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Old 10-15-2004, 09:07 PM
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Default 500 prisoners nearing their release dates attend a transition fair

http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=88350

Inmates prepped to succeed when freed

500 prisoners nearing their release dates attend a transition fair

ALAN GUSTAFSON
Statesman Journal
October 15, 2004

Five hundred prison inmates, all nearing their release dates, got a head start Thursday on paths pointing to success in the “free world.”

They met potential employers, consulted with financial planners, learned how to get a driver’s license, broke the ice with prospective parole officers and checked options for housing and health care.

All of this was part of a transition fair, staged in the gymnasium at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem.

The 900-inmate prison serves as the state’s largest pre-release correctional facility. It has 500 beds earmarked for prisoners within six months of their release dates.

In Oregon, about 30 percent of released inmates commit new felonies within three years of leaving prison.

To break that cycle, correctional experts say, inmates need to prepare for life after prison.

At OSCI, prison managers intend to make transition fairs regular events, holding them every six months.

“It gives faces and locations and services,” said Nancy Howton, prison superintendent. “It brings them to the inmates so they can make connections before they go out in the community. So they get a little bit of a head start before they get out.”

Approaching the end of his two-year term for attempted assault, Neil Jefferson had a friendly chat with a parole officer — “so I’m not going out blind” — and made arrangements to meet with a financial adviser after his Nov. 12 release.

Jefferson, 25, said he has a job waiting for him on the outside, working for a fencing company. Above all, he wants to create a stable life and take care of his two children.

The first-time offender described his prison time as a transforming experience.

“It has enlightened me, shined a huge light on my past mistakes,” he said.

No way he’s coming back as a repeat criminal, Jefferson said. “Working and taking care of my responsibilities as a parent is going to keep me out of trouble.”

Stationed at tables spread across the gym, more than 100 people — representing everything from the Bureau of Labor to a tattoo academy — provided information to circulating inmates.

Lori Lamke, general manager of a traffic control company, took down a long list of inmate names. Potentially, she might hire them as road flaggers.

“I’ve got to hire 100 more people. Where am I going to find them?” she said. “I need good, dependable people.”

It’s a myth that most employers won’t hire ex-convicts, said Fay Gentle, transitional services coordinator at OSCI. Laziness is the main obstacle preventing released offenders from landing work, she said.

“If a man or a woman is willing to work and put the shoe leather into it, they’ll have a job,” Gentle said.

Hiring people with criminal histories doesn’t bother Lamke.

“Everybody needs a second chance,” she said, “and I want to help them get a foothold when they get out. If they screw up, I’ll deal with that at the time.”

Louis Downey, owner of the National Tattoo Academy in Salem, pitched the benefits of attending his school and learning how to become a professional tattoo artist.

“It’s a good living, and it’s fun,” he said.

Downey, formerly employed at the state penitentiary, founded his tattoo school about one year ago.

“That wasn’t my niche,” he said, referring to prison work. “I’m an artist.”

Tattoos are plentiful behind bars, and some inmates weren’t shy about displaying their body art during sessions with Downey.

“They’re real proud of their tattoos,” he said.

Not all of the inmates attending the transition fair were on the verge of regaining their freedom. About two dozen prisoners — some serving life sentences — helped set up the event.

Barring early parole, Abdur Al-Wadud, 36, faces a long stretch behind bars. But taking part in the transition fair gave him a glimmer of hope.

“Sometimes, in prison, you get this almost me-against-the-world attitude,” he said. “Just the fact that people are willing to come in here means a lot. It shows they care, and that helps.”



agustafs@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6709

Last edited by JJT; 10-15-2004 at 09:09 PM..
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Old 10-17-2004, 02:06 AM
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Perfecto. Thanks, JJT. I'm finding a way to contact Lamke about road flagging jobs for ex-cons.
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