Jail program looks to change lives

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com
Jail warden Trevor Richard and Police Chief Patrick LaSalle instituted a program at the city’s jail in October to prepare inmates to obtain a GED diploma and provide counseling.
Erwin Butler, 49, was one of several inmates who said the program has had an impact on him.
“I didn’t give a damn and now I can’t get that part of my life back, but I can make sure I don’t come back,” Butler said. 
“I don’t want to fail God and myself anymore,” he said.
Richard said the goal is to give inmates a better understanding of life, prepare them to pass a GED (General Equivalency Diploma) examination and help them make good choices through counseling. 
“I have talked to a lot of inmates that get out of jail and come back here and they say they don’t know any other route except the one that got them here,” Richard said.
LaSalle said the Patterson Police Department is prepared to be reactive when a crime happens, but this kind of proactive program can be a significant tool in changing their behavior and reducing the chance they will return to jail.
“Even if we change one life it is worth it,” LaSalle said.
Eleven of the 14 inmates are involved in the program. 
In an interview with the group, which ranged in age from 20 to 49, only two said they completed high school. One of those, Troy Richardson, said that school appeared irrelevant to his life as he went through it making good grades.
“Education needs to be made more interesting and shown how we can use it,” Richardson said. “And there are a lot of students that need more tutoring.” 
What it really boils down to is each individual has to quit making bad choices, he and others said.
Tarrike Phillips, 39, said the program is giving him increased self-esteem as he learns to do basic things such as division, which he said he has begun to master in the past two weeks.
“This program is helping me make a decision for the first time in my life that I will change,” Phillips said. “I have a 21-year-old son following in my footsteps making bad choices. I have got to quit setting a bad example. I want him to follow in my footsteps of making changes and making good choices.”
There was a consensus that they, and others, started on the wrong path at a young age, had poor parental guidance and hung around the wrong associates.
Jarrett Williams, 36, said, “It starts when you are 13- to 18-years-old and think what you are doing is cool.” 
Williams added, “A lot of kids are not bad kids but they hang around bad kids. It just takes one knucklehead in a group to get you in trouble.”
The inmates said the counseling and discussions guided by the jailers have helped shape a new way of thinking for them.
Butler spoke up from a corner of the room sounding like a minister preaching a revival.
“I have seen the other side of the fence. I am trying to tell my brothers there is a better life,” Butler said, sweeping his hands outward as if to cover the entire group. “You have to be in tuned to the damage you have done in your life by the things we have been involved in.” 
The program was part of the reason for his “re-trained thinking,” Butler said.
Heads nodded in agreement as Keith Smith, 45, said, “You have got to just say ‘No.’ You say no to drugs and say no to bad choices,” Smith said.
Jamone Elaire summed up what others were saying about changing their lives.
“You have to change people, places and things,” Elaire said. “You can do good for a couple summers selling illegal drugs or you can do good for your entire life doing legal work,” Elaire counseled.
An inmate, not yet 21, who admitted selling drugs in the past said, “Fast money is old to me now. I am listening to these older brothers.” He said he used to think it was “cool” to see his name in the paper. He added that the Patterson jail program was helping him prepare to make the switch to a life, and job, on the right side of the law. He said he wanted to look into the GED diploma and welding training program offered by South Central Louisiana Technical College.
Most of the group said it was an embarrassment when they saw their names in an arrest section of the paper. Elaire said the first time his name appeared caused his mother to lose her apartment and that shamed him. 
Troy Benoit said alcohol keeps getting him in trouble and he is determined more than ever to change his ways.
“I have to try extra hard. I can’t come back here,” Benoit said. Then he added, “You don’t just try to quit. You quit.”
Several inmates said the program is serving as a catalyst for change. They expressed appreciation to Richard and others for the program.
“They are doing all they can to help us,” Phillips said. “They don’t have to do this.”
Most of the inmates acknowledged the possibility of a relapse but also that their future was in their own hands and the Patterson jail program was helping them to pursue a path that would keep them from returning to the jail.

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