VariTrac system. Detectives can do that as well if they have a particular concern about a particular offender.

Carlton Butler: Yes Len. That is and I want to add also to that is that the metropolitan police and the law enforcement partners in the area are also using our system for the purpose of determining whether or not our offenders may have been involved in or may have been a witness of any new crime in the city. Actually, they can go in the software and plug in a specific time and a date of a particular crime and run it and see whether or not one of our offenders may have been either in the area and or a witness to a crime. So, it’s a really nice system. It allows all the partners in law enforcement to have an extra additive to prevent reoccurrences of crime in the city.

Len Sipes: Sure and to catch the bad guy if the bad guy goes out there and does a bad thing. Okay. I wanted to bring up a couple background issues. California is in the process of mandating that everybody leaving the prison system with a violent offence have GPS tracking. They’re in the process of starting that. We have just reviewed a piece of research out of New Jersey in terms of high risk sex offenders where they studied 250 high risk sex offenders who were under GPS monitoring and only 1 out of the 250 had committed another sex crime. Now, the violation rate, the official violation rate for sex offenders re offending with another sex offense is about 5%. Now, we all know that that’s an under count. We all know that the vast majority of sex offenses are not reported to law enforcement. We know that that’s a real problem. In fact, there’s research that basically says that as far as they’re concerned that the actually re offending rate is actually 2 to 3 times as much and for some extremely high risk sex offenders, it’s much more than that. So, there’s a movement throughout this country to place more offenders on GPS tracking. The fact that we have in the city of Washington, D.C. 360 offenders on any given day, that’s an amazing amount of offenders. That’s a lot of people. There are states throughout this country that don’t have that number on any given day. So, little D.C. seems to be taking the lead and other states also seem to be vigorously perusing this whole concept of GPS tracking of offenders. So, my question is why? Why are we doing this? What benefit does it have to public safety? What benefit does it have across the board?

Kathleen Crusor: Well, Len. I’m happy to say that we’ve been very proactive here at CSOSA in the District of Columbia recognizing the utilities of the technology. When you start talking about the benefits of it, they’re broad. It’s an opportunity to increase levels of public safety by being proactive and tracking those offenders and monitoring behavior patterns of offenders where either their criminal histories or behaviors or information, particularly in the instance of sex offenders that comes out through supervision activities or treatment processes that suggest that they need to be monitored more closely. This technology gives us the ability to actually do that. As you’ve indicated, New Jersey has recently started to utilize an increased amounts of GPS tracking and I think the other jurisdictions recognize just the opportunities there are to prevent additional crime. One of our mottos here for the sex offender units are no new victims. This technology gives us an opportunity to better insure that because of the ability that we have to monitor, curtail, and basically direct an offender’s behavior outside of the sex offender unit. It’s been particularly useful in the areas of domestic violence and supervision. As you know, the media has shown some of the very violent crimes whether dousing the fire with other things. This gives us an opportunity to safe guard the victim, as well as contain the offender’s behavior by showing that he is not stalking or involved in any negative behavior as it relates to re offending. So, overall I think folks in the law enforcement community recognize the advantage it gives us to have an extra set of electronic eyes if you will out there on the offender.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now getting back to the story before, it’s just not sex offenders. We use it for domestic violence and we use it for violent offenders across the board. Now, do we use this as what we in the business call it an intermediate sanction where the person is for lack of a technical and more appropriate term, screwing up, under supervision and we basically say, look we’re sick and tired of this. We’ve given you a variety of chances. You haven’t reformed your behavior. You’re now on GPS monitoring. By the way, you’ve got to stay at home at night, you have a curfew. If you step out of that home at night, we know instantaneously that you’re away from that house. So, you’re allowed to go from your house to work and back and beyond that, you’re under a curfew. I mean, that’s a pretty powerful tool. We can confine that person to a certain section of the city. We can confirm that person to a particular part of the community and we can confine that person to his house.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely Len and unfortunately, the offenders who now recognize, for them the disadvantage of having to be locked down as well call it; it’s been a very effective deterrent in some instance to modifying and changing some of the behavior because not only can we lock you down for certain periods during the day, we lock you down for entire weekends. If there’s no viable reason that you need to be outside of your house from Friday night until Monday morning, you can be placed on weekend house arrest, if you will, utilizing this technology. We’ve also used it to sanction folks from anywhere from missed office visits to positive drug tests; even to motivate individuals to get employment and we found it to be particularly effective in that area. Interestingly enough, many of the supervision officers have utilized strategies of same until you get employment from this time to this time; you need to remain at home unless you’re not out there doing something productive in the community. And we’ve seen our levels of employment with offenders increase. All of a sudden they can find jobs Len which is funny.

Len Sipes: We have a day reporting unit and that is for those guys who just can’t seem to find employment and we say, okay, you’re spending your days doing nothing. You’re now going to spend your days with us learning how to do a GED, learning how to develop an interview strategy doing a resume, and suddenly the whole slew of these guys suddenly find work before they will go to that day reporting center. I’m assuming the same sort of thing applies to GPS. It’s like, no you haven’t found work over the last 2 months, we’re tired of this, you’re not coming and telling us what you’re doing to develop that job capacity, so you’re now going to be on GPS and you’re going to be on GPS until you find work.

Kathleen Crusor: And all of a sudden, miraculously, the skills that they did not have, they secure employment Len. So, it’s been a very effective deterrent and tool for the offenders and a sanctioning as well of a motivational option that the CSO’s have begun to use as well as we can put an offender on from anywhere from 2 weeks up to 6 months so we have the ability of setting those to interrupt and change behavior.

Len Sipes: Now, do we start off any offenders at the beginning of their supervision on GPS? Carlton.

Carlton Butler: Yes we do start off some offenders first. Actually, Len we’re actually receiving in some examples court orders from judges placing people on GPS as a part of the condition for the release but also I wanted,

Len Sipes: Did that include probation as well as people coming out of the probation system?

Carlton Butler: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So, we have probationers and paroles who are under GPS tracking?

Carlton Butler: That’s correct. We do.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Carlton Butler: But I wanted to add one more thing that Kathy touched on a little bit and that was in some examples we found it to be a benefit to some of the offenders to be in the program and in fact we’ve had some that have come in the office to be taken out of the program and asked us to call their probationer’s office and ask for an extension because they didn’t want to come off the program because they believe that it added some structure to their lives.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the things that I wanted to imply and get to because people listening to this program are going to,some people could say you guys are just being too heavy handed. There’s a lot of individuals in our experience and I’ve been around for a long time in terms of working with offenders. You guys know a thousand times more than I do and a lot of individuals need structure. They need the heavy hand of fate over top of them and suddenly they’re getting their GED, suddenly they’re getting employed, suddenly they’re completing their drug treatment or complying with drug testing. There’s a lot of people out there who simply need the structure that GPS provides to do what it is that they should do to begin with, correct?

Kathleen Crusor: That is true Carlton and it does assist them in keeping their behavior and activities structured. And for many of them, it even assists them in dealing with some of the issues of peer pressure because where before they’re not comfortable telling one of their buddies on the street, man I’ve got to get out of here or I’ve got to get in because you know I’m just not supposed to be doing this. It’s the right thing to do. They now utilize the fact that I’ve got this on my ankle guys. You know they’re going to be on me. So, they utilize that to stand up to their peers.

Len Sipes: I’ve heard that story a thousand times where they’re all on the street corner and there is a J being passed around and they’re talking about doing something that they shouldn’t be doing and they lift up that pants leg and everybody goes, we understand. We understand why you can’t get involved in that behavior because we understand that you’re under GPS tracking.

Kathleen Crusor: Right. So, until they get the wherewithal or the esteem or ability to themselves to stand up and say, hey guys I can’t do this. I don’t want to go back in. They utilize that to say look you know I’m strapped as they would call it. So, I’ve got to get out of here. So, it’s been very effective in that way of changing the behaviors of those offenders.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s a very important point but just to elaborate on it a little bit more because yeah we do have an immense amount of power and we’ve got to be cognizant of that power. We don’t put people back in the prison willy nilly. We give them multiple, multiple opportunities to straighten out their behavior. And so it’s not necessarily a heavy handed program. In a lot of instances, you will find people who will get in as you said before Kathy, the idea of finding employment. GPS is a great motivator for doing what it is that you should do. There are people involved in treatment and who are successfully completely treatment. There are people who are getting their GED’s. There are people developing resumes. There are people who are doing the things that they should have done to begin with. They simply had to have the structure that the GPS program gives them. If they know that they’re being watched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you can’t say, hey I went to the employment office but the crowds were endless and you can look at the GPS system and go, no you didn’t go. I want the drug treatment but it was closed that day. No you didn’t. We know exactly where you were at that hour of the day.

Kathleen Crusor: Exactly and it minimizes a lot of the manipulation that the offenders have traditionally utilized to avoid supervision accountability.

Len Sipes: Now, everybody tests the system at the beginning. Everybody will go outside that exclusion area to see what happens. Everybody will try to take the GPS device off to see what happens. Everybody wants to tamper with it just to see what happens. So, they test the system at the beginning correct?

Carlton Butler: Yes they do Len. They do test the system but one of the exciting things about the system is that the moment that they do, we automatically get alerts and things that will tell us that something has occurred and we can follow up with that. I also wanted to say, the system itself just so you know a little bit about the system is that not only do we have the ability to see everywhere the offender go, we have the ability to also pull up pictures of the system that actually tells us too. So, if one of the offenders tells us that he or she went to a specific location, we can not only do tracks to see that they actually went there, we’re able to pull up pictures of the building as well to see that’s where they went. One of the most important tools,

Len Sipes: Wait. Let’s develop that a little bit because I’m glad you brought that up because when the demonstration was there, we have maps of the entire city and we have what is it, Google earth that we use on this particular program? So, we can actually overlay Google earth and overlay the maps of the city. So, if the map doesn’t give the detail that we’re looking for, we zoom in on Google earth and we go, okay. The map doesn’t show that there’s a playground here but Google earth very clearly shows it. That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing. So, it’s a really sophisticated system.

Carlton Butler: It is a very sophisticated system because sometimes we don’t always know that a violation has occurred but by going through and looking at the tracks and looking at the actual movement of that particular day of the offender, we can learn then that there may have been a violation that we might want to address. One of the things the system also will tell us, not only as I said earlier, pull up pictures, but it also tells us how long the offender was in a specific area. It will tell us how he traveled. Whether or not it was by foot or if he traveled by car or bus. So, we’re able to tell all kinds of things by simply looking at the system and again sometimes it tells us a little more by viewing the points as opposed to actually waiting for some kind of alert.

Len Sipes: Alright and I just want to emphasize again that mode of travel, if there’s a robbery on the subway, we instantaneously go in, plug in the time, plug in the coordinates and find out which of our offenders were in that area at that particular time. So, we can solve a crime instantaneously that would not be solved before.

Kathleen Crusor: And that is true and we have actually utilized the system to assist the police in solving crimes where an offender has adamantly sworn I was not there, I had nothing to do with it but the tracks put him there at the exact time. But also on the flip side, the offenders have an appreciation for the fact it’s also proven that they haven’t been somewhere to do something. So,

Len Sipes: And that’s a way of clearing their name instantaneously. So, they could have the police department, one of the law enforcement agencies or the metropolitan police department can suspect that it’s Len Sipes and it automatically clears Len Sipes away because it was clear that he was 2 miles away from that area at the time the crime occurred.

Kathleen Crusor: Absolutely and we’ve had instances where other people have tried to kind of put the crimes off on an offender because they know they have that history. So, that particular perpetrator figured, okay, well I can put it off on him and we’ve been able to clear that individual and sometimes identify who that was based on relationships the offender has with other people. So, it’s a powerful tool for supervision. Not only us but a crime fighting tool with the whole crime mapping and all that we do with the technology.

Len Sipes: And the constant information that we share with the metropolitan police department and other law enforcement agencies because this department is, court services and offender supervision agency is very proud of its relationships with local law enforcement. We share information and intelligence every day with hundreds of folks in local law enforcement. Let’s get back to the treatment process a little bit if we could. The sex offenders, I mean, we use polygraph machines. We have the capacity to go in and take a look at their computers. We have a capacity to see their computers remotely. I can never, there’s no politically correct way of saying this but there’s a device that measures arousal and I’ll just leave it at there. There’s a wide array of technology that we have at our disposal. Again, not necessarily to track down the person; although, public safety is our first responsibility but also at the same time to assist that person in terms of the overall treatment process. And that treatment process applies to domestic violence offenders and can apply to violent offenders in terms of anger management therapy. So, it’s just not, again, there’s just not a way of catching them doing something wrong or clearing them from accusations of crime. Once again, it is also a vital tool in terms of making sure that that person completes the treatment process that we say is absolutely necessary for public safety; for the offender’s successful reintegration into society.

Len Sipes: That is correct Len. It’s another opportunity for us to assist the offender in being accountable and it’s often seen as a way of supporting them to insure that they work through and get through the system and the treatment modalities that they’re involved in whether it be the sex offender, the mental health, the anger management and even the substance abuse because it helps them to as you said, stay within the boundaries. In instance of substance abusers, if they know the areas where folk are using, then in some instances they may speak what their CSO’s and request, can you put an exclusion area round this. I’m not strong enough to handle this now but maybe if I can get an exclusion area here, that’s some added support for me there. Also, knowing that you can see whether I went to treatment or not, knowing in the situations of anger management, offenders who we have them in groups on the days that I went. It just gives them added support and accountability for the supervision process.

Len Sipes: And that’s something I think a lot of people don’t quite understand that in my 20 years of directly dealing with offenders, structure is such an extraordinarily part of to such an extraordinary aspect of their well being because people say, well you drug test them to much or you watch them to much or you supervise them to much or now you’ve got GPS and my response is, believe it or not, this is in their best interest. Believe it or not, these are individuals through either the treatment process or the drug testing process or the supervision process. They need this level of structure because if they’re by themselves, they’re going to re offend. This gives them every opportunity not to re-offend again and in some cases as we said before, provides them with an excuse to their fellow offenders not to re offend again.

Kathleen Crusor: That’s absolutely correct Len. All of us need structure. I know if I didn’t have to get up and go to work every day and pay my bills and all, I might not be motivated.

Len Sipes: You wouldn’t do this for free?

Kathleen Crusor: To do this for free so my structure is accountability. Well, the offenders don’t quite have that internal motivation yet. So, this helps them get there in some instances to know that I’ve got to be accountable to a process. We all need structure. Our children in their lives need structures, the offenders. This is an opportunity to help them build that structure until they can do it themselves.

Len Sipes: Speaking of structure, I’ve often threatened with my daughters to put GPS tracking devices on their cars and they look at me and they smile and go you’re kidding aren’t you dad? And I’m going, no.

Kathleen Crusor: Let me just say, every parent with a teenager would have an appreciation for this technology.

Len Sipes: Amen. Where do we go to in the future? I mean, we have 360 offenders on any given day. That’s a lot. We have 15,000 offenders on any given day. So, I mean, do we expand this to 600 in a couple years? Do we go beyond this? Is 360 where we need to be?

Kathleen Crusor: Len, we have recently just looked at the possibilities and just assessing our need for expanding the use because we have been so successful with the technology. We’ve increased the budget allocations that go to the program which will allow us in the upcoming year to utilize GPS tracking for more offenders. As the technology grows, we have an opportunity to increase and look at how we utilize it and to have the offenders as well as the CSO’s have an opportunity to benefit from the technology.

Len Sipes: Carlton, final words as we close out the program? That’s always a tough question, I realize.

Carlton Butler: That is a very touch question.

Len Sipes: We’re all very proud of this.

Carlton Butler: Yes I’m really excited about the program. I think that it adds a lot of benefits to public safety. I believe that, again, there’s some appreciation from the offender for the program and I’m just excited about where we have the ability to go in the future with the program.

Len Sipes: Carlton, I’m going to let you have the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. My name is Leonard Sipes. Look at our website which is www.csosa.gov for more information on the court services and offender supervision agency. Please have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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Returning Offenders-Reentry from Prison

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.
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This Radio Program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/?p=65

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome to the radio version of D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Every year the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency notes re-entry month where we talk and discuss the individuals coming out of prison and coming back to the District of Columbia. About 2,000 every year, come back out of the federal prison system back to the District of Columbia. However, there are over, my heavens, 600,000 individuals coming out of prison back into communities throughout the United States, both from state institutions and federal institutions. So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of individuals coming back to communities throughout the country. Research tells us that the vast majority of these individuals are clustered within certain pockets, high crime areas of most cities. The talk about this whole issue of re-entry, we have Eddie Ellis and Eddie is currently under the supervision of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Eddie served time for manslaughter back in 1991. In August of 2006, Eddie came out under community supervision. He’s been out for about two and a half years. Now Eddie has done extraordinarily well and we’ve talked to Eddie in the past. He is currently employed. He is currently working on a documentary on re-entry. He’s currently volunteering as a mentor to other offenders and he’s also involved with various faith groups in terms mentoring to offenders and Eddie Ellis welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Eddie Ellis: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Okay Eddie. You’re gonna suddenly become out of the 650,000 individuals who are released from the prison system every year. You’re suddenly gonna become all 650,000 because when people think about, and they hardly ever hear from offenders.

Eddie Ellis: True.

Len Sipes: Nobody ever hears from offenders. I don’t care what television show you watch, what radio show you listen to, what newspaper you read; the offender’s individual voice is not represented. So you’re gonna be representing 650,000 human beings. I know that’s impossible. But as you well know and as you can well imagine there is a reluctance. People get scared, people get worried, that offender, that person, shouldn’t that person be in prison for the rest of their lives. Why is that person being released? What do we do to assist that person or supervise that person while on release? So how has it been? You’ve been out on the street for a year and a half.

Eddie Ellis: Well, for me personally, it’s been a roller coaster ride, but it’s been positive overall because I had the support of my family. Some positive CSO’s in my life.

Len Sipes: And the CSO’s. Explain that for the public.

Eddie Ellis: Probation officers.

Len Sipes: Okay. And in D.C.

Eddie Ellis: In D.C.

Len Sipes: We call them Community Supervision Officers and many places throughout the country call them parole and probation agents.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Go ahead please.

Eddie Ellis: My family has been very inspirational to me staying strong and doing what I have to do to stay out of the street. But also it’s me. I want to do right this time. I don’t want to go back to jail. You know I know people who think that a lot of us can’t change, but people do change.

Len Sipes: Now, let me talk about these statistics and the statistics indicate that two-thirds of all people, this is the Department of Justice data, national study, that two-thirds of all offenders released in a given year were rearrested for felonies and for serious misdemeanors. 50% of all of those offenders released in terms of a three year study went back to prison. So the odds aren’t very good, so that’s one of the things that people are dealing with right up front. All they ever hear are the negatives in terms of the television reports. You cannot sit and watch the evening news without 3 or 4 or 5 horror stories of somebody doing something terrible. One of the things that we advocate here within this agency is that it’s got to be supervision but at the same time it’s got to be another chance. Training, job training, drug treatment, mental health treatment, and people say well why are you putting so much money in terms of treating offenders? And our sense is that unless you provide these services the odds are that the person is gonna get in trouble again. Am I right or wrong?

Eddie Ellis: You’re right. You’re right and I think for me the programs are very important for these men and women that’s coming out of prison because if they don’t have these programs, 9 times out of 10 most of them will fail. But with the programs in place, you still are gonna have people that fail, but you will have more people that can do right by the program. But you can’t just have any programs out here and just think everybody gonna succeed off 1 or 2 programs. I think it should be more funded in to programs.

Len Sipes: Now there’s a good degree of research now from reputable research agencies and there are entire states that are basically revamping their correctional systems. What they’re saying is, and I’m not quite sure they’re doing this from a humanistic point of view. I think they’re doing this from a monetary point of view. I think they’re trying to hold down the prison budgets more than anything else. But what they’re saying is, is that they’re looking at it from terms of a formula. That if we provide drug treatment, if we provide vocational counseling, if we provide halfway housing, if we do this, if we can do that, we can reduce recidivism or the amount of people going back to prison from parole and probation, we can cut it by 20% to 25% and that will keep us from building a new prison. There’s a wide variety of states who are taking that philosophy. So evidently there is some sense that these programs work to reduce recidivism. There’s research that says that and a lot of states now are beginning to approach it from that point of view. Provide services and a lower recidivism rate. But you’re right. Even if a person gets this stuff, there’s no guarantee that they’re gonna turn away from a life of crime.

Eddie Ellis: No. No it doesn’t mean that. That’s like saying just because somebody lives in the suburbs they’re not gonna break the law and people in the suburbs break the law just like somebody in the city. But you know so my thing is get the programs where they’re supposed to be and I feel it’s like a school system. If the students are failing and you have bright students, evidently the teachers are not teaching right and that’s how I feel with these programs. If you don’t have the people in these programs that’s doing what they’re supposed to do to help these people make it through these programs, get them help that they need, you need to get them out and replace them with people that know what they’re doing.

Len Sipes: Why, I need to follow that. What’s going on? You’re talking about staff, people who staff the programs.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. I’m talking yes.

Len Sipes: Are not as they should be.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. You have a lot of programs where a lot of people are not putting their foot down doing what they’re supposed to do. You know, they’re just taking the job as just a job. This is more than just a job when you dealing with somebody that’s,

Len Sipes: Well tell me specifically what they’re doing wrong.

Eddie Ellis: Well, specifically I think a lot of them don’t take their job serious when they’re dealing with a lot of these people because a lot of these people come home from prison with mental problems that people don’t recognize and that’s why I think a lot of people failing.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: You know you got more citizens probably on the street that take so called medication for depression and other things than a lot of people that’s come home from prison. So evidently these things are needed if people on the street are taking these things.

Len Sipes: So, they’re not taking it. The staff people, according to you and your experience, they’re not taking it all that seriously. They’re not caring enough? Is that it? They’re not insistent enough, they’re not demanding enough? What?

Eddie Ellis: All I think all of the above, but I’m not gonna say all of them because the programs that I’ve been through I’ve found some people who are very dedicated in doing what they do.

Len Sipes: Is the individual attitude that the employee of these places brings with him or her, is that what makes it or breaks it?

Eddie Ellis: That, yeah that plays a big roll in it.

Len Sipes: I understand that the individual offender has got to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not they’re willing to cross that bridge.

Eddie Ellis: Of course. Of course.

Len Sipes: I mean that’s number 1.

Eddie Ellis: Of course.

Len Sipes: So we’re not gonna argue that point.

Eddie Ellis: No. No.

Len Sipes: But I’m just intrigued. So the person who comes and who works with offenders that has that sense of dedication, has that sense of enthusiasm, the folks who are getting this treatment program are drawn to that person and like that person. Is that it?

Eddie Ellis: Yes. I think that plays a big role because I think it’s people that they can relate to. They don’t necessarily mean if somebody’s been incarcerated like them, it can mean somebody that they relate to. You know. You respect me.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: You know I can talk to you.

Len Sipes: All right. So it gets back to a issue of respect.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. I understand that because I’ve been talking to a offenders for decades now and I remember when I was working for the State of Maryland and the public safety secretary wanted me to work as an interface with the employment people and because the offenders were complaining that they were being disrespected. There were long lines. Nobody wanted to deal with them. Nobody wanted to touch them. Nobody, you know, it was just if you’re an offender, you’re going to give me a hard time so I automatically have a negative attitude toward you. Correct? Is that what we’re talking about?

Eddie Ellis: Yes. Have a lot of people like that, but I’m not gonna say all people because you do have a lot of people that work in these programs that are very dedicated people.

Len Sipes: Right. But I’ve heard it from other offenders that they’re mistreated when they go in and try to get program services.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Not only in the District of Columbia, I certainly heard it in Maryland.

Eddie Ellis: In general. I think it’s in general. I’m not gonna say in the District of Columbia myself, but I’m gonna say in general all over, when you get people that’s come home from prison, a lot of times we get treated like trash.

Len Sipes: Now, why is that? I’m mean is it the offenders fault because of the image that they project, is it the person helping them, is it their fault? I mean we’re dealing in stereotypes. I mean we’re not even getting to the larger society. We’re talking about the offender themselves and the people who work with them. I mean there’s a certain point when we have to get to the images and the perceptions of the larger society. But, you know, there’s a lot of negativity in any offender who, in a lot of offenders who come out of the prison system. They project a sense of toughness that in many cases is masking nothing more than extreme vulnerability. That’s my point of view. I don’t know if you agree with that. I think that the tougher you are and the more you try to put on the act, it’s an indication that the more vulnerable you are. But that’s just my opinion. I’m not asking you to buy into that. But there’s a lot of people that come out there who feel that they’ve got to put on the front.

Eddie Ellis: Well, I’m not necessarily gonna say it’s a front with a lot of people, but when you live in a certain environment for so long,

Len Sipes: It rubs off.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. It becomes a part of you.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: It becomes a part of you. It’s like you’re in the military.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know. When you’re in the military you’re gonna act a certain way.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: And when you get out of the military, you’ve been in the military for 5, 10 years, you’re gonna get out and you gonna still act in certain ways that you act when you was in the military.

Len Sipes: You’ve made a successful transformation and I’ve interviewed and known thousand of offenders who have made that successful transformation from prison to a crime free, drug free lifestyle. They’re now parents; they’re now taking care of their kids; they’re now gainfully employed; they’re now taxpayers instead of tax burdens. Now, but nobody ever hears that message and that message is sort of personified in the fact that you’re sitting by these microphones right now. I mean, it’s for a lot of guys it’s very difficult to cross that bridge from prison to the straight and narrow.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. It’s not as easy as a lot of people think. But it can be done. It’s the dedication first with the person. It’s what you want for yourself and then everything else comes.

Len Sipes: Is that a prerequisite? Because everybody tells me it is. In other words, it’s got to be there. You’ve got to decide for yourself.

Eddie Ellis: Of course. Of course. I don’t care what my probation officer say, it’s what I want to do with my life.

Len Sipes: All right. So from the get go, you come out of prison, you’ve already made the decision.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: Years before I came home, I made the decision I have to separate myself from old friends. I have to separate myself from certain things because the changes I was trying to make wouldn’t have been healthy for me or my life to stay connected with them.

Len Sipes: And what did you do? So you came out of prison and what happened.

Eddie Ellis: I came out of prison. I want to the RC Center.

Len Sipes: Okay and for the public describe what RC is?

Eddie Ellis: It’s a resanction center and it’s basically a drug treatment program, but it allows you to sit down and inventory your life for 28 days.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: Give you mental health, they do a mental health assessment on you and they basically help you put your life together in certain ways.

Len Sipes: All right. And then you go out to residential drug treatment.

Eddie Ellis: No. I went to the transitional.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Okay you went to a transitional.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. I went to a transitional which was very helpful because going to jail at 16 and coming home at 31, that’s a lot of years missed and the transitional house really help because it slowed things down for me and when I came out of the transitional house my family, my friends were there for me. I was very confused about a lot of things. I didn’t know how to ride the bus, the subway. I don’t know how to drive. So it was a lot of things that I had to learn, you know being around people. People moving fast and it’s a lot of things, but you know. By the grace of God and me wanting to do right and my support, I’ve been okay.

Len Sipes: All right. You made up, I’m gonna take these one at a time. You made up your mind before coming out of prison and you have family support when you came out of prison.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. I’m gonna guess and say that most folks don’t have that family support coming out of prison. I’m not gonna ask you to agree or disagree with me necessarily from a research point of view, but there’s a lot of that offender in many cases has burnt a lot of bridges.

Eddie Ellis: True.

Len Sipes: And getting that family and friend support at times is tough.

Eddie Ellis: True.

Len Sipes: And living at home often times comes with ultimatums that you got to do this, you got to do that and if you screw up your out of here.

Eddie Ellis: True. But sometimes those things need to be there.

Len Sipes: Yeah. I agree.

Eddie Ellis: You know cause if you burnt bridges or put yourself in certain situations where your family don’t want to be in those situations, you must do that.

Len Sipes: Did they embrace you with open arms?

Eddie Ellis: Yes. For the most,

Len Sipes: Or did they set rules or both?

Eddie Ellis: No. Living with my mother, it’s gonna be rules everywhere.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: You know, I’m a grown man I can do what I want, but I’m gonna respect my mother’s house.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know. I’m gonna respect my mother’s house. But me coming home and getting close to my family again. So of them I’m not to close to no more.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know I had a bond with some of them before I went to jail, but since I came home we don’t have no bond with some of my family.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: So.

Len Sipes: So, you’re out on this, you come out of prison, you’re with your mom and it’s difficult. You just mentioned about the subway, just doing the regular things in life and you feel apart in many ways from the world around you.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: And yet at the same time you’re being told by a community supervision officer, by my agency, to go do this, do that, you have to be urine tested, you go to the reentry center, and so there are a lot of rules and regulations.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: How’d you adapt to all that? Did you rebel? Did you kick back? Did you go along with it? Were you angry about it?

Eddie Ellis: Well, when I first came home, I was released to the street. No halfway house or anything.

Len Sipes: Oh, okay. So when you came out you were released to the street.

Eddie Ellis: But when I checked in downtown at the court building, it was switched to make me go to the resanction center before I can go to transition.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: And I was frustrated, I was real frustrated at first because I didn’t understand why.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know, but.

Len Sipes: Nobody does by the way.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: They just want to spend their time on the street.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. So, but after going through it, even though I never had a drug problem, being in that setting really helped me understand other people’s habits and the way they live their life and stuff that they went through. So, I gained a lot in those 28 days being there. So, I’m really thankful that I went through it.

Len Sipes: How long did it take you to get a job?

Eddie Ellis: Well, my uncle, I worked with my uncle when I first came home. He do home improvement.

Len Sipes: All right.

Eddie Ellis: So I worked with him for about 6 months and then my cousin started a little landscaping thing where we cut grass in the summer and that was very helpful.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: You know I work with school emergency clean up, so I had several jobs. But when I went to jail I didn’t have any work history, so now I’m basically trying to build a history for myself. A path for myself as far as the mentoring thing, because that is what I really want to do.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to go onto the mentoring thing, but I want to stick with you for a while. But you’re not drug testing positive because the bulk of our folks do drug test positive and we have to take action. We have to either sanction them or put them on global position or satellite tracking. We’ve got to get them in drug treatment. I mean there’s a whole bunch of things that you have to do for them from an enforcement point of view and a treatment point of view and in many cases we don’t have the money to treat everybody so they’ve got to be referred to various agencies and hopefully they get drug treatment. But that didn’t happen to you. You’re testing negative.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. I’m testing negative.

Len Sipes: Now, what is it about you that’s so different from so many other folks who just want to climb back into that bottle or want to just shoot up once again or just want to snort again?

Eddie Ellis: Well, when I was young I only smoked marijuana like 2 or 3 times and drunk a beer here and there.

Len Sipes: So you didn’t have that dependence coming out of the prison system.

Eddie Ellis: No. No.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: And that’s what happens with a lot of people. Those hard drugs really bring people down.

Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely.

Eddie Ellis: Those hard drugs really bring people down.

Len Sipes: That’s why we have the problems that we have.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: The massive problems that we have. Alright, but your interacting with a lot of people?

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: And have you been interacting with people who still in the game or a part of the lifestyle?

Eddie Ellis: No. I separated myself from the people because what I trying to do with my life. You know, I’m trying to do right and I can’t

Len Sipes: So you stayed away from people who are gonna bring you down.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Who did you hang with?

Eddie Ellis: Well, on the street?

Len Sipes: Yeah.

Eddie Ellis: Well, I hang, right now I just hang on my brothers, my cousin, basically family.

Len Sipes: Okay. So it’s family.

Eddie Ellis: You know, I’ve got a friend that I grew up with. When she come in town I be with her all the time, but other than that, I don’t hang out with anybody outside of my family.

Len Sipes: We’re talking with Eddie Ellis and Eddie is currently in the supervision of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. We’re using Eddie as sort of a proxy, if you will, for the well over 600,000 individuals who come back out of the prison system throughout the United States. They come back and the statistics say that they ordinarily don’t do all that well and I wanted Eddie to come in today because Eddie is gonna represent the literally hundreds of individuals that I’ve gotten to know first hand who are doing well. They’re not falling back into drugs, they’re not falling back into crime and again one of the reasons why I have you here by the microphone is to figure out what the difference is between you and them. We say 50% go back to prison, but 50% don’t.

Eddie Ellis: That’s true.

Len Sipes: So, you know, out of the 600,000 if you want to split it right down the middle, 300,000 are going back to prison but 300,000 are still in the community.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah and to me that’s a good start, but it should climb. I hope it climb. But I really think it depends, like I said, depends on the person. A lot of times it depends on the support that the people have. A lot of times it depends on the programs these people go into. It’s a lot of different things that goes into being successful. But first of all, I think it depends on who you are and what you want.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: If you don’t want to be successful, you’re not gonna be successful.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve heard that from everybody I’ve ever talked to.

Eddie Ellis: You know, but if you want to be successful, it may be hard, but you can do it.

Len Sipes: I was told a long time ago that alright, fine, a lot of us aren’t ready. Fine. A lot of us aren’t, but please be ready when we’re ready.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Please have the programs in place, please help us out when we say we are dying to get out of this. I’m sick of tired of being sick and tired. How many heroin addicts have told me that in the 40 years that I’ve been within the system? I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Be ready for us when we’re ready for you and so at this point we’re ready for you. I’m sorry, you’re ready for us. Are we ready for you?

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: I mean that’s the question. Is the larger criminal justice system, are the social service systems really ready for ex offenders?

Eddie Ellis: Well, like I said

Len Sipes: Be honest now.

Eddie Ellis: I’m gonna be honest. I don’t think there’s enough programs out here that targeting the masses of people that’s coming home, even when they are home and it’s said because a lot of people give people. That’s like somebody on heroin. They give them meth, another drug to help them get off a drug. But what about the other thing they may need for the mental health part? So you can give a person something to get off drugs, but mentally and emotionally, if their body and their mind is not following, they’re gonna continue to do the same thing.

Len Sipes: By the way, there’s new research from the Department of Justice that indicates that 50% are self diagnosing themselves. This is not an official mental health diagnosis, but they are basically saying I need mental health services. That’s a huge number, 50%.

Eddie Ellis: But that’s good though. But see when a lot of people think about mental health, they always think about somebody being,

Len Sipes: Schizophrenic

Eddie Ellis: Yes. And that don’t always have to be the case.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know it’s a lot

Len Sipes: You could just be strung out by life

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Outrageously depressed

Eddie Ellis: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But you’re still at that stage of the game extremely vulnerable to climb back into that bottle, put that needle back in your arm and do something stupid.

Eddie Ellis: Of course. Of course. And I really think going back to the struggles that I had, it times I want to fill applications out and go to job sites and certain job companies said they have a 7 year background check.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: I fill out the application, took the urine for them, passed the urine and when I came back, they denied me, but my charge is 15 years old.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: So this is the type of stuff that we deal with. Your application says 7 years, but you went back 15.

Len Sipes: But aren’t they simply afraid by everything they see on television and read in the newspaper. I mean is that fear unreasonable?

Eddie Ellis: In a lot of way it’s not, but sometimes people over hype this fear.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: You know and that’s,

Len Sipes: You know, that’s not a bad way of putting it. It’s a matter of putting it into perspective.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah. Yeah. Yes it is because my thing is this. In general you can walk across the street and get hit by a car.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: But does that mean everyday on that corner somebody’s gonna get hit by a car.

Len Sipes: Alright.

Eddie Ellis: No. You know, so my thing is, you know, people gonna feel the way they feel, but I just need the community to know it may not be your family member, but whether you want to believe it or accept it, it’s still your problem.

Len Sipes: You as an individual anywhere in any metropolitan area in this country is within a 5 minute drive of a minimum of 1,000 offenders.

Eddie Ellis: I didn’t know that.

Len Sipes: People who have done time.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah. I didn’t know that.

Len Sipes: No, no, I mean a 5 minute drive in any part of a metropolitan area. I mean the people do not understand how many people have been caught up on the criminal justice system. It’s not something you can escape. It’s not something that you can walk away from. But, people have this, and I understand it and you understand it, this fear of somebody coming out of the prison system.

Eddie Ellis: Yeah. But what about the ones that’s not in the prison system, the ones robbing you for all your money, the big corporate companies? So, my thing is this, don’t always think that people coming out want to continue to do the same thing. You don’t understand why these people through what they went through or why they did what they did. And I’m not making no excuses for anybody.

Len Sipes: Right.

Eddie Ellis: You know. I made some bad choices in my life. They weren’t mistakes. They were bad choices. So does that mean I can’t change? No it doesn’t mean that.

Len Sipes: Or does it mean that you should have been stuck in a bottle in a corner of D.C. for the rest of your life or does that mean you should be in a mental institution for the rest of your life. And does that mean I should support you with my tax dollars for the rest of your life. No. I don’t want to support you. Nobody wants to support you. Everybody wants to see you be a tax payer instead of a tax burden. So if they want that tax payer instead of a tax burden, they’re gonna do what a lot of states are now doing throughout the country and that is to provide the programs. That’s my assessment. That’s my two cents.

Eddie Ellis: But that would be smart. That would be one of the smartest things to do. And I just hope that more programs, you know, be built in the future. And I used tell people all the time, I want to speak out for men and women that’s still incarcerated because there’s a lot good men and women that’s behind those walls.

Len Sipes: If you had, and again nobody’s arguing do the crime, do the time. Nobody, you need to be incarcerated; you need to be incapacitated; you need to be out of society if you’ve done something that serious, nobody’s arguing that. Okay. So and you agree, neither one of us are gonna go there. But, if there were mental health programs in prison and in the community, if there were complete job training programs in the prison system and out in the community, if there was drug treatment in the prison system and out in the community, if there was anger management in the prison and out in the community and if you had someplace to go to if your housing arrangements just didn’t work out and for a lot of guys whose housing arrangements just don’t work out, those are the basic programs that I can think of. How much of an impact would that have in terms of people not going out there and committing extra crimes and that means fewer prisons, that means fewer burdens on taxpayers. Would it be a significant reduction in crime, a significant reduction in recidivism if we had all those programs in place?

Eddie Ellis: I would hope so. I would hope so. I think a lot of people would do better than there is now, but I’m not sure. But I would say this. If the programs was there in the prisons as well because people think all the programs just need to be in society. You need to have more programs in prison to allow people to change why they in their situation.

Len Sipes: Alright.

Eddie Ellis: Because a lot of times we come out of that situation, everything is moving fast when we on the inside.

Len Sipes: In the final minutes of the program, now you’re doing volunteer work. You’re actually mentoring other offenders.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now are you doing that as part of the faith based initiative?

Eddie Ellis: I’m doing that because I asked to do it.

Len Sipes: Okay. But are you with the faith based initiative as part of that?

Eddie Ellis: Not yet.

Len Sipes: Not yet.

Eddie Ellis: Not yet.

Len Sipes: You’re thinking about doing it.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. I’m taking the class this month.

Len Sipes: So you’re working with offenders at one of our field offices.

Eddie Ellis: Yes.

Len Sipes: What are you telling them?

Eddie Ellis: Well, I basically explain to them what I had to do to change my life and certain choices and I tell them I know it’s hard to separate yourself from your friends and people that you’ve been connected with and felt a bond with all your life, but you’ve got to find out what’s more important to you, your friends, your freedom, and your life or the bug.

Len Sipes: They buy into it.

Eddie Ellis: Some of them did. I spoke to 2 young guys, they said they’re doing good right now, so that was a plus for me. A spoke to a young lady and she’s doing good. So that’s a plus for me. So, yeah I’m doing good with it. I like it.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: I think I’m getting through to people.

Len Sipes: Yeah, it is really interesting to listen to the stories of other people in terms of their own struggles and in terms of their own beliefs in terms of, you know, what’s gonna happen when they get on the outside. I mean all you think about when you’re in prison is getting out but, the stark reality of being out, are two different things.

Eddie Ellis: True. But my situation, I wasn’t really concerned about getting out too much, I was concerned about surviving first of all and preparing myself before I get out. You know mentally, emotionally, educationally, I was trying to prepare myself to do what I needed to do to be successful when I get out.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Eddie Ellis: You know so when I did get out, I have a better chance of being successful out here.

Len Sipes: So you toughened yourself mentally. You knew what you were gonna encounter when you got on the outside. You knew what the score was. You knew what you had to do.

Eddie Ellis: Yes. Through talking to other people that was on violations and things like that and I just made my mind up that I knew it was gonna being hard for me, I knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, so I got to deal with it and just toughen up.

Len Sipes: Eddie, we’re at the end of the program. I want to thank you for being here.

Eddie Ellis: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: And I want to offer the opportunity for you to come back anytime.

Eddie Ellis: I would love that.

Len Sipes: And we’ll talk about this and talk about the whole process of people coming out of the prison system and readjusting to society. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been talking with Eddie Ellis. This is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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