Support, mentoring needed for ex-offenders, group told

By | March 10, 2011

Six people are released to Brown County from jail or prison each day, added Neveau, who served as a probation and parole agent for 13 years. According to Jan. 4 statistics, there were 740 people housed in the Brown County Jail; 812 inmates, identified as being from Brown County, are in Wisconsin prisons and 3,786 adults in the county are under some sort of correctional supervision. There are 187,715 adults in Brown County, so 2.8 percent are under some form of correctional supervision.

Neveau discussed the parole system and the need for mentoring and support programs to help ex-offenders make a successful re-entry into the community. Four key components fall under the goals for supervision, he said.

Using the acronym, REST, Neveau explained that stable residence, stable employment, a social support system and treatment for those that need it are essential. Aftercare support is as important as a place to live and a job, he said.

“You can have residence and employment, but if they are still hanging out with the same people, there is a good chance they are going to get in trouble again,” said Neveau. “We can’t buy people friends.”

Neveau also discussed the limited one-on-one time between ex-offenders and parole officers, and warned that monitoring systems can create a false sense of safety in the community.

“Even people with GPS (tracking monitors) commit crimes,” he said. “The goal of the monitors is to keep people in the community, but we don’t always know what they are doing.”

Among the other struggles is a lack of transitional housing for ex-offenders, he added. Strides have been made in preparing inmates for employment when they are released, but vocational opportunities are limited when compared to the number incarcerated in the state, said Neveau.

“There has to be a balance when putting industry in the prisons,” he said. “You don’t want to compete with businesses. Training, yes, but if it starts competing, there is a problem. Inmates at Sanger Powers (Oneida) leave the facility and work in businesses in the community.”

The workshop included a panel featuring two PAN members and two individuals currently involved in aftercare support groups. PAN serves as an umbrella group for organizations and resources that serve ex-offenders and their families. Local groups include the Think Again Support Group for ex-offenders and Come Journey, a prison ministry family support group for those who have a loved one in prison, jail or are recently released.

Thomas Bacon, a member of the panel, had a $1,000 per day drug habit when he was arrested on federal drug conspiracy charges in 2005. While incarcerated, he took part in treatment programs, read the Bible and eventually was paired with Peter Galowski as his mentor. Bacon, who recently marked six years of sobriety, is a full-time culinary arts student and works three part-time jobs. He credits the support from Galowski and others for helping his transition into the community.

“Having someone to call, having those meetings helps me,” said Bacon. “For me, it’s a blessing. Any one of you people can get involved in this and it would be a blessing to someone.”

Following long struggles with bipolar depression, Mike Nemitz robbed a bank in 2006. The crime “was not about the money as much as giving up,” he said. Nemitz served 13 months in prison. Today, he is back at his previous workplace and continues to put his life back together.

“I couldn’t do it alone,” said Nemitz. “It came from people pushing me along and saying ‘hey, you can do it.'”

Sue Kelly-Kohlman, a PAN member, encouraged workshop participants to get involved.

“If you have common sense and the heart for it, you can do the rest,” she said. “Mentors need to provide structure. Ex-offenders say that they want structure. They also want you to hold them accountable.” Galowski, president of Changed Hearts Ministries and a member of PAN, rounded out the panel. An ex-offender, Galowski said that he gives back to create safer communities and as a means of atonement.

Not every ex-offender is a success story, he warned. “It’s a really tough adjustment,” he said. “If you’re an ex-offender, the community doesn’t want to accept you. Where there is a no support system, it’s easy to find your way to old haunts and old friends. I’m trying to build a support system with others.”

Mentor training
Prison Aftercare Network of Northeast Wisconsin is offering basic mentor training for those interested in having a positive impact on a prisoner, former prisoner or family member of a prisoner. Training is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at Calvary Lutheran Church, 1301 South Ridge Road, Green Bay. The $15 fee includes lunch and all materials. To register, send a check, payable to “Crossing the Bridges” to Lois Pulvermacher, 101 Primose Lane, Green Bay, WI 54311. The registration deadline is March 19. For more information, contact Lois at (920) 712-4526.

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