|Thursday, July 9, 2009
By Allison Rupp
CRC Grads Reenter Society with Big Dreams
John Barnes wants to pursue a degree in construction management even though he is in his 40s.
After 26 years spent in and out of prison for methamphetamine use, Barnes returned home to his wife Wednesday equipped with tools to attend Casper College on scholarship in August and finally be the man he has always wanted to be.
Edmund Crump, 35, dreams of being a chef some day, possibly starting his own restaurant or feeding the homeless.
As a foster child since age 5, Crump has spent his life in the system with two stints in prison. Wednesday he was paroled to a work-release program and will soon begin college for a business management degree.
"Everything begins with a dream," Susan Thomas told these men and 13 others at their graduation from the Casper Re-Entry Center. "And you have the right to dream big."
Teachers and counselors talked about the hard work the former prison inmates put into changing their lives to earn that right.
Barnes called it "the hardest thing he has ever done."
The 15 men completed a 12-month therapeutic community program with intense substance abuse treatment, counseling, education and soul searching.
The center seeks to rehabilitate certain inmates and give them the tools they need to reenter society and never return to prison.
"In New Jersey, I was just seeing them come back," said deputy director Jim Piro.
Since 2005, almost 400 people have graduated from the program, not including the 15 Wednesday, and only 28 percent of them have ended up back in the system, according to statistics gathered by the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
However, the majority of those return to jail because of a parole violation, not a new crime.
The same report found 12 men have pursued college degrees since graduating the programs.
Thomas, the wife of the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, was invited to speak because the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation has donated workbooks to the facility for its college preparation course. Before, residents would have to return the workbooks and not write in them.
"I didn't think this would be like this," Thomas said commenting on the new building and the comprehensiveness of the program. "It's the real deal. I am going to have show and tell with this."
Barnes said Thomas' books helped him find direction in schooling as well as learn how to study.
"It showed us that we are pretty smart guys we just weren't using our brains the right way," he said.
"I was a meth addict, a hopeless dope addict," Barnes said during his graduation speech. "I don't remember who said it, but someone said I am now a dopeless hope addict.'"
Barnes spoke to a room full of his fellow graduates, residents still in the program, alumni, family members and friends. Some of the graduates had their children sit on their laps throughout the ceremony to begin to make up for all the hugs and kisses missed during incarceration.
Crump said he could not wait to see his children again.
"I'm looking forward to being a dad," Crump said. "I've never been that before."
The program teaches the residents how to realize how their actions hurt others and care for another person and community.
Piro said correction officers barely recognized Barnes after his time at the center, and others remarked that Crump was the most radically changed of the bunch.
"Anything is possible from here on out," Crump said. "The biggest lesson I learned is you have to believe."