December 21, 2014

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Grafton Reintegration Center helps adjust inmates to life after prison

Chris Jackson, an inmate at the Grafton Reintegration Center, helps himself and fellow inmates prepare for life on the outside in the prison's One Stop Shop program that hones job-hunting skills. STEVE FOGARTY/CHRONICLE

Chris Jackson, an inmate at the Grafton Reintegration Center, helps himself and fellow inmates prepare for life on the outside in the prison’s One Stop Shop program that hones job-hunting skills. STEVE FOGARTY/CHRONICLE

GRAFTON — Chris Jackson is just one of many inmates at the Grafton Reintegration Center hoping what he is learning behind bars will help him land a job and make a respectable life when he’s released.

Jackson, 27, is completing a six-year sentence for aggravated robbery in Stark County, where he is from.

Incarcerated in 2008, Jackson is scheduled to be released in February.

After serving a portion of his sentence at the adjacent Grafton Correctional Institution, Jackson has been at the less-restrictive Grafton Reintegration Center since February of this year. There, he works as a program aide with the One Stop Shop program, which offers inmate-led workshops supported by organizations such as Goodwill Industries, Catholic Charities and Salvation Army.

Sessions on home buying that instruct inmates on ways of financing the purchase of a home are conducted by Fifth Third Bank.

“We work to identify prisoners with the skill sets to run programs for other inmates,” warden Bennie Kelly said. “This is a way of giving them up to 12 hours of meaningful activity a day.”

The programs are offered at the facility’s HOPE Center, whose name stands for “Helping Ohio Prisoners Excel.”

Jackson has led orientation sessions for inmates who have one to two years left on their sentences, as well as mock job interviews, resume preparation, online job searches and how to dress properly for job-seeking.

“This is about showing them how to present themselves to get a job and keep a job,” Jackson said. “We also work on attitude adjustment. A lot of these guys have never had a job.”

Jackson speaks from experience. “I worked at Bob Evans right up to the time I was arrested but didn’t really have many other jobs,” he said.

Looking ahead to his release from prison, Jackson is considering becoming a truck driver with the help of a commercial driver’s license program that includes inmates learning about handling a truck with the help of a virtual truck-driving simulator.

The center’s programs were showcased for other state prison personnel and community groups during a daylong conference Tuesday at the reintegration center.

The daylong conference drew more than 300 people from other Ohio prisons and community organizations and institutions such as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Lorain County Community College.

The event was hosted by the Northeast Region of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that includes GCI and Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton.

Home to 720 minimum-security inmates, the reintegration center is part of the larger Grafton Correctional Institution, a minimum- and medium-security prison that houses 1,200 inmates.

About 220 inmates at the reintegration center are actively involved in efforts such as a media graphics and silk-screening program that helps hone skills of artistically talented inmates as well as offers instruction on creating mattes and doing framing.

Some programs encourage inmates to begin their own businesses, however small, to generate income while they search for better-paying work after being released from prison, Kelly said.

With upward of 70 percent of inmates having fathered children, another program offered through the HOPE Center works to teach inmates to become responsible parents with activities that include picnic days that allow inmates to spend time with their children.

“It’s hard to say how actively involved they are with their children as a rule,” Kelly said. “This is a generational dysfunction. Guys have kids who are locked up, and fathers who were locked up before them. It’s about behavior modification.”

The programming is all designed to reduce the recidivism rate.

“People would rather know they have a guy living next door who is earning money by working instead of having someone who’s thinking about breaking into their house,” said Linda D. Briggs, correction warden assistant and public information officer for Lorain Correctional Institution.

“If we don’t teach these guys to work and be responsible citizens, then how do we break the cycle (of those who commit more crime and return to prison)?” Briggs said. “We’re way past time to break the cycle.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.