Saturday, March 1, 2008

Breaking the Cycle

Mar 1, 2008, 13:18

Breaking the Cycle

By Victor Blackwell
First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- According to Florida's Department of Corrections, of more than 33,000 inmates who were released in 2006 - statistically, 32% of them will be re-arrested.

"It's not a problem that's not going to go away. It's a problem that we're absolutely going to need to deal with," said the re-entry coordinator with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Cathy Chadeayne.

Charles Whitehead re-offended several times during the 1990s.

He was arrested six times in five years. Whitehead says the fight to change one's life starts the moment an offender walks out of the prison.

"Do you have a good time or do you seek a future? [That's the] first choice. Most of us, most of us want to have a good time," said Whitehead

"Families say we can't wait, we're going to have a party. I say to them, don't," said Chadeayne.

"That party usually contains alcohol, drugs on the side. That one celebration normally causes us to get back on course," Whitehead added.

Chedeayne's department operates Project Dismas.

Named for the patron saint of redeemed thieves, the program helps ex-offenders avoid those pitfalls.

The program employs a hammer and hope philosophy. The hope comes in the form of counseling and success stories.

"[The hammer comes] If you don't take the help and you continue your life. You need to know that it's not going to be state court anymore. It's going to be federal court."

Also, Jacksonville Re-Entry Center (JREC) helps ex-offenders find housing, social services.

But the biggest challenge for ex offenders who want to change their lives is finding legitimate employment.

"When I went to a place, they'd say no, you have a criminal background. So, I just got discouraged and just moved on," said Whitehead.

"If we don't provide opportunities and we keep shutting doors in people's faces, we're going to get more of the same," Chadeayne added.

Programs like Ready4Work are giving ex-offenders a second chance by offering life coaching, training and job placement.

"I'm not justifying or being soft on crime or criminals in any way, when I say that we've got to help. I'm thinking smart. if we don't help people change and help people who want to change make that happen, then we're just setting ourselves up and them for more pain," said Chadeayne.

Eventually, Whitened got a job, turned his life around and now he owns Kingdom Motor Kars in Jacksonville.

He employs ex-offenders and men on probation.

"That to me is the most rewarding. To see those who have gone through that fire, reach back and bring others through it," said Chadeayne.

Whitehead now mentors inmates through the Men of Promise program. He's giving them hope that there is a better life.

"Things are possible outside. I'm an example," said Whitehead.

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